Apropos of Dr. King’s birthday, and looking toward Black History Month, an email came In Monday telling me the New Yorker magazine had posted on its website an article from the April 10, 1965 issue called, “Letter from Selma,” about the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
And I was mentioned in it.
Sure enough; it’s the only time I have appeared in the magazine.
I barely remember what was in that “Letter,” though I can still see the writer, Renata Adler, appearing by the edge of U.S. Highway 80.
I do recall how strikingly out of place she seemed, on its rough and rocky shoulder, crowded with disheveled marchers, and lined with armed troops eyeing the nearby scrub forests for snipers.
Adler looked as if she had been plucked from a stroll on Fifth Avenue and teleported to Alabama, in a colorful and almost slinky sheath dress, with a broad voguish hat bending under the stray breezes, notebook in hand.
We talked for just a few minutes. It’s a good article. Only time my name ever appeared in the New Yorker, as far as I know.
I think you can read it for free.
And there’s more: on Jan. 18 I was asked to speak to the good people of Life’s Journey UCC Church in Burlington NC, and tell them the title story from my memoir, “Eating Dr. King’s Dinner.”
Of course, I didn’t get to go to Burl-Ing ton, which is about 40 miles west of Durham. Instead, I ZOOMed in from home in Durham; that’s This American (Pandemic) Life, 2021.
and explain how for a long time after that year in Selma, it had a happy ending. But then, in 2013, that ending was erased, and the story of fighting for voting resumed.
Only this time, the wear and tear of age had me on the sidelines, but still connected, reminding the young that this continuing story is now theirs too, and it was their turn, not yet to tell it but to write the decisive next chapters with their lives.
In other news, besides the pandemic, insurrection, the economic crash, climate degradation, systemic racism and a few other “challenges,” did you stop to think this week about how most of the USA and much of the rest of the world could be destroyed with not much more than 15 minutes warning?
Me neither. Except that I did think about it briefly on Sunday, because of Patrick O’Neill.
Then he went to jail on Thursday for reminding me.
This week, while many American Quakers (& others) wait anxiously to see whether a new civil war is about to break out, the question of what Quakers can or should do in response to such events continues to linger.
I don’t have answers to that question; or rather, there is a surplus of answers, and sorting them out is “above my pay grade.” But I have studied how Quakers faced the (first?) U. S. Civil War. And these studies have been both reassuring and challenging, Perhaps they are worth reviewing briefly.
“Your people–the Friends” he wrote to a Quaker minister, “–have had, and are having, a very great trial. On principle, and faith, opposed to both war and oppression, they can only practically oppose oppression by war. In this hard dilemma, some have chosen one horn, and some the other.”
To be sure, Lincoln was a politician, skillfully framing the choice in a way biased toward the war he was waging as the “only” way to “practically” end slavery.
A few days ago, a post on a Quaker Facebook group asked what the Quaker position was on dealing with insurrection.
An excellent and, er, disturbingly timely question. To which, of course, there is not a single Quaker answer.
To my mind, the best way to approach it is to look at live examples in our history. And here is one:
In the decade before the U.S. Civil War, many of the strong abolitionist Quakers (who were, we must note for the sake of truth, were then the radical fringe, loudly despised and marginalized by the Quaker Establishment) formed groups under the banner of Progressive Friends.
The largest of these groups gathered in Longwood in Chester County, southwest of Philadelphia, in an area now known as the “Mushroom Capital.” There they soon built a meetinghouse which still stands.
Once underway, the Longwood Progressives quickly got down to business, launching a many-pronged assault on the recalcitrant status quo: on one side, they sent out volunteer “missionaries” to spread the Progressive gospel by organizing meetings wherever way opened.
On another, they adopted stirring resolutions, called “Testimonies,” denouncing a catalog of evils and calling for government and other action to end slavery at once; grant equal rights to women; challenge the disparities of wealth; abolish the sale of alcoholic drinks; reform the prison system.
And not least, they called for an end to war & war preparations. Twice they urgently petitioned to the federal government about this, noting that:
“. . . impressed with the awful sinfulness of War, and its demoralizing tendencies upon the human race, we are impelled, by the spirit of our religion, to propose to you, the legislators of our beloved country, that in accordance with the progress of the spirit of the age, an arrangement be entered into to settle all disputations with Foreign Powers, by reference to an Arbitration of Nations. We also earnestly desire the abandonment of all fortifications and preparations for war, the abolition of the army and navy, and of all military schools, over which the Government of the United States has jurisdiction.” (1853; 1855)
A mere six years later, on April 12, 1861, the newly-formed Confederate artillery opened fire on the federal Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.
