Breaking: FGC Set to Tap Barry Crossno as New General Secretary

This info has been around for some time, from reliable sources, and has been bottled up long enough:
Great Quaker Turnover

Friends General Conference is set to name Barry Crossno as its new General Secretary.

As was true of the other two Quaker big groups which have hired CEOs in recent months (AFSC & FCNL), Crossno is a new face, has roots far from Philly (Dallas), and has considerable experience in fundraising. (In fact, Crossno is currently “Development Manager” at Pendle Hill.) He’s younger than the others, tho, barely 40, and relatively young in Quakerdom as well, first visiting Meeting in 1998.

Barry Crossno
Barry Crossno

I’m not sure I’ve met him; but Crossno did the inquiring journalist the favor of maintaining a blog, “The Quaker Dharma,” for several years, which provided many interesting tidbits. A few salient points:

He came to Quakerism out of an intense involvement with Buddhism, so intense that he was an important staff member of a Billy Graham-style mass Buddhist evangelistic crusade event that went on for weeks — in Mongolia, aimed at resurrecting the Mongolians’ traditional Buddhism after decades of communist suppression. Quite a project, by his description. (I’m not sure he would approve of referring to it as a Billy Graham-style mass crusade, but that’s what it was, for sure.)

He brought with him into Quakerism four particular interests, which combine the familiar and the new (or re-newed):

First is a strong mystical base. His 2004-2006 blogging breathes the enthusiasm of the new devotee, and speaks with assurance (and numerous repetitions) that Quakerism is first, last, and always, a mystical form of religion, or rather, a religious form of mysticism, for which “experience” is the core, the center, the Holy Grail. As, for instance, in this 2005 entry:

In the forward to the Quaker Reader, Jessamine West posited the idea that much of what could be said about Zen could be said of Quakerism.This really had resonance for me as it was around the time of reading that book that I really started to understand Quakerism as more of a process than a “thing.” [Emphasis added; spelling not corrected.]

Or this 2006 cry:

What is it I’m experiencing? What is discernment? How do I discern? What does being “spirit led” mean? How do I settle my mind during the silence? Should I do silence every day? Why do I never feel led to break the silence during worship? . . . . Can the cumulative Quaker experience answer these questions? Can I access training methods that will get me to a spirit led place? I know the Source is beyond human definitions and is beyond what any one religion can contain. Therefore, should I continue to look to other traditions like Buddhism to answer some of these questions or am I looking there only because I don’t know what’s available in my own tradition?

Some will answer that there are lots of lovely books that address many of these questions. . . . Others might say to simply continue to seek and you will find.

First, I’m sick of lovely books. That side of my brain is hemorrhaging from too much reading. I’m ready for more of the “burning experience of God.” Take me there. Get me there. No more second hand stuff. Quakers are all about the experience, right?

Elsewhere he points to the undoubted sources for this understanding of Quakerism: FGC, Howard Brinton, the AFSC’s Friends Fellowship council of the 1930s and 1940s.

The last blog entries are from 2008, more than two years ago. One hopes that in the interim Crossno has begun to discover a few points which can enlarge this view.

For enlarged it needs to be, if he is now to become one of the main American Quaker “statesmen.” The identification of Quakerism with “mysticism,” for instance is a relatively recent phenomenon, hardly a century old (as, indeed, is the concept itself), and confined to fairly limited sectors. Many Friends, past and present have not been and are not “mystics” and have even said so, though they have often been ignored.

