Category Archives: Hard-Core Quaker

The “Quaker Scout”: Highlighting A Very Relevant Piece of Quaker History

In 1848 Quaker farmer Jonathan Roberts moved his family south from New Jersey to a new farm in northern VA in 1848. He arrived with high hopes and even higher ideals.

The new spread adjoined George Washington’s Mt. Vernon plantation, already a historic site for the still-young nation. Yet with its distinguished lineage, the property brought its characteristic issues: the fields had been exploited to grow tobacco, which brought quick profits but depleted the soil; and the white owners had been corrupted by maintaining themselves and their culture on a system of enslaved labor and chronic indebtedness.

The more scarred the land became and the deeper in debt many planters sank, the more belligerent they had become in their system’s defense, threatening rebellion and war if it were at all disturbed or upset.

By acquiring land among them, Roberts intended to change all that: renew the soil and make it sustainably profitable; do so entirely with free labor; thereby they would show the slaveowners a way out of debt and the thrall of their brutal human commerce. This would undermine and banish the slavery system, not overnight, but by invincible example and thus without falling prey to the scourge of war. Continue reading The “Quaker Scout”: Highlighting A Very Relevant Piece of Quaker History

God Save Us from the Supreme Court Theocrats!

NOTE: Kennedy v. Bremerton is the short name for this case, but it would be better dubbed the “Blow Another Big Hole In the Freedom from Religion & the First Amendment!” Case.

As the respected SCOTUS blog noted,

Rachel Laser, the president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represented the school district, took a different view. She called the decision “the greatest loss of religious freedom in our country in generations” and she warned that Kennedy’s supporters would “try to expand this dangerous precedent – further undermining everyone’s right to live as ourselves and believe as we choose.”

In a stinging dissent, justice Sotomayor wrote (and showed) that the bulldozer majority had “misconstrue[d]” — more plainly, falsified & lied about — the facts” of the case, depicting Kennedy’s prayers as “private and quiet” when the prayers had actually caused “severe disruption to school events.”

I’m not an atheist; in fact I’ll be attending worship in a couple of hours, in a very small, but doughty, minority sect (aka Quakers) and may well even pray there. Our group had to struggle & suffer to gain religious freedom, for ourselves and others, and that experience remains unforgotten. So whatever is columnist Pamela Paul’s faith or unfaith, (her private business), I nod in gratitude as she spotlights some of the many ominous implications of this precedent, especially for those associated with minority faiths, or the steadily growing population of “Nones.” Added up, to paraphrase a stanza from The Music Man,  they spell

Trouble with a Capital T,

And that rhymes with P

And that stands for

Pushing private prayer on a progressively more p*ssed off public.

New York Times For This Supreme Court, Justice Isn’t Blind. Faith Is.

Opinion Columnist

Imagine your boss fervently proclaiming his religious beliefs at the end of a companywide meeting, inviting everyone on the team who shares those beliefs to join in. You’re surrounded by colleagues and other higher-ups. Everyone is watching to see who participates and who holds back, knowing that whatever each of you does could make or break your job and even your career, whether you share his convictions or not. But hey, totally up to you!

That’s what Joseph Kennedy, a former assistant coach in Kitsap County, Wash., did with his team — only he did it with public-school students at a high-school football game. When the superintendent made clear that by actively inviting players to join him at the 50-yard line for postgame Christian prayers, he was violating school policy and, by the way, the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, Kennedy took to the media, turning a small town’s school sporting event into a three-ring circus and ugly social media sideshow, with students effectively forced to perform or suffer the consequences.

Naming the single worst decision of the Supreme Court’s disgraceful 2021-22 term is a tough call. But the one that best captures the majority’s brazen efforts to inflict its political and religious agenda on the rest of the country may well be Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which ruled that the coach had a constitutional right to pray on the field. Overturning precedent and in a cynical elision of fact, Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for a 6-to-3 majority, affirmed Kennedy’s assertion that his proselytizing on government property during a public-school function was “private,” “personal” and “quiet.”

It was nothing of the kind. In easily observable fact, Kennedy’s religious display was public, vocal and coercive, as demonstrated by testimony from football players and other community members and by video and photographs of the coach surrounded by crowds of people on bent knee. According to an amicus brief filed by one of Kennedy’s football players and seven other members of the community on behalf of the school district, participation in Kennedy’s prayers was “expected.” Students were explicitly encouraged by him to ask the other teams’ coaches and players to join in, something Kennedy himself boasted about.

Another Holiday Story: Playing the Lottery

Playing the Lottery

Winter 1969, Boston. I was driving a cab at night, while attending Harvard Divinity School. I had run through some scholarship and loan money, and needed cash. But I also thought it would be a good experience for a wannabe writer.