That bombardment in South Carolina did more than breach the outpost’s defenses. Its fallout also landed hundreds of miles away: In particular, the war it started blasted holes in the “walled garden” of a then-Quietist and separatist American Quakerism.
Mark Schwartz is a civil rights attorney and a friend of this blog. He was the attorney for two women teachers at Friends Central School, who were fired in 2017 after inviting a Palestinian-Quaker pacifist professor from Swarthmore College to speak at the school — a case reported on in depth here.
Now Schwartz has issued an open letter to the federal attorney for Washington DC, in the matter of potential charges in the wake of the U.S. Capitol invasion of January 6.
One of the five people killed in the DC riots was a pro-Trump protester who was trampled to death, according to her friend.
Rosanne Boyland, of Kennesaw, Ga., died as the mob stormed the Capitol building, squaring off with police Wednesday.
The friend she was with, Justin Winchell, recalled her final moments as protesters began falling over one another.
“I put my arm underneath her and was pulling her out and then another guy fell on top of her, and another guy was just walking [on top of her],” Winchell told CBS46. “There were people stacked two, three deep … people just crushed.”
He said the clash “basically created a panic, and the police in turn push[ed] back on them, so people started falling.”
Paramedics tried to revive Boyland, 34, but she died.
“I lost a dear, dear friend, an amazing friend,” said Winchell, who drove with Boyland to DC to hear the president speak.
[The Guardian reported: “Boyland, an avid Trump supporter, had a criminal history, including being charged with possession or distribution of heroin “at least four other times” in Georgia. Other past charges include battery, obstruction of law enforcement and trespassing.”]
Winchell said he didn’t believe President Trump bore responsibility for his pal’s death.
“She was killed by an incited event and it was not incited by Trump supporters,” he said.
But Boyland’s brother-in-law, Justin Cave, denounced Trump for calling on his supporters to rally in the nation’s capital.
“I’ve never tried to be a political person but it’s my own personal belief that the president’s words incited a riot that killed four of his biggest fans last night and I believe that we should invoke the 25th Amendment at this time,” he said in a prepared statement.
“Our family is grieving on every level for our country, for all the families that have lost loved ones or suffered injuries, for our own loss,” he continued.
“We appreciate your prayers and ask for everyone to respect our family’s privacy as we mourn her death.”
CAPITOL PROTEST: Family releases statement about Kevin Greeson, Athens (Alabama) man who died in D.C.
The family of a local man who died in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday have released a statement regarding his death.
Kevin Greeson, 55, of Athens, was identified by Chief Robert Contee of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department as one of four individuals who died in connection to a protest at the U.S. Capitol. The family said Greeson was “a wonderful father and husband who loved life.”
“Kevin was an advocate of President Trump and attended the event on January 6, 2021, to show his support,” the statement reads. “He was excited to be there to experience this event.”
[The Guardian reported that: “Greeson posted racist diatribes online and associated with the Proud Boys, a far-right group known for enacting political violence and racial terror.
Despite the family’s insistence that “he was not there to participate in violence or rioting” and did not “condone such actions”, Greeson had posted to popular conservative social platforms calling for supporters to “load your guns and take to the streets” in the weeks leading up to the events.
“Let’s take this fucking country back,” he posted to Parler. Like many of the white nationalists who participated, Greeson never specifies from whom the country is being taken.”]
However, he was not there to engage in violence or rioting, the family said. In fact, Greeson had a history of high blood pressure, and it was the events at the Capitol that contributed to his death, according to the family.
“In the midst of the excitement, (Kevin) suffered a heart attack,” according to the statement. “Our family is devastated.”
They described Greeson as a man who loved motorcycles, his job and coworkers, and his dogs. The family thanked everyone who has offered thoughts and prayers but asked the public to respect their privacy as they continue to grieve their loss.
U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund issued a statement Thursday in which he said more than 50 Capitol and Washington police officers were injured and several Capitol Police officers had been hospitalized with severe injuries.
D.C. police said 68 people had been arrested, while Capitol police said 14 had been arrested. Among them is Lonnie Coffman of Falkville, who faces charges of carrying a pistol without a license and having an unregistered gun and ammunition, according to Capitol Police.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama said it plans to prosecute anyone from North Alabama who traveled to D.C. intending to join the violent protest. The FBI requested anyone with information relevant to their investigation of the protest to visit fbi.gov/USCapitol or call 1-800-225-5324.
