A Catholic Reckoning? How about an Evangelical Quaker Reckoning?

In a time of all-encompassing catastrophe, bad news comes at us from all directions. But insight can comes form anywhere as well. There’s much of this in an editorial in the April 17-30 issue of the liberal Catholic paper, the National Catholic Reporter, (NCR) entitled “Catholics and Trump, a reckoning.” I believe it calls for Quaker attention.

Not that it’s about or for Quakers. But reading it, though, I kept seeing a different name in place of “Catholic” — Quaker.  More specifically, Evangelical Quaker. A sample of the editorial will show why.

But first, a bit of context. Here in North Carolina, much of the evangelically-oriented Quaker population is found in three counties: Surry, Randolph and Yadkin counties. And these three counties have a distinctive record in national politics: twice, in 2008 and 2012, they voted against Barack Obama by a three to one margin. And in 2016, they voted for the incumbent president by three to one.

There’s no breakdown of this vote by religious denomination; but long experience and observation leave me convinced that the Friends there as a group generally reflect the views behind this vote tally.  Moreover, the reporting I’ve done on Indiana, California, Oregon and other evangelical Quaker strongholds is persuasive that the Carolina results are typical.

And I remember this every time I hear an evangelical give me and my ilk a sidelong glance and repeats the mantra, “Well, you know that 80 percent of Quakers in the world (and the U.S.) are evangelicals.”

Yes I know. I’ve known that for a long time.

And that’s why this originally Catholic editorial reads differently to me. Let’s take a look (the words in bold red substitute for different nouns in the NCR text):

Several significant questions emerge, entwined, from the chaos of the moment. One is about U.S. Evangelical Quakerism and its public expression, the other about our civic/political life and, in each instance, how they might be transformed in the post-pandemic era.

In the civil realm, the question is whether truth, or the pursuit of it, and competence will ever be foundational again to the way we conduct our public affairs. Or will we continue to require that truth bowl us over — actually threaten every area of life — before we believe it?
The question for the Evangelical Quaker church in the United States is whether we will come out of this austere moment able to admit the role Evangelical Quaker churches and their leaders played in electing and enabling a man who, far from being pro-life, has proven himself a distinct danger to life on several levels.
It is neither coincidence nor surprising that those who engage in fevered distortions of the truth in the political realm would have companions in the religion realm.
The combination is dangerous, and just how potentially destructive — not only of democratic processes and institutions but now of the body politic itself — is becoming all too clear.
Are those . . . who reduced Evangelical Quaker participation in the political process to a single issue, who tacitly approved when their culture-warrior minions delivered that message from countless pulpits, willing to take responsibility now for the sheer incompetence they helped put in place? If it profits not a man to give his soul for the world, how much worse for the church to hand over its integrity for a few conservative justices.
The consequences are enormous and have to do with much more than policy differences or even single-issue politics. . . .
There is an Evangelical Quaker reckoning at hand. Evangelical Quakers and their leaders who bought the single-issue strategy find themselves stuck in what once was a fun house now turned house of horrors, incongruously lashed to President Donald Trump, a tawdry community of mutual desperation.
This place where the feints and mirrors were once enough in the dim light to convince the band of jesters that they were in control is becoming, in the cold light of truth, a national graveyard. The daily reality is a grim report of the spiraling number of sick and dying. . . .
Trump has been forced in recent weeks to confront realities that until now he has been able to avoid or banish from his crimped universe: people of deep empathy and superior competence, forces he can’t control, and bluster that is not only transparently silly but also dangerous. . . .
This awful moment has laid bare the high cost to the U.S. Evangelical Quaker churches of 30 years or more of accommodation to a culture of political expediency and an attempt to diminish the community of faith’s responsibility to the common good. Single-issue voting relieved too many of us of the responsibility to engage deeper political and historical realities. The questions we’re left with are urgent.

The reckoning is upon us.

Much of my reporting in recent years has been taken up by documenting the wide swath of internal destructiveness that organized Evangelical Quakerism has wreaked across a string of yearly meetings in what I call “The Separation Generation.”

But in addition to that, this constituency has been a reliable minion of the public decay that brought us to the desperate plight and moment that the NCR editorial brings into laser-focus.

I won’t pile on to its concise, trenchant eloquence.

Instead, only two queries: first,is it not time for a parallel reckoning in the U.S. Evangelical Quaker churches?

That question is rhetorical. It’s past time. What isn’t is the second: is there courage and insight enough in the U.S. Evangelical Quaker churches to face up to this task, and bring this reckoning about?

11 thoughts on “A Catholic Reckoning? How about an Evangelical Quaker Reckoning?”

  1. Hi, Chuck!

    Thank you for sharing your post. However, there are a couple of points that leave me quite confused.

