Category Archives: Remarkable Friends

Making Sense of “The Separation Generation” Among Quakers

How can we understand the wave of schisms and breakups described in The Separation Generation three-volume set? How did it come about? Where will it lead?

Phil Gulley

Looking back, we could say it all started with Phil Gulley, the pastor of Fairfield Friends near Indianapolis. In 2003, he published a book, If Grace Is True, which espoused a Universalist theology of salvation. In response, some theologically very conservative pastors tried to get him run out of his church and the Quaker community. This theological witchhunt dragged on and on.

In those days, I (Chuck Fager) was publishing a twice-yearly journal called Quaker Theology, and in its Issue #9 I reviewed Gulley’s book. I liked it well enough, though at times his universalist image of a crowded heaven put me in mind of Mark Twain’s wry comment that he preferred: “Heaven for the climate; hell for the company.”

By the time the review got into print, Gulley’s situation was more than theological. It was also news, at least in the Quaker world: some yearly meetings were banning his titles from their book tables, and an Indiana pastors committee was still breathing down his neck.

The controversy seesawed back and forth. Finally, the witchhunt pastors lost; Gulley stayed put. (He’s still at Fairfield in 2021, last I heard, and still publishing.)

But that wasn’t really the end. When Gulley was vindicated, several of the dissident pastors got their churches to quit Western Yearly Meeting and move over to Indiana Yearly Meeting next door; and they brought their heresy-sniffing bloodhounds with them.

Soon enough they had another target: not a universalist pastor, but a whole meeting, West Richmond (near Earlham College) which in 2008 announced to the world that a long spell of Bible study and prayerful discernment had led then to affirm and welcome LGBTQ folks.

Chuck Fager, at work.

So Bang! At Quaker Theology, we had another theological issue that was also news. And shortly, there was another, and then another. I needed help to keep up, which is where Steve Angell and Jade Souza (now Jade Rockwell) came in.

The rest is, if not yet settled history, after almost 18 years of intermittent labor, a unique blend of careful reporting, on-the-fly theologizing, and now The Separation Generation, the only published record of the biggest wave of Quaker splits in almost 200 years.

(You can see the three coauthors live and ask questions on Thursday, November 11 at 4 PM EST: in person at Earlham School of Religion, or by Zoom, and later on the ESR website. To get the Zoom link, register at this link:   bit.ly/3k6eDBZ )

To whet your appetites, let’s hear a bit from the other coauthors:

Steve Angell, Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies at ESR, with another theological work.

Steve Angell: How can these events best be characterized? A few of the metaphors found their way into our three titles: trainwreck; murder; shattering. Given the events we described, the books sometimes go further:  in Shattered by the Light, I  recalled being asked in 2016 to lead the Board of Advisors of Earlham School of Religion to consider  the ongoing “decline or dissolution” of major parts of the Society of Friends.

Of the new Yearly Meetings that have come out these splits, some are unlike any that have preceded them. For example, the New Association of Friends [in Indiana] and the Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends [Oregon, Washington & Idaho] either implicitly or explicitly are welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ Friends.

This is a first for yearly meetings and associations of pastoral Friends in North America, or really, anywhere in the world. The New Association of Friends quotes Isaiah 43:19 on its home page: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

Whether these new green shoots, these new things, will thrive, it is too soon to say.

Jade Rockwell

Jade Rockwell (neé Souza) adds:

I believe these conflicts contain tremendous potential for harm, even the risk of ending the Quaker experiment. I also believe they could bring that fire of the Holy Spirit, the change and renewal we know we need, that many of us often envy about the Early Friends movement, or primitive Christianity.
Whether these conflicts are fruitful will depend — partly on having strong analysis of these events, even knowing about them to begin with.

Then, whether we can develop resiliency worthy of our calling. Can we be humble enough to tell the truth, tough enough to resist dehumanizing each other, courageous enough to stay in the game, and faithful enough to let God lead?

These conflicts may be the Refiner’s Fire for us. They do not have to end in splits, even as we go on, in different directions.

I don’t know the future or claim to have the answers. But I participated in this project to do the best I could to help get the truth out  in the Light, where there is some hope for us
Often we don’t want these stories out there because we see ourselves as “patterns and examples”, but I believe we are only as sick as our secrets. 
I hope this project will be useful and illuminating for Friends in thinking about these conflicts and how we are called to move into the next chapters, in whatever shape we are now in.

