Category Archives: Current Affairs

Going Viral: Slicing & Dicing the Democratic Debate – Will Bernie Get Half a Loaf?

Tonight’s Democratic debate could be just what the doctor ordered: a ”public negotiation between Biden & Sanders”, as the Washington Post opines below.

The Wise People say the Democrats’ nomination race is over; and we huddled masses in the peanut gallery know they’re never wrong, right?

But anyway, if the race is not anymore about who gets the nod, then what’s the debate for?

My answer is simple: it’s about the winning coalition, stupid. Continue reading Going Viral: Slicing & Dicing the Democratic Debate – Will Bernie Get Half a Loaf?

Going Viral: Notes on the plague – March 14, 2020:

Washington Post: “Health
Trump is breaking every rule in the CDC’s 450-page playbook for health crisis

After disastrous communications during the 2001 anthrax attacks — when white powder in envelopes sparked widespread panic — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created a 450-page manual outlining how U.S. leaders should talk to the public during crises.
Protecting vulnerable people from a virus that, according to some projections, could infect millions and kill hundreds of thousands, depends on U.S. leaders issuing clear public health instructions and the public’s trust to follow directions that could save their lives.
“Sometimes it seems like they have literally thrown out the book,” said Joshua Sharfstein, a former top FDA official and Johns Hopkins University professor who is using the CDC manual to teach a crisis communication class. “We’re studying what to do — and at times seeing what not to do — on the same day.”
Two weeks ago, Trump said the country would soon have zero cases. This week, there were more than 2,200 and 49 deaths. When asked at a news conference Friday why he disbanded the White House’s pandemic office, Trump denied doing so, saying, “I didn’t do it … I don’t know anything about it.” When asked if he bore any responsibility for disastrous delays in testing, Trump said no, blaming instead “circumstances” and “regulations” created by others. When asked if Americans should believe Trump or his top health official, Anthony S. Fauci — whom Trump has contradicted repeatedly — Trump sidestepped the question.
“For those of us in this field, this is profoundly and deeply distressing,” said Matthew Seeger, a risk communication expert at Wayne State University who developed the CDC guidebook alongside many top doctors, public health researchers, scientists, consultants and behavioral psychologists.

“It’s creating higher levels of anxiety, higher levels of uncertainty and higher levels of social disruption. … We spent decades training people and investing in developing this competency. We know how to do this.”
For three years, the Trump administration has often taken a hostile stance to science and its practitioners, but health crisis experts say it’s not too late and the fruits of their research — like the CDC’s 450-page manual — are waiting, untapped, to serve as a road map to help leaders navigate the growing pandemic.


Washington Post Media columnist Erik Wemple: “Moments of actual news coverage relating to the coronavirus at Fox News don’t receive much attention these days. The work of chief Trump propagandist Sean Hannity and other network opinionmongers speaks much louder. “I’m sure, in the end, the mob in the media, well, they will be advancing their new conspiracy theory and their newest hoax,” said the host earlier this week.
That language overlaps with talking points from Trump himself and his former acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who alleged at CPAC that the media has selectively highlighted the coronavirus to inflict political damage on Trump.
Another ploy of Hannity’s is to compare the coronavirus to the flu, even though experts have noted that the former is about 10 times more fatal than the latter.
. . .
Competition for the most irresponsible televised coronavirus analysis emerged on Monday night [March 9] from Fox Business host Trish Regan, who said, in part, “We’ve reached a tipping point. The chorus of hate being leveled at the president is nearing a crescendo as Democrats blame him and only him for a virus that originated halfway around the world. This is yet another attempt to impeach the president.” After much criticism, Fox on Friday evening announced that Regan’s show — along with Fox Business program “Kennedy” — will be on hiatus “until further notice,” part of a resource realignment to beef up coverage of the coronavirus, according to Fox News.

Compare what Regan said to the remarks of Hannity on Feb. 27: “Tonight, I can report the sky is absolutely falling. We’re all doomed. The end is near. The apocalypse is imminent, and you’re going to all die, all of you in the next 48 hours and it’s all President Trump’s fault,” he said. “Or at least that’s what the media mob and the Democratic extreme radical socialist party would like you to think. They’re now sadly politicizing and actually weaponizing an infectious disease, in what is basically just the latest effort to bludgeon President Trump.”
Though Hannity has indeed insisted that the coronavirus is a serious matter, his other pronouncements have sent a different message. On that same Feb. 27 show, for instance, Hannity knocked the “left” for advocating “extreme” measures, including canceling large gatherings. Yeah, what a crazy idea!
Could we please have a hiatus for “Hannity,” too?”


The Patriotic Pros—
Professional sports is one of the businesses forced to take a leadership role because it is so drastically lacking from the federal government. . . . While other countries were charging to get ahead of the virus, we were arrogantly lagging behind while patting ourselves on the back with Trump’s false claim that “[the number of infected is] going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.”

So, thank you NBA, NCAA, NHL, MLB and all the other organizations who have put public welfare above their own monetary gain. I never thought I’d see the day when Big Business acted more patriotic and selfless than a presidential administration.
— Kareem Abdul Jabbar, The Guardian


Who Pays When The Games Aren’t Played?

“[Sports attorney Edward] Schauder says the deepest, and most immediate implications, will be felt by those employed by the stadiums, which play host to other entertainment ventures along with sporting events, as well as nearby businesses that capitalize on those gatherings. “Players are going to be fine, the league is going to be fine. The real economic impact are these people who rely on this money, and it’s countless workers: bathroom attendants, ushers, vendors, security personnel, the union workers – it goes on and on,” Schauder says. There are signs that teams are willing to help workers: the Cleveland Cavaliers said they will compensate “our event staff and hourly workforce that is impacted with the changes to our regular event schedule.” Cavaliers star Kevin Love said he would donate $100,000 to compensate staff affected by the NBA suspension.

And Schauder believes that the NCAA could bear the largest brunt of the outbreak. “With the cancellation of March Madness, the NCAA, its student athletes and fans have emerged as collateral damage of the coronavirus. Unlike the professional leagues that have suspended their respective seasons and may still resume their seasons at some point in time … the NCAA tournament has been completely wiped out,” he says. “As a result, seniors will not be afforded the opportunity to showcase their talents prior to the NBA draft and there will not be any of the anticipated upsets and magical moments that would have allowed student athletes to capitalize on under the new ‘pay to play’ laws in certain states. Sponsors may also have the right under force majeure clauses to claw-back on sponsorship dollars advanced to the NCAA.”
— “Finances will be shattered by sports suspensions. But it won’t be the stars who suffer,” The Guardian


Inequality & Mortality Across The Pond

“The British class system is, at its worst, a killer. Men living in the poorest communities in the UK have an average of 9.4 years shorn off their life expectancies compared with those in the richest areas; for women, it’s 7.4 years. If you travel on the Jubilee Line from Westminster to Canning Town, every stop represents a year less in the average lifespan of local citizens. For the poorest women, life expectancy is in reverse.

The coronavirus pandemic is about to collide with this engine of inequality. . . .

Those with underlying health conditions are most at risk from coronavirus, and again, the impact differs depending on which rung you’re condemned to on the British social ladder. Previous research by the British Heart Foundation found that working-class Tameside in the north-west has a heart disease mortality rate more than three times higher than well-to-do Kensington and Chelsea. According to Asthma UK: “Asthma is more prevalent within more deprived communities, and those living in more deprived areas of England are more likely to go to hospital for their asthma.” Diabetes is far more common among those living in poverty, and there is a strong link between lung disease and deprivation. 1.9 million pensioners languish below the poverty line: their health will be, on average, worse than their affluent counterparts’, meaning their lives will be significantly more imperilled.

We know that depression and stress weaken our immune systems, and the research is clear: those on low incomes are disproportionately likely to suffer from poor mental health. Poor diet is another factor, and one that is strongly linked to poverty. . . .
We know the rich look after their own, but these injustices are not acts of God or mere sad facts of life to be shrugged at with resignation. There will be many terrible lessons to learn from this pandemic: one is a lesson that should have been learned long ago, that inequality kills.”
— Owen Jones, The Guardian


Viral Capitalism Is Cleaning Up . . .

Noah Colvin took a 1,300-mile road trip across Tennessee and into Kentucky, filling a U-Haul truck with thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and thousands of packs of antibacterial wipes, mostly from “little hole-in-the-wall dollar stores in the backwoods,” his brother said. “The major metro areas were cleaned out.”

