Democrat Hakeem Jeffries calls out Clarence Thomas
David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement — May 12, 2022
Democratic House Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) delivered an impassioned speech Wednesday, telling Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas he should “have a conversation” with his spouse.
The far-right activist and lobbyist Ginni Thomas reportedly had a months-long text conversation with then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, vehemently urging him to have the 2020 presidential election overturned.
Last Friday Justice Thomas complained in a speech to a group of judges and attorneys from the 11th Circuit, “We can’t be an institution that can be bullied into giving you just the outcomes you want.” He was referring to the majority of Americans who want the Court to uphold the 49-year-old decision in Roe v. Wade, supporting a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.
“If Justice Thomas really wants to deal with bullying in America, or this problem of people supposedly unwilling to accept outcomes that they don’t like, I’ve got some advice for Justice Thomas: start in your own home, have a conversation with Ginni Thomas,” Congressman Jeffries said.
“She refused to accept the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. Why? Because she didn’t like the outcome,” Jeffries reminded the House. “So instead, she tried to steal the election, overthrow the United States government, and install a tyrant. That’s bullying. That’s being unwilling to accept an outcome because you don’t like the results, because the former twice impeached so-called President of the United States of America lost legitimately to Joe Biden.”
“How did she respond? Instead, she said, the Bidens should face a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, on trumped-up charges of sedition. You’ve got to be kidding me.”
When news broke in March of the text exchanges between Thomas and Meadows, Slate’s legal expert Mark Joseph Stern, said: “Ginni Thomas urged Mark Meadows to overturn the 2020 election by any means necessary—while her husband was ruling on cases attempting to overturn the election.”
Congressman Jeffries, considered by many to be Democrats’ next Speaker of the House after Nancy Pelosi, was far from done with the Supreme Court Justice.
“And lastly, let me ask this question of brother Thomas:
Why are you such a hater?
Hate on civil rights.
Hate on women’s rights.
Hate on reproductive rights.
Hate on voting rights.
Hate on marital rights.
Hate on equal protection under the law.
Hate on liberty and justice for all.
Hate on free and fair elections.
Why are you such a hater?”
“And you think you can get away with it – escape public scrutiny. Because you think that shamelessness is your superpower? Here’s a newsflash from the House Judiciary Committee,” he said while being interrupted. “Truth pressed to the ground will rise again. And truth will be your kryptonite.”
For a reporter, even a retired one, there’s a charge of adrenaline in a scoop — getting a story before other journalists.
And if the scooped rival is the Big Kahuna, aka the New York Times, there’s an extra kick to it.
So I’m preening this morning, after noticing that the august Times, fresh off stuffinganother Pulitzer Prize into its warehouse full of such trinkets, catching up with reporting that appeared here more than five years ago.
This despite the fact that the story involved mostly delivered grim news.
Seeing the Times headline, “As a ‘Seismic Shift’ Fractures Evangelicals, an Arkansas Pastor Leaves Home,” my immediate reaction was — I admit it — “Well now, it’s about dam time.”
I can relate to this article. I published one like it in a Boston alternative weekly in early January of 1973. Angry letters poured in for weeks, until January 22, when Roe v. Wade was issued; then my qualms & quibbles were instantly forgotten.
I wasn’t sorry. Since then, some of my views have evolved, while my general antipathy to most abortions remains. (More on my personal pilgrimage here.) But I’m still as staunchly against criminalization as I was 49 years ago.
Now I’m too old to draw much fire, so it was gratifying to see this piece by a young radical Catholic (if indeed she’ still identifies as Catholic), planting her flag in the columns of the National Catholic Reporter, the “loyal opposition” progressive American weekly.
Some pro-Roe adherents may not care about Chastain’s reasons, but only that she arrives at their preferred destination.
That’s a mistake. In the new struggle that’s upon us, the agonized ambiguity of many, Catholics and non- will be a crucial arena of either progress or further setbacks. If not agreement, finding a basis for respectful coalition will be — and in truth, long have been — imperative. This article is one such new opportunity.