When I turned my cab onto St. James Street downtown and saw the kid in front of the Greyhound Bus depot signaling for a taxi, I knew my time had come.

It was nighttime in Boston, the winter of 1969. Cold. Icy. I was a Harvard graduate student with a pregnant wife. We needed money, and the cab companies always needed drivers. The cabs were junk heaps, the pay was lousy, the darkened city was a jungle. But the jobs were there, and so was I. And so, at that moment, was the kid, turning up the collar of a thin jacket against the bitter wind.

It was only about two-thirds of a block from the corner to the bus station, but in the few seconds it took to drive that distance, I went through a whole internal dialogue, something like this:

Go ahead, pick him up.

I don’t want to. Continue reading Another Holiday Story: Playing the Lottery

Quakerism was born in a terrible civil war. Could it survive another one?

[NOTE: This review does not mention that amid the spreading devastation of the English Civil War, which in 1649 led to the execution of the defeated Charles I, a new radical religious group, derisively called Quakers, was coming into being.  The earliest Friends were at least in sympathy with Cromwell’s anti-monarchical “Commonwealth,” and not a few had fought for it. When the Commonwealth collapsed a decade later, the monarchy was restored and the beheaded Charles’s refugee son became king Charles II.
Behind  the new king was the Anglican church, and many others turned loose in his realm — losers turned winners, with lots of scores to settle.

Quakers were among those targeted, persecuted for the next thirty years. That’s another story, except to note that they survived.

I mention Quakers because as one of the spiritual descendants, this writer is living in times when forecasts of a new civil war are frequently heard. And this review indirectly but forcefully raises two questions: would Quakers survive another such ordeal? How could they/we prepare?]

From The Guardian: The Siege of Loyalty House by Jessie Childs review – the English civil war in all its fog and mess
The story of the clergymen, soldiers, architects, actors and apothecaries forced to rub shoulders during desperate times
Kathryn Hughes — 04 June 2022

In the centuries following the burning down of Basing House by Oliver Cromwell in 1645, all sorts of odd things kept turning up in the ruins. There was fine glass from Venice, an ivory cup from west Africa, apothecary jars from Delft and fragments of a Chinese bowl.

Random though these remnants were, they were nothing compared with the assorted jumble of house guests who had left them behind. For three years at the height of England’s civil war, 500 or so mostly strangers had been obliged to cram hugger-mugger into the Tudor castle, which lay two miles east of Basingstoke.

Sheltered within the massive earthwork fortifications were Roman Catholics and Anglicans, soldiers and architects, actors and apothecaries, people who burned with righteous anger at what was happening to their beloved country, and those who couldn’t wait for the whole thing to be over. The one thing they all had in common was that they were nominally king’s men, on the side of Charles I in his bloody and seemingly endless struggle against his own parliament. Continue reading Quakerism was born in a terrible civil war. Could it survive another one?

Here’s a Great Look at the Quaker “Good Old Days.” Beautiful — But a Lot of Work

[Note: It’s rare that blog material turns up in the real estate section, especially the mainly rather upscale version in the Washington Post, and particularly in the rather very upscale horsey parts of Loudoun County, Virginia, out near where the Shenandoah Valley begins. But for many decades once upon a time, much of Loudoun was Quaker country, and there are still active meetings in the region. There’s also lots of Quaker history to see and explore; and here’s a glimpse at a special piece of it.]

Washington Post

Historical Quaker Farm in Loudoun County for sale

Stone Eden Farm is typical of the small farms owned by Quakers in the 18th century
The stone house was built in 1765. An addition was made in 1817. (Mario Mineros Photography)

By Kathy Orton
 — June 3, 2022

Stone Eden Farm, a historical Quaker farm in Hamilton, Va., with roots that go back more than 250 years, is on the market for just under $1.4 million.

When Lord Fairfax owned what would become Loudoun County, he granted land there to William Hatcher, a Quaker who moved to the area from Pennsylvania. By 1765, Hatcher had built a house on the land as required by Fairfax as a condition of the deed, or patent. That stone patent house has been home to generations of farmers.

Like most Quakers who came to Loudoun County, Hatcher was drawn to its fertile pastureland. Stone Eden Farm was typical of the small farms owned by Quakers in the 18th century. Because of their religious beliefs, Quakers did not rely on enslaved labor, and their farms tended to be smaller than the plantations in eastern and southern Loudoun. Continue reading Here’s a Great Look at the Quaker “Good Old Days.” Beautiful — But a Lot of Work

Seeing Our Future in the Past? Flashbacks from the 1850s

I don’t believe in reincarnation.

But if I did, I’d be pretty sure that in a previous life, I shambled through the American 1850s. That might help explain why lately  I’ve been having vivid dreamlike flashbacks about them. A few acquaintances would nod knowingly at this admission, and murmur something about “past lives.”

