Category Archives: Quaker Theology

A Quaker Theologian for Our Hard Times.

A substantial Holiday Weekend Read:

I always feel uneasy when finding myself in agreement with rightwing Catholic pundit Ross Douthat. But in his August 31 NYTimes column, he nails it, mocking the spectacle of :

”  . . . generals and grand strategists who presided over quagmire, folly and defeat fanning out across the television networks and opinion pages to champion another 20 years in Afghanistan. You have the return of the media’s liberal hawks and centrist Pentagon stenographers, unchastened by their own credulous contributions to the retreat of American power over the past 20 years.

“Our botched [Afghanistan] withdrawal is the punctuation mark on a general catastrophe, a failure so broad that it should demand purges in the Pentagon, the shamed retirement of innumerable hawkish talking heads, the razing of various NGOs and international-studies programs and the dissolution of countless consultancies and military contractors.”

But I’m not nodding to Douthat today about Afghanistan. It’s more the “general catastrophe,” or cascading crises, that have been similarly botched and booted by our rulers and most of our reigning “elites.”  And rather than piling on, I’m looking for some help in getting through and making some hopeful sense in the aftermath, if there is to be one. Someone outside the discredited mainstream pundits and bemedaled poseurs.

Which brings me to Jim Corbett.

Continue reading A Quaker Theologian for Our Hard Times.

Showdown Week at Guilford: Who Will be Its New President?

“Predictions are hard,” said the sage yogi Berra, “especially about the future.”

Yet sometimes there are exceptions — predictions that are easy.

Like this one: Continue reading Showdown Week at Guilford: Who Will be Its New President?

Presidential Showdown Week At Guilford: College Finalists Coming

“Predictions are hard,” said the sage yogi Berra, “especially about the future.”

I agree with that rule, and follow it, mostly.

Yet sometimes there are exceptions — predictions that are easy.

Like this one: Continue reading Presidential Showdown Week At Guilford: College Finalists Coming

Much to Be Modest About, Friends . . .

From the book, Without Apology:

A Friends meeting hosted an interfaith conference. During a break, the meeting’s Clerk fell to talking with a priest, a rabbi and an imam about the nature of God.

Despite everyone’s good intentions, they soon began to argue: God was a trinity, contended the priest; oh no, the imam retorted, Allah is One; the rabbi nodded at this, but insisted the Most High was truly revealed only in the Torah, not the Quran. And so it went, growing more heated with every exchange.

The Clerk sat mostly silent, wringing her hands and trying to remember the main points of the Alternatives to Violence workshop she’d attended the previous month.

The argument was interrupted by a sudden thunderclap that shook the building and rattled an open window. As the four believers trembled in awe, a piece of paper blew through the window and floated to the table in front of them.

The Clerk cautiously picked it up and looked it over. “It’s a message,” she said, and began to read:

“‘My children,”’ it said, “‘why do you wrangle over words? My glory and mystery surpass all your human imaginings, and I love each of you equally. Now cease your senseless quarrels, and get on about my work in your wonderful, needful world.”’

The abashed clerics bowed their heads in prayer.

After a moment, the Clerk cleared her throat.

“Um,” she added quietly, “It’s signed, “‘Thy Friend, God.”’

Un-Happy Anniversary, Friends

Four years ago today, Eighth Month 5, 2017, some Friends in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) got their wish:

They got rid of the “liberals” in the body.

Out went New Garden Meeting in Greensboro; Jamestown just south of there; Greensboro First Friends; and even tiny Spring Meeting, in the pastures and woods of south Alamance County, where I attend (or used to, in the Good Old pre-Zoom Days); and a few others.

Of course, there was a price:  namely, they had to destroy the yearly meeting to “save” it.

It took awhile for them to realize this. Three years altogether. Beginning in the summer of 2014, they had tried to force the “liberals” out. “Surgery” they called it, regrettable, but necessary to stop the spread of a deadly disease. Anesthetics? Strictly optional. Continue reading Un-Happy Anniversary, Friends

“Transformation” Is Dead. Donald Rumsfeld Killed It.

Donald Rumsfeld

The passing of Donald Rumsfeld this week brings many atrocities to mind, especially the long list associated with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. There isn’t time to recount those here; but if there is an afterlife with any justice, they likely followed his shade into one of the lowest of the nether regions, like a screeching cloud of endlessly circling buzzards, talons extended.