To repeat: both the live presentation and the Zoom stream are FREE and PUBLIC. For more details and to receive the Zoom link, please register by clicking this link:  bit.ly/3k6eDBZ

To order:
Vol. 1 – Indiana Trainwreck:

Vol. 2 – Murder at Quaker Lake:

Vol. 3 – Shattered By the Light:

Presenting The Separation Generation: November 11

Not since 1827 have so many American yearly meetings split in such a short time.

That 1827 struggle was so traumatic that a fully-researched study of it (Quakers In Conflict, by H. Larry Ingle) was not published until 1986, one hundred and forty-nine years afterward.

This time, between 2003 and 2018, four YMs broke, and a fifth disappeared completely after 320 years. But unlike 1827, what was dubbed The Separation Generation was reported in real time, defying the pandemic, and chronicled in three books.

The three co-authors of The Separation Generation will discuss them, the yearly meeting upheavals which produced them, and answer questions in a live presentation on Thursday, November 11 at 4 PM – EST at Earlham School of Religion (ESR). It will also be livestreamed on Zoom, and for those present at ESR, will be followed by a reception.

The three coauthors include Stephen Angell, the Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies at ESR; Chuck Fager, a retired activist, journalist and editor;  and Jade Rockwell, an activist and student at ESR.

“These books fill a big accountability gap about these conflicts,” said Chuck Fager, who edited the series.

“The gap was created on one hand by the fact that too many YM and local meeting officials — like many other church & corporate bureaucrats— prefer to bury or ignore bad or unflattering news. They often act like like bent cops & shady politicians. (But there were also, the books show, staunch Friends who stood up for Truth and fair process.)

“And these coverups have usually been enabled by Quaker publications which lack the skills & the backbone to seriously report them.

“So as these five separations developed, nobody was covering & documenting them. So we stepped up. Others could do it again, when the need arises (and it probably will, if Quaker history is  any guide), and I hope they will.”

The five yearly meetings involved were:

>Indiana and Western, two once very large bodies whose struggles over Universalist theology and LGBT affirmation left them scattered and shrunken. They are covered in Vol. 1, Indiana Trainwreck.

> North Carolina (FUM), which faced internecine warfare over biblical and church authority, LGBT acceptance, and did not survive; its self-destruction fills Vol. 2, Murder at Quaker Lake.

> And Northwest and Wilmington YMs, two quite distinct bodies, the former evangelical and West coast-centered, and the latter straddling a stretch of the heartland from Ohio to Tennessee. While facing some similar issues, their outcomes differed, and their diverse stories make up Vol. 3, Shattered By The Light.

The Separation Generation series, available in paperback and ebook, offers a unique combination of journalism, theology, old & new; over 150 pages of documents backing up the reporting; and some limited speculation & opinion.

The coauthors worked mainly as volunteers, starting when each had a day job.

Documenting our Quaker history as it happens is accountability work that can be done, & needs to be done. That way we can learn about what’s happening to us, especially amid the deep cultural & political upheavals we’re surrounded by today.

“I’ve been doing independent reporting among Friends since 1977, in various forms,” Chuck Fager said,  “almost 45 years, on a shoestring budget and alongside regular day jobs.

“I believe projects like this will likely be needed again, in various media. I’m very grateful to ESR for upholding the involvement of Steve and Jade, and for bringing the results of our work forward among Friends.

I hope Friends watching this program at 4 PM EST  on November 11 or on the web afterward, will consider taking up this concern when it’s needed again, and encourage others who do.”

Both the live presentation and the Zoom stream are FREE and PUBLIC. For more details and to receive the Zoom link, please register by clicking this link:  bit.ly/3k6eDBZ

 

 

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.

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

The “Spirit of Harriet Tubman” is Ready to speak Again

[Details on a live performance of “The Spirit of Harriet Tubman” 0n June 27 are below. Spread the word!]

During much of the 1850s, Harriet Tubman, felt almost like a prisoner. She lived in Canada, just a few miles west of the U. S. border at Niagara Falls. She was safe there, but itchy to help more enslaved people to escape.

Diane Faison as Harriet Tubman

And today, Diane Faison of Winston-Salem, NC, knows something of how Harriet felt.