    The first is the use of the term “Evangelical.” The problem, of course, is that in Quakerdom, “Evangelical” generally refers to the Evangelical Friends Church International, but it is often used in a way that is meant to include EFCI and Friends United Meeting. But there are quite a few monthly meetings whose faith and practice are much more in line with Hicksite/Conservative Quakerism, but which through their yearly meetings remain affiliated with FUM. Furthermore, the recent separations centered in Indiana, Ohio/Tennessee, and North Carolina to which you refer involved FUM yearly meetings and had nothing directly to do with EFCI. So, please be clear about how you are using the term “Evangelical.”

    Secondly, my own experience with FUM would suggest that if there is a single issue, it is not abortion, but rather the continuing commitment to homophobia. There is no doubt that Trump is a transphobe and that Trump’s nominees for the SCOTUS and Federal Judgeships are very worrying for the future of legal equality of LGBT people and their families in the US. Nevertheless, it is difficult (for me, at least) to view Trump as particularly focused on LGBT issues.

    Finally, I am not entirely sure what you are suggesting for non-E/evanglical Friends. In general, whenever a Hicksite/Conservative Quaker says anything even slightly “critical” of one of the other branches, no matter how outrageous their policies and practices may be, other “liberal” Friends rain hellfire and brimstone down upon the Friend raising the issue and shout them down as bigoted, narrow-minded, failing to “see that of God” in EFCI/FUM, etc. What is your take on this situation?

    1. Hi Rex, good to hear from you. As far as terminology, I am using “Evangelical” here in a general sense, rather than with any institutional strictness. Yes, there have been plenty of evangelical-oriented meetings/churches in the FUM yearly meetings; and a troublesome bunch they have often been.

      I would also acknowledge some capaciousness in the phrase “single issue”, which was NCR’s. For some Evangelicals, in my observation, the “single issue” is abortion, as it is for Catholic officialdom; but for many others, the “single issue” is lesbian/gay. And for yet others it is transphobia. Then there are some for whom it is guns. And for not a few, the single issue, though generally not vocalized in public, is flat-out white supremacy.

      I remember covering meetings in the turn of the 1980s (forty years ago!) and listening to the architects of the Religious Right speak frankly of their goal of knitting all these “single issue” constituencies into a politically meaningful coalition. It was a goal they largely achieved, and the alliance which has morphed into the personality-centered death cult we now contend with.

      And what should liberal Friends do about this? Your predicted storm of brimstone has yet to begin falling on me (though it is early); but I am stocked with umbrellas, and will cope with that when it does. Meantime, yes evangelicals have that of God in them; but too many have covered up too much of it with a god-awful mess of pottage, and to my mind, mushy liberal coddling thereof does all concerned a historic disservice.

  2. Thank you, Chuck. I hope that this might be one of the things that will bring about some soul searching. Unfortunately, I fear that many will just rationalize their behavior and continue to support, if not the man, the man’s positions.

  3. It is indeed sad that so many who are religiously conservative have been seduced by the politics of fear and hate that Mr. Trump and many others on the far-right have peddled. I suggest that those who have found support for an issue about which they care deeply, such as abortion or same-sex oriented individuals’ membership or marriage, etc., more fully evaluate the company with which they have chosen to affiliate themselves. There was no place in Jesus’s heart for hate of the other (of any kind), the poor, the elderly, or the disabled.

  4. Wow. I am shocked. I thought that if there is that of God in all people, why would anyone worry about who people loved? I assumed that Conservative Quakers were mainly of Christian belief, they would be open to realize that many people are born a certain way, and that we should love everyone. For centuries, homosexuals had to deal with judgments upon them, hiding and only loved with they chose to live a life that was unnatural to them. Please clarify this to me… Do conservative Quakers actually spend time worrying about who people love?

    1. Becky Ellis, if you want to understand actual Quakers in today’s actual real world,there’s some serious homework awaiting you.

      1. At first, I was somewhat baffled by Becky Ellis’ comments, because I thought that she was denouncing Chuck Fager for suggesting that there is something amiss with the worship of Donald Trump. Then I realized that she is using “Conservative Quakers” and later “conservative Quakers” to refer to the mainstream of EFCI/FUM–NOT to North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) or to Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). This is a terminological confusion that Conservative Jews and Conservative Quakers are constantly faced with: “Conservative” has nothing to do with “conservative” in the socio-political sense. (It’s also far from clear that the way that the term “conservative” has come to be used in the socio-political sense has much to do with “traditional” values–or any kind of values.)

      2. Obviously there is. Looks like I have more homework ahead of me. Alas, I continue to be a square peg in a round hole.

        1. But at the same time, please do not lose sight of the fact that for the most part, those Quaker bodies that have remained faithful to basic Quaker faith and practice have been at the forefront of understanding of equality for LGBTQ people. Consider, for example, the publication of “Towards a Quaker View of Sex” published in the early 1960s by eleven British Friends, or the role that the community now known as Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns has played in Friend General Conference Annual Gatherings for several decades. In my view and view of many others, this has been the major piece of Continuing Revelation in the Religious Society of Friends in the second half of the 20th century.

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