Regarding Mary Dyer: A Measure of Light, a Novel by
Beth Powning; and Mary’s Joy, a play by Jeanmarie Simpson.
Review & Musings by Jeanmarie Simpson
Holy Nation: The Transatlantic Quaker Ministry in an Age of
Revolution, by Sarah Crabtree.
Reviewed by Chuck Fager
A Sustainable Life: Quaker Faith and Practice in the Renewal of
Creation. Douglas Gwyn. Reviewed by Chel Avery
If there’s a keyword for this issue. It’s “Release.” As Stephen Angell points out in his report here, “release” has had an honorable heritage in the Quasker glossary, mainly referring either to the sending of a Friend (or Friends) on some mission on behalf of their home monthly or yearly meeting; or since the introduction of pastors in many yearly meetings, the “release” of a Friend to do fulltime pastoral/ministerial work.
The unprogrammed Friend’s “release” is usually project or goal-oriented, and concludes when complete. The pastor’s “release” is more like a “regular” job, with a salary, and can become a career. Either way, it denotes an honorable role in Quaker service.
But this past summer, “release” suddenly came to mean something else: the involuntary departure of a meeting from a yearly meeting; more plainly, expulsion which dare not speak its name.
Meetings were abruptly “released”/expelled in yearly meet-ings at both ends of the U. S. And not silently either. There was pushback in both places, in one case with a definite result; in the other, the outcome is still unsettled as we go to press.
And as these and similar situations play themselves out, we want to lodge a protest with the committees of Elders and other weighties who feel the Reputation of Truth rests in their hands: Cut it Out.
We don’t mean quit doing your job. We mean STOP corrupting perfectly good Quaker words to try to hide the hard parts of it. If you have a tough situation to sort out, eat your bowls of Big Quaker oatmeal, then get up and go do it: But leave “Release” alone. Don’t turn it into some tacky euphemism for unpleasant deeds that sometimes have to be done. “Disownment,” for instance, is still available, right there on the shelf where somebody hid it a couple generations ago. Pick it up and dust it off if you have to. It still works.
As we have said before, these substantial, journalistic-seeming reports are not our usual fare. But in both situations, theological issues and disputes are directly at stake, even preem-inently so from some perspectives. And that is our field. Also in both cases, no other publication is tracking them in comparable detail. So even these limited efforts are more than nothing.
Fortunately, our more familiar haunts are also visited here: intriguing essays, like Isaac May’s examination of the Friends Com-mittee on Outworld Relations; and reviews, dealing with publica-tions from an original look at Quakerism’s lost “Zion tradition” to a novel about Mary Dyer, plus a guide to finding balance as Friends undertake to build sustainable personal and community life.
And one more thing: a correction: In our last Introductory note, we declared Quaker Theology #26 the longest in our sixteen-year history.
Not so. Issue #24, Winter-Spring 2014, was several pages longer.
We regret the error.
– Chuck Fager
You ask me, it’s a sure sign of a needed change coming:
Just as I was finishing up this piece, I found a notice that The Center for Spiritual & Social Transformation, part of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California just changed its name (on September 1, 2015) to the “Ignite Institute.”
Why? Director Jakadai Imani said the change was made because the original name was “a bit of a mouthful, and and did not speak to your role in this work. At this important moment in the life of our work we want a name that captures the imagination, passion and commitment that each of you embody.” (Facebook page, 09-01-2015)
Right. Or maybe they were just sick and tired of the old name. And they’ve been reading my mind.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve become something of a nag about the overuse and cheapening of the terms “transform” and “transformation” in religious and especially Quaker writing and speaking. Overuse is not transformation’s only problem, though, just the most obvious; we’ll get to some others presently.
It’s easy enough to document Quakerdom’s saturation with it, from books to workshops to conferences to major presentations. My pick for the champion (so far) is the 2014 Swarthmore Lecture, “Open for Transformation.” Actually the talk’s summary program description took the laurel, managing to repeat the term seven times in a mere five lines, and four more in the preamble. Here, for the record, is the opener.
