“One Seriously Angry Dude,” and the Wichita YAF Discussion

NC No Bull sign

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?

Chuck,

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.

Julian continues,

<< 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.

Etc.
Lucretia Mott angry

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.

Julian continues:

<< 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).
Cretans are liars

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. ‘” >>>

[Julian’s emphasis.]

Rumor-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.

Julian continues:

<< 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).
Jesus money-changers
“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.)

Fainted

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).

Fig Tree Jesus

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.

goerge Fox Angry Jesus

6 thoughts on ““One Seriously Angry Dude,” and the Wichita YAF Discussion”

  1. The problem with anger is it doesn’t work. How many times have I been angry (righteous) and found peace? If we are angry we can’t be loving at the same time. sucks; but in my experience we can’t have righteous anger. Being “right” is not a cool drink on a desert plain, more a poison that spreads fear and creates more anger and distance and leaves the creator alone.

  2. Chuck,

    I’ll first note that I’m sorry I haven’t commented on this sooner; I’m getting back on track after being derailed by the death of a friend almost two weeks ago.

    One thing I’ve always appreciated about you is your direct honesty and willingness to “cause trouble” when you’re convicted to do so. As you probably know, one Bayard Rustin quote that I deeply admire is this one: “We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers. Our power is in our ability to make things unworkable. The only weapon we have is our bodies and we need to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn.”

    That way of viewing things has been one of the pillars of my ethical principles. From it (and an action of conscience that got me roundly criticized), a saying came to me about how all bodies need a certain maligned body part or it’ll be full of toxins, including the Body of Christ. I’ll go without invoking the exact quote as I think it’s probably outside the MPAA rating level of A Friendly Letter. 😉

    It’s right that we shouldn’t fight by normal, logical methods of “might” or “power.” We should fight “Not by might nor by power, but by Spirit” or what in Gandhi’s system would be known as “Soul-force.” We should move forward as we are called, standing on faith; we should press with the force of will, but also with the gentle grace of humility that we are not “better” than those with whom we disagree.

    Anger and love aren’t mutually exclusive. If you love someone and see them do something harmful to themselves or others, can’t that make angry? Of course it can…and it’s not anger at them, it’s anger at the “demon” of that problem that brings harm. >>

    Good to hear you speaking up, Josh. Sorry to hear about your friend. And I’m with you on your quote about maligned organs in the greater Body.

  3. Chuck,

    I posted this a few hours ago, after clicking on what you called “a roundup post” by Julian Brelsford, responding to some things you said on that thread, but since that thread is getting somewhat buried, I’m posting it here, too.

    My name is Ervin Stanley — I teach math at Friends University, am a member of University Friends Meeting (and thus, Great Plains Yearly Meeting & Evangelical Friends Church—Mid-America Yearly Meeting), and grew up in New York, New England, and Western Yearly Meetings, so I’ve been around a lot of different kinds of Quakers. >>

    Note by Chuck: Thanks for writing in, Ervin. Just for the record, tho, the comments about FU that you respond to below were quoted by me; but they were written by someone else, and I don’t claim them as my own; I don’t believe I have expressed views about FU itself on this blog.

    I’d gently like to clarify a few facts about the YAF Gathering, University Friends Meeting, and Friends University:

    (1) Friends University was not a sponsor of the YAFG; rather, the YAFG had a contract with Friends University that was strictly for housing.

    (2) Among Friends University’s rules are these two: (a) The possession or use of alcoholic beverages or illegal substances is prohibited, and (b) Cohabitation and sexual relations between unmarried individuals/couples is not allowed. These rules (and all other university rules) apply to any group that uses the Friends University campus.

    (3a) You are correct that Friends University is no longer a Quaker college. You made the statement that “Friends U just screams ‘WE’RE CHRISTIAN’. People who wear their Christianity on their sleeve tend to be very insecure underneath it all. Insecurity breeds control issues and stupid rules. Making those rules is essentially a powerplay. The organizers want to be in control.” It appears that you assumed that there was some sort of connection between Friends University and the YAFG planning committee; however, there was no such connection — at the request of the planning committee, I made the initial contact with the Director of Residence Life and the Vice President of Student Affairs at Friends U, requesting housing for the YAFG. Once such was approved, I got one person on the planning committee in contact with the Vice President, and the two parties completed a housing contract. To my knowledge, there was no other communication between the planning committee and the university – in fact, very few Friends University employees would have had any idea that anybody was being housed on campus, let alone what group it was.