I’m thinking first here of my fellow liberal Quakers: to save our rights, we’ll have to learn & think and act outside our blue bubbles. But this sentiment applies more broadly too.
National Catholic Reporter: COMMENTARY
I’m an anti-abortion disability advocate. Overturning Roe isn’t the answer.
Medical instruments for a surgical abortion are seen in this photo. (CNS/Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein)
I was in high school when I first learned which of my extended family members had encouraged my mom to abort my very-much-alive disabled brother. At the time, I had just begun attending youth group, which was the first place I ever saw images of abortion. I attended my first Walk for Life. Those same youth leaders helped that same brother finally receive his sacraments of initiation, after he’d been denied them for almost a decade.
As I entered undergraduate studies at a small Catholic liberal arts school and pursued a degree in theology with an emphasis in disability, I confronted the historical reality that had galvanized me as a teenager: Abortion is implicitly eugenic. The disproportionate targeting of disabled fetuses for termination hinges on deeply violent assumptions around worthiness, rooted in capitalistic beliefs around productivity and conventional social futurity.
Put plainly? Disabled people may not learn, work, marry or procreate “normally,” and that nonnormative lifestyle will inconvenience too many people. A disabled person may experience profound pain and social exclusion.
Regardless of whether or not these things are always and everywhere true (they are not), it is equally troublesome that people who hold these beliefs around disability often don’t believe these circumstances are within their power or responsibility to change outside of abortion (they are).
Abortion was always going to be personal for me — the abortion topic always is — even when approached from different angles. One in four women will have an abortion, which includes treatments of ectopic pregnancies, tubal pregnancies and other forms of “spontaneous” abortion or miscarriage. And whether or not they personally experienced one, everyone knows someone impacted by abortion. It is this intimacy that has kindled the fire of many in the pro-life movement, including myself.
Pro-life supporters are pictured holding signs outside the High Court in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jan. 30, 3019. (CNS/Reuters/Brian Lawless)
But then, in graduate school at a large secular research university, I began to study feminist, queer and crip histories and theories of the body. I began participating in more progressive religious spaces that emphasized Catholic social teaching and needs for social reconciliation.
Being in relationship with secular, pro-abortion feminists who were learning alongside me about the systematic underresourcing of marginalized groups — while the world’s racial and medical disparities were being aired live during the COVID-19 pandemic — moved me into the place of intense nuance where I am now and that I believe undergirds a truly consistent life ethic: I am anti-abortion, but I do not think criminalizing abortions will stop them, because having access to abortions isn’t what causes them.
Things that cause abortions: lack of comprehensive sex education, inaccessible health care, violence against women, religious shame and exclusion, familial rejection or coercion, and workplace inequalities including but not limited to barriers for advancement, disparities in pay and lack of paid parental leave or child care.
Making abortion illegal before addressing these injustices is going to kill women, because women will continue to have abortions, secretively and unsafely.
For the first time that I can recall in my years of being anti-abortion, tales of the pre-Roeworld from women who lived it are being shared on a massive scale. (Many are circulating this New York Times article from January and sharing their own stories in the captions.) Social media is a flurry of back-alley horrors.
And in a post-COVID-19 society when young people are already experiencing a catastrophic mental health crisis, making abortion illegal is going to kill women in more ways than one.
Refusal to accept the reality of these dangers is resisting a nuance that is dire. You can accept the dangers of overturning Roe v. Wade are real and still be anti-abortion. I certainly am. None of these dangers changes that abortion is a deeply ableist system used to root out genetic differences based on bigoted sociocultural values. None of these facts change that I’ve seen disability-motivated abortion rhetoric devalue people at the cornerstone of my life. It is personal, but it is also necessarily systemic.
The usual ethical discussion focuses on the morality of the abortion act itself, the immediate consequences, the circumstances and the set precedents. But if we have this conversation, we’re starting in the wrong place. The nuance I’m arguing for is not about the morality of abortion, it is about the effectiveness of this particular tactic of assuaging it: making abortion illegal. This particular tactic is not going to work.