But here I pass with bowed head the vast expanse of mass graves and torture black sites which are his more visible monuments, to linger briefly instead over one of his more abstract, but not meaningless crimes. This offense was not against flesh & blood, but did violence to language.

Because it was Donald Rumsfeld, and his claque, who while utterly failing to banish terror and bloodshed from the world they claim, did manage to definitively demolish all credibility and drain the value from the word & notion of “transformation.” Continue reading “Transformation” Is Dead. Donald Rumsfeld Killed It.

Coming Soon: Maybe the Most Important Book I Never Wrote

As I begin this post, Portland and Seattle are roasting, a Florida beachfront condo has collapsed, the lake keeping Las Vegas afloat is  disappearing, and many more out West are dreading the start of fire season. Here in the East we’re keeping a wary eye on Xs and Os on the Atlantic hurricane map; and everybody should be concerned about those virulent variants.
Amid all these budding disasters, pieces of a paragraph from the early 1990s keep popping into my head:
I have a confession to make. I want my grandchildren to learn how to goatwalk . . . . I’m a survivalist where they’re concerned. Industrial civilization has destabilized the earth’s climate beyond the point of no-return. The fair-weather agriculture on which our civilization depends is doomed. In the course of the next century, much of North America will probably become desert. Even if it doesn’t, annual rainfalls and temperatures will fluctuate too wildly to sustain the agricultural systems on which we now depend. If humankind doesn’t self-destruct, my grandchildren will have to get along without industrial agriculture as it now exists. Maybe a more sustainable industrial adaptation will emerge, but I want them to know enough to survive the old-fashioned, nomad way, in case that’s a viable choice.
Learn how to Goatwalk? I have great grandchildren now, and why should they be learning to walk with goats?
To explain why, let me say something first about a bucket. Or more precisely, a Bucket List. We can start with mine.

Continue reading Coming Soon: Maybe the Most Important Book I Never Wrote

Shaggy Locks & Birkenstocks: wandering through recent Quaker history

This small 2003 collection of essays, now alas out of print,  had its origins in two incidents, somewhat related, and which also turned out to be the start of something bigger, at least for me.

In the first, I proposed to the Publications Committee of   Friends General Conference (FGC), the “liberal” association of U. S. & Canadian Friends, in 1993 that it sponsor a centennial history of the body and the religious movement  it  represented, looking toward the centennial of FGC’s founding,  set for 2000. The proposal envisioned a team effort, like the one underway in New York Yearly Meeting, which was to produce their fine history, Quaker Cross-Currents (Syracuse University Press), two years later.

The proposal was not simply turned down flat; it was met with  general incomprehension: Why, I was asked, would we want to do that? Continue reading Shaggy Locks & Birkenstocks: wandering through recent Quaker history

Broken Churches, Broken Nation (Again?)

“History doesn’t repeat,” Mark Twain supposedly said, “but sometimes it rhymes.”

Are the conflicts within so many American churches over LGBTQ and associated issues part of some cruel karmic sonnet?

The Separation Generation’s three volumes approach this question in prose, by chronicling disruptions among five American Yearly Meetings extending roughly from 2011 to 2018 (along with sketches of some precursor struggles). This wave of division was likely the most damaging to Quakerism since the “Great Separation” of 1827.

In a larger cultural/political context, this period roughly parallels the era of the Religious Right, the Tea Party ascendancy among Congressional Republicans, and then a successful insurgent presidential campaign followed by a highly disruptive administration, culminating in a violent insurrection at the Capitol in January 2021.

Also in the background is the 2015 landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-gender marriage nationwide, but did not end the conflicts over that or related issues.

It’s hard to draw direct connections from these notable outside events to the specific disagreements among Quakers. In Quaker worship, Quaker business process and other contexts, we’re supposed to be listening to God speaking through the Light of Christ in each of us. Thus one would (in theory) not necessarily expect to find direct influences from the broader culture, as Quakers seek to commune with and to learn from a God that presumably transcends culture.

That’s the theory. In practice, as we gain more distance from these momentous events, evidence of such broader influences becomes clearer. We eagerly await further insight from Quaker memoirs, scholarly research and blog posts from those who have been most involved in this often difficult and Quaker-world-changing series of events. Continue reading Broken Churches, Broken Nation (Again?)

Is This The End of the Separation Generation?

Is it over?

Has The Separation Generation finished dividing U. S. Quakers?

Yes and no.

Yes, in a publishing sense: Book Three, the last of The Separation Generation series, is now done and available: Shattered By the Light; or The Ruins and the Green.