“I use the term ‘transforming’ to refer to how early Quakers were transformed in their spiritual experience, how they tried to transform the world around them, how the tradition has transformed, and how we can be transformed, transform our Meetings today and act as agents of transformation in the world, all of which is what it means to be a Quaker in the world today.’”
That lecture was not an exception, however. As the collage here suggests, the term and its cognates appear almost everywhere that Quakers, especially the unprogrammed liberal variety, gather.
The overuse of the term is undeniable. What seems not to be noticed, however, is that the constant repetitions have worn out its meaning and usefulness – its spark. It’s also like putting too many miles on a tire: the treads wear off and the tire loses its ability to grip the road. (Indeed, the lecture introduction above, despite the repetitions, doesn’t really tell what “transformation” means; I suspect it meant several different things.)
“Transformation” has also been through the same cycle of excess in the business world. In fact, numerous high-flying consultants are warning their clients to avoid it. One of the most striking comes from Lawson Abinati, who runs a consulting firm called “Messages That Matter.”
Early in 2014 he reported that “Today, in just about every B2B [Business-to-Business] technology market, at least one company is making some sort of transformational claim.” The claims were so numerous that he concluded:
“Clearly, transformation as a positioning concept is overused, which is just one of several reasons you should avoid it at all costs. I’ll even go as far as to advise that you don’t mention transformation in any of your marketing communications. That’s because transformation is so overused that target audiences have become jaded. They’ve heard it so much that they either ignore it or roll their eyes and call bull shit.”
But for Abinati, repetition isn’t the only problem with “transformation”:
“Lack of credibility makes transformation an even less desirable position to claim. While it is debatable whether any of the companies making the claim do, in fact, deliver on their promise to transform, none of them explain how they do it. They don’t deliver the proof to substantiate the claim. And they don’t even explain what transformation means to the target buyer; how will it make the buyer’s life better? What problem does this transformation solve?”
Good questions. But he missed one: is the term now so empty that it can even be used just as easily for unsavory or downright evil purposes?
For me, the answer to that is a definite yes. In fact, that’s where my unease with it began.
You see, when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, acting against international law, the voices of most world religious leaders, not to mention all strategic logic, the motto of its planners was – well, let’s hear it from a military historian, Andrew Bacevich, who in his book Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (2010), says of then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld:
“His agenda upon taking command of the Pentagon [in early 2001] reduced to a single word: transformation.”
And what kind of “transformation” did Rumsfeld and his circle have in mind? His close lieutenant Paul Wolfowitz put it to Congress this way:
“The goal of [military] transformation is to maintain a substantial advantage over any potential adversaries. . . . If we can do this, we can reduce our own chances of being surprised, and increase our ability to create our own surprises, if we choose.”
By May of 2003, President Bush was preening and boasting on the deck of an aircraft carrier about how, in the seemingly easy conquest of Iraq, “We have witnessed the arrival of a new era,” in which “With new tactics and precision weapons we can achieve military objectives without violence against civilians.”
That same day, Vice President Dick Cheney repeated the meme in Washington:
“‘Iraqi Freedom has been one of the most extraordinary military campaigns ever conducted.’ Victory in Iraq offered ‘proof positive of the success of our efforts to transform our military to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.’” Transformation had “allowed us to integrate joint operations much more effectively than ever before, thereby enabling commanders to make decisions more rapidly, to target strikes more precisely, to minimize human casualties, civilian casualties, and to accomplish the missions more successfully.’”(Bacevich, pp. 171-172)
Speaking again to Congress, on May 6, Wolfowitz went even further: “The American people need and deserve a transformed Defense Department.” (172)
Another “defense intellectual” cheerleader, Thomas Donnelly, declared that
“[T]he strategic imperative of patrolling the perimeter of the pax Americana is transforming the U.S. military . . . into the cavalry of a global, liberal international order. Like the cavalry of the Old West, their job is one part warrior and one part policeman–both of which are entirely within the tradition of the American military. . . . Although countless questions about transformation remain unanswered, one lesson is already clear: American power is on the move.” (Bacevich, 175)
“Countless questions” indeed; with, it turned out, very few answers. Soon enough the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan “transformed” into historic disasters. By the time George W. Bush left office, Bacevich notes that the whole war effort had become “redolent with deception, stupidity, and monumental waste.” And the enormous toll of death and destruction fell especially heavily on the civilians about whose safety, Bush, Rumsfeld and the others had claimed to be so solicitous. Bacevich’s verdict is grim, and unde-niable:
“Donald Rumsfeld's transformation initiative followed a similar trajectory and suffered a similar fate. What seemed ever so briefly to be evidence of creative genius–Rumsfeld prodding, cajoling, and lashing hidebound generals into doing things his way with spectacular results–turned out to be illusory . . . .
Campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq intended to showཔcase an unprecedented mastery of war demonstrated the folly of imagining that war could be mastered. When he finally left the Pentagon in late 2006, Rumsfeld found himཔself running neck and neck with Robert McNamara for the title of worst defense secretary in U.S. history. The concept of transformation had become a symbol of the overweening arrogance and hucksterism that had characterized his entire tenure in office.” (Bacevich, 166)
Like many others, during these years I watched with deepening horror as this grotesque drama of epic self-deception and massive devastation played out. (Note to Self: It’s not over yet.) And though I was personally safe from the bombs and waterboarding, maybe it’s a sign of my complicit citizen’s form of PTSD that “transformation,” the term its socioopathic architects made a brand name of this national madness, has ever since echoed in my ears like a shudder.
Guilt by association? Absolutely. I want to suggest that in our day there’s more to the problem of “transformation” than simply overuse. Its vacuousness has made it a ready tool for selling some of the very worst features and episodes of our recent history. For me it still evokes something like the unease many elderly Israelis report-edly feel when they hear the music of Richard Wagner.
Nor has the term entirely escaped from this pentagonian captivity. While Bush and Rumsfeld may be gone (though Wolfowitz and many others of that gang still scheme to get back into power), the word’s bellicose connection soldiers on, though now mostly below the general public’s radar. To take just one example, google Bosh Global Services, of Newport News VA. Its motto, “Transforming Unmanned Operations,” gives the hint: it’s a leader in developing and servicing drones for our ongoing secret wars. [Logo] There could be many others.Yet perhaps this persistence of “transformation-in-war” displays another aspect of the term: its resilience. It’s like old gum stuck to your heel. Lawson Abinati put “Transform” as #2 on his list of the “The 20 Most Annoying Marketing Buzzwords,” but that fact has hardly banished it, even though,
“‘Transformation’ is perhaps the most over used buzzword in B2B technology. I hear or read about ‘transformation’ every day from CEOs on CNBC to business reporters to marketers. It is almost comical how often it is being used, and in almost all cases, misused. Most companies aren’t transforming anything. They are just doing what has always been done, just a little better.”
Yet if it hangs tough in the high tech and warmaking fields despite its empty banality, “transformation” seems positively welded to the “spiritual” and “religious” world. Except for the more conservative wings of Protestantism, one finds it across most of the religious spectrum.
Even evangelicals are fond of Paul’s command in Romans 12:2, often rendered as to “be transformed”; but the Greek term behind it occurs only four times in the New Testament, is also rendered as “transfigured” or simply “changed”; and there’s no coun-terpart in the Hebrew scriptures. So they tend to go for some of the many alternatives, such as “born again.”
But when I checked “spiritual transformation” on Amazon, there were twenty screen pages devoted to it, running the gamut from Anglicanism to Zen. One book whipped up a kind of occult salad out of alchemy, kabbalah and the Tarot, all between the same covers. And not all the the transformational items were books: talismans and jewelry I expected; but the transformational bath salts and roll-on deodorant were new to me.