One such statement which I find very poignant came from William Littleboy, an early director at Woodbrooke, in his 1916 pamphlet “The appeal of Quakerism to the Non-Mystic.” Regrettably this work has not been put online yet, but a brief quote will suffice:

LITTLEBOY: Can I who never consciously heard the inward voice, who am not of those to whom it is given to see visions and dream dreams – dare I believe that a real and intimate relationship exists between God and my own dull and earth-clogged soul? Upon the answer to our question stated in this personal form, depends I believe the hope and peace, the character of the whole outlook, of multitudes of anxious spirits. . . . Exceptional experiences of revelation or guidance are not necessarily signs of deep spirituality. . . . We know that to some choice souls god’s messages come in ways which are super-normal, and it is natural that we should look with longing eyes on these; yet such cases are the exception, not the rule . . . . Let us then take ourselves at our best. We are capable of thought and care for others. We do at times abase ourselves that others may be exalted. On occasion we succeed in loving our enemies and doing good to those who despitefully use us. For those who are nearest to us we would suffer – perhaps even give our life, because we love them so . . . .(W)herever there are seeking souls, restless, unsatisfied, agnostic, wherever there are spirits in prison crying out for light and liberty, there is the opportunity of the Quaker evangelist. To the great nonmystic majority his appeal should come with special power, for he can speak to them, as none other can whose gospel is less universal, of the unseen, unfelt Presence which is always seeking to express itself within them.

There are more recent voices (See, for instance, Margaret Bacon’s fine biography of the eminent, and eminently non-mystical Henry Cadbury, Let This Life Speak; or David Boulton’s vivid The Trouble With God. More on Cadbury here. ). These and others reinforce an important point: there is a galloping “mysto-chauvinism” within FGC circles that is not only dreadfully insular and parochial, but also carries the seeds of trouble for Friends.

Henry Cadbury. Quaker, Yes. Mystic, No.


Whenever I read such mystical panegyrics, I hear Lydia Cadbury, Henry’s wife and a lifelong Friend, who once said to a visitor, “Are you a mystic? Well, I’m not. Rather do a big load of laundry any day.” (Bacon, p. 36.) The head of FGC, however rooted in mystical awareness, needs to be able to see beyond this small hothouse garden, and avoid letting it become a hazardous fetish. Let us hope Crossno has been gaining that enlarged vision.

George Fox
George Fox, an early Friend, widely rumored to be mostly a Non-Mystic also.


The second salient feature is another side of this “Dharma Quakerism”, Crossno’s guiding word combination. In a telling post from April 2006, he notes that

A good friend has been acting as a teacher and guide for me the past two months. Two weeks ago she hit me with something of a mental bomb. “You have a problem with Jesus.” “Excuse me,” I said. “You have a problem with Jesus.” After a couple of sentences to clarify things, she hung up the phone. I found this really confounding coming from a woman who doesn’t consider herself traditionally Christian and has done lots of Buddhist study. Maybe this was the point? Hm. Today’s lesson was over. Now what to do about it?

After a little ranting and raving, I realized, “Yeah, I’ve got a problem with Jesus.” For years, I’ve held the person and concept of Jesus responsible for two thousand years of war, genocide, slavery, and oppression. From the time I was fifteen my basic feeling was “Christianity is the problem. God is the solution.” This position softened a lot in my twenties, but Jesus still had very little to do with God in my mind. The whole Jesus thing was a problem to be solved, rather than being in any way life affirming. . . . I have to let go of my anger towards what people have done in Christ’s name. And I have to let go of some of my thoughts that Jesus must of have been a crappy teacher for things to get this messed up!

Interestingly, during the process of letting go I started thinking, “But how do I know what Christ really taught?” I gnashed on this for a while. Then I remembered some of the original Quaker teachings about the Inner Christ– that you can receive clear guidance. I’ve always thought of that in terms of God, but maybe I can receive guidance from the life and presence of Jesus. What a novel concept! Wow, and it’s what Quakers have taught all along!

Sometimes it takes me a while to catch on . . . .

I was greatly relieved to read this exchange, for the “problem with Jesus” had been obvious from very early in the blogging. Almost the only “Christian” references in the corpus had been a couple of allusions to the “inner Christ”; I don’t recall seeing “Jesus” in the blog at all until this point; and it rarely recurs again afterward. Crossno’s response to this eldering was to visit a protestant church. It’s not clear what, if anything was gained from the visit.

Such “problems with Jesus” are of course not unusual among liberal Friends, especially those relatively new to the Society; I’ve had them myself. And many a backbencher Quaker can live and die within the orbit of a local liberal Meeting, and have a rich religious life, with no need to get past them.