Matt Colvin stayed home near Chattanooga, preparing for pallets of even more wipes and sanitizer he had ordered, and starting to list them on Amazon. Mr. Colvin said he had posted 300 bottles of hand sanitizer and immediately sold them all for between $8 and $70 each, multiples higher than what he had bought them for. To him, “it was crazy money.” To many others, it was profiteering from a pandemic.
The next day, Amazon pulled his items and thousands of other listings for sanitizer, wipes and face masks. The company suspended some of the sellers behind the listings and warned many others that if they kept running up prices, they’d lose their accounts. EBay soon followed with even stricter measures, prohibiting any U.S. sales of masks or sanitizer.

Now, while millions of people across the country search in vain for hand sanitizer to protect themselves from the spread of the coronavirus, Mr. Colvin is sitting on 17,700 bottles of the stuff with little idea where to sell them. . . .

Amazon said it had recently removed hundreds of thousands of listings and suspended thousands of sellers’ accounts for price gouging related to the coronavirus. . . .

Sites like Amazon and eBay have given rise to a growing industry of independent sellers who snatch up discounted or hard-to-find items in stores to post online and sell around the world.

These sellers call it retail arbitrage, a 21st-century career that has adults buying up everything from limited-run cereals to Fingerling Monkeys, a once hot toy. The bargain hunters look for anything they can sell at a sharp markup. In recent weeks, they found perhaps their biggest opportunity: a pandemic.

As they watched the list of Amazon’s most popular searches crowd with terms like “Purell,” “N95 mask” and “Clorox wipes,” sellers said, they did what they had learned to do: Suck up supply and sell it for what the market would bear. . . .

Chris Anderson, an Amazon seller in central Pennsylvania, said he and a friend had driven around Ohio, buying about 10,000 masks from stores. He used coupons to buy packs of 10 for around $15 each and resold them for $40 to $50. After Amazon’s cut and other costs, he estimates, he made a $25,000 profit.

Mr. Anderson is now holding 500 packs of antibacterial wipes after Amazon blocked him from selling them for $19 each, up from $16 weeks earlier. He bought the packs for $3 each. . . .

Mr. Colvin said he was simply fixing “inefficiencies in the marketplace.” Some areas of the country need these products more than others, and he’s helping send the supply toward the demand.

“There’s a crushing overwhelming demand in certain cities right now,” he said. “The Dollar General in the middle of nowhere outside of Lexington, Ky., doesn’t have that.”

He thought about it more. “I honestly feel like it’s a public service,” he added. “I’m being paid for my public service.”

As for his stockpile, Mr. Colvin said he would now probably try to sell it locally. “If I can make a slight profit, that’s fine,” he said. “But I’m not looking to be in a situation where I make the front page of the news for being that guy who hoarded 20,000 bottles of sanitizer that I’m selling for 20 times what they cost me.”

After The Times published this article on Saturday morning, Mr. Colvin said he was exploring ways to donate all the supplies.

 

Aka, The Holy Grail. [No, I don’t have any. This is just a photo, alas.]

SAYMA’s Not Safe, III: New Trouble: Threats Against Three Meetings

[Note: this post is not as long as it may appear; some attachments are at the end for completeness and accuracy.]

Two years ago next week, Sharon Smith met her match.

It was on March 16, 2018, in a weekend anti-racism workshop at a suburban Asheville community center. It was presented by the Racial Equity Institute (REI), a Black-owned consulting firm based in Greensboro NC.  Smith was invited as an alumna of REI workshops; for the several dozen regular attenders a $250 fee was charged.

The workshop had barely started, and a trainer was giving an overview, when Smith interrupted. Another participant then told her that REI’s policy was for alumni, attending free, to sit quietly, so discussion was carried by and focused on the paid participants.

This comment set Smith off. As she told a reporter later,

“There’s no way, according to systemic racism theory, that any white woman should be telling a woman of color what she should and shouldn’t be saying. That’s just not OK.”

But as Smith continued to interrupt, as Smith told it,

Jacquelyn Hallum: “Oh NO not today!”

That’s when Jacquelyn Hallum (A Black employee of [the community center]) stood up and said, “Oh NO, not today! We are not doing this today with you, Sharon.” . . . She told me I needed to leave, if I was not willing to be quiet. Since I already have issues with folks trying to dominate me, I said “I’m not leaving.” Then she said she would call security, if I refused to obey, and I said “Go right ahead.”

What happened next, as REI put it, was

She was reminded by multiple alumni and invited to leave the room for further discussion. Unfortunately, all attempts made to peacefully resolve the situation were unsuccessful and those in attendance were forced to respond to her demand to call security, who in turn called the police. The officers again attempted to get her to leave on her own and she again refused. (REI statement; not online.)

Smith was removed and arrested.

Of course, Smith was outraged and claimed “the police used excessive force to drag me out of the room and out of the building.” (However, there were no reports that medical attention was needed).

Yet even more than the arrest itself, Smith was offended by the  disregard of her status the removal displayed. As she put it:

This is a story about how so-called progressive anti-racist white people and their “well behaved Negroes” conspired to shut down constructive criticism from an elder woman of color, with more knowledge, experience and insight into how white supremacy works than anyone in Asheville NC.

This declaration needs unpacking: First, no “progressive anti-racist white people” were in charge here: the policy was made by a Black-owned firm. It was their event, their rules, and its staff of color, along with local people of color, who enforced it over Smith’s objections.

And second, no one will question that Smith is an “elder woman of color”; but what about having “more knowledge, experience and insight into how white supremacy works than anyone in Asheville NC”? (Emphasis added.)

There are about a hundred thousand people in Asheville, including 10,000-plus people of color; it is home to two sizeable colleges, with several more nearby. Who, besides herself, has designated Smith as the number one most knowledgeable person in that whole area on this subject matter?

Still this is definitely her self-concept; it was repeated three times in her account. Based on it, it seems clear her expectation was to be treated as a key resource person, at the center of the proceedings; anything less was an indignity to be resisted. (This is an outlook readers of these posts have encountered before.)

The point of this story is easy to overlook, though important: the ruckus over Smith was unpleasant, but brief; then the workshop resumed. REI was embarrassed by it, but was prepared for such a contingency and managed it with dispatch.

Which is also to say, that the 40-plus other participants got what their $250 paid for, rather than whatever Smith wanted to unload on them.

My hat is off to REI and those who got it done.

But that’s not what this post is actually about. Rather, it has to do with two emails Smith sent out just a few days ago. The emails announced her intention to “shut down” and stop a conference planned for Asheville Friends Meeting on May 9, by force.

The emails are attached in full at the end of this post. But here’s the nub:

The event is “Roots of Injustice Seeds of Change: Toward Right Relationship With Native People.” It’s planned for May 9, 2020 at Asheville Friends Meeting. Asheville is cosponsoring it with two other SAYMA meetings, Celo and Swannanoa Valley. A Friend from Boulder, Colorado, Paula Palmer, is facilitating it.

And Smith does not approve, and she sees it as her prerogative and duty to stop it:

Friends in Asheville, Swannanoa Valley and Celo NC, are up to no good. They are moving ahead with a plan to pay Paula Palmer to do her workshop on “How to be in Right Relationship with Indigenous People” against my objections as a Saponi Matriarch. . . .

This is by no means OK, my Friends.  Because, as a Saponi matriarch, it is unfortunately my responsibility to organize a contingent of NC Natives to shut this workshop down. . . .

This is a warning. IF you will not organize among yourselves to stop Paula Palmer from doing her workshop in SAYMA Meetings, it will cause a similar diplomatic disaster as what happened in New England with FGC.

Don’t say I did not give you an opportunity prevent such a thing from happening.  Don’t say you did not know better, either.

Paula Palmer

To repeat, the full florid text of these threats is below, for reference. There Smith describes her complaints against Palmer’s work. I won’t go into them, nor an analysis of Paula Palmer’s work here. Those are not really relevant. This is:

Here we have three SAYMA Meetings, who have mutually agreed to cooperate in presenting a program that is peaceful, legal, and related to their efforts to bear a more faithful Quaker witness. And Smith has announced her intention to forcibly prevent them from doing that.