This almost bottomless booklist points to a seemingly unslakable appetite for whatever it is that “transformation” means to many of us. But maybe “transformation” is to Mainline and mystical religion/spirituality what the endless succession of doomsday fictions are to the fundamentalist market: rather than pick one over another, many of us will inhale anything labeled “transformational,” or as much as we can beg, buy or borrow.
Personally, though, I doubt that. Quaker bookstores are shrinking. The conference centers are having a tough time. Many meetings are struggling; money is still tight. If “transformation” was the golden ticket, all should be booming; and they’re not. Yet when it comes to liberal Quakerism at least, virtually all its purveyors seem to be unshakably convinced that transformation is magic.
Here I refer not only to the conference organizers and writers. Quaker and other antiwar groups have imported the term as well: they are now devoted to “conflict transformation” rather than resolution, or–heaven forbid – peace; my own cynical guess is that someone has persuaded them the new phrase goes down better with deep-pocket donors. Maybe they’re right; but it still sounds to me like a weak echo of Rumsfeldian hucksterism.
And there’s no end: Just as I was writing this piece, a fundraising email from a venerable Quaker-founded body landed in my in-box. And sure enough, it wants money to
That’s three times in just over 300 words; and with but the merest hints what the first two instances mean “on the ground”; typical.
One might think this pattern would succumb to Abinati’s astute observation that “‘transformation’ and ‘innovation’ . . . have quickly become over used and thus anyone who uses them is failing to differentiate which is one of the most critical factors in claiming a position in the market. They Are Ineffective.” [Emphasis added.] Not to mention the eye-rolling or calling BS.
I’m sure he’s right when it comes to high tech: how do I differentiate one “transformative” smartphone from another touted in identical terms?
But when I ask of Friends, how do I tell which “transforming” Quaker do-good program is more truly and urgently “transformative” than the other Quaker-Sponsored “transformational” efforts – the answer is evidently that those deploying the term don’t seem to care.
And I wonder why. A quick search turned up several lists by marketing experts of “powerful words” for program promotion and fund appeals; the longest tally included 189 words and phrases.
And “transformation” was not on even one of them.
Like I said, out at the “Ignite Institute (neé Center for Spiritual & Social Transformation) I bet they did some googling, and paid attention. Or maybe even read Andrew Bacevich’s melancholy chronicle of the Rumsfeld transformational follies. So it’s too bad for the Quaker groups.
Or maybe because, as another marketing consultant, Jeff Scott put it –
“‘Transformation’ has become a highly overused, misused, and abused term. Many organizations seem to ‘transform’ on a regular basis. . . . However, not all change is transformational change. . . . Don’t inflate expectations by calling minor changes transformational.”
So let’s sum up: “Transformation” is overused and banal; it’s no help in differentiating among programs or groups; its meaning has been drained away, so now it works just as well to sell warmaking, imperialism, and killer drones as anything “spiritual” or peace-pro-moting.
And just in case someone concludes from this piece that I hate progress and want everything to stay the same, I’ve compiled a list of thirty alternative terms which can fill in for “transformation,” from “change” to “revolution.”
So there’s hope. In fact, if Quakers start using some of these other terms, I bet it could transf– umm, I mean, it could renew, re-form, transfigure, remake, alter; convert; metamorphose; overhaul; transmute; transmogrify; make a revolution; rebuild; reshape, recon-struct; rebuild; reorganize, rearrange; rework; rehabilitate; revamp, remake; regenerate; renovate; update; redevelop; remodel; restore; reconstitute; restructure; progress; turnaround; reform--
Why, it could change everythingཀ
(And we might even know what we’re talking about.)
Thanks to Andrew Bacevich and his Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War. Metropolitan Books, 2010.