We can recognize that abortion being legal represents a certain form of public complicity in permitting a grievous sin to happen. But are we actually permitting it any less without changing the causes of abortion? To achieve the desired society in which abortion is no longer permitted, we have to create a reality where abortion is no longer caused. We are complicit in those systems, too.
We need mandatory and comprehensive sexual education and accessible health care. We need to address income inequality and mandate paid parental leave. We need to demolish the prison industrial complex and stop criminalizing the poor and marginalized. We need robust community-based postnatal care and to crack down on violence against women. We need to revolutionize the way churches approach sexuality, that we might embrace and support sexually active women in crisis, regardless of their marital status.
I am still anti-abortion. And yet, it is amazing how quickly the solidarity comes with my pro-abortion loved ones the moment I articulate these nuanced beliefs: I am anti-abortion, and I do not want it to be illegal. This solidarity will be crucial to providing a safe haven for at-risk women, if Roe v. Wade is indeed overturned. We must all keep our eyes on the true culprits; we must shout about the real causes of abortion, together.
(CNN) Nearly a year and a half later, surprisingly few understand what January 6 was all about.
Fewer still understand why former President Donald Trump and Republicans persist in their long-disproven claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Much less why they are obsessed about making the 2024 race a referendum on the “stolen” election of 2020, which even they know was not stolen.
January 6 was never about a stolen election or even about actual voting fraud. It was always and only about an election that Trump lost fair and square, under legislatively promulgated election rules in a handful of swing states that he and other Republicans contend were unlawfully changed by state election officials and state courts to expand the right and opportunity to vote, largely in response to the Covid pandemic.
The Republicans’ mystifying claim to this day that Trump did, or would have, received more votes than Joe Biden in 2020 were it not for actual voting fraud, is but the shiny object that Republicans have tauntingly and disingenuously dangled before the American public for almost a year and a half now to distract attention from their far more ambitious objective.
Jamelle Bouie is rapidly emerging as one of the more acute and important members of the rising generation of New York Times columnists. His career has followed a different track than previous generations of Timesmen, among whom almost all roads to the paper led through Harvard Yard.
Instead, after the University of Virginia, Bouie blogged his way into and through The Nation, The American Prospect, The Daily Beast, and Slate. And after a stint in Washington, he left the Beltway to make a home back in Charlottesville. There he caught the last stand of one of the larger statues of Robert E. Lee, and its removal from a downtown park. It was a dramatic departure, but the resistance to it, as Bouie makes clear, is far from over.
The view of America he shares from this perch next door to his alma mater and well inside the not-quite-but-pretty-Deep South is repeatedly trenchant and revealing and feels prescient.
In the excerpts here he combines alarm and historical depth to sum up the arc of my public life, and the gloomy prospects that beset its denouement, building from a question provoked by an unguarded moment when a reactionary Senator spilled the beans about the American right’s larger agenda:
How Are We Still Debating Interracial Marriage in 2022?
I wonder how many temporarily “Canadian” truckers, recently evicted from the bridge at Windsor/Detroit, are now chugging their way west across the windswept snowy plains, aiming for the desert around Coachella, near Palm Springs California?
It’s not just the weather (weekend forecast sunny, dry & high 70s) that’s drawing them. Or the three local Indian casinos. Coachella is the announced starting point for a trucker insurgency which reportedly means to barnstorm its way across the continent, converge on Washington DC, and paralyze it a la Ottawa, for
— Well, for something.
I’ve been watching the mess in Canada for weeks, and I’m not yet sure what they want, except maybe for the pandemic to go away without vaccines, masks, or anything else, and to take Justin Trudeau with them. Oh, and free gas.
Yesterday I read that one “occupier” repurposed a red MAGA cap to say, “Make CANADA Great Again.”
Really? From my vantage point, Canada never stopped being great; but I’m an outsider, though I still like poutine.