Yet even this is not the most unsettling part. What is completely  out of whack, to me, is the fact that SAYMA’s own budget is helping pay for this sabotage of its own meetings. Why on earth is SAYMA doing that? This is only the latest bad fruit that’s sprouted from the tainted tree planted by  SAYMA’s giving in to the URJ payoff pressure, as described in earlier posts here and here. As recognition of this sinks in around SAYMA, can it do anything but worsen the group’s internal disarray?

I wonder what the three meetings will do about these threats. Previous experience in SAYMA suggests that ignoring them is risky. I certainly hope they will not simply cancel it and run for cover. Here I think again about REI’s response. Is there some effective Quaker alternative?

While pondering those gloomy options, let me close with a letter from the past, by Friend Alan Scott Robinson, late of Asheville Meeting. He was a longtime member there, and suffered through several years of Smith’s intrusion there before his death in early 2018. During his last months, he was moved to write the letter below, to a Quaker group struggling with similar issues. I believe there is both comfort, depth and good counsel in his words:

Alan Scott Robinson:
Alan Scott Robinson

Friends, this whole topic is fraught with difficulties. I happen to be tangentially involved with the goings-on in this particular case and it is affecting more than one monthly and yearly meeting, including mine. We may be talking about generalities in terms of the various processes involved in involuntary separation, but the devil, as always, is in the details.

I am sure that each of us Friends has been aware, at various points in our lives, of when we have encountered a “difficult” individual. I am not speaking about a personal dislike. Rather, I am speaking about someone who, for a variety of reasons including criminal behavior or a mental aberration or health condition, or damage to a personality due to some event in that person’s past, makes interactions with that person impossible to sustain over the long haul, and makes the person refractory to change. Many of us have been a part of a Quaker meeting at one time or another that has had to face the question of what to do in such a situation.

The cases I am talking about do not involve matters of philosophical difference, political diversity or even different belief structures. Not really, although in the cases I am talking about, one of those important issues is being used as a smoke-screen to mask and to try to justify the real behavior problem. Behavior that simply doesn’t comport with that required to be in fellowship together.

I’m sure you can think of examples. Behaviors like name calling, wild accusations with little or no basis in fact, paranoid thinking patterns, blaming others for one’s own inappropriate actions (look what you made me do!), taking advantage of another’s good will, failing to contribute to the group in any way that furthers the purpose for which the group is established, expecting the group to “take care of them”, the list goes on and on.

Friends ought to be open to new light, new ideas, new ways of thinking about a problem, and, in most cases, we are. That is the great strength of Friends. But where to draw the line about what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are not? Clearly, behaviors that would be out of line in a college classroom setting, a city council chamber or a kindergarten classroom probably cross the line. Screaming, tantrums and physical violence shouldn’t be tolerated in any group setting, and certainly not in a Quaker meeting for worship or business.

One of the strengths of Friends practice is that we are always open to new in-breaking of Spirit. But herein lies a trap. How do we know when a new message is of the Spirit, and when it is an offshoot of a damaged or disordered behavior pattern?

One way to know with unfailing certainty is to watch what the actions produce. “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit,…Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them.” I do not think that Jesus was saying that people are analogous to the trees in this parable. Instead, I think he was talking about ideas or behavior patterns as being the trees that bear fruit.

If, over the course of a significant period of time, one’s behaviors prove repeatedly destructive to, and out of line with, the group, and if that behavior occurs in repeated patterns that seem to get worse with the passage of time, then it is easy to discern the “fruit” that is borne from those actions or behaviors. Something is wrong and action should be taken, both to help the one suffering from the aberrant behavior as well as the others in the group. Some problems are beyond any solution that can be implemented within the group. If there is some kind of dysfunction or illness mechanism at work, whether physical or mental, most meetings are clearly not equipped to do more than refer the sufferer to professional help.

But what if the sufferer whose behavior continually disrupts the functioning of the group refuses to get help or denies that there is anything wrong or consistently blames others for that person’s own bad behavior, what to do then. What do you do after the same worsening patterns of behavior are displayed over the course of many years?

Asheville Friends Meeting: a sketch from its “Digest” newsletter.

Our meeting is suffering under this type of affliction right now.  . . .

Last First Day, during Meeting for Worship, a visiting Friend arose to speak after several of our meeting’s Friends had already shared vocal ministry. One message had been offered beautifully and there was a wonderful spirit present. Two or three other friends who have become personally involved with, and supportive of, the disruptive person also rose to speak, and the atmosphere was quite different.

Though couched in “Friend-speak”, the messages were filled with accusations, unfounded assertions, name-calling and general enmity. Such a contrast to the previous message! Then our visitor rose. She began by saying that, prior to visiting our meeting, other Friends had warned her not to come. She was very gentle, but she was also wonderfully and refreshingly truthful as she explained that she had witnessed firsthand that very day why the warning had been given, and why the warning had been justified.

It was hard to hear so directly from another Friend that my own spiritual community now had gained a reputation of divisiveness and as a home where the truth is not honored and abhorrent behavior is tolerated. The sad thing is that our visitor had this reaction even though the person who has been the origin of all the disruption wasn’t even there that day. Only her “disciples” were there, and it was enough that their bad behavior and distorted messages and, quite frankly, their frequent lies, came through so loud and clear. This visitor didn’t even have to know the details to understand that something was terribly wrong in our meeting. It was easy for her to discern where the problem originated even without knowing the details. She could feel it in the Spirit just as strongly as if someone had struck her with a stone.

We lost a few more members that day. It was Meeting for Business, and two more Friends joined the ranks of those who have left our meeting for some other spiritual places rather than any longer endure the spiritual (and in a few cases physical) assaults. Our Meetings for Business long ago shed virtually all vestiges of spirit-led activities. Those who come now inure themselves to the inevitable assault and accusations month after month until, finally, they can take no more. The assaults continue in Meeting for Worship. There is no respite except in withdrawal.

Quaker meetings have one essential function, overriding all others. That is to provide a place for corporate worship, a place for waiting together in silence for the workings of the Inner Light to be manifest among us. When one’s spiritual home no longer offers that opportunity, what can be the purpose of continuing to attend?

Is it any wonder that we have lost so many faithful, seasoned and weighty Friends, including three of the last four meeting clerks, several members of Ministry and Counsel committee, and Friends and attenders new and old? We have even had first-time visitors end up in the parking lot in tears after witnessing turmoil and destruction during their first Quaker experience, and watching it as it turned into a screaming tantrum display or a bunch of baseless accusations. When the person around whom all the trouble has been centered was informed that our visitor was in tears and would not be back, the disrupter responded, “Good.” What is a Friends meeting to do in this case?

It would be one thing if this kind of behavior happened once, and the person who was the source of the difficulty was open to listening to “eldering” given in a loving spirit that was designed to point out why the behavior caused troubles, and how to effect changes so that the situation wouldn’t arise again. If a person who has been disruptive once were open to such guidance in Friends’ practices, all would be well.

But what does a meeting do when such a person is refractory to all attempts at counseling and guidance, or even admonishment when unacceptable behavior happens repeatedly? What does a meeting do when there is a display of overt physical violence, violence of such a nature that there would be potential for real physical injury if it were to be repeated? When is enough, enough?

In these situations, there must be a mechanism of separation, lest the whole meeting be destroyed. George Fox would not have tolerated this kind of behavior, and indeed didn’t. Read the story of the life of James Naylor to see what happened to a dear and weighty Friend who “went off the rails.” History has much to teach, and we ignore its lessons at our own peril.

One last comment. Casting someone out because of who they are (gay, transgender, bisexual, intersex, black, brown, yellow, white, tall, short, blond hair or black, language spoken, prior spiritual paths taken, ethnicity, wealth or poverty) should never be accepted or perpetrated.

Behavior is a different matter. Quakers are accepting and open to diversity, but there have to be limits of comportment that cross the line. As one weighty friend in our meeting says, “The meeting has no position if one of you wants to paint yourself purple and run down main street naked. But you can’t do that at Friends Meeting.” <snark> I am reminded of Supreme Court Justice Potter’s answer when talking about obscenity, “I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it.”

Likewise, we may not be able to give a bright-line definition of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior, but the test of the fruit trees always provides an answer that can be trusted by anyone willing to look and listen. If, over a prolonged period, the fruit is predominantly or wholly evil, then there is no doubt as to the nature of the tree. Every good tree sometimes produces a piece of rotten fruit, but not all the time, or even most of the time. It is rare. Friends, use the test of the fruit of the tree in your pondering.

in loving Friendship

Alan Robinson


First Sharon Smith email (uncorrected text):

On Thu, Mar 5, 2020 at 1:25 PM Sharon Smith <starsmith13@nullgmail.com> wrote:

Remember the FGC Quaker Sweat Lodge incident?  This is no different.

