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NEW YORK (AP) — About 49,500 people took their own lives last year in the U.S., the highest number ever, according to new government data posted Thursday.
From 2007 to 2018, five U. S. Yearly Meetings split apart —one disappeared completely, after 320 years. This was the broadest, most disruptive wave of separations since 1827.
Five years later, several much larger denominations have likewise split asunder; more may soon do so.
Three Friends independently chronicled all these Quaker upheavals. Their collaboration became a unique and searching three-volume account, “The Separation Generation”:
The Authors on Taking Stock, Looking Ahead:
Jade Rockwell: A bit of background: Jade was involved in the separation in Northwest YM in Oregon. Now she’s in Indiana, where two more splits happened, and working at the meeting which was the main target for those who forced the split. The fourth division happened next door in Ohio, to Wilmington YM. Jade is at ESR now, looking toward full-time pastoral work. From what she’s seen, written about, and lived through, how does she think that wave of splits has affected the field of ministry you’re hoping to enter?
Chuck Fager wants to talk about clerking, and its discontents. These separations were complex; but clerking was a common key factor. The reporting showed there was some excellent clerking; but in Chuck’s view it also revealed recurring clerk misconduct. Similar misconduct occurred in earlier splits back to 1827. These experiences raise the question of whether “normal” Quaker Process is equipped even to name or curb such damaging official malpractice and wrongdoing. This reporting project convinced Chuck that it’s time for Friends to begin reexamining and strengthening Quaker process, to better protect Friends and meetings in times of stress and difficulty.
Steve Angell: Steve notes that all five of these splits involved LGBTQ issues. But was that all there was to them? No. In his view, other issues and forces were also important. And from his standpoint as a Quaker historian, Steve has been pondering whether the Separation Generation has permanently changed U. S. Quakerism.
March 7, 2023 – in person at Earlham School of Religion & on ZOOM, 6-8 PM EST.
Vol. 1: Indiana Trainwreck (Indiana & Western YMs)
Vol. 2: Murder at Quaker Lake (North Carolina YM)
Vol. 3: Shattered by the Light (Northwest & Wilmington YMs)
On March 7, 2023 all three authors will reflect on their reporting on this time of tribulation, consider its far-reaching implications, and answer questions. You can join the conversation, in person at ESR or on Zoom, at no charge. March 7, 2023 6-8 PM – EST
“If the 20th century AD were dated at the same resolution as the 20th century BC, the two World Wars would be indistinguishable in time; and the Montgomery Bus Boycott might post-date the release of Mandela.”
Amelia Boynton was my landlady in Selma, Alabama. She was also a prominent local civil fights activist, one of the handful of Black Selmians who had managed to badger her way onto the voting rolls despite segregation.
When she was knocked out cold on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge during the “Bloody Sunday attack on March 7 1965, she was 54 years old, and had been a working advocate for thirty years. When the Voting Rights Act was signed in August, she was about to turn 55.
Mrs. Boynton lived for 48 more years. That was long enough to see a Black mayor elected in Selma, a Black woman sent to Congress from its district, and a Black man sitting in the White House oval office.
But she also lived long enough to note that the poverty rate in Selma and the Alabama Black Belt was still as high in 2015, 50 years after the Bridge was first crossed. She also saw the Supreme Court cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act, with the 2013 Shelby County decision. She was then102.
Two years later, she joined the Obamas, Congressman John Lewis (who had also been knocked out during the 1965 attack) and many others to cross the Pettus Bridge on the march’s 50th anniversary. And that time, like the Act itself, she was on her last legs. Mrs. Boynton died that August, a few days after her 104th birthday.
Mrs. Boynton was one of many pillars of the struggle for voting equality. Yet the arc of her life is uniquely emblematic of it, tracing its rise to a summit of achievement, followed by a backslide which is sinking ever closer to where she started out.
Its course marks my first reflection on the 2022 midterm aftermath: what we’re facing now, on many fronts, will take a long time to repair. Voting rights demolition started well before this election, and more is all but certain to come. Regaining its upward momentum will likely take a long time.
Long-term: This observation should be a truism, a platitude. But in my experience, it isn’t. Americans, and too many liberal Quakers (including me) have assimilated to a culture of ever-shortening attention spans. Along with fast food, fast cars, fast internet, a fast track and fast weight loss, we expect a fast lane to social change and justice.
Sometimes big change does happen “fast’: after 65 long years of formal Black disfranchisement, it was a mere five months (the blink of an eye in Congressional time) from “Bloody Sunday” til Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act.
But that was likely a once-in-a-lifetime cataclysm. Much more often, it takes longer. A lot longer.
This is a bipartisan truth, which the right seems to have learned and applied better: the movement to eviscerate the Voting Rights Act took 48 years. The crusade against Roe vs. Wade lasted 49; neither took their “eyes off the prize.” (How long will it take to topple Obergefell and same sex marriage?)
Looking further back, I see the smiling visage of my personal Quaker hero, Lucretia Mott: bringing encouragement she worked to end slavery for more than 50 years, and for black equality thereafter. And she “inherited” that imperative from her parents’ generation. However imperfectly, it’s fair to say Quakers labored and agitated on this matter for a century.
Lucretia also worked for women’s equality almost as long, though women did not win the vote til four decades after her death in 1880.
Such long-term labor, planning, or even attention, is increasingly rare today; for too many of us, a “long term” view barely extends beyond the next election — and have you noticed? These days, election season never ends. Yet how many of our Quaker institutions know how to transmit this long term Quaker work ethic to our children? (Hint: not many.)
I have no magic potion for reawakening the capacity for Quakers to think up and put together long-term work. Nevertheless, I maintain it’s the starting point for moving from hand-wringing irrelevance to faithful witness and actual influence,
And I think I’ve found a few clues. I’ll share some of them next time.
For now, here’s a teaser: during the civil rights years, freedom songs helped me and so many others hang on. And one, which I recall joining while in jail, sums up a lot. No one knows who “wrote” it; the movement did. It’s called “A Constant Struggle.” Here’s the refrain; verses varied:
“They say that freedom, is a constant struggle. They say that freedom, is a constant struggle. Yes, They say that freedom, is a constant struggle. . .
Oh Lord, we’ve been struggling so long That we must be free, We must be free . . . .”