Pennsylvania man, Benjamin Phillips, among the dead following pro-Trump assault on Capitol
A day after pro-Trump protesters laid siege to the U.S. Capitol in a bid to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election as president, the extent of the damage — to lives, property and the nation’s social fabric — became distressingly clear.
Five people died Wednesday in the mayhem that broke out after President Donald Trump addressed a crowd of supporters and urged them to march to the Capitol and protest what would, in ordinary times, have been the mundane process of certifying the outcome of the election.
Among the dead was a Pennsylvania man, 50-year-old Benjamin Philips, who succumbed to an “apparent medical emergency,” said the chief of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philips, a computer programmer and avid Trump supporter, died of a stroke. Police said Philips was from Ringtown, Schuylkill County, but the newspaper said he was from Bloomsburg, Columbia County.
The Inquirer said Philips founded the social network Trumparoo, named after a stuffed kangaroo meant to resemble the president, and arranged bus transportation to Washington on Wednesday.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/07/us/who-was-ashli-babbitt.html?referringSource=articleShare
Another woman — Ashli Babbitt, 35, an Air Force veteran from San Diego — was fatally shot in the Capitol by police, Chief Robert J. Contee said.
[The NYTimes reported that: “In 2016, (her husband Aaron) Babbitt’s former girlfriend applied to a court for a protection order, telling the court that Ms. Babbitt, then known as Ashli McEntee, had approached her on a roadway and had rear-ended her car three times. (https://tinyurl.com/y2sppoaz)
“She was screaming at me and verbally threatening,” the complaint says. The court granted a protection order. The following year, the former girlfriend again applied for a protection order, which the court granted. . . .
Shortly after that, Ms. Babbitt relocated to California, where she helped purchase Fowlers Pool Service and Supply, a company where her brother, Mr. Witthoeft, said he had worked. . . .
Ms. Babbitt appeared to struggle in business. In 2017 she took out a costly short-term business loan. In effect, it meant her pool business would have to pay an interest rate that she later calculated in court filings to be 169 percent.
Within days of signing the loan agreement, she stopped making payments, only repaying about $3,400 of the $65,000 borrowed from the lender, EBF Partners, records show. The lender soon sued her.. . . .
Leaving the military had freed her to participate in politics, something she savored, her brother said.
“That was one of her things — for the first time in her life, she could actually say what she wanted to say, and didn’t have to bottle it up,” he said. She was frustrated, he said, with the number of homeless people in San Diego, and the difficulty of running a small business.
“My sister was a normal Californian,” he said. “The issues she was mad about were the things all of us are mad about.”
Her social media accounts suggest that she also, increasingly, embraced the conspiratorial thinking of QAnon, which has asserted that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by an elite Satan-worshiping cabal, and that it was up to ordinary people to reinstate Mr. Trump.
She retweeted a post that promised a violent uprising that would lead to Mr. Trump’s second inauguration.
“Nothing will stop us,” she wrote on Twitter the day before her death. “They can try and try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours …. dark to light!”]
In late December, the incoming vice-president, Kamala Harris, tweeted about her plans for the first hundred days of the Biden administration. She promised “to ensure Americans mask up, distribute 100M shots, and get students safely back to school”.
Among the thousands of responses was an angry tweet from a 35-year-old air force veteran in San Diego.
“No the fuck you will not!” Ashli Babbitt replied to Harris. “No masks, no you, no Biden the kid raper, no vaccines…sit your fraudulent ass down…we the ppl bitch!”
Babbitt wasn’t just tweeting. She had a plan to fly to Washington DC the very next week to take part in a major public demonstration demanding that Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, be sworn in as president. . . .
Babbitt’s Twitter account shows a woman deeply engaged for months with a conspiracy theory that painted Democratic lawmakers as evil pedophiles, and then persuaded, and infuriated, by Trump and his allies’ lies about election fraud.
For weeks before she joined the mob in Washington, Babbitt had been retweeting false claims from Trump himself, as well as the pro-Trump lawyers Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, alleging massive voter fraud and asserting that Trump had won the 2020 election.
Many of Babbitt’s tweets, according to extremism experts, also marked her as a believer in QAnon, a conspiracy theory that claims Donald Trump has been trying to save the world from a cabal of satanic pedophiles, including Democratic politicians like Biden and Hollywood celebrities, and that he will soon bring his enemies to justice.