I was living in Mashpee, on Cape Cod at my mother’s home, when I saw the FGC Gathering registration catalog which listed the Quaker Sweat Loge as a workshop at the Gathering.  I am the one who notified the Wampanoag tribal council that a Quaker sweat would be happening.  They were not pleased. They sent Rachel Carey Harper from Sandwich MM to tell FGC they would not tolerate a Quaker sweat lodge in their territory. Quakers cried and complaimned that they were Spirit led to do it anyway.  So FGC sent Geane Marie Barch as a representative to “negotiate” with the Wampanoag tribal council.  It did not go well for her.

I wasn’t in the room for that discussion, because I am not Wampanoag, but I have close relatives who are, and this is what they told me. The women, in particular, who carry great weight among the Wampanoags, were particularly angry that Friends were not willing to stop doing their Quaker sweat lodges.  Thery told Geane Marie that IF the sweat was going to happen in spite of their objections, they would come to the campus of Hampshire College, where the Gathering was held that year, and shut it down themselves.

I repeat. this situation of Paula Palmer’s workshop on How to be in Right Relationship with Native People, is different.

This is a warning. IF you will not organize among yourselves to stop Paula Palmer from doing her workshop in SAYMA Meetings, it will cause a similar diplomatic disaster as what happened in New England with FGC.

Don’t say I did not give you an opportunity prevent such a thing from happening.  Don’t say you did not know better, either.

Sharon “Star” Smith

“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who are oppressing them”    ~ Assata Shakur

“Good things don’t come to those who wait. They come to those who agitate!”  ~ Julian Bond

“Wealth is not the fruit of labor but the result of organized robbery.”  ~ Frantz Fanon

Second Sharon Smith email (uncorrected text):

On Thu, Mar 5, 2020 at 10:46 AM Sharon Smith <starsmith13@nullgmail.com> wrote:

Friends in Asheville, Swannanoa Valley and Celo NC, are up to no good. They are moving ahead with a plan to pay Paula Palmer to do her workshop on “How to be in Right Relationship with Indigenous People” against my objections as a Saponi Matriarch.

From the minutes of Asheville’s Second Month Meeting for Business:

“Peace and Earth Committee–Pat Johnson* P& E would like to give the whole Meeting the opportunity to co-sponsor a series of programs put on by Paula Palmer, who travels in the ministry of Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples (TRR) rather than just the P & E Committee. Swannanoa Valley Friends Meeting has committed to donating up to $1,000.00 to help cover our budgeted expenses of $1,500. Individuals in our Meeting have already donated $270 plus RJC has committed to donate $50 from their line-item budget for a total of $320. We’re asking Meeting to commit to $280.00. Minute #4: The meeting agreed to support Paula Palmer coming to Asheville and support up to $280 if needed.”

Here’s the thing; Paula Palmer is not in right relationship with Natives in her own region let alone Natives in western North Carolina, so how can she give workshops on this subject?  She wrote a book about the Quaker involvement in Indian bording schools, travels around the country, and possibly the world, giving workshops for money, without compensating the Natives whose pain she exploits to make her living. This is called “cultural Appropriation.  Look it up.

In addition: Asheville and Sawannanoah Valley Friends have been working to be in right relationship with the Eastern Band Cherokee people in western North Carolina, EXCLUSIVELY, but not the Catawba or Saponi whose homeland they live on.  They acknowledge that they live on Cherokee land, while they fail to acknowledge the Saponi and Catawba, who also have a historic claim to the area as their unceded ancestral land.

This is racist white supremacist behavior, for several reasons.

  1. These Friends have “tokenized” (look it up) the Cherokee people, by cherry picking which Native group they will recognize and seek right relationship with, while negating the existance of other native peoples in the same reagion.
  2. They have chosen sides in a historic land dispute between local Native groups. In fact, there is a troubling history of the Cherokee involvement in slavery. Not only did they eslave African Americans, but also their Indigenous neighbors, such as the Catawba, the Saponi, and people from a variety of Virginia and Carolina tribes, some of whom eventually banded together to become the Lumbee.
  3. They are wilfully engaging in these racist practices because they are aware that I am a Saponi Elder–not Cherokee–who has told them specifically, that they do NOT have my permission to bring Paula Palmer’s workshop into my territory, as they are not in right relationship with me, or the Saponi and Catawba, whose land they are on.

According to the mission statement of the Asheville Racial Justice Committee, their responsibility is to hold the Peace and Earth Committee accountable, NOT donate to their racist plan to host a workshop.

*I shut dfown Pat Johnson’s “Right Relationship” workshop at SAYMA 2019 for the same reasons.  She and Asheville Friends refuse to aknowledge the Saponi and Catawba people whose land they live and worship on.

It is fairly common knowledge that, the appropriate Indigenous protocols for anyone doing ceremonies or workshops in a people’s territorry requires workshop presenters to first akcnowledge the Native peopes whose territory they are in and second, get their approval, BEFORE proceeding.  If the elders or tribal leader do not give their permission, one should not proceed.  It does not mean Friends can cherry pick which native group in a region to aknowledge or gain approval from.

Note: Asheville Friends changed the name of Peace and Social concerns to Peace and Earth at some point before I arrived in Asheville.  But it is telling. let us see if the racial Justice Committee is able to act in accordance with its mission.

This is by no means OK, my Friends.  Because, as a Saponi matriarch, it is unfortunately my responsibility to organize a contingent of NC Natives to shut this workshop down.

Sharon “Star” Smith

“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who are oppressing them”    ~ Assata Shakur

“Good things don’t come to those who wait. They come to those who agitate!”  ~ Julian Bond

“Wealth is not the fruit of labor but the result of organized robbery.”  ~ Frantz Fanon

World Health Org Experts on How China is Beating Corona Virus

A Startling expert report on how China is beating the virus in Wuhan:

“The WHO [World Health Organization] sent 25 international experts to China and here are their main findings after 9 days. (Here is the link to the WHO press conference in YouTube: https://youtu.be/-o0q1XMRKYM )

An examination of 44,672 infected people in China showed a fatality rate of 3.4%. Fatality is strongly influenced by age, pre-existing conditions, gender, and especially the response of the health care system. All fatality figures reflect the state of affairs in China up to 17 February, and everything could be quite different in the future elsewhere.

Healthcare system: 20% of infected people in China needed hospital treatment for weeks. China has hospital beds to treat 0.4% of the population at the same time – other developed countries have between 0.1% and 1.3% and most of these beds are already occupied with people who have other diseases. The fatality rate was 5.8% in Wuhan but 0.7% in other areas of China, which China explained with the lack of critical care beds in Wuhan. In order to keep the fatality rate low like outside of Wuhan, other countries have to aggressively contain the spread of the virus in order to keep the number of seriously ill Covid patients low and secondly increase the number of critical care beds until there is enough for the seriously ill. China also tested various treatment methods for the unknown disease and the most successful ones were implemented nationwide. Thanks to this response, the fatality rate in China is now lower than a month ago.

Pre-existing conditions: The fatality rate for those infected with pre-existing cardiovascular disease in China was 13.2%. It was 9.2% for those infected with high blood sugar levels (uncontrolled diabetes), 8.4% for high blood pressure, 8% for chronic respiratory diseases and 7.6% for cancer. Infected persons without a relevant previous illness died in 1.4% of cases.

Gender: Women catch the disease just as often as men. But only 2.8% of Chinese women who were infected died from the disease, while 4.7% of the infected men died. . . .

Pre-existing conditions: The fatality rate for those infected with pre-existing cardiovascular disease in China was 13.2%. It was 9.2% for those infected with high blood sugar levels (uncontrolled diabetes), 8.4% for high blood pressure, 8% for chronic respiratory diseases and 7.6% for cancer. Infected persons without a relevant previous illness died in 1.4% of cases.

Gender: Women catch the disease just as often as men. But only 2.8% of Chinese women who were infected died from the disease, while 4.7% of the infected men died. . . .

China’s bold approach to contain the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of a rapidly escalating and deadly epidemic. In the face of a previously unknown virus, China has rolled out perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history.