– Chuck Fager
[Editor’s Note: In Issue #24, we reported on a two-sided struggle that had appeared in Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM). On one side, there emerged a visible support group for LGBT students, staff and alumni at the Newberg. Oregon campus of NWYM’s academic offspring, George Fox University. On the other, controversy came into view over the yearly meeting’s strongly anti-homosexual statements in its Faith & Practice. And this controversy was not only over text: a Northwest YM meeting had declared itself open and welcoming to LGBT persons, in defiance of the official strictures. Its status in NWYM was then called into question, We called That 2014 report “Chapter One” of what was likely to be an ongoing story. This report can be considered Chapter Two. And it is not the end.]
At a Friday afternoon workshop on “Gender Diversity in Higher Education,” at the 2015 conference of the Friends Association for Higher Education (FAHE) at George Fox University (GFU) in Newberg, Oregon, attention turned to the host institution’s handling of a dispute concerning housing with a transgender student, Jayce M. Representatives of GFU presented a defense of their university’s handling of the matter. They spoke with great respect and empathy for Jayce, but were considerably more critical of Jayce’s attorney and the role of the news media.
Their accounts went unchallenged, but as the workshop came to an end, there was much tension in the air, as some participants present felt that they had heard only a one-sided version of these events. Wess Daniels, then pastor at Camas Friends Meeting in Washington, and now Director of the Friends Center at Guilford College, remarked to me, “If they had handled this situation so brilliantly, why did they have to fire a faculty member because of it?” (As we shall see, Wess was referring to his own experience with GFU.)
The subject was not raised again directly in any FAHE workshop or session, but it also was not far from many Friends’ minds. In the closing worship, a Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM) Friend (NWYM is GFU’s parent body, appointing several trustees to its board) who works at a nearby university spoke warmly of his support and assistance to a transgender student at that university. No explicit comparison was drawn to GFU’s travails, but undoubtedly the implicit connection was evident to many. Afterward, a GFU faculty member lamented that GFU faculty and staff had been threatened with termination of employment if they spoke out in opposition to the university’s handling of Jayce’s case.
It soon became clear that if an honest accounting of the university’s actions were to be made, it would have to be written by someone who was not a university employee. As an outsider, I felt led by the Light of Christ to attempt this task.
Jayce is an African American “trans man” (i.e., a female-to-male transgendered individual) from nearby Portland, Oregon. With his family, he attended a Lutheran Church in Portland, where the pastor and congregation have been very supportive. Although Jayce identifies as “spiritual but not religious,” he clearly comes out of a deeply Christian background, and a small Christian college like George Fox University seemed like a good fit. Even with all of the travails that will be detailed below, it still does seem to him as a good fit. He found “a supportive community at George Fox, including my friends, faculty members, and the students who are part of the unofficial LGBT & Allies club on campus called Common Ground. I’m also not the only trans student on campus. I love the people at George Fox University.” (Borgen, 4/4/2014)
During his freshman and sophomore years at GFU, he was housed in a women’s dormitory, according to the gender assigned him at birth. By the time he entered GFU, he was already transitioning to the male gender, a transition that continued during his first two years at GFU. By April 2014, at the end of his sophomore year, he completed a legal change of gender, including a change of gender on his driver’s license.
He did not find living in a woman’s dormitory to be a good fit for him. He is sexually attracted to women, and he reflected on the challenges of living in a women’s dorm while experiencing hormonal therapy. “Living in a female dorm means that each day, the first thoughts I have are about my struggles living in a body that never felt right to me. . . . I’ve got the libido of a 14-year-old boy, and I’m living with a bunch of young women. It’s not a good recipe for promoting the kind of behavior that a Christian university expects from its students.” (Hunt and Pérez-Peña, 7/24/2014)
Accordingly, in December 2013, he approached the GFU Department of Student Life with a request that he be permitted to live in an on-campus suite with several male friends in his coming junior year (2014-2015).
The initial response of the University, communicated in a meeting with Dean of Community Life Mark Pothoff on Feb. 12, 2014, was to insist on the status quo. Jayce would have to continue to live with female students.
