Julian Brelsford is a Philadelphia YAF who is planning to attend the Wichita YAF conference. He’s been cited here before, in a roundup post with several pieces of feedback to earlier posts here about the conference, its dress code, other rules, and general framework.
A few days ago he followed up with the following email. Below the text, I’ll interpolate some comments:
Subject: Re: yaf gathering is addicted to sin?
I want to request that if you leave my e-mail to you up on your blog, you add something to it:
Chuck, when i started to write to you, I was pretty angry. People who matter to me felt very much that they were being judged by you, in what you had to say about them.
To some degree, this matter has reinforced a reputation you already had: people see you as one seriously angry dude. A lot of people.
The “other” branches of Quakers have no monopoly on judgment, hate, anger. They’re not exactly like us, but they’re searching for the same spirit we’re searching for, and they are no more nor less sinful than we are.
I’ll be straight up with you. Part of my interest in attending the YAF conference is to evangelize. To evangelize a message of respect for every human being. To evangelize a message about overcoming anger with love. How can I not, then hope that “our” Quakers will love a tradition in the Quaker faith that loves evangelism?
You can’t kill the devil with a gun or a sword. You can’t kill hate with hate, and you can’t kill anger with anger.
Be the change you wish to see in the world (of Quakers). Overcome anger with love.
Now the text with comments:
<< I want to request that if you leave my e-mail to you up on your blog, you add something to it:
Chuck, when i started to write to you, I was pretty angry. >>
Props to you, Julian, for saying so.
<< People who matter to me felt very much that they were being judged by you, in what you had to say about them. >>
Not sure who you’re talking about, Julian, or what; it appears they haven’t been prepared to speak for themselves. And if you’re speaking for them, it’s too vague for a response. Except this: if it relates to the Wichita YAF conference, my judgments were about things rather than people: especially the infantilizing and repressive dress code and exclusionary framework.
Yep, I judged those things, for sure. The people who wrote them, I’d say not so much. And without any specifics to deal with, there’s little more to add to that.
<< To some degree, this matter has reinforced a reputation you already had: people see you as one seriously angry dude. A lot of people. >>
Hmmm. “A lot of people” who are unidentified, I note again.
But a question: did any of them say whether they felt I had judged the Wichita YAF stuff rightly or wrongly, and why? That was the point of my posts about it.
NO? Why am I not surprised?
Maybe you’ve heard of the manipulative tactic of discounting: ignoring and dismissing the substance of statements by attributing them to some characteristic of the speaker, real or imagined, particularly something personal/emotion/pathological.
As in this case, some unnamed people evidently don’t feel a need to respond to the substance of the points that were raised, because characterizing me as “one seriously angry dude” is all that’s needed.
That’s discounting. As argumentation, or “dialogue,” it’s really lame, Julian. And it’s more than that:
It’s a putdown disguised as a response. I’m familiar with the tactic.
All too familiar. Such ad hominem discounting is frequent in the passive-aggressive Quaker culture, particularly in its self-styled “elite” circles (some of which are close by there in Philadelphia). The exchange goes like this:
Lucretia Mott: Sir, slavery is wrong.
Slaveowner: You’re just angry, madam.
Lucretia: Sir, I was talking about slavery: it’s wrong.
Slaveowner: Madam, you are one seriously angry woman.
That’s about the size of it, Julian. Lame and evades the point. But some general thoughts about anger are in order, in a moment.
<< The “other” branches of Quakers have no monopoly on judgment, hate, anger. >>
I agree with this. Were you implying that I think otherwise? If so, where did such a notion come from? Not from me. I’ve written extensively about various follies of “my” branch of Quakers. Have you ever read any of that?
<< They’re not exactly like us, but they’re searching for the same spirit we’re searching for, and they are no more nor less sinful than we are. >>
I agree in part, but this is too general for my liking. No doubt many of these “others” are seeking the same spirit; yet I’ve run into some who, as best I can tell, are searching for something quite different. (Is it better or worse? I go case by case.) Also, while I agree that all of us Quakers are sinners (being quite “orthodox” in that respect), the actual “sinfulness” level among Friends varies; group characterizations are too close to stereotypes (cf. Titus 1:11-13).
Julian goes on:
<< I’ll be straight up with you. Part of my interest in attending the YAF conference is to evangelize. >>
Okay. In this connection, let me quote from a post on your FB page, in which you wrote:
<<< “’I’m going to say a bad word. A word that could get me in trouble with all kinds of people.
Some of them want to judge me for it.
So I’m going to [Wichita]. . . And, child of the liberal Quaker tradition that I am… part of my interest in attending the YAF conference is to EVANGELIZE. ‘” >>>
Who is it you think you’ll be “in trouble” with for using this term? Or says it’s a “bad word”? Or will “judge” you for it (adversely I presume; I doubt you’d mind favorable judgments)?
Whoever, it’s not me. I’m all for liberal Quaker evangelism, with a track record to back it up. Check out my page, “The Quaker GOP”. It’s pretty primitive, but then it was uploaded in the last century – heck, the last millennium. That’s how long I’ve been urging liberal Quakes to get off the evangelistic dime. So we should be on the same page here.