And Coachella is certified as a great spot for a music festival (it now hosts several per year), so there’s plenty of parking, so why not borrow it to kick off an 18-wheeler apocalypse?
Of course, gas prices are a bother (pushing $4.40 for regular). But heck, sounds like there’s plenty of rightwing dark money pouring in to fuel it.
There better be: those rigs average 6 [= six] mpg, or about 400 gallons, which is close to $1600, for the 2545 mile hike to DC, one-way, not including, food, tolls, bail and lawyer’s fees.
The gas & mileage is likely a low estimate: after all, how can the convoy resist taking the long way east, with stops for rallies in places like Phoenix, Houston, New Orleans, Memphis or Atlanta?
The free media would be worth a fortune, and they can almost be guaranteed at some point to get a slow drive-by baptism from the Orange Pope of Mar-a-Lago Himself, sprinkling Diet Coke from the owner’s box and sanctifying them, “In the Name of Let’s Go Brandon, the Junior & the Javanka.”
For that matter, the route almost has to join eventually with that main eastern artery of flyover country, Interstate 40, across North Carolina towards its Rendezvous With Destiny, at Interstate 95, where one left turn will aim them straight at the nation’s capitol.
Among the many benefits of that leg, besides the best barbecue, cheese grits and hot Krispy Kremes, I-40 takes them past a crucial pit stop in the historic town of Mebane, where they can refresh their most treasured supplies.
I speak, of course, of guns, and that central Carolina landmark, Mace Sports.
Even the rankest newcomer can’t miss it, with its huge electrified billboard of solidarity flashing Big Go Brandon love day and night right next to one of the busiest roadways in the region, showing its political vision for 2024 every minute, and highlighting the basics of tactical support, such as:
— this pistol, which is made for concealment. They also sell a mini-holster for keeping them at one’s side and out of the sight of snooping cops and troops, not to mention all kinds of ammo).
Of course, this is America, not lily-livered socialistic Canada, so many (most?) of the convoy truckers will likely be packing their own heat. And who knows, maybe this time they’ll get to use it.
I’m trying to imagine the triumphal arrival scene:
And what will be the official response? Does anyone recall how many National Guard troops were surrounding the inauguration last year?
I didn’t notice them, myself. I figured they were all hidden somewhere behind Bernie Sanders and his mittens. And were they packing?
But now, how can any regular Fox news viewer believe that Sleepy Joe Biden would put up any kind of serious cordon like that?
More likely he’ll resign first, take Kamala Harris with him, both wearing masks, and leave Nancy Pelosi to deal with the convoy, armed only with her ceremonial gavel. Right?
I’m sure a second truck will showcase an electrified cross, and a gallows — but hey, that will just be for old times sake. I mean, like the RNC says, “legitimate political discourse,” and Mace Sports underlines that It’s all in good fun.
Yeah, the convoy is coming. Watch for the Signs of the Times gathering in Coachella, and then follow them rolling east like an inland Tsunami.
Unless your name is Mike Pence. Then I’d suggest checking into Dick Cheney’s old “undisclosed location,” right quick.
As for me, if I had my druthers, about that time I’d be ordering an extra-sized serving of poutine.
Wayne Finegar II of Baltimore Maryland was formally approved to become the next Director of Quaker House in Fayetteville NC on Sunday evening, February 13, 2023, by the Quaker House Board. He succeeds Kindra Bradley, who stepped down in October of 2021 due to family concerns.
Wayne’s employment officially begins on March 1. He is expected to begin moving into the house this week.
The short answer: I don’t know . . . But. I have a test for deciding; I’ll get to that presently.
This reflection was provoked in early December 2021, after two very smart women pundits whose work I take seriously, made opposite predictions about this.
First, Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post columnist.