After hearing Jayce’s perspective, Pothoff consulted GFU Vice President for Student Life Brad Lau and presented Jayce with two other options in a Feb. 24 letter. He tentatively offered a single room to Jayce. Or Jayce would be permitted to live off campus with male friends, provided that Jayce “legally change his name and gender, with specific documentation on his driver’s license and Social Security card; that Pothoff meet with his prospective roommates to affirm they were comfortable with his situation; and that they all abide by the GFU lifestyle standards and policies. The letter also requested that Jayce change the gender on his birth certificate and that his roommates inform their parent of the situation, essentially ‘outing’ him to them, but both provisions were later dropped.” (Gordon, 4/11/2014)
Pothoff and GFU administrators were worried about mixed cisgender and transgender use of bathrooms and showers in student dormitories. (The definition of “cisgender” is someone whose current gender identity is the same as the one that they were assigned at birth.) In any case, they would not favor “gender neutral” housing, if that might mean men and women living together in a same suite, given that the university’s policy was that sexual intimacy was appropriate only in the context of a marriage between one man and one woman.
In March 2014, Jayce hired an attorney, Paul Southwick, a highly regarded lawyer and 2005 GFU graduate who was also a founder of OneGeorgeFox. (We attempted to contact Southwick for this publication, to no avail; all quotations from Southwick and Jayce in this article are from published news sources.) OneGeorgeFox, formed in 2012, is an organization of GFU alumni, both LGBT and allies, who advocate strongly for the university to become truly welcoming and affirming. Its open letter to GFU administrators and others now has more than 400 signatories. (Fager and Souza 2014, 105-106; Gordon, 4/11/2014) Some GFU faculty and administration lament Jayce’s hiring of Southwick, and wonder if it was necessary to introduce an adversarial element into their conversations with Jayce. (Anderson, 7/24/2015; Conniry, 8/17/2015)
There was a flurry of activity in the last week of March and the first week of April 2014. An internal appeal had been made to GFU President Robin Baker, again requesting that Jayce be allowed to live in a suite on campus with his male friends; Baker denied Jayce’s appeal on March 27. Jayce’s mom, Janice, started a change.org petition on behalf of her son on April 3; Janice’s petition is still active, with more than 25,000 signatures as of July 22, 2015. And on April 4, Southwick filed a Title IX complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. These events were covered by numerous news organizations, including PQ Monthly, the Portland Tribune, and KGW TV.
Faced with a resolute GFU, Jayce made housing plans for the fall, choosing to rent an off-campus apartment with three other African American male students at GFU. (As of 2012, 71.4% of GFU students were White; 2.3% – 44 in absolute numbers – were African American; 6.9% were Hispanic; 4% were Asian; and the rest were international students, unknown, Native Americans or Pacific Islanders, or two or more races.)
But the GFU administration, by denying Jayce’s original request, had provided no alternative option acceptable to Jayce. Both the GFU Administration and Jayce conceded that Jayce living in an apartment by himself would not be an ideal option, especially with the high rates of depression to which transgender people are often subject. (Borgen, 10/15/2014; Gordon, 4/11/2014; GFU 2012) A statement by Oregon’s minority bar associations emphasized the negative effects of the “separate but equal” treatment Jayce would receive from GFU, given the isolating effect of a single apartment:
“We recognize that GFU has offered Jayce his own apartment on campus, but that offer is a sword that incises into Jayce’s psyche the fact that GFU does not, in fact, accept him for who he is. Setting Jayce aside in his own housing would deny his identity, degrade his self-worth, deny other students the benefit of his company, and so isolate Jayce as to drive home day in and day out the pain of difference.” (Borgen, 10/15/2014)
Jayce will continue to live off campus with his current set of housemates during the 2015-2016 school year. (Anderson, 7/24/2015; 8/18/2015)
At this point, it would be well to discuss briefly what is known about housing transgender students in a college and university setting. There is, of course, a strong tradition of single gender housing in American colleges and universities, but, in that setting, it is unclear where transgender students should be housed. Jayce already has succinctly stated the case against housing trans men with cisgendered women, even if their genital anatomies might bear some similarity. But, in the cases of dorm housing and bathroom use, many are concerned if there are perceived genital differences between those housed in the same dorm room or suite or using the same bathroom. Such is the case for the administration and many faculty, staff, and students at George Fox University, and we will need to return to this perspective for more in-depth exploration.