Yet for the CEO of FGC, such a “problem” is, well, a problem. I’m not speaking here of needing “belief” in Jesus, in the orthodox way. Instead, it’s a matter of getting comfortable with the guy, AND familiar with the literature and the tradition.

Yes: familiarity and lack of discomfort with Jesus, the traditions and literature that’s gathered around his figure; in 2011, these really are not optional. Rather, they are basic “management tools” for dealing, first of all, with all those OTHER kinds of Quakers (who are by far the majority). It’s basic to their language and worldview; and I’m sure Crossno understands that the old liberal notion of “Well, really, under the different verbiage we’re all really saying the same thing (which of course agrees with me),” is condescending nonsense.

And the same skills are needed for relating to all those OTHER Christian groups in the world outside — and then many of the NON-Christian groups (like Muslims, for instance) whose more able advocates have consciously set out to develop such familiarity, for their own purposes.

Crossno concludes this entry thus:

While it’s unclear that I’ll ever refer to myself as traditionally Christian, it feels right to embark on a path of reconciliation with the tradition of my culture and to let go of my resentments. If I’m to emulate the life that Jesus lived then I can’t be caught up with labels anyway. Love is all.

The first part is unassailable; the second, alas, is not sufficient. Surely, love is necessary, but it is not all; for an FGC CEO to be effective today amid the variety of Quakerdom, and Christianity, and the world, such knowledge will ride beside him, every day.

Such an enlargement affects as well the third feature of Crossno’s religious life highlighted in the blog: a passion for Quaker “outreach,” or what others call evangelism. He writes often of the need for a nationwide program of outreach and education-formation for newcomers and inquirers, to include advertising, in-depth study materials, circuit-riding missionaries (he eschews this Christian appellation, of course, but that’s what’s in view), college lecture programs, and more. Crossno was thinking big, and in several posts he earnestly solicited help in forming such an ambitious home missions body, either under some existing group umbrella, or free-standing.

He didn’t get it. The handful of replies to his appeals were dreamily supportive, but lacking in any offers of practical resources, especially that secret ingredient which (as he knows well) spells the difference between the pipe dream and the actual launch of such a project, i.e., money. The kind of undertaking he imagines would be hugely expensive. That is not said as criticism, by the way; I believe good outreach is worth what it costs. And I like to see Quaker functionaries thinking big.

Yet the best he can do, as the final 2008 entry attests, is to get involved in the Quaker Quest program, FGC’s developing outreach effort. Compared to the evangelistic juggernaut Crossno fantasized about, of course, QQ is pretty small beer. So I hope he has hung on to his dreams. If Crossno could mobilize his core FGC constituency to launch a serious exploration of evangelism, the results would be something to see. I suspect it will be a hard sell, tho; but let me not pour cold water on any remaining enthusiasm.

For this and other efforts, I also hope Crossno will be bold about the fourth prominent theme in his blog, the need for Quakers, especially liberals, to rediscover their once rich (in more than one sense) entrepreneurial and business heritage and outlook. As he wrote in 2007:

I believe it’s now time, as part of the Quaker renewal movement, for Quakers to re-embrace their entrepreneurial past to deeply impact institutional worldwide commerce. In the past half century, many Quakers have been drawn deeply into social services work, academia, and government service. This is good and noble work, yet there is another avenue through which to live the Testimonies– the business world.

He also quotes the old saw about how Quakers came to Philadelphia 300 years ago to do good, “and some did very well indeed.” (I believe this may have been the very first Quaker joke I ever heard, almost 50 years ago. Maybe it’s the most important.)

He continues:

To successfully do this, however, Quakers and non-Quakers alike need an institution of higher learning that focuses at the Graduate level on rigorous traditional and alternative business practices. This program could build on the successes of the undergraduate business programs at Guilford or Earlham, or it could be a stand alone program solely focused on Graduate Certificates and an MBA program.

