Category Archives: Corona Virus/Pandemic

“Merry Christmas. Now, Get Out!” Quaker David & Goliath Update: Goliath Wins

Christian churches all over the world are having Christmas services this weekend, and into the coming weeks. It’s a tradition almost two millennia old. But for some churches, it’s a pretty bittersweet occasion.

The Friends Church of Midway City, in Orange County California is one such. After 85 years, this Christmas weekend is to be their last in the church they built and paid for, and pursued their vision of evangelical Quakerism.

[Note: more about Midway’s GoFundMe campaign, to help pay off their $50,000 debt for lawsuit legal expenses, is here: https://gf.me/u/ykw8s8 ]
Many readers have asked about the outcome of the dispute between Midway City Friends and their evangelical overlords, reported here in widely-read blog posts almost a year ago, here and here.

The overlords announced in May 2018 that they were going to shut down the congregation, take the church and its property, and fire the pastors. The Midway City Friends filed a lawsuit in 2018 to stop their expropriation.

It didn’t work out. As the church announced on its Facebook page above, they lost their case. The defendants, leaders of Evangelical Friends Church Southwest (EFCSW; neé California Yearly Meeting), argued that changes in Faith & Practice they had engineered a decade earlier made the EFCSW Board of Elders the supreme rulers, with ultimate ownership over all their member churches’ property. After months of mainly Covid-forced delay, last summer the judge agreed.

Cara and Joe Pfeiffer, now looking for a new gig, and home, for their family of six.

Midway City’s deposed pastor Joe Pfeiffer put it this way in a September Facebook post:

What we have discovered through the legal process in the last two years is that a small group who want to adopt a megachurch-satellite model with a centralized corporate structure basically circumvented our denominations governing bylaws to orchestrate a take-over. Though a lot of pious and spiritual language is being used (as often in church settings) it really comes down to power and money.

Early on, I started to publicly question this trend, as well as some of the ways our denominational budgets and nominations were being handled, and basically became a target, and then our church as a whole.

Our hope above all in this, is to continue to speak truth to power, and testify to our experience. Our aim is that truth will lead to conviction and ultimately reconciliation and healing in our broader body of Friends in Southwest.

But a third goal of their EFCSW antagonists went beyond grabbing the Midway City property and terminating Joe and his wife, co-pastor Cara Pfeiffer. They also want to make the whole episode disappear into oblivion down the legal memory hole. When a “settlement” was reached in November, it included nondisclosure clauses which forced the Pfeiffers to clam up, and relieved the EFCSW rulers from having to make any comment.

So no one has actually told me any of the settlement details. But key parts of it, e.g., the evictions, are outcomes that can’t actually be entirely concealed. After all, your basic big closing-down-and moving-the-church rummage sale announce-ment is pretty much a dead giveaway.

Their forced move is also a public reminder of how this whole affair started, when the Pfeiffers yielded to the quinte-ssentially Christian impulse to help a few homeless people who showed up on their doorstep in early 2018. That, and Joe’s record of daring to question EFCSW’s dedication to secretive top-down rule which brooked no questions or protest — that is, acting as if Friends were supposed to be a community of equals, was simply beyond the pale. They had to be stopped. The support the Pfeiffers had from the church was intolerable;  all had to be stopped, and the memory expunged.

Now EFCSW has sort of got their way: they’ll get the property, which if the economy rebounds could be worth a bundle, and the Pfeiffers and their four foster children, are now mum about the lawsuit, and face an uncertain pandemic-haunted future.

Yet there are a few loose ends. For one, the church, while small, has refused to die. Yes, it will be homeless a few days from now; but this is the year of worship-by-Zoom, so they will still meet, as they have done since the pandemic arrived, until they figure out where they can land next. There are, after all, Friends meetings in their area which are not under the hegemony of EFCSW.

Further, last spring, well before the gag rule was drafted, Joe Pfeiffer published “Engaging Homelessness Behind the “Orange Curtain,” a detailed, searing and trenchant critique of the entire “church growth” theology that has driven EFCSW  for more than fifty years. The piece exposed its deep-seated roots in defensive white normativity and the preservation of class privilege.