    (3b) Friends University is indeed a Christian college (with a little bit of remaining Quaker influence), although your characterization of it is not at all accurate. Friends University is not a fundamentalist Christian college; rather it is very eclectic – we have students who are evangelical Christians, fundamentalist Christians, mainline Protestant Christians, Catholic Christians, non-Christians who are interested in a place that has smaller class sizes than a state university, zoo science majors who come from all over the country for this unique major, some athletes who care little about academics, many athletes who do care about academics, very few Quakers, and many students who fall into more than one of the aforementioned categories. Our board of trustees is still required to have at least 25% Quakers. Most of the members of the administration, faculty, and staff are Christians, although it is not required; however, they must be willing to be supportive of our mission statement: “Friends University exists to provide high-quality undergraduate and graduate education that incorporates liberal arts instruction and professional studies within the context of the Christian faith.” Among the many employees who are Christians, there is great variety — evangelicals, fundamentalists, mainline Protestants, and Catholics.

    (4) Although I’m not aware of any written rule prohibiting alcoholic beverages at University Friends Meeting, there is certainly an unwritten rule prohibiting such in the meetinghouse and on the grounds. Even though there are, no doubt, various members of the meeting who drink alcoholic beverages, it would never even be a topic of discussion to allow it at the meetinghouse or at any UFM-sponsored event.

    In addition, the following are only my opinions:

    (1) I suspect that the YAFG planning committee felt that they were led by God, in a process of corporate discernment, to establish the rules for the gathering. It appears to me that the prohibiting of sexual activity, even for married couples, was an attempt to understand that some Friends believe that committed gay and lesbian relationships are fine, whereas other Friends believe that they are inherently sinful. It appears that the “dress code” might have been an appreciation of the traditions of Conservative Friends, and certainly the dress code was not difficult for anyone – t-shirts and shorts were perfectly fine.

    (2) It would guess that the intent of the planning committee in establishing the rules was to try to attract as many young adult Friends from the widest spectrum possible. Obviously you and some other Friends considered some of the rules to be outrageously restrictive; however, I think it might be valuable for those of you who felt that way to try for a moment to stand in the shoes of the members of the planning committee: the previous YAF gatherings had attracted many less evangelical Friends than it had middle-of-the-road Friends and liberal Friends. If they were going to get more of the spectrum of Friends involved, there probably had to be an agreement that gay & lesbian issues were not going to be a dominant theme of the gathering. Whether we agree with it or not, it’s a fact that most evangelical Friends and fundamentalist Friends wouldn’t even think about attending a conference where gay & lesbian issues might be a theme. For some of them, even being in a group where out-of-the-closet gay people and lesbian people are present is a very new experience. This may be shocking to liberal folks, and even surprising to middle-of-the-road folks, but it is probably true for most fundamentalist folks and some evangelical folks. Thus, I would suspect that the planning committee was hoping that the gathering would focus on what the participants could do in good conscience together, for the Society of Friends, and for the glory of God.

    (3) Most fundamentalist Friends and some evangelical Friends do not value theological diversity or lifestyle diversity at all. In fact, in some circles, it is probably considered sinful to believe something different than what they consider to be the truth. Thus, even if you and some other Friends believe that the rules made this YAFG unwelcoming to certain Friends, may I ask you to consider that the rules indeed made some Friends feel welcome, who would have felt unwelcome otherwise? May I also ask you to consider extending a measure of grace to the Friends on the planning committee, who no doubt were honestly seeking God’s will, and trying to be inclusive?

    I don’t claim to have the answers; in all of this, we – you and I, the members of the planning committee, all Quakers, all Christians, everyone – are finite human beings, and thus, “for now we see through a glass, dimly…”

    Ervin Stanley >>

    More from Chuck: Well, Ervin, I’d advise caution in suggesting that I don’t see any measure of grace in the planning committee, or that I impute some evil motive to them. The tendency to turn any criticism of policy into presumed personal attacks or character slurs is inaccurate, unhelpful and unbecoming. Re-read and ponder Matthew 23 if this distinction is unclear.