For years she was reliably right wing. Trump changed all that. Rubin’s not exactly a born-again liberal now, but is vociferously pro-Roe v. Wade. And she thinks its overthrow would be a huge political boon to Democrats, writing:
[I]f Democrats needed reason to fire up the troops before the 2022 midterm elections, this might do it. The obviously partisan court will thrust the nation into a period of turmoil, chaos and outrage over new restrictions on women’s life choices, which Republicans will seek to cement in state laws. Every Republican on the ballot for state legislator, governor, the House or the Senate will have to defend new intrusions on women’s autonomy, including in cases of rape and incest. Given the wide and deep support for abortion rights, Republicans may come to regret appointing religious ideologues to the court.”
This is a true story, which I hope will speak to a Friend who may not know it now, but is the right one to fill the post in what is likely to be a very challenging time.
The story begins with “No.”
“No,” I said. “No thank you.”
I said this to Chris Olson-Vickers. Chris was a mild-mannered social worker in Richmond, Virginia. She was also a Quaker, who in August of 2001 had agreed, perhaps rashly, to host an impecunious co-religionist in need of shelter during the mid-Atlantic Quakers’ regional assembly, called Baltimore Yearly Meeting.
That impecunious co-religionist was me. Laid off and low on cash, I was too strapped to stay on-campus nearby, where our sessions were underway. I was packing lunches and avoiding the cafeteria.
On this evening, besides putting me up, Chris was also feeding me dinner. With the meal she had offered – not job-hunting advice; she is too cultivated for that. Rather, she was exercising a Quaker prerogative and “laboring” with me.
It was opportune, she had said, perhaps even providential, that I was unemployed and under her roof. Because she knew of a job opening. A Quaker job. One she thought I had the skills to fill.
At first I was all ears. What job? Where?
But at her answers, I shook my head emphatically. “It’s called Quaker House,” Chris said. “In Fayetteville, North Carolina. Next to Fort Bragg.”
“No,” I repeated. “Not a chance.”
In a more mainstream setting, this could, maybe should, have been the end of it. But as I said, Chris was not simply giving helpful advice. Rather, she was doing religious work, in a form we both understood then, and I understood better later. The fact that, to an outsider, it might have sounded like an argument, did not change its essential character.
Quakers call it “discernment.”
After all, many of the key divine-human encounters in the Bible are a lot like arguments, if you listen behind the euphemized antique language.
So Chris pushed past my demurral.
Wait, she persisted. This was not just any job. It was a Quaker peace project planted near one of the largest U. S. military bases, in the midst of a thoroughly militarized city. It had been lifting up the Quaker Peace Testimony in Fayetteville since 1969.
In particular, it had helped many dissident GIs to find legal ways out of the military, and there were plenty more calling it all the time.
All very admirable, I agreed. But it was not for me.
There were any number of reasons.
At the top of the list, I readily admitted, was unabashed regional prejudice. For seventeen years, from the late 1970s to the middle of 1994, I had lived in northern Virginia, which was in the South despite cosmopolitan pretensions and nearness to Washington DC.
I tapped my chest significantly : That experience, I told her, put me deeply in touch with my Inner Yankee. In mid-1994 a chance came to move to Pennsylvania: I had leaped at it like a prisoner of war spying a hole in the stockade fence.
I was still there, in beautiful Happy Valley. That’s what folks around State College, home of Penn State University, call their mountain-secluded stronghold in the center of the state.
I liked the area. The woman I lived with was rooted there like an oak. We were part of a lively Quaker meeting there. So why would I want to move?
Okay, I had been laid off from teaching English classes that Spring; that was an issue. But stuff happens. This too shall pass.
Besides, I raved on, North Carolina? I hadn’t lived there, but knew all I needed to know about it: it was a Four-H state –
To repeat, no thanks. They could keep him, and the rest of it.
There was more like this.
But none of it fazed Chris Olson-Vickers.
You need to apply for this job, she said again. Chris had grown up in Fayetteville, still had family there. She knew Quaker House’s good work firsthand.
But the job had been vacant for a year and a half; hardly anybody had even applied. If they can’t fill it, she said, the board would have to close Quaker House down.