What I think explains it is that in this current, 20th/21st century life, I spent several months studying the 1850s, from the perspective of Quakers who really did live through them.Sometimes, the wrinkled vintage letters and sepia-stained books I was working with seemed to meld into scenes from an extended private mini- or rather maxi-series; I often had a sense of spying on the Friends through some special binoculars that saw through time rather than distance.

Outwardly I was like a monk, an absent-minded antisocial drudge, mostly closeted in my small room at Pendle hill, poring through long-forgotten documents, pecking at the keyboard day and night.

But for me the work was gripping, not least because I knew what the characters in my scholarly maxi-series didn’t — that their idealistic dedication, their years of risky activism and pious devotion to achieving a nonviolent end to slavery — all were doomed. Continue reading Seeing Our Future in the Past? Flashbacks from the 1850s

Covid at 1 Million U.S. Deaths: A Special Scourge in the South

 

Reported Covid Deaths by U. S. Region:

Northeast  – 211,923 deaths
Midwest  – 211,648 deaths
West – 189,805 deaths
South – 378,472 deaths

RANDOLPH SEALS, 39, WAS elected the coroner for Bolivar County, in rural western Mississippi, in 2015. But the relentlessness of the deaths linked to Covid, and his personal ties to so many who were dying, brought him to the brink of quitting in the fall of 2020.

By early 2021, when the South’s death rate spiked again, he wished he had. Then came the Delta variant, and the Omicron wave, and it just got worse.

“It was a disaster that was coming back and back and back,” Mr. Seals said.

As hospitals overflowed, many residents died in their homes. The ripple effect of the pandemic was evident, too, as Mr. Seals began recording the deaths of people with heart or kidney disease for whom there were no hospital beds. Now, he said, he is handling the deaths of people who had Covid and never quite recovered. Continue reading Covid at 1 Million U.S. Deaths: A Special Scourge in the South

Quakers & the End of Abortion Rights: A Very Mixed Bag

Some liberal pundits are predicting a tidal wave of backlash against the leaked SCOTUS decision to reverse Roe & Casey, the decisions that have made abortion a right since 1973, forty-nine years ago. (The full text of the draft decision is here.)

I’ve written that, while a Roe supporter, I’m not at all sure any such tidal wave is certain, or even likely.

Let me add here that this uncertainty seems to apply just as much to U. S. Quakers.

Why?  In sum, because

A. Americans (Quakers too) are exhausted by years of crises, from an attempted (& ongoing) coup begun at the capitol, a continuing pandemic (case numbers are rising again, fast), a new, not-exactly Cold War/World War 3, inflation, and more.

B. Americans, even American women, are and long have been divided on the issue. Furthermore the pro-Roe supporters have long been out-campaigned by the anti-abortion side. Again, Quakers too.

This last is not just my opinion. The leftist journal Dissent put it bluntly and well in 2019:

The American right is winning the battle over abortion rights. In fact, they have been winning for a long time. Since the late 1970s, conservatives have worked to build a well-funded, militant anti-abortion movement that that includes white nationalists, religious extremists, and pro-life feminists. Now, the end of the legal right to abortion appears terrifyingly imminent.

(More on my own ambivalence about a great backlash here.)

I’d be happy for Dissent and I to be wrong and the prophets of political tsunami proven right; but the evidence for it isn’t there now, and I’m not in the “wish-casting” business.

Besides, an informal survey of public Quaker sources only reinforced this impression. Continue reading Quakers & the End of Abortion Rights: A Very Mixed Bag

AFSC Restructure Update: Staff Uprising? What Happened?

If I was a “consultant” and needed work, I’d get in line at AFSC. By my count, the group is hosting its third round of outside consultants, laboring earnestly (and raking in the billable hours) trying to help it square the circles of what is called at 1501 Cherry Street, Philly “Restructuring.”

The Restructuring plan — and the drive for an internal coup to smash it — were reported here in early January, and this initial post has links to the main documents, and a detailed sketch of the struggle against it. At that point, the Restructuring plan was set to be acted on at a Board meeting earlier this month.

The January coup was spearheaded by Lucy Duncan, who was at the time assigned as AFSC’s liaison with Quakers. She was candid about the goals for her insurgency:

We call on other Quakers to call for a cessation of the planned restructure, an external evaluation of the Senior Leadership Team and a searching, well facilitated internal conversation about how this process proceeded so far despite widespread opposition and how the organization can heal and move forward collectively, honoring all voices especially those most impacted by the issues upon which AFSC focuses.

If the plan wasn’t dumped, she warned, AFSC would be faced with numerous departures:

 Several staff have left or are on the verge of leaving the organization–some of whom have been with AFSC for decades–due to the difficult experience of these processes and their concern about the new direction AFSC seems poised to take.