Babbitt had. . . tweeted regularly about the conspiracy theory since February 2020, and she had posted a lot on Twitter in general, about 50 posts a day, he said. On election day, she had posted 77 times.
Her social media also showed posts skeptical of masks and public health measures. She had responded with fury to an alert in early December that California public health officials were reinstating a stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which was surging in southern California: “This is that commie bullshit.”
The QAnon conspiracy theory, although lurid in its claims about the torture of children, is very much a political movement, not just a personal delusion, experts say.
“The people that went to the Capitol weren’t just trying to save Trump, they were trying to stop the coming multiracial democracy” which they believed would institute “a radical leftist globalist agenda”, Joan Donovan, the research director at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, said.
On Twitter, Babbitt had been sharing messages urging people like herself to take action, with messages like: “Your government doesn’t fear you anymore. That needs to change. ASAP.”
Babbitt was a small business owner and self-described libertarian. She owned a San Diego-based business, Fowler’s Pool Service and Supply, according to California business records. Her LinkedIn profile lists her as the company owner since May 2017.
In one tweet, first reported by Bellingcat, Babbitt said that she had voted for Barack Obama before voting for Trump. In recent months, she had become a devoted adherent of conspiracy theories boosted by Trump and others.. . .
Babbitt wrote that she believed the 6 January protest she was joining would be a pivotal moment for the country, and a fulfillment of some of the key events that QAnon believers had been expecting: “Nothing will stop us….they can try and try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours….dark to light!” she tweeted the day before the rally, referencing key QAnon slogans. . . .
Travis View, the host of the QAnon Anonymous podcast, said posts showed that Babbitt was “100% a dedicated QAnon follower. She was not casual about it. She was deep into it.”
The scene at the Capitol
At that 6 January rally. . . . Babbitt would be among the crowds of Trump supporters who pushed and fought their way past the Capitol police and into the building itself, forcing lawmakers to flee or hide, and temporarily halting the certification of Biden’s election victory.
Multiple videos would capture the moment in a Capitol hallway where Babbitt was at the front of a crowd stopped at a door to the Speaker’s Lobby, which has been shut and barricaded. On the other side of the door were members of Congress and Capitol police protecting them, according to news reports.
Video obtained by the Washington Post shows Babbitt and other members of the mob shouting at a cluster of officers who are guarding the door, telling them to step aside, as other Trump supporters pound on the door’s glass, shattering it. The video shows the officers moving away from the door, and members of the crowd surging forward, shouting “Break it down” and “Let’s fucking go” as they try to break through the door.
Other widely circulated videos show Babbitt hopping up to push herself through one of the door’s glass panels, towards the legislators at the other end of the hallway, as a man shouts “Bust it down!” The footage shows a shot ringing out, and Babbitt falling to the ground. Officials would later confirm that she had been shot by a capitol police officer, and that the shooting is under investigation.
Lawmakers from both parties who were present at the moment when Babbitt was shot have spoken out about the dangerous behavior of the crowd
And a Capitol police officer, Brian D. Sicknick, died Thursday of injuries received while engaging rioters.
[The Washington Post reported Saturday: “A family statement says Sicknick was the youngest of three brothers who grew up in a borough along the I-95 corridor south of New Brunswick, and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Phoenix. He rescued dachshunds and loved the New Jersey Devils hockey team.
He is survived by his parents, Charles and Gladys Sicknick, brothers Ken and Craig, and his girlfriend of 11 years, Sandra Garza. Relatives and close friends did not speak publicly on Friday.
Sicknick’s family said he had wanted to be a police officer his entire life. One of those brothers, Ken Sicknick, said in the statement that his sibling had joined the New Jersey Air National Guard “as a means to that end” following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. . . .
Sicknick joined the Capitol Police force in 2008 and most recently served in the first responders unit. . . .
Those who encountered Sicknick said his political views did not align neatly with one political party. “He was conservative, but polite and measured” in messages he sent to the office of his congressman, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), according to the lawmaker’s spokesman, Aaron Fritschner. He said Sicknick supported the president and opposed impeachment, but favored gun control. He was concerned about animal cruelty and the national debt.
D.C. authorities arrested 68 and cited at least a dozen people from Pennsylvania, including two on charges of unlawful entry and one on a charge of possession of a prohibited weapon. Others were cited for curfew violations.