Which would be a darn shame, because there was still so much to do. There wasn’t any other place like it, she said. This wasn’t just personal, about filling a slot. This was about Quaker witness.
My turn: I said my heart went out to the board, but that didn’t change my conviction. I had grown up on military bases too, I conceded. But that only showed that the military wasn’t for me, and enough was enough.
From there, I switched to two other lines of defense:
For one thing, I pointed out, if what Quaker House did was counsel GIs about military rules and regulations, I knew nothing about those, except that they filled many fat volumes that I had never opened.
Chris shrugged. You could learn, she said.
Besides, I pushed on, the board would be unlikely to hire me, because of my ornery reputation among Quakers. For eleven years I had published an independent Quaker newsletter. It had repeatedly rattled various closeted Quaker skeletons, poked sticks in sleeping dogs, upset various institutional applecarts, otherwise ruffled feathers and mangled metaphors right and left.
Some of this reporting might have been the Lord’s Work, but little of it was what could be considered good career moves. Somebody on the board was sure to be ticked off about something or other.
Chris was equally unimpressed by this ploy. If anybody on the board remembered these old controversies, she was sure that for the project’s survival, they would set it all aside.
If I had only been arguing with Chris, I think I could have prevailed. By the time we were finished, she had badgered me into agreeing that I’d at least send a resume to Quaker House, if only to get her to leave me be. What could it hurt? She said.
Right. What could it hurt? All the most likely outcomes I could imagine would get me off the hook:
Somebody else would apply, who lived closer and really was ready to move. They’d hire them, with my blessing.
Or a board member would recall an old grievance and not let it go. “Fager?” I could see them thinking. “Wasn’t he the one who wrote that inflammatory article about–(whatever)?” And then putting their response: “Over my dead body,” into proper passive aggressive Quakerese:
“Er, Friends, I believe that is a name which would not have occurred to me.”
I’ve used that sentence myself, and more power to him. Or her.
On the upside, in the meantime perhaps I would find other work, so if they called I could graciously decline.
In any event, I grudgingly kept my word to Chris, sent in the resume when I got back to Pennsylvania, repeated most of the above caveats about it to my woman friend, and then thought about it as little as possible.
And if I had been arguing only with Chris, I’m sure that would have been the end of that.
Not thinking about that resume in the next few weeks was relatively easy. That’s because while I was without full-time work, I did have a contract gig, doing research for a union organizing drive among Penn State teaching assistants. So I was busy digging into the seamy side of a large, rapidly expanding, and very secretive university.
Penn State is a hybrid institution, partly public and partly private, and its managers skillfully play both sides of that fence to conceal the maximum amount of inside information from just about all outside scrutiny.
My big achievement in that project was to discover and publish the salary of its president, a number which was as closely guarded as any secret the CIA is hiding. The magic number, about $500,000 as I recall, turned up in an obscure corner of an obscure IRS document filed by an obscure university research foundation.
I’ve done a lot of investigative reporting, and it’s always a thrill to lift the veil on some hidden item which should be public anyway.
But my triumph was short-lived. No sooner had my contact at the local daily paper published the number, backed up by my source, than Penn State’s lawyers/lobbyists swung into action. They interceded with the IRS to get the obscure foundation exempted from that reporting requirement in the future. The CIA could hardly have reacted more swiftly or effectively.
That work was absorbing and often fun. But by the end of the month I was ready for a break. My son Asa had graduated from high school that spring, and had been selected to do a year-long tour with Americorps, starting in a few weeks. I proposed a trip, one of those life-transition journeys a parent and child get to take if they’re lucky.
I had squirreled away enough cash from the research gig to bring it off, I thought. We would be on a tight budget, driving my car, staying mainly with friends, and looking for low-cost attractions, but we could do it.
Where did he want to go? I had asked. Maine, he said. Where in Maine, I wondered – how about Portland, recalling his interest in the novels of Stephen King? He shrugged. Just Maine would do.
