In mid-2014, a blast of church schism fever blew into the three-century old North Carolina Quaker community like a line of summer tornadoes.
At its annual conference, a purge was suddenly demanded to “purify” their ranks of meetings deemed theologically “liberal” or friendly to LGBTQ persons. The same wave had already shattered Quaker groups in Indiana, and would soon roll west into Oregon and Washington state.
But the targeted groups in Carolina stood up eloquently in their own defense. They issued cogent rebuttals to the doctrinal charges, and stood firmly for the integrity of recognized Quaker decision making. The purge attempts repeatedly stalled.
Yet they continued. For two years the question was, how far would the crusaders go? Were they, like U.S. troops in Vietnam, ready to destroy their Quaker “village” in order to “save” it?
”A house divided against itself cannot stand!” was the insurgents’ refrain, citing the gospels and Abraham Lincoln. Something would have to give.
And ultimately, it did.
Murder at Quaker Lake unpacks this dead-serious true story. It is now available, in paperback & e-book form. Since the turn of the 21st century, five U. S. Quaker Yearly Meetings have become battlefields, truly making the opening decades of the 21st Century as The Separation Generation.
Issues at stake in these schisms included:
— the place and authority of the Bible;
— the nature of Jesus and the way of salvation;
— the setting and enforcement of doctrinal boundaries;
— the proper form and exercise of church authority;
— coping with rampant abuse of Quaker process;
— recognition of LGBTQ persons, and same sex marriage.
Controversy over recognition of LGBTs was new. Most of the other issues were the familiar fodder of church historians in many denominations, Christian and others. They’re the Devil’s Gifts that keep on giving.
The last time a comparable wave of separations rolled across the American Quaker landscape was in 1827-1828, in what historians recall as the Great Separation. Some of those divisions, which rent families as well as schools and congregations, were only repaired after six generations. Even then, divergent views and dissident factions remained to lay the groundwork for further rounds of conflict.
This series of divisions which took place between 2003 and 2018 were all but completely avoided by existing Quaker publications. But there were exceptions: the splits were reported for both Quakers and general readers by two projects: the journal Quaker Theology, and this blog, A Friendly letter.
Murder at Quaker Lake is Volume Two of The Separation Generation, a three-volume series which is bringing together these reports and related documents, as both unique initial historical records and singular resources for those concerned with the course of contemporary religious evolution and controversy.
While Quakers (formally called the Religious Society of Friends, or Friends Church) are a small denomination, they encompass a broad range of theological perspectives and socio-political outlooks, and these clashes are in many respects similar to those that have shaken many larger denominations.
This series combines the distinctives of Quaker conviction and practice, with revealing looks at many of the broader issues at the center of many key cultural-political struggles. These “culture war” conflicts are far from concluded.
The first book in The Separation Generation series, Indiana Trainwreck, is also available, here.