In Shattered by the Light, parallel conflicts over sexuality, the Bible and church governance erupt in and tear apart two Quaker associations half a continent apart.

Their stories, of Northwest Yearly Meeting in  the Pacific Northwest and Wilmington Yearly Meeting in the southern Midwest, are part of a larger wave of divisions that echo and illumine recent struggles in numerous other churches, and in American culture at large.

The Separation Generation series brings together reports and related documents about five such conflicts, all distinct but related, that have disrupted U. S. Quaker groups since the beginning of this century. The other two titles will be described in future posts.

Has this wave of schism and institutional destruction, the broadest divisions since the “Great Separation” of 1827, now crested and receded? We think this particular set may have, but are very hesitant about predicting the future. Yet certainly struggles over related religious issues are not finished in contemporary U.S. culture. Far from it.

The conflicts recounted here were sparked by confrontations over acceptance of LGBT persons and same sex marriage. But they included differences about the place and interpretation of the Bible, the nature of Christ and salvation, church structure and governance, and more mundane matters of money, property and jobs. Some took years to reach their conclusion.

The authors in Shattered By The Light began the work which culminated in the book in 2014. It started as articles in the journal Quaker Theology, and blog posts on this site. It culminated in a unique synthesis (or as some say, a remix) of journalism, history and theology. This series is the only published record of these divisions so far; we see it not as a definitive account, more as the beginning of study, reconsideration, and learning .

What about the title?

“Shattered” was a “term of art” in the breakup of one of the yearly meetings in the book. As the drama played out, the word, like many such, took on more unexpected layers of nuance and irony. This evolution continues.

“The Ruins & the Grass,” was both suggested by the cover photo that appealed to the editor, and a once-famous poem by Carl Sandburg. The struggles in the third book, like all those in the series, left much of their Quaker environment in ruins. At the same time, around these there are at least patches of grass, green with growth. What these green patches may grow into and become — who can say? But there’s plenty of fodder here for study and creative reflection.

Coauthors:

Stephen Angell is the Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies at Earlham School of Religion, author of many studies in church and Quaker history.

Chuck Fager is Editor of Quaker Theology, and a longtime journalist with special interest in both current Quaker events and Friends history.

Jade Souza is a graduate student at Earlham School of Religion, and has years of varied experience as an organizer.

And for the record, these three produced this volume, and The Separation Generation series, independent of any institutional connections, and their work speaks for itself.

This book and the series offer both a unique historical record and a singular resource for those concerned with the course of contemporary religious evolution and controversy, which continues and reverberates far beyond the bounds of one small denomination.

This excerpt from the conclusion of Shattered By The Light offers a reflection on the sweep and impact of the struggles this series has followed:

On screen, the January 2021 presidential inauguration was all appropriate pomp and circumstance: high officials on every hand, soaring rhetoric, striking singing and poetry, prescribed oaths, and a multitude of flags. It went off without a hitch.

But if the cameras pulled back, or widened their lens-angles beyond the west Capitol steps, resplendent in the chilly morning sunshine, a very different scene appeared: an occupied city, with 25,000 carefully-vetted National Guard troops deployed, fully armed, watching every street corner. They formed an impenetrable cordon around what had been turned into a (hopefully temporary) equivalent of Baghdad’s Green Zone. This broader vista showed a city that looked like it had foiled an attempted coup, barely.

Oh, wait ― that’s exactly what it was.

Does this daunting political tableau have anything to do with Quaker strife in Wilmington or Northwest Yearly Meetings? Or any of the other Quaker stories in The Separation Generation series?

We think so. It was, in its larger public setting, a more ominous manifestation of many of the same conflicts that brought all the five divisions about. We will not delve into the present political context here, except to note that in general, evangelicals (and conservative Catholics) have clustered on one side, while “progressives” of numerous denominations (and none) are on the other. And that LGBTQ affirmation was a major, ongoing point of contention in both, plus struggles over biblical interpretation, other Christian doctrines, and forms of legitimate church governance.

These parallels are mirrored in other American denominations, much larger than the Religious Society of Friends: Episcopalians Methodists, Mennonites, Lutherans and Baptists have all faced schisms on similar issues in this century . . . .

The Separation Generation was compiled and published as a resource for Friends and others concerned with these issues, and their present and future import for our meetings, churches, and larger social order.

Indiana Trainwreck, here

Murder at Quaker Lake here

Shattered By The Light, here