The essay and a detailed Preface were published in Quaker Theology #34, which is available online at no charge here. EFCSW’s legal victory and its aftermath are unlikely to put an end to the searching conversations that article started.

For its part, EFCSW issued a short letter addressed to pastors in its 45 churches, noting the settlement, and underlining its  confidentiality. In a possible bow to criticism that may have been evoked by wide attention to the Midway City property grab, Rick Darden, who signed the missive for the Elders, said of EFCSW’s leaders that

“we commit to improving our efforts in communications and relationships among our pastors and churches.

We believe that EFCSW has acted graciously toward the people of FCC Midway City and Joe and Cara Pfeiffer and their foster children in this settlement . . . .”

I couldn’t help it. The cluelessness here forced a laugh.

Here’s the leader of a so-called Christian church, parading his “graciousness” while marking the occasion of the birth of his church’s acclaimed messiah, whose infancy was spent as a homeless refugee, and one of whose commands for salvation was taking in the homeless, by having it coincide with making homeless refugees of one of their own congregations.

Further, Darden & Co. are expelling them from a church which the mostly non-affluent members of built, paid for, and maintained. Their only “crime” (besides wanting to think and speak freely) was trying to help a few of the thousands of homeless people with which Darden’s home county abounds.

(The last homeless count in Orange County was over 7000 in 2019, up from 4800 when this whole fiasco began. A 2020 count was canceled by Covid, but homelessness is widely assumed to have ballooned with the associated economic crash and its joblessness.)

An Orange County homeless shelter, 2019.

Darden and EFCSW’s flagship church in upscale Yorba Linda (self-styled as “The Land of Gracious living”) include on their megachurch staff eight staffers assigned to “Marketing,” and a dozen more to a “Creative Team.”

Evidently none of these twenty noticed that both the timing and what political pundits called “the optics” of this expulsion event are, to put it mildly, beyond terrible.  After such a move, any EFCSW efforts at “improving [their] efforts in communications and relationships” as Darden’s letter pledged, would seem to be, as the pundits also say, “due for a reset.”

Darden’s letter closed by assuring that EFCSW’s leaders were offering the Pfeiffers and the Midway City Friends their thoughts and prayers.

Of course. As Christians today, it was the least they could do.

Pfizer vs the Feds; a Parable for Our Times

There’s a very interesting commentary on the Bulwark blog, about Pfizer and its new vaccine. Not about the medical aspects but the financial side: Pfizer completely steered clear of the administration’s “Operation Warp Speed,” with all its hoopla and federal money, paying for all the experimentation and trials solely with its own funds.

Blogger Brent Orrell wondered

why Pfizer opted to front its own costs when the federal spigot was open, and why it raced to distance itself from Operation Warp Speed once the clinical trial findings were released. For answers to those questions, we have to review the long, sad tale of the Trump administration’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis over the past nine months.

You know the outline of what’s next, but bear with us:

Except for brief interludes, President Trump more or less fumbled pandemic policy and communications from the get-go. In service of his re-election campaign, he sought to downplay the seriousness of the threat. He has encouraged resistance to public health measures like masking and business lockdowns, leading to huge, rotating disease spikes first in the South and more recently in the Midwest.

His overheated rhetoric against social distancing and restrictions on business (“Liberate Michigan!”) culminated in FBI-thwarted plots to kidnap the governors of Michigan and Virginia. Finally, his resolute refusal to adhere to, or allow those around him to adhere to, basic disease mitigation practices resulted in a mini-epidemic for the first family and dozens of members of his administration. Back in August, even Mitch McConnell started avoiding a White House that looked every day more like a scene from The Hot Zone.

Continue reading Pfizer vs the Feds; a Parable for Our Times

The Election Is over For Biden; the Pandemic is not

Eric Trump was one who sneered at the pandemic in late Spring, and said media attention to it was no more than a Democratic Party campaign ploy.  As reported in Forbes (a respected, business-oriented journal):

During an interview with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro on “Justice with Judge Jeanine,” Eric Trump, the son of President Donald Trump said, “And guess what, after November 3 coronavirus will magically all of a sudden go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen.”

The following tweet includes a video of this segment: [ text: “Biden loves this,” @EricTrump says, talking about agonizing shutdowns during the pandemic… “They’ll milk it every single day between now and Nov. 3, and guess what. . .”