Capitol Police said 14 were arrested, most for unlawful entry. More than 50 Capitol and D.C. police were injured, including several who were hospitalized. [The Guardian reported: “
A reported 60 Capitol police officers were injured. According to the Democratic congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, many were also hit in the head with metal pipes. More than a dozen remain hospitalized.
Sicknick’s death is being investigated as a homicide by federal and local authorities.”]
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf activated about 1,000 Pennsylvania National Guard members Thursday to help with security in Washington through President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 presidential inauguration.
Even after 24 hours, the shocking events at the U.S. Capitol — perhaps the most recognizable symbol of democracy in the world — were hard to absorb. The photos and videos of rioters climbing walls, smashing windows, roving hallways and trying to push their way into the chambers of government where lawmakers huddled in terror mark the twilight of Trump’s presidency as one of the darkest moments in American history.
Susan Gladfelter, 65, of West Rockhill Township, Bucks County, was part of the bus trip organized by Philips. The group arrived about 20 minutes before Trump’s 11 a.m. speech and marched to the Capitol afterward.
“There were times where it was really moving, like yeah, these are fellow Americans that love their country like I do,” Gladfelter said.
But around 2:30 p.m., the mood began to change. A young man close to her group chanted “Storm the building!” into a bullhorn.
”I was like, no, you don’t storm the Capitol building,” Gladfelter said. “I became really uncomfortable with some of the things that were going [on].”
She heard explosions that sounded like shots going off. She saw people pass barricades and scale the walls. And she wondered where the Capitol Police were.
”I totally support President Trump, but these people were extremists,” she said. “These people just weren’t patriots. They were lawbreakers, and that was not the purpose of yesterday.”
Gladfelter’s group decided to leave and headed to a prearranged meeting place a few hours early. No one could reach Philips — the group knew him only as “Ben” — and learned from the bus driver that he died.
”It was just an overwhelmingly sad day,” Gladfelter said.
While the siege was broken and lawmakers returned to the Capitol to finish the certification, the outrage it inspired seems unlikely to abate. Democratic Sen. Bob Casey on Thursday joined a chorus of other lawmakers and officials demanding Vice President Mike Pence invoke the 25th Amendment to declare Trump unfit and remove him from office.
“While shocking, yesterday’s events were entirely foreseeable,” Casey said in a statement. “They were the direct result of President Trump’s lies about the integrity of our most recent election, and his frequent incitements to violence.”
Lehigh Valley party leaders seemed equally divided. Northampton County Republican Committee Chairperson Lee Snover, an early and vocal supporter of Trump, was in Washington to protest the election but didn’t get close to the Capitol as the rioting broke out.
She downplayed the violence on social media Wednesday, but in a statement Thursday, said she wasn’t aware of the extent of the destruction until she got home. She said she was “saddened to tears” seeing U.S. Rep. Susan Wild and other lawmakers forced into lockdown.
“I would expect there to be a full investigation to determine all the facts,” Snover said. “It is critically important for people not to rush to judgment, or to bandwagon on false narratives before the facts are known.”
Lehigh County Republican Committee Chairperson Glenn Eckhart feared Wednesday’s violence would continue America’s political divisiveness, which he blamed on leaders of both national parties.
In Lehigh County, he’s been trying to build a “big tent” Republican Party to make up for the 35,000-voter advantage Democrats hold.
“I want to keep the vision of Reagan, Lincoln, Eisenhower, Coolidge, Roosevelt, Grant,” Eckhart said. “We can’t hold a litmus test. We’ll never win.”
Northampton County Democratic Committee Chairperson Matt Munsey called for elected leaders at the state and federal level who allowed the spread of misinformation to be held accountable.
“It wasn’t a small number of people,” Munsey said. “It was a large, angry mob that had immediately before been incited by the president but were also spurred on by the actions of senators and Congress members who said, ‘Don’t trust the outcome of the election.’ ”
Lehigh County Democratic Committee Chairperson Ed Hozza compared the aftermath to the time following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“While we’ve been through trials and tribulations before, this time it was the enemy within. That is the most troubling part of the entire day,” Hozza said.
Still, he expressed some optimism, hoping the violence would shock Americans into a time of reflection. The divisiveness of the last four years might die down if Trump follows the unwritten rule of former presidents leaving the political stage, he said.
“Whether he will fade into the distance or continue to seize the limelight remains to be seen,” he said.
And lest we forget, the toll could have been much higher . . . This is a pipe bomb, one of several, along with guns and a cache of “Molotov cocktails,” seized by police.