Let’s get there by way of Canada, I suggested and he agreed. So off we went just after Labor Day, heading for Maine by first going northwest to Ontario, and then up to Montreal.
Montreal was especially appealing. It was still warm, and on the night we rolled into town, wondering at the French signs and the general European air, we stumbled onto a noisy street dance, downtown on Ave. St. Denis. Asa took off to find the mosh pit, and I sat by, content to people watch, and bask in my linguistic acuity when, after an hour or so, I figured out that a banner reading “rentrée” meant “back to school.”
From la belle province we headed to central Maine, where we stayed with Arla Patch, a fine Quaker artist, went to the beach, and visited the Sabbath day Lake Shaker community. And it was somewhere on that leg that Asa and I fell to talking about generations, and their sense of identity.
He told me he envied mine, the veterans of the Sixties. We knew what we were after, he said, like stopping the Vietnam war and segregation. We had a sense of direction, a center. “Look at my generation,” he pleaded. “What direction do we have?”
I did my best to reassure him. The notion that my peers and I had things together is mostly retrospective eyewash, I said. We were a bunch of kids trying to make sense of a lot of violence and hate. And many of us, his father included, had spent years trying to find, or create, some sense of direction, a sense of what Quakers call centeredness.
I couldn’t say that process had ended, either. And anyway, I would not wish something like the Vietnam war on anybody.
We never did get to Portland, to drive past Stephen King’s house. We might have given it a shot when we left, because our plan was to visit my brother in Brooklyn, before heading back to Pennsylvania.
But just as we were climbing into the car, on that lovely Tuesday morning, Arla Patch came out, looking worried, a phone held to her ear, to tell us that something crazy had just happened and it was on TV right then. Something about the World Trade Center. We better come see.
What?” I said, annoyed at the delay, and reluctantly followed her inside to take a look.
It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
Later that day, the car angled southwest across Vermont, aimed well away from Brooklyn and New York City. The radio kept repeating the awful reports over and over, as if the reporters still could not quite believe what we had all seen, and at some point I turned to Asa. “God help us all, son,” I said, “but I think your generation just found its direction.”
Back home in Pennsylvania, I struggled through the next days, like everyone else, to make sense of what had happened. Only one thing about the aftermath seemed clear to me: the U.S would soon be at war. Where and when were obscure, but this had felt to me like a bottom-line certainty even before we finally rose and left Arla alone with the smoke on her television screen that morning.
This certainty was not a sign of any prophetic gift. It came, I think, more from my roots in a military family. Many of the reflexes of that culture were ingrained: You (whoever “you” were, who hijacked those planes, we still weren’t sure) don’t get away with attacking the Pentagon, the nerve center of all the US military. Somebody will soon face some heavy payback from the armed men and women whose headquarters and stronghold are in that building.
And chances were very good that when this war started, there would be many more of the innocent killed in their frenzied, fiery search for the guilty. U.S. revenge would be painted on some part of the world in a very broad brush of death.
And me? What would I do in the face of this impending war? The attacks had shaken me, truly, but had not undermined my basic Quaker pacifist convictions. I had just seen murder, on a huge scale. But more murder was not an answer to murder. That was my conviction on September 10; it remained so on September 12th. I also sensed that I would have some small part in struggling to frame and lift up some voice for an alternative. Hell, any serious Quaker (or Christian?) would. Right?
But what alternative? And how to raise it?
I didn’t know. But Quakers in circumstances like these are taught to wait for “way to open.” Our spirituality is that if we are properly attentive, we will be given “leadings,” which will point us in the way to go.
I’m a Quaker in large measure because that has happened to me. In our literature such experiences are often described in terms of mystical ecstasies or compared to the rush of romantic infatuation. These are as much metaphors as markers, however; it doesn’t happen according to any specific schedule or formula. John 3: 8 applies: “The spirit is like the wind: it blows where it wants to, and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where it comes from, or where it’s going.”
I knew all this well enough from my own experience. I was about to learn it again.