Doubtless education would be crucial: good intentions in commerce seldom get far unless the wannabe entrepreneurs know what the hell they’re doing, business-wise. Yet my own sense is that this aspiration brings Crossno face to face with the doppelganger of his “Jesus problem”: the fact that most liberal American Quakers (and the Brits I’ve met as well) are almost reflexively anti-business. As a corporate culture — which while disembodied is a very real “thing,” (i.e., the sort of entity which Crossno was once convinced, mistakenly, that Quakerism was not) –liberal Quakerism is as deeply anti-entrepreneurial, and anti-profit a group as I’ve come across in my adult life. This “business problem” is a big one.

(By contrast, I recently visited a group of Trappist monks. In their centuries-old monastery, they own nothing personally, eat simple meals, dress in identical rough habits, and rise daily at 3 AM to start the first of eight long sessions of prayer during that day; they do this week after week, decade after decade, til they die. Mystics all, as far as I could tell. Yet these men also operate a very successful cheese factory, a business which expresses their values, and is profitable enough to permit them to follow their chosen round of devotion, a routine which wore me out after sampling only a few of their sessions. The cheese was good, tho.)

Abbaye Tamie
A Certain Cheesy Monastery

The moral of this little story is: if we Friends want to keep doing our special Quaker things in our special Quaker ways, we will need lots of extra available Quaker money with which to do them. And such money will need to come from Quakers who get the drift, and can generate the extra money (i.e., profits). Don’t get me started on a rant about what happens to Quaker groups that get most or all their funding from non-Quaker sources; suffice to say that the Golden Rule (Them With the Gold Makes the Rules) applies. And while Quakers are not better than other people, they do tend to be more Quaker than others.

A Certain Mystically Monkish Cheese

tamie-cheeseSo prior to the Quaker MBA program, my hunch is that Crossno will need to mount an aggressive campaign of evangelism, aimed at nothing less than mass conversion among liberal Quakers, to repent of our ingrained anti-business outlook and seriously mend our ways. (Let the church say, “Amen!” — Oh, wait, I mean: let’s revise our Quaker Dharma.) On this I wish him all success, and say: Get busy — the budget you save may be your own.

Now the technicalities of this anointing are thus: the FGC Executive Committee will gather this weekend in Sarasota, Florida (they are ever a hardy bunch), and after due and weighty consideration, act on this appointment. The lack of suspense is, I gather, palpable.

And there is one footnote to be added. When this impending FGC appointment was mentioned on this blog before, our recommendation was that the search committee look outside the ranks of incumbent staff and veteran committee leaders, because of the lingering taint of the 1994 Quaker Sweat Lodge debacle, which had discredited them and FGC as an exemplar of justice and ethical practice.

It appears that this advice was followed. This many years later, when the “dead elephant” of the QSL matter is supposed to be buried and forgotten, it may seem gauche to some to aver to it. But what was rotten in 1994 is rotten still, and unforgotten, its corrosive effects unaddressed. FGC still needs some internal work to regain any credibility as a moral exemplar. My best wishes go with Barry Crossno as he takes up this mainly unacknowledged task along with the body’s more explicit agenda, which is busy and demanding enough.

And the Great Quaker Turnover keeps on churning.

2 thoughts on “Breaking: FGC Set to Tap Barry Crossno as New General Secretary”

  1. As a Friend I know that the Sweat Lodge issue is still very tender for me. It has lead me to direct my FGC donations specifically toward scholarships for Friends to Gathering, rather than giving them $100 every year to do with what they will. Perhaps if the Sweat Lodge matter had been handled in a more Quakerly manner (rather than railroading George Price, whom I adore) I would feel differently about giving my money freely to the organization.