    Granting all the sincerity and grace, even so I thought the rules were a serious mistake; they were over the top, treated adults like children, and were a discredit to the enterprise. I don’t like them any more today than I did when I learned about them. [And again, for the record, I don’t hold FU responsible for any of that.]

    I take your point that some fundamentalist Friends might not have come if there was to be open talk about GLBT matters, or non-Christian Friends, or any of several other items one could mention. It is my view that Friends who cannot abide such subject matter are not really ready for actual open cross-branch encounter. When they are able to face these actualities among the other branches without falling into a swoon or leaving in a huff — then the prospects for productive conversation approach the realistic.

    I have heard from liberal attenders there who felt oppressed and squashed by the way the conference was designed and conducted. I gather from various reports that some spoke up about this, others felt too intimidated. I am told there were attenders who walked out of the hyper-evangelical praise episodes of the programmed worship. I noted a distinctly muted tone in the official Epistle, rather less than the proclamation of a historic success.

    I have read accounts of quite promising interbranch encounters among various individuals, and at least one such unofficial ongoing group (the women’s theological conferences in the Northwest). I hope such contacts can continue and deepen. This Wichita event, from what I have read and heard over the past three moths, falls far short of that.

    Again, thanks for writing in.

  4. There was no ‘hyper-evangelical praise episodes of programmed worship’ in the gathering, nor were people required to attend the programmed sessions. To any Evangelical friend — the gathering almost appeared to be Christocentric universalism… many evangelicals are exclusivist. There was no alter call.

    Complaints about 2 total hours of program — where attendance was voluntary is a statement that if one group was welcome to present, another was not. There was an hour unprogrammed worship morning and evening, and none of the workshops were lead by members of EFCi. These complaints were literally a complaint that Evangelicals were invited to be a small part of the program.

    Yes — the epistle was muted — and honest. The planning committee and pastoral care team did attempt to bring the attenders to be more respectful to one another.

  5. (By the way — the most outspoken Christ Centered Friends belonged to FGC meetings — most of the evangelicals I saw kept their mouths shut — the discomfort went both ways.)

  6. Chuck,

    I now see that it was someone else, not you, who wrote the comments about Friends University and other things (“Friends U just screams ‘WE’RE CHRISTIAN’. People who wear their Christianity on their sleeve tend to be very insecure underneath it all. Insecurity breeds control issues and stupid rules. Making those rules is essentially a powerplay. The organizers want to be in control.”). I was aware when I first started reading that section that you were quoting another person, but after I got past your “Burnt Cookies” picture, I somehow missed the fact that you were continuing to quote — I apologize.

    Chuck responds: No problem, Ervin. The statements were made, and were fair game for comment. So are my statements, for that matter. Just wanted to be clear about which opinions were mine, and which were somebody else’s.

    Regarding what I said about “grace”, I don’t think that I suggested that you “don’t see any measure of grace in the planning committee”; rather, I asked if you would consider extending a measure of grace to the Friends on the planning committee. I’m not a theologian, so I might not have used the correct terminology. What I was intending to suggest is that there isn’t necessarily a “right” set of rules versus a “wrong” set of rules; maybe there are just different sets of rules.

    You mentioned that you’ve heard from some liberal attenders of the YAFG who felt oppressed and squashed by the way the conference was designed and conducted. That’s interesting, since I have heard similar comments from a couple of evangelical Friends in regard to some previous YAF gatherings. Of course, since all of these are anecdotal, rather than from a random sample, I guess we can’t draw any general conclusions.

    Ervin Stanley

    Chuck again: I agree in one sense, there are different rules for different groups — just like different strokes for different folks. In this case, I thought the rules were over the top, and treated adults like children, and thought it was timely to say so.
    As for who came away feeling oppressed, I can well imagine situations in which evangelical Friends came away from cross-branch gatherings with mixed or unpleasant reactions. I even coined a phrase some years back, “Quaker Culture Shock,” to describe a frequent response to meeting Quakers of other branches, and it certainly happens across the board. I recall a report (which I think reliable) from another such gathering, in the nineties, of a young evangelical calling home in great distress, telling her parents she was trapped in a room surrounded by devil-worshipers. (I believe she returned home in relatively good condition.) This time, I know of an older liberal Friend who had quite a hard time at the event; but perhaps others felt fine.

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