Well, there was one signal departure in the wake of this manifesto: Duncan, who was suspended and then fired within a week.

Her dismissal stirred up a brief flurry of well-attended Zoom calls, some wringing of hands, and various social media posts.

But within a few weeks, the smoke cleared, and most Quakers  turned back to their already long list of serious concerns, such as the impending destruction of democracy here, the invasion and ongoing destruction of Ukraine there, and the destruction of the entire planet overall, to name a few.

This plethora of distraction indicated that there would likely be no mass movement of Friends marching to rescue Duncan and a once-Quaker-but-now 99+% secular NGO from the fiendish clutches of — the people who were hired to run it, especially by stopping another reorganization in a long string of such over the decades.

For the record, the Restructuring grew out of a strategic plan adopted by AFSC in October 2020 (and online here).

But opposition to it surfaced early, and  despite the often overheated rhetoric, took in practice the more typically Quaker form of a campaign to stall and talk it to death.

This is where the parade of consultants  got into  the  act, being well-compensated to somehow make a series of real differences vanish in a cloud of lavender-scented conflict resolution blather or drown in vats of herbal tea.

The consultants haven’t yet succeeded, except at their bottom lines. The key sticking points were summarized in the early post thus:

After wading through many documents, and cutting through a fog of verbiage and buzzwords, in my view the issues boil down to three:

  1. Power: Who will run AFSC?
  2. Jobs: Will “restructure” mean staff and program cuts? And, not least,
  3. Money: who will control its distribution?

The two sets of answers, in brief, appear to be:

From the “Leadership Team” (aka LT):

  1. Power? To the LT.
  2. Jobs/program cuts? Likely; maybe lots.
  3. Money control? The LT.

From the dissidents:

  1. Power? To the staff (or rather, the staff favored by the dissidents). Out Now! with the LT & its plan.

  2. Job/program cuts? Not just no, but Heck No. Instead, more hires and projects at the “bottom,” in field and project offices.

  3. Money control? Staff (again, the “right” ones).

With l’affaire Duncan now past, it seems clear that the struggle has returned to the question of who will out-stall, out-talk, and out-consult whom. AFSC Deputy General Secretary Hector Cortez told me this week there has not been any staff exodus following Duncan out the door.

But he also acknowledged that the April Board meeting, held in conjunction with AFSC’s annual Corporation session, had come and gone without taking up the Restructuring plan. Which, in light of what I was told in January, suggests the LT didn’t think the Board was ready to say yes.

The next Board meeting will be June 10-12. And from documents shared with the Corporation, it seems AFSC will be in full frenzy marathon meeting mode til then. Here’s the schedule (which, as the small print admits, will probably get even more crowded toward the end of May.):

This whirl will likely focus on much the same conflicts as were identified above. Here’s the summary shared with the Corporation (By the way, the BWGPDM stands for the Board Working Group on Governance and Decision Making):

And that’s not all. The remnants of the Duncan putsch echo here:

So, what will happen in June? Here’s the Leadership Team’s vision:

The blue chart above tracks a process which it says started (at top left) in June 2020, and looks to complete in June 2022 (at bottom right).

Seems to me it leaves out some items, so I’ve prepared a revised, shortened version here. One possibility is not on it: I predict that when June arrives, the Restructuring opponents will insist, “We need more time!” (And consultants.)Then . . .

The big Maybe: There are no public polls of the 20-plus member AFSC Board. Maybe they’re as ready as Cortez to be done with all this. Yet after fifty-five years of Quaker business and committee meetings, it is very easy for me to imagine a half dozen members not being ready to act in June, which would be enough to thwart the LT’s yearning for a conclusion, and keep the hopes of the resisters alive.

After all, just a couple weeks ago there was a letter from Friends General Conference about how their planning committee was tied up in knots and essentially fractured over — wait for it — mask rules for a Quaker gathering.

After two years of AFSC’s impasse, Cortez sounded to me like he (and the LT perhaps) was within sight of being fed up: “We are under the assumption and the very very clear expectation a proposal will go to the board in June,” he said, “and we will request a decision.”

If they don’t get one?

Well, there are always more consultants to consult.

Other related posts:

“Hello, AFSC? There’s a Crisis on the Line—And It’s for You.” Posted January 3, 2022
https://wp.me/p5FGIu-5qk

AFSC Restructuring Plan (Draft of April 16, 2021) — posted: January 3, 2022
https://wp.me/p5FGIu-5q5

AFSC & The Hammer: Duncan Fired — posted:
January 5, 2022
https://wp.me/p5FGIu-5qN

AFSC After “The Day The Movement Died” — posted:
January 13, 2022
https://wp.me/p5FGIu-5rp