  2. Hello Friends, I think I can remember that William Littleboy was an
    imprisoned conscientious objector during World War i, and later he was
    clerk of London (now Britain) Yearly Meeting. So he must be accounted
    as a weighty Friend, and his ministry weighty as well.
    Nowadays, as Barry Crossno’s example shows, we have Buddhist
    Quakers, and Pagan Quakers, and atheist and agnostic Quakers. In FGC,
    that is just fine. However, as Chuck says, the executive secretary of
    FGC really must know something about Jesus as well—both the historical
    (i.e., Biblical) Jesus and the Inward Light, the Christ Within. Not to be
    qualified in this way will not only make it impossible to relate to other
    Friends, but will push FGC further along into an anti-Christian trap.
    The prevaing wind among Quakers, I think,, is now blowing in a
    Christian direction, for the first time in about 100 years. Any Quaker institutions that try to resist this wind may be blown away.
    So a major task, I think, for Barry Crossno and ohters at FGC is to
    explain to his own FGC constituency how one can be a Christian, in
    a Quaker sense, and something else (like a Buddhist) at the same time.
    This is very complicated. I don’t think it can fit well with program of
    evangelism or outreach on a massive scale. So FGC will remain, I
    suppose, a church or religion for a tiny elite.
    Meanwhile, as Chuck says, the great Quaker turnover is accelerating.
    The Friends United Meeting executive committee has recommended
    Colin Saxton, the general superintendent of Northwest Yearly Meeting,
    as the next general secretary of Friends United Meeting. Northwest
    Yearly Meeting is not a member of FUM, but a member of Evangelical
    Friends International. (For that matter, Northwest, long ago Oregon
    Y.M., was the first yearly meeting to decide that FUM was too liberal
    or “modernist” and depart from FUM.) So this appointment may
    represent an important step, a reconciliation among pastoral Friends,
    who have been bitterly and increasingly divided for a century. This
    is now the most destructive division among North American Friends:
    it has left several yearly meetings (e.g. Western, Iowa, and EFC-SW)
    terribly weakened; it destroyed Nebraska 1957; and it has
    almost destroyed FUM itself. In recent years, the united yearly
    meetings have often been made a scapegoat for this division, so
    the division does matter to all North American Friends. and its
    healing would be a great blessing. Of course, we don’t know what
    will happen. Certainly Colin Saxton, if appointed as gen.secy. of FUM, will have to learn to live an entirely different Quaker environment from
    Northwest Y.M. (which still includes some hard-line fundamentalists).
    It is clear that liberal Christian Friends, who are probably even now
    the majority in FGC, and are a large minority in FUM, should pray
    for the future of FUM and Colin Saxton and above all, the enormous
    (by Quaker standards) FUM missionary efforts around the world. These
    efforts, along with the efforts of EFI, make Quaker Quest look like a
    silly joke; they have helped Quakerism to grow like Topsy in many
    countries around the world. We are now a worldwide church, and
    North American liberal Friends must not forget this fact.
    Jeremy Mott

    Chuck comments: Jeremy, you make an excellent point about how the deepest divide in the American Quaker world is between the “moderate” pastoral folks and the “fundamentalist” ones; and it goes back generations. Us “Liberals” are really pawns in that chronic struggle. The current division in Western yearly Meeting in Indiana shows that clearly. I recall being somewhat abashed when I finally figured this out — here I thought all this sound and fury was about US — but no; that was just my vanity.

    As for the new FUM appointment, hope springs eternal, but this is hardly the first time a Friend from Northwest YM has been at the helm of FUM. Kara Cole (now Kara Newell) was GS for FUM in the late 80s-early 90s, and I believe there have been others. I liked Kara, and thought she did a good job. But there have been other FUM officials from an evangelical background whose tenure was disastrous and divisive. So while I welcome Colin Saxton, I’ll take a wait and see attitude. I remember interviewing Steve Main, who came from the evangelical wing of Iowa YM to the FUM GS post, when he started. He said all the “right,” conciliatory and seemingly tolerant things. (That interview was reported in the print AFL #69, online here.) His performance was 180 degrees from that; he came up with the infamous “realignment” scheme, and one could make the case that FUM has never fully recovered from his disastrous reign. (Read several later issues of AFL online to follow that unfolding controversy: here , here, here, and here; it is also recounted in my book, “Without Apology.”)

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