Let’s sketch out alternatives. Advocates for transgender students argue on behalf of “gender neutral” housing and bathrooms for college and university students. This should not be seen only as a courteous way of making transgender students welcome on campus, but a legal requirement “where state or municipal laws … ban discrimination against people because of their gender identity or expression.” (Beemyn et al. 2005, 52) During the Obama Administration, it has also been asserted that Title IX of the 1972 Education Acts Amendments covered transgender persons, so arguably it is also a legal requirement nationwide. That, at least, was the basis of the legal claim that Southwick was making on behalf of his client Jayce.
This requirement could be handled “on a case-by-case basis,” as Jayce was attempting at GFU. For instance, “The policy of the University of California, Riverside, emphasizes the principle of ‘reasonable accommodations,’” when the University is notified in a timely manner, and other colleges and universities have similar ad hoc policies. Given the relative rarity of such transgender applications, the ad hoc approach is perfectly reasonable.
But other colleges have adopted a more systematic approach. Some have abolished the binary classification of male and female when it comes to housing, allowing housing applicants to fill in a blank. If “buildings or floors [in campus dormitories] included theme housing,” it is possible, but not guaranteed, that “transgender students would … gain acceptance and feel part of these communities.”
But some colleges and universities “are beginning to offer a gender-neutral housing option, either to all students or just to upper-class students. In gender-neutral housing, room assignments are made without regard to the individuals’ biological gender, so residents may request a roommate of any gender.” Altogether, “student affairs professionals should recognize transgender students’ needs, just as they would try to understand and address the concerns of members of other underrepresented communities.” (Beemyn et al. 2005, 52-54)
More than 160 colleges and universities now offer a gender-neutral housing option. This constitutes considerable growth over the past two decades, but this list still includes less than 4% of the more than 4000 colleges and universities nationwide. Two Quaker colleges, Haverford and Swarthmore, on the opposite coast from GFU and considerably more liberal, are included on this list. Guilford, a Quaker college in North Carolina, also has a “gender inclusive” housing policy. In Oregon, there are six institutions of higher education that offer gender-inclusive housing: Lewis and Clark College, Oregon State University, Reed College, Southern Oregon University, University of Oregon, and Willamette University. (http://old.campuspride.org/tpc-gih/) Large state universities are disproportionately represented on this list, as are liberal arts colleges of a generally liberal bent.
Christian colleges such as GFU have been missing from this list, and that is not an accident. It is not that GFU and other Christian colleges have not experienced considerable pressure from gay and lesbian constituencies. We have already reported on the OneGeorgeFox movement, founded in 2012 and a crucial support movement for Jayce in his attempt to gain a suitable housing accommodation from GFU. (Fager and Souza 2014) So far Christian colleges have been resistant.
It would appear that Jayce’s claim had caught GFU somewhat off guard, but GFU administrators have been busy, and have worked hard to come up with a clear policy in relation to housing transgender students. At first, they indicated that campus housing would be provided to all students only on the basis of “biological birth sex.” (Borgen, 4/4/2014) A slightly later formulation that amounts to the same thing was that “common residence halls are single-sex, defined anatomically.” This formulation had a number of problems, including the fact that not all transgender persons desire, or are able, to have sex reassignment surgery. (Zack Ford, 7/21/2014)
GFU’s current formulation is that the student may be housed in shared living space on campus in accordance with that “student’s legally-recognized gender, provided housemates / apartment mates have agreed to such an arrangement.” This would appear to allow Jayce to have his wish, as Jayce is now legally recognized as a man.
One should note that these shifting policies have all been attempts to protect GFU’s bottom line: “Since the university’s founding, our convictions around sexual purity and modesty have led us to provide separate housing for each sex.”