He repeated the talking point in a TIME report: “They think they’re taking away Donald Trump’s greatest tool, which is being able to go into an arena and fill it with 50,000 people every single time…,” Trump said. “And you watch, they’ll milk it every single day between now and Nov. 3. And guess what, after Nov. 3 coronavirus will magically, all of a sudden, go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen.”

Trump added in the TIME report that that Vice President Biden “loves this” because [Biden] is not able to draw comparable crowds to his campaign events. He said that Democrats are trying to take away the President’s “greatest asset”— his ability to connect with the American people, and appear at campaign rallies.

Continue reading The Election Is over For Biden; the Pandemic is not

Another Quiet Day at Spring Friends Meeting (not really)

If you drove west on the Chapel Hill-Greensboro Road through Snow Camp, North Carolina on Sunday, November 1, 2020, at about eleven AM, you would have passed a white chapel-looking building on your left. A few cars were parked outside, on the grass under the big old trees, which are shedding their wrinkled brown leaves after a hot green summer.

That was Spring Friends Meeting. From the outside, it looked quiet, secluded, and almost deserted. Easy to miss amid the wooded stretches and dairy farms of southern Alamance county.

But inside, it was none of those. Yes, just a handful of Quakers, or Friends, were sitting, widely-spaced and mostly masked, on its long benches. And they weren’t loud. But a lot was going on.

Pepper spray and guns will do that: liven up what’s meant to be a mostly silent meeting. As will being in national headlines. Continue reading Another Quiet Day at Spring Friends Meeting (not really)

Meditation/Remembrance for the Day: 200,000

Meditation/Remembrance for the Day:
The National Cathedral in DC tolled its big booming bell 200 times yesterday as sound track for the U.S. reaching 200 THOUSAND Covid deaths. Click here to see it on YouTube.
It’s on YouTube. No sermon, no choir, no ads, no collection.
It lasts almost 20 minutes.
Suggestion: click the link, and let it roll.
Use it as background; keep on doing what you’re doing.
Just remember whenever the bell catches your ear, and maybe pause.
None of us living in the USA have ever been here before.
And most of it didn’t have to happen.
We can change it. It’s Time. Click here.

Governor Cooper & the GOP Convention: Keep Carolina Safe!

Hundreds of people said “Yes!”  to my Facebook call for North Carolina officials to keep our citizens safe by standing firm on pandemic safety policies relating to the planned Republican National Convention set for Charlotte in August.

Thank you to everyone who “Liked” or commented on it. Now I have a request for followup:

Please send this message to Governor Roy Cooper. It only takes a moment or two.

Governor Cooper has an online email form, right here.  
F
olks from out of state can also use it (we want visitors to be safe here too!)

I just sent this message myself:

Dear Governor Cooper:

I strongly urge you to strictly enforce all pandemic safety policies applicable to the proposed political convention in Charlotte in August. This health crisis will not be over. Please keep Charlotte and North Carolina Citizens (and any visitors) SAFE.

Thank you.

Use your own words. If you prefer the phone, here is the office number listed on the Governor’s web page: (919) 814-2000.

The pandemic continues to spread in North Carolina. Confirmed cases, hospitalizations & deaths are all at new highs.

The Raleigh News & Observer reported this morning (May 26):

“At least 24,056 people have tested positive for the coronavirus and 790 have died as of Tuesday morning, state and county health departments say.

At least 627 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday, the highest daily total state officials have reported since the pandemic began. The number is up from 587 the day before.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday also reported 742 new coronavirus cases as testing ramps up throughout the state. It was a jump from 497 new  reported cases on Sunday.”

This graph, from Reuters, shows the  steady, rapid rise of virus cases in the state, as of Mid-May.  The total has continued rapidly upward since then. Unlike some other states, NC  a peak or leveling off is not yet in sight here.

This worsening situation only heightens the risk of large mass gatherings , both to residents and visitors. And it won’t be over by August. It makes such policies as social distancing and wearing masks even more a matter of life and death.