An email from a stranger named Bonnie Parsons came only a few days after the return from Maine. Smoke was still rising from the wreckage in Manhattan and Washington, and those with their hands on the levers of political power were already taking advantage of the calamity to serve many other ends, but above all the ends of war. Afghanistan was the first target.
Bonnie Parsons said she wanted to talk to me. And it turned out she was not really a stranger: Bonnie Parsons was the Clerk of the Board of Quaker House in Fayetteville-Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
At this point, we can skip a chunk of chronology. Contemplating Bonnie’s email, I could almost hear the teeth on the gears of Providence grinding into place somewhere above my head. Heaving a sigh at the computer screen, I knew that if Quaker House wanted to talk to me, they would likely want to hire me.
Even with my checkered past, I made a strong competitor for a Quaker job that nobody else wanted. And if they did make an offer, I knew I would take it.
But what about all my objections? My complaints to Chris Olson-Vickers?
They remained, but were no longer of any consequence.
As with the premonition about the coming of war, this was another case where the models from a military background made more sense than the softer language of typical Quaker spirituality. Reading Bonnie’s email, I felt like an old, out of shape army reservist suddenly being called back to active duty.
Such calls come when you receive orders. The tone of such communications is direct, curt, and unmoved by complaints and objections.
In the military, you don’t follow your bliss; you follow orders. And it’s not about self-fulfillment — or God help us, “transformation” — it’s about a mission, one likely formulated, as they say, somewhere way above your pay grade. And in pursuing the mission, people can get hurt or killed. For that matter, from your lowly perspective, the mission, as far you can understand it, might be stupid, pointless or even self-defeating.
And your lowly perspective may even be right. But orders are orders.
You won’t find this image in any books on Quaker spirituality that I know of, but that day, and still, I could almost hear God speaking, in the tones of an old, profane first sergeant:
Oh, so you don’t like Carolina? Fayetteville’s not in your pretty mountains? Too hot and humid, you say? Scared of hurricanes, and you’ll miss your girlfriend?
Tough shit, soldier. Get in line.
And you’re asking how long your tour will be?
Til further orders, asshole, what did you expect? There’s a war on, or will be in a minute.
And oh, yeah — I voted for Jesse Helms. Four times. Or was it five? You got a problem with that, soldier?
Suck it up and drive on.
That’s who else I had been arguing with when I was complaining to Chris Olson-Vickers. And as any soldier knows, those are arguments you don’t win.
I went on the Quaker House payroll December 1, 2001, and moved in over New Year’s 2002. Sure enough, it was the right place, the best place for me. Stayed til the end of November 2012; it, and the wars, wore me out. Which the best job is supposed to do.
We didn’t stop the wars, alas. But we kept at it, and I was able to pass on Quaker House to able successors who kept up the witness; which is how the story is supposed to end.
Besides, if God talked tough, She was also merciful: Shortly after I got to North Carolina, Jesse Helms announced his retirement.
– – – – – –
“It’s not the bullet with my name on it that worries me. It’s the one that says ‘To Whom It May concern,’ said an anonymous Belfast resident.”
– from War, the Lethal Custom, by Gwynne Dyer.
“I mean, I can imagine some poor bastard who’s fulfilled all your criteria for successful adaptation to life, … upon retirement to some aged enclave near Tampa just staring out over the ocean waiting for the next attack of chest pain, and wondering what he’s missed all his life. What’s the difference between a guy who at his final conscious moments before death has a nostalgic grin on his face as if to say, ‘Boy, I sure squeezed that lemon’ and the other man who fights for every last breath in an effort to turn back time to some nagging unfinished business?”
– Participant in a Harvard longitudinal life-study, in his 60s; from The Atlantic, June 2009
Chekhov: “Any idiot can face a crisis; it is this day-to-day living that wears you out.”
Chuck Fager retired as Quaker House Director Director in 2012.
On September 21, 2019 Quaker House observed its 50th anniversary, and today it is still working with soldier war resisters, military families and veterans.
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?
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.
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: 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 (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