A long, long time ago — Wednesday morning — I thought January 6 would be a historic day of celebration.
After all, when I finally fell into bed, well after Tuesday midnight, Democrats were on the cusp of flipping the U. S. Senate, and that was Big with a capital B.
And sure enough, I heard somewhere yesterday that the flip had come to pass, and it was, or should turn out to be, Big.
But even tho it’s still true, and Big, and the sun has since crossed the sky and faded in dusk behind bare trees, I’m not yet in a celebrating mood.
It’s been, to put it mildly, a distracting, eventful day. A day that has, as Winston Churchill once said of the Balkans, produced much more history than it could comfortably consume. And as I write, it’s a day that’s far from over.
Shortly after 1 PM, while the flip was still wrapping up, I looked up and something else had begun, something that drove it completely out of my awareness.
For Updates, scroll down . . .
Guns were drawn . . .
3:40 pm . . . . A cop was reported among the injured so far . . . No numbers yet. . . . Chaos continues. National Guard from DC & VA reported on the way . . . DC mayor sets curfew for 6 PM . . .
But the White House Grift Never Ends . . . . Even as the coup proceeded, another White House fund appeal went out
The cops & national guard finally showed up in force and reclaimed the capital and its grounds, at least for now. Then shortly after 8 PM, Congress got back to work, certifying the 2020 presidential & vice presidential election results.
If they get that done, peaceably, then maybe that will be something to celebrate.
Or maybe not. The coup attempt was incited by more than one high official. And as the mob at length began to scatter and Representatives and Senators emerged from hiding, more than one was quoting from the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, a section not often repeated. Here it is:
I admire the dogged liberal Catholics at the National Catholic Reporter. (NCR)
NCR occupies an outpost besieged on practically all sides by the forces of Catholic clerico-fascism, which are older than Trump but have eagerly leaped into bed with his movement. Their outlook predates Trump, though, and will likely survive him.
NCR’s main inside ally is Pope Francis; which from an external perspective, ought to be enough. I mean, this is Catholicism, and he’s the pope That makes him the boss, right?
But close up, the reality is more complex and discouraging: the Catholic hierarchy is vast & complicated, and political scheming & internal conflict, including violence within its upper levels is as old as— well, Judas.
Given that the incoming U.S. President is is not only a lifelong Catholic but an honest-to-God practicing one, simpleton outsiders like me might imagine that politically-minded Catholics & their bishops might be thrilled.
And to be sure, some are.
But not all that many. The American hierarchy is overall a branch of the swamp, and hatred of Francis, along with obsessions about abortion, homophobia and the gospels of PPP (pedophile priest protection) & PPR (Perpetual Protection of the Rich), not to mention hanging on to church money, appear to be their abiding priorities.
Here are excerpts from the wrapup of 2020 in American Catholicism, by Michael Sean Winters, NCR’s church columnist. Given the institutional weight and influence of Catholicism (e.g., 21 U. S. Senators — Baptists only have 11 — six of nine Supreme Court justices, etc.), and still the largest denomination in the country, etc., this is a review worth the attention of even small sects like my own Quakers. My comments are in red.
Michael Sean Winters: The dominant fact of ecclesial life in the United States the past several years has been the resistance to Pope Francis among large sections of the faithful and even the bishops. The pandemic briefly brought Catholic leaders together, but by year’s end, the opposition to Francis was as strong as ever.
Yet 2020 began with that great act designed to deepen communion with the Holy Father, the ad limina visits in which all the bishops go to Rome for meetings with the pope and with the different dicasteries that help the pope exercise his ministry. Various bishops said they enjoyed the frank conversations with the pope, with whom they met in small groups for a couple of hours, rather than the 10-minute, one-on-one sessions at which not much was accomplished during previous ad limina visits.
It didn’t take. Some bishops used the visits to put words in the pope’s mouth, saying he agreed with their decision to name abortion “our preeminent priority” in the election, even though the key distinction was whether or not the issue is “a” priority (with which we can all agree) or “the” priority, which is more problematic. . . .
Comment: Even for clerico-fascists, abortion is, while first-among-equals on their list of evils, more complex than it appears. Part of the background is that their outlook is still rooted in a conviction that our culture will only be “saved” by a huge outburst of fertility, to fend off “The Great Replacement,” by non-Christian — especially non-Catholic & non-white — foreigners), so besides outlawing the practice, they want women back home, gestating. Such a shift would involve a lot more than simply outlawing abortion, locking up (or hanging) the clinic doctors & nurses.