Tubman, the Ace of the Underground Railroad, was a hunted woman. Southern slavecatchers wanted her dead or alive. She had secretly returned to the state to aid others several more times.

Diane Faison’s journey with Harriet started 140 years later, when she knocked  a book off a library shelf. Continue reading The “Spirit of Harriet Tubman” is Ready to speak Again

Memorial Day for Those Who Said No

In the May 30, 2021 New York Times, there’s an Op-Ed on military conscientious objectors, or COs.  I’m gratified to see it on the brink of Memorial Day. It shows no disrespect for those who agreed to fight in war and died to recognize that a persistent minority has declined to take the sword.

The piece mentions two military COs, but mostly concentrates on the recent case of Michael  Rasmussen. He was training to be a Marine combat pilot, but found his conscience turned against taking part in war. The Times:

One morning as he prepared for a supply flight to Hawaii, Mr. Rasmussen kept returning to the story he’d read in bed the night before in “Path of Compassion,” by Thich Nhat Hanh, in which the Buddha was out begging when he was nearly mugged by a notorious criminal. Instead of robbing the Buddha, the mugger confessed to a life of murder and mayhem and asked him for advice: “What good act could I possibly do?”

“Stop traveling the road of hatred and violence,” the Buddha said. “That would be the greatest act of all.”

Mr. Rasmussen got in his car to drive to the hangar, overwhelmed with what he called an “immense feeling of dread.” The story haunted him: “Am I on the road of hatred and violence?” he wondered. He decided then and there to leave the Marines.

Continue reading Memorial Day for Those Who Said No

A Banished Quaker Prophet: Josh Humphries (Updated)

Friend (or rather, ex-Friend) Joshua Ashlyn Humphries, a banished Quaker and Anabaptist prophet/theologian, is dead, at 39.

Josh Humphries, in a happy moment. He deserved more of them.

Dead, and it’s a damn shame.

A  shame for Quakers, Mennonites, and some others. I feel shamed too. But he was not an ex-Friend to me.

The official obituary does not say how or where he passed; presumably in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he had lived for more than ten years. It settled for the piously evasive: he “went to be with the Lord on Thursday, April 29, 2021.”

Yeah, sure; but what ticket did he ride?

The silence here leaves many questions: Josh had serious medical conditions (of which more anon); but just a couple of days earlier, in his last Facebook posts, he was both worn out — and intellectually busy: Continue reading A Banished Quaker Prophet: Josh Humphries (Updated)

Arthur Fink: Quaker Photographer, 74

Friend Arthur Fink, who told acquaintances he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, has passed away. The obituary below is borrowed from the Portland Maine Press-Herald:

Noted Peaks Island photographer
Arthur J. Fink dies at 74

Arthur Fink, at work. Or making art. Or maybe doing both.

He had an enduring connection to the Bates Dance Festival, where he served as resident photographer from 2005 through 2017.

Updated April 26 2021
By Dennis Hoey Staff Writer

Arthur Fink, photographed in December 2016. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Arthur J. Fink, a noted Peaks Island photographer who maintained a longtime connection to the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, died last week. He was 74.

Fink died Wednesday, April 21, , but no other details were provided in a notice posted on the Jones, Rich & Barnes funeral home website. Fink revealed in a Facebook post last month that he had received a “likely diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.”

On his website, Mei Selvage, research director at Gartner Inc.; information technology executive in enterprise information management, said “Arthur Fink is a multi-talented person with fabulous creativity and heart-warming compassion. His talents, and his dedication to foster creativity and to nurture creative communities, are well known in Maine. He is a creative photographer, a highly experienced IT consultant, a visionary who wants technology to be simple and usable, and somebody who serves for-profit and non-profit organizations alike by asking incisive and helpful questions.”

News about his death spread quickly in the arts community, with friends and acquaintances posting messages and fond memories of him on social media. Continue reading Arthur Fink: Quaker Photographer, 74

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?)

David Zarembka’s Memorable Writings: A Sampler

Besides his work and example, Friend David Zarembka also left a valuable and underestimated resource of writings for Friends and others.  We’ll sample that legacy here, and point to where more can be found.Zarembka -Book Cover

Besides some personal contact, I learned most about Dave from his book A Peace of Africa. Here’s part of that context from my review: Continue reading David Zarembka’s Memorable Writings: A Sampler