China’s uncompromising and rigorous use of non-pharmaceutical measures to contain transmission of the COVID-19 virus in multiple settings provides vital lessons for the global response. This rather unique and unprecedented public health response in China reversed the escalating cases in both Hubei, where there has been widespread community transmission, and in the importation provinces, where family clusters appear to have driven the outbreak.”

“Much of the global community is not yet ready, in mindset and materially, to implement the measures that have been employed to contain COVID-19 in China. These are the only measures that are currently proven to interrupt or minimize transmission chains in humans. Fundamental to these measures is extremely proactive surveillance to immediately detect cases, very rapid diagnosis and immediate case isolation, rigorous tracking and quarantine of close contacts, and an exceptionally high degree of population understanding and acceptance of these measures.”

“COVID-19 is spreading with astonishing speed; COVID-19 outbreaks in any setting have very serious consequences; and there is now strong evidence that non-pharmaceutical interventions can reduce and even interrupt transmission. Concerningly, global and national preparedness planning is often ambivalent about such interventions. However, to reduce COVID-19 illness and death, near-term readiness planning must embrace the large-scale implementation of high-quality, non-pharmaceutical public health measures. These measures must fully incorporate immediate case detection and isolation, rigorous close contact tracing and monitoring/quarantine, and direct population/community engagement.”

[BIG hat tip to the intrepid Kristin Lord!]

Remembering the 1968 Election: Politics, Snakes & Snakes

My onetime colleague Joe Klein gets this right: I too was among  many angry youth (even worse, an angry young Quaker) who  despised Establishment Democrat Hubert Humphrey in 1968. I remember hearing Dr. King’s close aide Andrew Young pleading with an angry college crowd to vote for Hubert Humphrey.

Young made two memorable points: “Some black folk have a saying:’White people are snakes. But there’s snakes and snakes.’” And: “The Supreme Court.”

I was unmoved. Joe Klein wrote in a comedian; I refused to vote at all. Besides, Humphrey carried Massachusetts, where I was living then, so my indifference mattered not a whit in the electoral tally. But still: Andy was right.

Now in summer I have small snakes in my backyard. They eat bugs and stuff; they don’t bother people. And after Richard Nixon narrowly beat Humphrey in 1968, he appointed, among others,William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court. And it was Rehnquist’s fifth vote that stole the 2000 election for George W. Bush, than whom only 45 is worse, or as bad.

Joe Klein is snobbish about Bernie, and I don’t like that. But otherwise he’s still right. This year I’m an angry old Quaker, but if I make it to November, you bet I’m gonna vote.

Joe Klein, Washington Post: “I am trying to remember the person I was in 1968. I was 22 years old and a recent college graduate. I was angry, infuriated by the war in Vietnam and racial segregation. It was my first chance to vote in a presidential election. I was living in New Jersey — very briefly — and I voted for Dick Gregory, the brilliant comedian running as a write-in candidate, instead of Hubert Humphrey, the Democrat running against Republican Richard Nixon. It was a protest vote, obviously. I regret it to this day.

Black snakes: not a problem in my backyard.

Humphrey barely lost New Jersey to Nixon. Gregory’s 8,084 votes would not have turned the state. But I wonder: What would have happened if I, and hundreds of thousands like me nationwide, had given Humphrey the same level of energy, support and enthusiasm we lavished upon Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy in the primaries?

Humphrey was the Joe Biden of his day, a standard-issue establishment Democrat. He was known to be a lovely man who had a problem with his mouth: He talked too much. He had started out as a civil-rights crusader in Minnesota, but that seemed like ancient history to me. Worse, he was Lyndon B. Johnson’s vice president and a supporter of the war in Vietnam until late in the campaign. We — the Bernie Bros of the moment — had driven Johnson from the race. It was infuriating that we’d done so in order to make the world safe for Hubert Horatio Humphrey. . . .

We were counseled by our elders: Vote the lesser of two evils. But Humphrey’s kindness and humanity simply didn’t register. We saw only this wimpy, old guy who was probably lying about his newfound opposition to the war. And it didn’t really matter if Nixon won: We were young; we had a world to win, an establishment to overthrow. We had a plenty of time. Four years of Nixon would bring the country to its senses. What was one election?”

The Supreme Court. Snakes and snakes.

The Supreme Court: a problem in my backyard.

Trump & the Troops: Is the Party Over?

Here’s a speculation: For three years, Trump has been singling out American military commanders and lower-ranking troops and treating them like dirt. He’s also elevated some dirt bags, like the Navy Seal prisoner-killer he pardoned, who was hated by his own team members.

He’s toyed with whole units, sending them on phony-baloney, embarrassing “missions” to the Mexico border, to repel what all of them knew were imaginary, nonexistent immigrant “invaders.”

Further, he forced them to hold a Soviet-style parade (making them mimic the old enemy?) It was a completely superfluous ordeal for the troops required to be there in heavy uniforms and zipped lips. And he made them do it on a day when the Washington Post said “extreme heat and humidity will power through . . . the day and into the evening . . . . Overall, it’s going to be ridiculously hot and sticky on July 4, in Washington, D.C.” Temperatures were in the 90s, then it rained buckets.

The response of the generals was dumped in the last paragraph of the New York Times‘s report, but was unmistakable:

Trump: “You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.” (And one person here is a craven draft dodger.)

The president announced months ago his intention to speak on Fourth of July. But it was just in recent weeks that he demanded a robust military presence, including tanks and fighter jet flyovers.

That led to a mad scramble in the Defense Department to gather the military leaders who would attend. The Pentagon was given only a few days’ notice that Trump wanted his defense secretary, all the Joint Chiefs and all the service secretaries by his side during his remarks.

Most of the Joint Chiefs were on leave or on travel and did not attend.

In September, there was another slap: most of the money diverted to Trump’s wall-building came from projects meant to benefit military families and their kids. CNBC put it pithily:

Pentagon pulls funds for military schools, daycare to pay for Trump’s border wall

Look close: can you see the schools and daycare centers for military kids?

The Pentagon said on Wednesday it would pull funding from 127 Defense Department projects, including schools and daycare centers for military families, as it diverts $3.6 billion to fund President Donald Trump’s wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Schools for the children of U.S. military members from Kentucky to Germany to Japan will be affected. A daycare center at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland – the home of Air Force One – will also have its funds diverted, the Pentagon said.

A month later, Trump abruptly abandoned Kurdish troops who had fought & bled against ISIS for years on the U. S. side. Trump trashed their loyalty and left them to be slaughtered by the Syrian army without a backward glance.

I was raised in a military family; but that was long ago, and I haven’t been in the military myself; so I’m no expert. Even so, observing this long roster of chickensh*t antics, I felt it must be having some impact on opinion among U. S. troops. A great many of them still take what are called military values & honor with some or high seriousness.

Officially, they’re supposed to keep out of public politicking. But many of these troops vote. And there are large numbers of them in  North Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, and other states with pivotal races.

What this procession of follies adds up to is that Trump has repeatedly shown no more respect for the troops than for anyone else. These repeated shocks should have been pounding this ugly message home to many of those in uniform.

Nor is this merely an ego/image matter: these are the Americans who go into harm’s way, and stupid, reckless leadership ultimately produces needless casualties, in and out of uniform. Surely, I’ve been thinking, some of the troops must be getting fed up with this.

Could a shift in GI opinion make a 2020 electoral difference? Rhetorical question: in a tight race, for sure — say, the one facing Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, home of Fort Campbell, one of the largest army bases. Or Thom Tillis in N. Carolina, where more than 100,000 troops are assigned to Ft. Bragg and Marine base Camp Lejeune. Add family members and the numbers nearly double. Almost any move could tip the balance.

Sure, many servicepeople are strong Trump supporters. But the feeling is both not unanimous, and appears to be measurably slipping. The Military Times papers do such polls, and their most recent one was in mid-December. The summary of that tally was stark:
Military Times:

Military Times Poll photo.

“Trump’s 42 percent approval in the latest poll, conducted from Oct. 23 to Dec. 2, sets his lowest mark in the survey since being elected president. Some 50 percent of troops said they had an unfavorable view of him. By comparison, just a few weeks after his electoral victory in November 2016, 46 percent of troops surveyed had a positive view of the businessman-turned-politician, and 37 percent had a negative opinion.