Michael Sean Winters: By the time the visits were concluded in February, the coronavirus had begun to change the way the entire country went about its business and by March, the entire country went into a shutdown. I was pleasantly surprised that the bishops did not rush to the offices of the Becket Fund to complain that the government had ordered public Mass services suspended and prepare for another religious liberty battle.
By May, however, the common good took its first assault when the Minnesota bishops announced they would defy their governor’s restrictions on worship. I will grant that not every governor or mayor implemented sensible regulations: Attendance caps that treated large churches the same as tiny ones made no sense. Still, comparing church worship to shopping made less sense and appealing to religious liberty misrepresented church teaching entirely.
Sadly, the religious liberty caucus at the bishops’ conference is merely an arm of the culture warriors at the Knights of Columbus and the Federalist Society. As I have noted before — and it held true this year — they do not preach Christ and him crucified (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2) but James Madison and him justified.
Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory (above) expresses thanks after employees at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Hyattsville, Maryland, surprised him Dec. 3, 2020, with a banner and red balloons to welcome him home from the Nov. 28 consistory at the Vatican during which Pope Francis created him as one of 13 new cardinals. (CNS/Catholic Standard/Andrew Biraj)
One bright spot this year came at the Knights of Columbus’ expense when Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory criticized them in no uncertain terms for hosting President Donald Trump for a photo-op. The event was held at the Knights’ St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington the day after the president’s henchmen had cleared peaceful protesters away from St. John’s Church on Lafayette Square so that the president could pose for the cameras holding a Bible.
“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree,” Gregory said of the Knights’ hosting the president. “Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”
Comment: EWTN stands for Eternal Word Television Network, based in Birmingham, Alabama, is a very right-wing Catholic broadcaster. Michael Warsaw is its Chairman and CEO.
Michael Sean Winters: Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, always manages to put the “lie” in “outlier,” endorsing a video made by a ranting Wisconsin priest who claimed no Catholic could vote for Joe Biden. Still, it could have been worse, much worse.
At the U.S. bishops’ conference meeting after the election, it did become worse. The leadership of the bishops’ conference overlooked its own bylaws to establish a task force on how to deal with the incoming Biden administration; Francis called to congratulate President-elect Biden.
It is clear that on most issues, Biden will be much closer to the mind of the church than was his predecessor. Yet, former Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput became the public face of a campaign to deny Communion to the president-elect with a poorly reasoned essay at First Things. If you want to sum up the sad state of the U.S. hierarchy today consider this fact: Our president-elect, whom many bishops think is not a “real Catholic” and who should be denied communion, is more likely to favorably quote Francis than many bishops.
The U.S. bishops’ conference meeting also featured elections for committee chairs, and the results confirmed the degree to which the conference will remain a Francis-free zone. The most illustrative contest pitted conservative darling Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Washington, against Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer of Atlanta for the chairmanship of the Committee on Education. As one bishop told me before the vote, “That contest will show if there is room for a moderate in the conference.” There isn’t. Daly won 139 votes to 103.
It has become clear that conservatives organize and campaign for these committee chair elections and liberals note that there is not supposed to be any campaigning. Guess who will keep winning?
Christian churches all over the world are having Christmas services this weekend, and into the coming weeks. It’s a tradition almost two millennia old. But for some churches, it’s a pretty bittersweet occasion.
The Friends Church of Midway City, in Orange County California is one such. After 85 years, this Christmas weekend is to be their last in the church they built and paid for, and pursued their vision of evangelical Quakerism.
Many readers have asked about the outcome of the dispute between Midway City Friends and their evangelical overlords, reported here in widely-read blog posts almost a year ago, here and here.
The overlords announced in May 2018 that they were going to shut down the congregation, take the church and its property, and fire the pastors. The Midway City Friends filed a lawsuit in 2018 to stop their expropriation.
It didn’t work out. As the church announced on its Facebook page above, they lost their case. The defendants, leaders of Evangelical Friends Church Southwest (EFCSW; neé California Yearly Meeting), argued that changes in Faith & Practice they had engineered a decade earlier made the EFCSW Board of Elders the supreme rulers, with ultimate ownership over all their member churches’ property. After months of mainly Covid-forced delay, last summer the judge agreed.
Midway City’s deposed pastor Joe Pfeiffer put it this way in a September Facebook post:
What we have discovered through the legal process in the last two years is that a small group who want to adopt a megachurch-satellite model with a centralized corporate structure basically circumvented our denominations governing bylaws to orchestrate a take-over. Though a lot of pious and spiritual language is being used (as often in church settings) it really comes down to power and money.