Republican party leaders have threatened to move the convention from Charlotte unless Governor Cooper lifts pandemic policies from the venue. I believe this would be a very dangerous mistake. Cooper should Resist such threats and pressure.

if you share this view, tell Governor Cooper so. Politely and persistently. And please pass this message on.

The Viral Turning Point, and After

Signs of the Times:

> a crowded Colorado restaurant on Mother’s’ Day.

> Jam-packed taverns in Wisconsin.

> Dr. Fauci sidelined in the White House, as pundits speculate on  when he’ll be fired.

Upshot: the lockdown season is ending, not with a bang, but a whimper— many whimpers, if anyone will still listen to those who are now to die needlessly.

Leana  Wen, an ER doc and public health prof,  told it like it is in the Washington Post today:

Unfortunately, due to a late start, inconsistent state actions and a lack of federal direction, most states have yet to see a consistent decline in cases, much less reduced them to low enough levels for [the lockdown] to work.

No state has achieved sufficient testing and contact tracing.
Reopening under these circumstances means we are giving up on containing covid-19.

“No state” includes my own, North Carolina. Continue reading The Viral Turning Point, and After

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. Continue reading A Catholic Reckoning? How about an Evangelical Quaker Reckoning?

Quaker Colleges & another Corona Crisis

A headline from the Greensboro NC News & Record:

With its campus closed, Guilford College furloughs more than 130 employees

Furloughs were ordered in all campus areas except among professors, who are teaching classes remotely through May.

John Newsom. News & Record April 3, 2020

GREENSBORO — Its campus empty through the rest of the spring semester, Guilford College has furloughed 133 full-time and part-time staff employees for the next two months.

Slightly more than half of the college’s 250 non-faculty employees were notified Thursday (April 2) that they would have to take unpaid time off from work through at least June 1, President Jane Fernandes said in an interview Friday.

Guilford President Fernandes, center, with students.

Furloughs were ordered in all campus areas except among professors, who are teaching classes remotely through May.

The furloughs are intended to help the private Quaker college of about 1,700 students save money at a time when the campus is closed because of COVID-19 and the nation teeters on the brink of a deep recession.

“In a sense,” Fernandes said, “it’s a crisis within a crisis.”

The furloughs came about two weeks after Guilford told all students to move off campus by March 21 as cases of COVID-19 started to surge across the state and nation. Fernandes said most Guilford students are back home. Some who couldn’t return home right away are staying locally with college alumni and trustees.

In the past month, Guilford, like most other N.C. colleges and universities, moved classes to online instruction, told employees to work from home and postponed May’s commencement.

“There’s less and less need to be on campus,” Fernandes said. “The work is not being needed in the same way.”
Furloughed employees are eligible for state unemployment benefits and will keep their health insurance and other Guilford benefits until they’re recalled. Fernandes said she intends to bring back furloughed employees “as quickly as possible.”

Guilford may not be alone in looking to cut costs in an uncertain time.

According to a survey of college presidents conducted in late March, more than half expect to have to lay off some employees, and nearly 60% say they probably will furlough some workers. More than 80% of presidents are predicting they’ll see lower enrollments in the fall — a worrisome development for small private colleges like Guilford whose budgets depend heavily on annual tuition revenues. . ..

Meanwhile at Guilford, the work continues.

Fernandes said the admissions office continues to recruit students for its next freshman class scheduled to arrive on campus in August. The advancement office is raising money for a new emergency fund to help students cover the unexpected costs of daily living expenses, medical bills and technology so they can take classes online. Professors and remaining staff members are planning for summer school . . . .

Though campus buildings are locked, she said, the college is not closed.

“We haven’t closed anything. Guilford College is surviving,” Fernandes said. “The college is going to get through this crisis and prevail.”

[NOTE: this is not the first round of layoffs at Guilford  We reported here on the shedding of fifty-plus staff in 2015; Fernandes responded to that report here.]


Some years back, I took a granddaughter on an admissions tour of Guilford.

The grove of trees on the Guilford campus which served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The tour was fun, the guides charming, the talk about “enriching experiences beyond the classroom” nonstop, the “amenities” appealing (except there wasn’t enough hot sauce in the au courant Free-range dining hall; tho I figured that was just me).

Continue reading Quaker Colleges & another Corona Crisis