The poll surveyed 1,630 active-duty Military Times subscribers in partnership with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University. The numbers likely reflect a more career-minded subset of the military than the force as a whole . . . .

“These are people for whom the morals and standards of the military mean a lot,” [military analyst Peter Feaver] said. “The president has criticized those same career workers in the State Department and other agencies. So, it’s possible they are more likely to be offended by the president than other parts of the military.”

More Military Times Poll data.

Still, Feaver said, the drop in Trump’s popularity in the poll (conducted with the same parameters over the past four years) indicates growing dissatisfaction with Trump and his handling of several military issues.

When asked specifically about Trump’s handling of military issues, nearly 48 percent of the troops surveyed said they had an unfavorable view of that part of his job, compared to 44 percent who believe he has handled that task well. That marks a significant drop from the 2018 Military Times poll, when 59 percent said they were happy with his handling of military issues, against 20 percent who had an unfavorable view.

Since these mid-December numbers came out, Trump ordered a drone strike that killed a top Iranian general and brought the U. S. and Iran to the brink of war.  We have also seen publication of a book, A Very Stable Genius, by a pair of Washington Post Pulitzer Prize winners, that revealed a scene of Trump railing at top generals as “a bunch of dopes & babies”.

This week has been marked (so far) by the bum’s rush of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his uninvolved brother, Col. Yevgeny Vindman out of the White [supremacy] House like criminals, Alexander for the “offense” of doing his duty & complying with a legal subpoena, and his uninvolved brother for being — related.   These petty acts also made public fools of DOD higher-ups, who had vowed to prevent any retaliation.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

What will come next? There are many other currents swirling in the maelstrom of the 2020 election. But military servicemembers are citizens who whose votes will also count, and both their experience with Trump,  and their reaction to it will make their mark before it is done.

Midway City Update: Quaker David, Goliath & the Two Witnesses

The little church challenging the huge California Quaker megachurch (described in the blog post, David vs. Goliath, the “Friendly” Version, of January 30), won a round in court on January 31; but its reward was only a reprieve. The struggle over an aborted effort to help the homeless continues.

Joe Pfeiffer. The sign is valid for at least seven more Sundays.

Orange County superior court judge Thomas Delaney denied the motion from the Evangelical Friends Church Southwest (EFCSW), based in Yorba Linda, California, to dismiss a lawsuit by the small Friends Community Church of Midway City, California. The lawsuit  seeks an injunction to stop EFCSW from closing the Midway City church and firing its pastor, Joe Pfeiffer.

Recap

In late 2017 and early 2018 Midway City took in several of the many thousands of homeless people who cluster and camp across Orange County, just south of Los Angeles.

Hostile neighbors complained to Orange county about signs of homeless people staying on church property, in violation of county codes. When an inspector wrote Pfeiffer a letter about it, he promptly but reluctantly complied, sending the homeless visitors on their way.

Cara Pfeiffer, right, with Friends at Midway City.

But when a copy of the inspector’s letter arrived at the EFCSW office, members of the Elders Board, made it the basis for a secret decision, taken March 27, 2018 to close the church, fire pastor Pfeiffer, and oblige him, his wife and their four foster children to vacate the parsonage behind the church.

Pfeiffer and his wife Cara were told of their removal and eviction in June. They were also told to vacate the parsonage within weeks.

The church’s membership, barely 30 people, rallied behind them and resisted the closure order. It was delayed for months, then on October 12, 2018, Midway City filed suit, asking the Orange County Superior court for an injunction to stop the closure and the firing.

EFCSW filed a motion for summary judgment, which argued that the Midway City lawsuit did not raise any issue the court had jurisdiction over. It insisted that EFCSW was a “hierarchical church” with total power over member groups like Midway City: EFCSW  owned the buildings and property, controlled the agendas and conduct of meetings, and could remove pastors at will, without appeal. Its brief claimed the First Amendment religious liberty provision protected the denomination from legal interference. It cited precedents where courts had declined to take up cases involving church doctrine and internal practices.

Midway City countered that EFCSW had in fact frequently violated its own rules with secret meetings and decisions that were not subject to review by the whole body, contrary to its own and other Quaker traditions. They also contended that EFCSW did not really own its buildings and property. Such violations they said, were subject to judicial remedies.

Court Hearing

At the January 31 hearing, Judge Delaney agreed that there were real questions about whether EFCSW’s actions followed its own rules, and thus summary judgment was not warranted. He scheduled another hearing on March 30 to consider the issues involved. Midway City won the day, but the reward was only a two-month reprieve.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Delaney.

What moved the judge? There were technical arguments about passages in the EFCSW book of Faith and practice, regarding quorums for meetings, and about various kinds of property deeds. Such is the nature of most civil litigation.

But there were also in the case file papers of a different sort. Two of these stand out: statements by veteran EFCSW pastors which bring a very different perspective on that body’s life. The two were from James Healton, of Sacramento’s Friends Community church, and Joe Ginder, from Long Beach Friends.

Their statements combined personal witness with long experience both in EFCSW and among Quakers. They directly challenged one of the denomination’s main claims, that it was a hierarchical church, governed by a Board of Elders at the top which was, for all practical purposes, sovereign.

This challenge proved to be risky, as we shall see. But first let’s hear from them directly:

James Healton:

I am the pastor at Sacramento Friends Community Church. Since 1974 I have been a member of the EFCSW . . . . I have served as a local pastor therein since 1982.

During the last twenty years, a number of changes to Faith and Practice were adopted by the Representatives. On the governance side of things, the trend was increasingly toward concentration of responsibility in fewer hands. Those who recommended these changes defended them on the basis that it was increasingly difficult to find enough volunteers to fill all the boards, committees and offices. Despite this trend, we were never told that the Elder Board had replaced the Representatives as the ruling body of the Yearly Meeting, without appeal.

I was present in the Representatives meeting when the language in Faith and Practice . . . was adopted, under the heading, “Essential Business of Representatives”. I asked for and received assurances during the meeting that the words, “The final decisions and actions on the following must be approved by the Representatives”, implied no limitation on what other business the Representatives were free to consider but only a limitation on what other bodies (including the Elder Board) could act upon. We never understood this language to mean that the Representatives could not discuss and decide upon any other matters of concern to them. I had not heard that there was such a limitation implied by that language until I heard it from the attorney for EFCSW . . . .

Moreover, Faith and Practice says that “Other business may be introduced from any of the local churches, Elder Board, and other boards, committees and task forces.”  . . . Again, this indicates that the Representatives have the right to bring any matter they choose before the assembled Representatives. If a church wishes to propose a decision to the Representatives different from one taken by the Board of Elders they are free to do so under the rules governing EFCSW the corporation. This would, of course, include the possibility of an appeal to the Representatives.

In all my years in the EFCSW denomination, I do not recall an instance where a church was closed against the decided will of its members. If pastors were removed by the Yearly Meeting it was on account of serious moral failings or because the local church was divided over their leadership and the Yearly Meeting was asked to step in to settle the matter. To my knowledge it was never the case that pastors were removed because of things like “poor leadership skills, lack of discernment as a minister, an ineffective ministry, inability to increase the membership of FCC, poor decisions” or even “misuse of church property … “ as has been alleged against Pastor Pfeiffer. Dealing with such matters was left up to the local church unless Yearly Meeting staff or other people were asked to help or offered their help.

In the case of Midway City, there was not an offer to help them meet the city code requirements. They were simply told that Joe Pfeiffer was fired, their church was no longer a church in the EFCSW denomination and they had to vacate the premises. Of course, had the church failed to meet the code requirements, there would have been possible grounds for discipline but the church did meet the city’s expectations. Again, this severe a response to a church in need is unprecedented in my experience of more than forty years in EFCSW.

I note that the charges against Joe Pfeiffer and Midway City Friends Church that they violated Faith and Practice were for actions after they had been removed from membership in EFCSW denomination by the Elder Board of the corporation.

These alleged violations all amount to one charge against them: that they objected to, and sought remedy for, the actions the Elder Board had taken against them.

The closing of Midway City Friends Church and removal of Joe Pfeiffer as its pastor represents a sharp departure from what I have known and from what I understood to be the relationship between the local church and EFCSW as a whole. I would also add that though

Pastor Joe Pfeiffer is unafraid to speak his mind I have never known him to be intentionally rude or mean-spirited in his remarks. He has high ideals that sometimes make us feel uncomfortable but it is always clear to me that he is motivated by good will toward others, including those with whom he may, at times, disagree. . . . They did, however object when Midway City Church was closed. To me this indicates that their motive was not to divide the body of EFCSW or vindicate themselves but to protect the interests of their flock and to defend the historic balance between EFCSW oversight and the rights of its constituent churches.