Early on, I started to publicly question this trend, as well as some of the ways our denominational budgets and nominations were being handled, and basically became a target, and then our church as a whole.
Our hope above all in this, is to continue to speak truth to power, and testify to our experience. Our aim is that truth will lead to conviction and ultimately reconciliation and healing in our broader body of Friends in Southwest.
But a third goal of their EFCSW antagonists went beyond grabbing the Midway City property and terminating Joe and his wife, co-pastor Cara Pfeiffer. They also want to make the whole episode disappear into oblivion down the legal memory hole. When a “settlement” was reached in November, it included nondisclosure clauses which forced the Pfeiffers to clam up, and relieved the EFCSW rulers from having to make any comment.
So no one has actually told me any of the settlement details. But key parts of it, e.g., the evictions, are outcomes that can’t actually be entirely concealed. After all, your basic big closing-down-and moving-the-church rummage sale announce-ment is pretty much a dead giveaway.
Their forced move is also a public reminder of how this whole affair started, when the Pfeiffers yielded to the quinte-ssentially Christian impulse to help a few homeless people who showed up on their doorstep in early 2018. That, and Joe’s record of daring to question EFCSW’s dedication to secretive top-down rule which brooked no questions or protest — that is, acting as if Friends were supposed to be a community of equals, was simply beyond the pale. They had to be stopped. The support the Pfeiffers had from the church was intolerable; all had to be stopped, and the memory expunged.
Now EFCSW has sort of got their way: they’ll get the property, which if the economy rebounds could be worth a bundle, and the Pfeiffers and their four foster children, are now mum about the lawsuit, and face an uncertain pandemic-haunted future.
Yet there are a few loose ends. For one, the church, while small, has refused to die. Yes, it will be homeless a few days from now; but this is the year of worship-by-Zoom, so they will still meet, as they have done since the pandemic arrived, until they figure out where they can land next. There are, after all, Friends meetings in their area which are not under the hegemony of EFCSW.
Further, last spring, well before the gag rule was drafted, Joe Pfeiffer published “Engaging Homelessness Behind the “Orange Curtain,” a detailed, searing and trenchant critique of the entire “church growth” theology that has driven EFCSW for more than fifty years. The piece exposed its deep-seated roots in defensive white normativity and the preservation of class privilege.
For its part, EFCSW issued a short letter addressed to pastors in its 45 churches, noting the settlement, and underlining its confidentiality. In a possible bow to criticism that may have been evoked by wide attention to the Midway City property grab, Rick Darden, who signed the missive for the Elders, said of EFCSW’s leaders that
“we commit to improving our efforts in communications and relationships among our pastors and churches.
We believe that EFCSW has acted graciously toward the people of FCC Midway City and Joe and Cara Pfeiffer and their foster children in this settlement . . . .”
I couldn’t help it. The cluelessness here forced a laugh.
Here’s the leader of a so-called Christian church, parading his “graciousness” while marking the occasion of the birth of his church’s acclaimed messiah, whose infancy was spent as a homeless refugee, and one of whose commands for salvation was taking in the homeless, by having it coincide with making homeless refugees of one of their own congregations.
Further, Darden & Co. are expelling them from a church which the mostly non-affluent members of built, paid for, and maintained. Their only “crime” (besides wanting to think and speak freely) was trying to help a few of the thousands of homeless people with which Darden’s home county abounds.
(The last homeless count in Orange County was over 7000 in 2019, up from 4800 when this whole fiasco began. A 2020 count was canceled by Covid, but homelessness is widely assumed to have ballooned with the associated economic crash and its joblessness.)
Darden and EFCSW’s flagship church in upscale Yorba Linda (self-styled as “The Land of Gracious living”) include on their megachurch staff eight staffers assigned to “Marketing,” and a dozen more to a “Creative Team.”
Evidently none of these twenty noticed that both the timing and what political pundits called “the optics” of this expulsion event are, to put it mildly, beyond terrible. After such a move, any EFCSW efforts at “improving [their] efforts in communicationsand relationships” as Darden’s letter pledged, would seem to be, as the pundits also say, “due for a reset.”
Darden’s letter closed by assuring that EFCSW’s leaders were offering the Pfeiffers and the Midway City Friends their thoughts and prayers.
Of course. As Christians today, it was the least they could do.