<< In your earlier note, you [Chuck] speak of [wanting] To evangelize a message of respect for every human being. To evangelize a message about overcoming anger with love. How can I not, then hope that “our” Quakers will love a tradition in the Quaker faith that loves evangelism? >>
Hey, go for it. And as a longtime pro-evangelist, I’m expecting you to come back from Wichita with a pocketful of “Decisions For Mott,” hallelujah! (Lucretia was probably the last great public evangelist for liberal Quakerism; and she was a doozy. Check her out here.)
Now Julian’s conclusion:
<< You can’t kill the devil with a gun or a sword. You can’t kill hate with hate, and you can’t kill anger with anger.
Be the change you wish to see in the world (of Quakers). Overcome anger with love. >>
This is a litany of cliches, plus what sound like passive aggressive slurs and name-calling, associating my posts with “killing, guns, swords, and hate.” But it brings us back to anger.
And Julian, friend, you have been sold a phony bill of goods about that. One hundred per cent Quaker passive aggressive baloney. (We have a stronger, 8-letter term for that down here in the Carolina countryside, but I’ll skip repeating it; might sound too, um, angry.)
Not to mention erroneous biblical allusions. The actual quote from Romans 12:21 is “overcome EVIL with GOOD.” Nothing about anger.
When the topic does come up in scripture, especially the gospels, the record is distinctly un-supportive of the passive aggressive “anger-is-evil” Quaker ploy. Consider Jesus and the money-changers in the temple (Luke 19:45-46).
“Excuse me, Friends, but I’d like to express a different view–
um, that is, if you don’t mind.”
Or re-read the whole of Matthew 23, a set of “seven woes” that is scaldingly sarcastic and vituperative, way out of my league. Repeating such invective in our meetings would have the nice Friends prostrate with the vapors. (But not George Fox BTW.)
So Jesus was distinctly more friendly to anger than your message permits. As also were most of the prophets whom he quoted so often. And why not?
Anger is something like fire, or electricity: a form of energy. Sure, it can be used destructively; I mean, Jesus was definitely over the top when he cursed an innocent fig tree, right? (Matthew 11:20-25).
But more often it can be an engine for forceful, constructive action, especially for justice and liberation.
Aristotle was not a Christian, but he nailed it anyway, in his “Nicomachean Ethics:
“The man who is angry at the right things and with the right people, and, further, as he ought, when he ought, and as long as he ought, is praised. This will be the good-tempered man, then, since good temper is praised. For the good-tempered man tends to be unperturbed and not to be led by passion, but to be angry in the manner, at the things, and for the length of time, that the rule dictates . . . .”
Almost as good is this contemporary reflection, “Have You Hugged Your Anger Today?”
As these suggest, anger is not the opposite of love, or incompatible with it; that’s a false dichotomy. Nor does anger equal killing, weapons, violence or hate; that’s just more name-calling. It’s equally possible to deal with it by having a candid, careful hashing out of what’s at issue. Is that such a novel idea?
Proverbs 27:17 gets it right: “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” (Such “sharpening” makes noise and send sparks flying, but enroute to a constructive end.) It also adds the element of intellectual accountability to the process – something that’s been notably lacking in most of the Wichita YAF advocates’ responses.
So while in your circle being called “angry” might be the ultimate dismissive put-down, Julian, higher standards are expected here.
But I don’t want to hide behind abstractions. Your unnamed people say I’m a “seriously angry guy.” I wonder what you know of me besides these rumors? Let’s take a quick tour:
I came among Friends in 1966. In 1977 I began writing about Quaker news and issues, applying my journalistic skills. I did that for about 25 years, in various forms: books, essays, and lots of investigative reporting; 134 issues of that in one venture. I’ve also published two Quaker novels and a bunch of stories.
Along the way, many of the reports were good news, things I enjoyed writing about, which made people smile. But I also brought to light numerous stories that some in various self-styled elite circles wanted to keep quiet. And some of what I found did make me angry: like the chronic stealing of mission funds in Kenya; or the frauds that ripped off millions from US evangelical Quakers.
And some others – including the silly Wichita YAF rules. (But honestly, Julian, on my anger-making scale, that’s pretty small beer. Let’s talk about torture sometime.)
As elsewhere in the news business, the most sensational, and seemingly angry reports got the widest circulation; and those were all that many people ever knew of my work. Oh well, comes with the territory.
In any case, I’ve left an extensive and revealing paper trail. I wonder if you’ve read any of this work beyond a handful of blog posts, which are only a tiny slice? It would be a responsible way of testing the gossip about my “reputation.” It might even be surprising.
Whatever you do, though, get over this bogus anger-phobia, and the passive aggressive style of ill-concealed insult that is no more than its sleazier doppelganger. It is one of Quakerism’s greatest weaknesses, an anti-evangelism.
That’s the change I’d like to see in Quakerism.