Joseph Ginder:

I have been a member of EFCSW since 1986 and pastor of Long Beach Friends since 1996. . . . I’ve been a representative to the Yearly Meeting / Annual Conference Business Meeting nearly continuously since 1987. The Yearly Meeting is a traditional term for the annual gathering of local Friends church representatives to decide upon the business of the EFCSW denomination as a whole. . . . Prior to coming to Long Beach, I grew up at Anderson First Friends within Indiana Yearly Meeting, soaking up Friends ways from my seniors. Many of my ancestors have been Quakers since the beginning of the movement. . . .

About hierarchy. I read a claim that the EFCSW denomination is a hierarchical church because our Faith and Practice invests authority in some that is not given to all. This is a distortion of the Friends way of doing business. Our Faith and Practice speaks clearly to this. We expect leaders to lead rather than to rule. We do not empower individuals or small groups of leaders to make decisions that disregard the sense of other members in good standing. We empower individuals and small groups to act and lead on behalf of the larger group when the larger group is not meeting, or when the smaller group has followed the Friends manner of making decisions within the larger body as a gathered people of God.

The Friends approach for a group of leaders to take on important decisions is to build unity and listen before taking a controversial direction, at least when a matter requires no urgent action. We always expect our leaders to act to try to build unity. Friends were cast out of a hierarchical church because we did not simply accept the decisions of the few in hierarchical leadership, despite their claim to divine right.

Rather, we held decisions up to the light of scripture and the leading of the Spirit. For this we were persecuted and imprisoned, some unto death. As a representative to the EFCSW denomination representatives business meetings, I have never agreed to or believed we were approving changes to our Faith and Practice which would allow a small group of leaders such as the current board to make decisions that could not be questioned or re-examined by our representatives.

The list of items of “Essential Business of Representatives” in Faith and Practice . . . is a restriction on committees and leaders, not on the representatives! Those who say otherwise are simply in error. [also] any EFCSW church can bring business before representative sessions. Several churches have not been allowed to bring items regarding FCC-MC to the representatives sessions in the past two years.

This is clearly in violation of our Faith and Practice. The representatives in session are the highest authority of our organization and can consider whatever business they choose; all of our churches have access to bring business to the representatives.

The elders board is not exempt from the Friends Way of Doing Business. Faith and Practice, p.33. This way of doing business embodies the value of building unity and seeks to prevent a few from imposing decisions unilaterally upon others without going through our business process of discerning the mind of Christ together. . . .

This description of our way of doing business applies between the Elder Board and other members, not just between members of the Elders Board. . . . We should never hear, “We didn’t have to ask you” as an excuse for excluding stakeholders from participating in the Friends way of doing business as has been done with FCC.

This statement directly contradicts Friends teaching. We are not a hierarchical church and never have been. While FCC (or the corporate elder board) cannot change the Faith and Practice of EFCSW without agreement of the Representatives. . . as Friends we do not empower one group as superior and relegate another as subordinate. Jesus is our Head. We are all subordinate to Him . . . .

I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the state of California that the foregoing is a true and correct. Executed this 15th day of January 2020 at Long Beach, California.”

Joe and Cara Pfeiffer came away from the court hearing with a sixty day extension of their residence, and eight Sundays for their church to gather in the home they had built and maintained for nearly ninety years.

Call to Worship on February 2, from the Midway City Facebook page; “Worship with us this morning as we explore Micah 6 and the habits of life that please the Lord and the ones that make his anger burn. Justice is at the center of a life pleasing to God.”

 

EFCSW Annual Conference

Later that same day, EFCSW opened its 2020 annual conference,  with a dinner for representatives from its 39 member churches in California, Arizona and Nevada. As noted by Joe Ginder, in most similar Quaker bodies, such events are called yearly meetings, and extended over several days, with a mix of business sessions, worship, family reunions, and social events. EFCSW had discarded that tradition, and compressed the gathering into one tightly scheduled Friday evening, followed by a Saturday morning session.

Among the attenders were Joe Ginder and James Healton. As they arrived for the opening dinner, they were taken aside by a member of the Elder Board, and shown a letter on a smartphone, addressed to them. The letter sternly rebuked them for submitting the statements, and warned them not to speak openly about the Midway City case during the annual conference. They were taken aback.

Ginder and Healton complied with the letter’s strictures. The evening went as planned.

Saturday morning was similarly programmed, with 35 minutes set aside for a “business session.”

As the meeting was getting underway, Cara Pfeiffer appeared, but members of the Elder Board quickly surrounded her and, despite her protests, firmly ejected her from the room.

Reports indicate that the “business session” lasted not much more than fifteen minutes, although it included formal approval of a $1,200,000 three-part budget, and a pre-selected slate of nominations for various boards. No one spoke about Midway City.

–Well, that last sentence is not quite right. In a packet of “Advance Reports,” Midway City was mentioned in print twice. The Elder Board’s report noted that “A challenge over this past year has been the ongoing legal issue related to the closing of one of our churches. Unfortunately, this issue has occupied a significant amount of the staff and elders’ time and energy. Continue to pray with us for a God-honoring resolution to this issue.”

Then under “Annual Budget,” EFCSW Chief of Staff Ron Prentice reported that “The 2019 General Administrative budget projected a year-end balance between income and expenses. However, the legal costs for the defense against the claims by FCC Midway City and the increase of one staff position from part-time to full-time are the two primary factors that caused our expenses to exceed our income by $111,000. As we look to 2020, the increases to personnel and our legal expenses have been included into our budget projections for the New Year.”  There were no reports that either item was discussed. (The letter read to Healton & Ginder reportedly told them that if they tried to speak about Midway, they would be ruled out of order.)

The business session was followed by a “Prayer initiative and Time of Prayer,” then adjournment for lunch and departure.

Testimony by ECSW staff in pre-hearing depositions made clear that they believed the nine-member Elder Board acted with full authority for EFCSW, 364-plus days per year, except for the abbreviated session on that one Saturday morning. The board also prepared the agenda for that annual half-hour. The Board’s meetings were private, and there was no appeal from their decisions. We have seen what happened to those, like pastors Ginder and Healton, who spoke of when practices were different for that body. Their temerity in submitting affidavits dissenting from the Elder Board’s understanding could be hazardous both to their jobs and the churches they served.

Joe Pfeiffer advised me that late this week there will be a court-sponsored mediation meeting between Midway City and EFCSW officials, to see if a non-judicial resolution is possible. Pfeiffer insists that would be his preference, but says EFCSW Elders have turned aside several such suggestions already.

And lest it be entirely forgotten, this multifaceted melodrama will continue to play itself out against the backdrop of a vast city in which thousands still sleep outside each night, and their number continues to increase.

An American/Orange County homeless camp: here today. Gone tomorrow. Back the day after.

 

 

David vs. Goliath, The “Friendly” Version: Orange County Quakers Face Off in Court

A bulletin from southern California: The biggest Quaker church in the world wants to shut down one of the smallest. The small church sued in late 2018 to stop the shutdown.

But a hearing in Orange County Superior Court on January 31 could lock their doors & make the Continue reading David vs. Goliath, The “Friendly” Version: Orange County Quakers Face Off in Court

The Hungarian Religious Resistance: a Mirror & a Beacon to Our Own

A report in The Guardian on December 28 compellingly describes the small, marginalized religious resistance to the self-described ”Christian” authoritarianism of the current Hungarian regime. In this sketch there is much to learn and reflect on for those Americans who feel called to a similar path.

The anti-democratic drive of the Viktor Orban government to undermine Hungary’s independent courts, media and other democratic processes is well-known. So is its unremitting hostility to the homeless poor, refugees, immigrants & LGBT persons, and incitement of anti-semitism.

What was less known, at least to me, is how much this burgeoning tyranny has been wrapped and sanctified in religious terms, as an expression of “Christian liberty,” intended to protect a version of “Christian culture.”  Also new to me is how similar its rationale is to reactionary evangelical/fundamentalist movements in other countries.

The Advent Statement logo.

