Now Online: “Quaker Theology” #33 — 20th Anniversary Issue

Quaker Theology #33 — Winter 2019

20th Anniversary Issue

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Editor’s Introduction 
A quick review of the ground  covered in 20 years of independent theological work & publication.

Moment of Truth: Wilmington Yearly Meeting Divides over a Familiar Set of Issues, by Stephen W. Angell
This is the fifth yearly meeting breakdown chronicled by this journal in its tenure, and its pages remain the only source of significant reporting on these difficult spectacles.

The Separation Generation, by Chuck Fager
A detailed summary of the five schisms that have rocked American Quakerdom in this century (so far),  with an early assessment of their significance.

Imminence, Rootedness, and Realism: Eschapocalyptic
Action (or not) in the Age of Trump, by r. scot miller.
An effort to construct the elements of a 21st century Quaker theology, turning to such largely untapped sources as Malcom X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Reinhold Niebuhr.

A sermon Delivered by Lucretia Mott, at Yardleyville.
Bucks Co., Pa., Sept. 26, 1858, by Lucretia Mott
A contrasting Quaker theological vision, advanced by one of the most influential (but unheralded) American theological voices the Society has produced. Presented 160 years ago, this vision is still keenly relevant, hotly disputed, and its author still largely unrecognized as the theological giant she was.

About the Authors

From the Editor’s Introduction:

Several years ago I visited a “Quaker” school in the South, supposedly to talk about peace. The school was expensive, semi-elite, aimed kids at highly-ranked colleges, and steadfastly ignored most of what was happening beyond the soccer fields.
I talked about the military industrial complex and the ongoing drive for world hegemony it supported.
Hands raised, a couple students asked why it was like that, why the USA needed so many wars?
Good questions. In reply, I opened a small Bible and read the first six  verses of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans – about how we all must obey “the powers that be,” because they were “ordained” by God, and they “bear the sword” to “execute God’s wrath” on “evildoers,” and we were all supposed to bow to it and pay for it.
“That’s why,” I said. “Many people believe the US is supposed to be God’s “authority” and “bear the sword” against those they see as “evildoers” in the world.
I closed the book and looked up. Blank faces, many mouths hung open.
I asked who knew of this passage.
Only one: the token black student. No one else, including teachers, copped to having even heard of it, or, you know, the book.
I told them that was too bad: it meant they weren’t getting full value for their parents’ hefty tuition payments. That’s because this passage was a theological keystone of the right-wing Christianity which practically worshipped the war machine and was then taking over the entire state outside their woodsy liberal enclave. If they were not familiar with it, they were not being adequately prepared to face this basic challenge to the world they were going to live in.
The teachers, at least, got the message; I know that because I was not invited back. Meanwhile rightwing christianity’s takeover of the state was soon complete, and remains near-total as this is written. Further, it is now also resident in the White House and fills most seats on the Supreme Court.
So theology as self- and group-defense was part of our 1999 response to the opening query about “Why theology”? It was current then; it was imminent when I visited that school; and it is immediate now.
But I also insisted there were positive reasons to write, read and talk about theology, which we defined as

“the ongoing work of self-examination and definition which any living faith community faces. This ever-unfinished work is at the center of Quaker Theology’s efforts; indeed, it provides us with our working definition of theology, which is: disciplined reflection and continuing conversation about individual and communal religious experience. It seems to us that such disciplined reflection is part of our religious duty. After all, in Matthew 22:37, Jesus includes in the first Great Commandment the imperative to love the Lord “with all your mind”; we think Friends today could do better at following this call.”

These positive reasons for theology are also still relevant, if seemingly sidelined by the rush of current events. It’s often been a struggle to make room for it, but we’ve worked at it.
  [A sidebar: if we had stayed on our schedule of twice-yearly publication, after 20 years this should be Issue #40. The fact that it isn’t simply means that repeatedly in these times, life and history intervened and have slowed us down. . . .]
Back to positive reasons to do Quaker theology. One has been to maintain a space for “narrative theology,” in which individual Friends tell their religious stories, or at least part of them.

We have published ten of these, which recount, among others, the making of a Quaker atheist (QT #1); a heritage of nature mysticism and folk magic (QT #9); the last testament of a gay Quaker Christian (QT #14); a French Quaker’s journey from psychological warfare to Quaker nonviolence (QT #16); and the return of a son of Appalachia to his family’s mountain roots, and the beginning of his confrontation with the personal impact of industrial damage done to the land  (QT #29). There is rich material for theological reflection and discussion in each of these.
A related category of personal theology has come from what I call the “Divergent Friends”: Quakers who have thought deeply about theological issues, and acted on their convictions, but are not academics or members of conventional theological guilds. Many are not remembered as theologians at all, but a closer look discloses new depths and resources. . . .

3 thoughts on “Now Online: “Quaker Theology” #33 — 20th Anniversary Issue”

  1. Hi Chuck,

    Lucretia’s “sermon” is incredible. Thanks for publishing.

    I notice she gave this in Bucks Co. Was this a progressive Meeting? The first 40% or so in incredibly progressive, enough so to get one kicked out of those Meetings that kick other persons and Meetings out, it seems to me. Like any skilled change agent she seamlessly switches to a “safe” perspective once the message has been put in place, thus diverting attention away from the real message, allowing it to sink in without being fought against. Brilliant both in prescience and delivery.



    PS: If not, she sure would have stirred up a hornet’s nest with this one. 🙂

    1. Hank, Good questions, with few answers. The sermon was printed in an anti-slavery newspaper, and only “Bucks County” was noted for a location. There was an anti-slavery convention in the county at the time, for which Lucretia was listed as a speaker, but it seems unlikely such a theological address would have been given there. And that’s about all we know.

      Bucks County is pretty large, and had at least three Friends Meetings. There may also have been a Progressive Friends gathering, called to take advantage of her visit to the area (she wrote elsewhere of such events in various places). Or Lucretia may simply have gone to worship at one of the county’s meetings. (Such substantial messages in worship were not at all uncommon then, in stark contrast to the clipped koan/haiku style now expected.) Whatever, she was “followed” by someone trained in stenography, who took down the message as it was given. That’s how most of the speeches/sermons we have of hers were preserved, because she never, as far as is known, wrote down a message in advance. She had several recurring themes & ideas in her preaching, and this sermon brings together more of them than most others I have read. I particularly wanted it published here, as a counterpart & contrast to M. Scot Miller’s piece which preceded it.

      The sermon could have caused some trouble for her, though by then she was 65, and I think most of the disownment/silencing attempts were behind her. This was partly because she had so deftly fended them all off, and perhaps more importantly, her fifty years as an active, assertive public speaker had begun to have an impact, gaining her allies & giving cover.

  2. Hi Chuck,

    yes, thanks to you I knew about the stenography. And now thanks to you I know that the take on Spirit belonging to no time, no religion, no country dates back to at least 1858 within Quakerism. I know of one SAYMA MM that balked at the idea of having a card to give to newcomers welcoming them to bring their own name and understanding of Spirit with them — in 2018. We as a community can’t seem to let go of the external descriptors of a personal relationship with Spirit that lies well beyond word. Artists, by the way, get this reality immediately. They have had the experience of no longer controlling their artistic expression, of having it take over the particular instance of their art. Quakers who have had that experience of Spirit taking over get it too. And Lucretia, who gave these long messages without notes, got it, and shared it. Thanks for finding this great piece to share.

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