Early in December a band of Hungarian religious dissenters responded by issuing what they call “The Advent Statement.” As I read it I noted that, if one replaced “Hungary” with the “US administration” & its cronies, much or most of its text could be an “American Advent Statement.” See if you agree:

We are calling,” it says, “for resistance to an arrogance of power that makes the concept of “Christian Liberty” a slogan for exclusionary, hate-filled and corrosive policy; a power that destroys the social fabric and eliminates useful social institutions; a power that systematically threatens democracy and the rule of law. We are concerned about the arrogance of power that mixes the language of national identity with the language of Christian identity in a manipulative way. We cannot let our freedom, given to us by grace in baptism, be taken away.

We are concerned by the narrow political usage of the concept of “Christian Liberty”. Our goal is to restore the dignity of this biblical and theological concept. Christian liberty includes freedom from causing harm to the other person and to ourselves, freedom from abuse, exploitation, ignorance and freedom for protecting the other person’s dignity and rights, as well as our own. In this light, we cannot be indifferent to the current state of affairs we experience in Hungarian society. . . .”

Their bill of particulars should also sound familiar to American ears:

Orban & the flag.

The authoritarian exercise of power is spreading around the world but especially before our eyes in Hungary. We are witnessing manipulation of electoral law and the use oflegislative and executive power in order to provide legislative protection for the corruption inspired by the state. This is a strategy of power that deliberately eliminates political differences of opinion through the eradication of independent media, spreading fake news, discrediting and character assassination, and harassment by authorities.
Because of this, in the name of Christian liberty we would like to be prepared to speak up and act unambiguously. . . . ”

One major difference between the two countries is that in Hungary (as in some other European nations), many churches are subsidized by the government, through allocations from taxes. These payments become an ongoing form of hush money:

Alexander Faludy, a vicar who spent years in forced exile during the time of Communist rule, acknowledges that “The state funding is important of course, acting as both a carrot and a stick” . . . . [Something like that is happening here too, see: “How Mike Pence’s Office Meddled in Foreign Aid to Reroute Money to Favored Christian Groups,”  For that matter, both Barack Obama and George W. Bush pushed through increases in federal aid to churches.]

But as a beleaguered Job noted in the Bible, “the Lord giveth & the Lord taketh away” (Job 1:21). He wasn’t talking about government funding, but the sentiment applies: the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship, whose President, Pastor Gábor Iványi was instrumental in drafting The Advent Statement, saw its state funding withdrawn after the Orban regime consolidated its power. And maybe that’s why the larger Protestant groups in Hungary have not signed on to it.

Beyond direct funding, Vicar Faludy added, “there has also been a  comprehensive instrumentalisation of the churches [by Orban] through the power of prestige. The idea of participation in public life, for people who grew up under communism, when churches were systematically placed at a civil disadvantage, was very tempting. I think that in 2010 [when Orbán was re-elected prime minister] there was a sense of hope in the churches. Church leaders thought: ‘This government may be far from perfect but it’s a way of getting things done, for example of making sure there’s a Christian ethos in the schools.’ From speaking to people in the churches, I think they thought they could ride the tiger.”

Pastor Ivanyi speaks out in Hungary.

After 10 years in which Orbán’s grip on civil society has been relentlessly strengthened, Faludy says: “At best, the churches have chosen quietism rather than prophetic vocation.”

Of course, In the U. S., many prominent evangelical leaders are definitely not “quietist.” Rather, they clearly ARE “riding the tiger,” galloping, they believe, straight toward a promised land where their kind of “religious liberty” will be exercised to ban abortion, roll back LGBT rights, gain government support for their “Christian” schools & much more, so (with the rare exception of, say, editors of Christianity Today magazine), they show no inclination to get off.

Similarly, there’s as yet been no stampede among Hungarian churchgoers to join the Advent Declaration’s public dissent. And this should be no surprise to its authors:

“[Orban] is turning the Christian message on its head,” says Iványi. “Is there any other Christian country in the world where it is written in the constitution that you can be jailed for being homeless? Is it a Christian country where asylum seekers are not given the basic resources they need to survive? Is it Christian to use power to abolish media freedoms, the independence of judges and academic autonomy?

“In ancient Israel, the prophets spoke out against corruption and wickedness. We are now compelled to speak out. We might not be Isaiahs or Jeremiahs. But we take courage from their example.”

Yes, courage. Iványi and his cohorts will need it. The prophets they cite may now loom large in the Bible and the gospels. But in life, theirs was a lonely and frequently fatal career path.

It was also the path Jesus took, frequently denouncing the tiger-riding religious bigwigs of his day as the spawn of those who killed the prophets. And you see where that message got him.

I salute Pastor Iványi and The Advent Statement. And beyond courage, I wish them (& their American counterparts) stamina and determination:  the stories of the prophets also show that it took time, often lifetimes, of endurance, protest and lamentation for their prophecies of greater justice even to begin to come to pass.

Wanna Call John Dingell? Don’t Ring Through Hell

One day in 1980, I was at my desk on an upper floor of a  way-past-its-prime hotel that had become a staff office annex for the U. S. House of Representatives.

The onetime hotel that had been turned into the House Annex where I worked in 1980.

My boss — Congressman Pete McCloskey of California, wanted some information about an obscure part of a not-so-well-known energy bill: say, Section 227D of the 1979 Energy Act Amendments, something like that, and the request had been bounced down the office status ladder to me.

I knew nothing about the Energy Act or the amendments, and Google hadn’t been invented yet.

But I knew who did know: Rep. John Dingell, of Michigan; or someone in his office. I think maybe Dingell even wrote the amendments. So I picked up the phone and dialed his office number.

By 1980, Dingell had been in Congress for 25 years; he would stay in Congress for almost 35 more.

John Dingell is sworn in as a Congressman by the legendary House Speaker Sam Rayburn, in 1955. (But Rayburn served a mere 48 years.)

Dingell was a tough, tenacious Democrat, who was already high up in the House hierarchy. That meant he had lots of staff assistants like me, only likely better-informed, with more political hustle, who could set me straight, if they bothered to take the call from a Republican nobody. (My boss, McCloskey was a Republican, and this was the time when Ronald Reagan was eating Jimmy Carter’s lunch.)

The phone rang once, maybe twice, then was scooped up with a pre-cellphone rattle that meant the receiver was grabbed with alacrity, not reluctance.

“John Dingell.” said a voice.

What?? Err, uh, I, uh–”

If I was a coffee drinker, this was a java-spewing-from-my-nostrils moment. It wasn’t a receptionist. Nor an intern. Not even the assistant chief of staff.

The Boss. Himself.

When I recovered, I identified myself and my office and stumbled through my query.

“Sure,” Dingell said, and then reeled off the answer, clearly and concisely, as if I was calling from the White House, or maybe the New York Times (or the Detroit Free Press?)

I scribbled a couple of notes, and asked for clarification of one point, which he patiently offered. I thanked him, he said I was welcome and then it was done.

The call only lasted about three minutes. It took me awhile longer to recover my balance. Thirty-nine years later, I still have questions.

Why was Dingell picking up cold calls to his office phone? And why was he taking time to answer a rookie question from a minor league staffer from across the aisle?

And how, with hundreds of bills and laws and amendments streaming across his desk, day after day, week after week, was he up to the minute even on Section 227D?

(Would he have known Section 227C as well?? Probably.)

After much pondering, I’ve come to a simple answer: Dingell was a mensch, and a natural. He also didn’t have an inflated view of himself; he could, and did, speak to me as one colleague to another, from out of the blue.

It’s no wonder he was re-elected to Congress more times than anyone else in that body’s history.

Rep. Paul “Pete ” McCloskey. A war hero, but an anti-Vietnam war campaigner, and a fine public servant. But his is another story.

Now my boss, McCloskey was a fine guy. But if there’s a special gallery in heaven reserved for the best of Congress, I bet John Dingell has a seat in it.

I know that’s an iffy notion; Mark Twain concluded long ago that “There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress,” and we have recently heard much corroboration for that view, especially from one side of the aisle.

For that matter, my boss McCloskey argued, even before he left Washington three years later, that “Congressmen are like diapers. You need to change them often, and for the same reason.”

Your humble blogger, in a sketch from around this time, with daughters Molly (left) and Annika (right)

But still; I say IF.

I gather that some fatuous pretender recently spoke of John Dingell as being in hell.

It only took me about two minutes to learn, but I’m pretty sure I know otherwise.

More like vice versa.