“Sexual purity,” a major concern for American evangelical Christians, connotes, among other things, abstinence from sexual intercourse until marrying a person of the opposite sex, as encapsulated in the slogan, “true love waits.” This standard has been subject to a variety of critiques, notably from evangelical Christian feminists like Rachel Held Evans, who decries “a shame-based purity culture that treats women (and men) who have had sex before marriage as ‘damaged goods.’” (Evans, 5/6/2013)
Analyzing evangelicals’ culture of sexual purity is out of the scope of this essay, but more pertinent is the way the existence of transgender persons threatens the strict bifurcation between male and female that seems necessary to support the ideology of sexual purity. Evangelical theologian John Piper, responding to an evangelical Christian worried about her transgender father, acknowledges that the transgender experience is not directly addressed in the Bible, but claims that there are Biblical principles that address the issue:
God loves male and female. He made us male and female, and he delights in it. Anything in our culture that confuses male and female is going to probably lead away from the value that God put upon that difference and that distinction.
So that would be one way to think about why what he is doing is unbiblical. Because that’s what he needs to be persuaded of, that, “Daddy, when you do this you call into question the beauty of the distinctions God has made.” …
So there is a category of behavior in the Christian life which doesn’t have a sentence in the book that says, “Transgendering is a sin.” Rather, there’s a category that asks, “Is it fitting? Is it becoming? Is it helpful? Is it coherent with all the other things that the Bible says?” And I would simply say that that kind of use of your sexuality is probably–not probably–is out of step with what is seemly for a Christian. (Piper, 5/8/2009)
The extremely awkward syntax aside, Piper absolutizes and hardens the distinctions between the sexes/genders in passages such as Genesis 1:27 and 2:21-25 in a way that precludes discussion of any set of human experiences, such as intersex or transgender, that would tend to blur these distinctions. By way of contrast, some other evangelical Christians, such as Mark Yarhouse (see below), are at least open to the existence of more than two gender options. GFU’s statements relating to housing transgender students are similar, if less blatant, to Piper’s.
In its Undergraduate Manual, GFU presents its “lifestyle standards and values” this way:
We urge each member to become the kind of person and live the kind of life that Jesus taught and modeled. We believe such a life is described by the ‘fruit of the spirit’ as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. These fruits include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.
We believe the Bible teaches that all persons are created in God’s image and that God actively seeks renewed relationships with every individual. We are bound therefore to regard each person with love and respect. (Romans 12:9-21, 1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 4:32). So we avoid discrimination, abusive or manipulative actions, and gossip or mean-spirited behaviors. We seek actively to honor each person, loving and serving one another as Jesus taught us.
Our lifestyle excludes immoral practices and calls us to transformed living as we ‘offer [our] bodies as living sacrifices’ to God (Romans 12:1-2). In regard to sexual morality, we believe that only marriage between a man and a woman is God’s intention for the joyful fulfillment of sexual intimacy. This should always be in the context of mutual compassion, love and fidelity. Sexual behaviors outside of this context are inconsistent with God’s teaching.
We recognize these principles may conflict with the practice and opinion of some within the larger culture. We are convinced that this is God’s design for providing the most loving guidance and practice for individuals and our community. (GFU, undated)
This statement of lifestyle standards is not open to change, according to multiple sources at GFU. Further, while GFU professors ostensibly have academic freedom to address controversial issues, they are not permitted to challenge these lifestyle standards. This tends to create a balancing test for GFU employees that may constrain them, when it comes to their speaking their own minds about many issues relating to human sexuality, while engaged in teaching, scholarship, or student advising.
The Undergraduate Manual does not specifically address transgender students, but by April 2014, when Jayce’s complaint was filed with the Department of Education, GFU had this to say about its transgender student(s):
Both religious and non-religious universities are struggling with appropriate ways to support their transgender students. Over the past several months, George Fox Student Life staff has spent many hours with this student hearing his story and offering support. Out of respect for the student’s wishes, university staff refers to the student using the male pronoun. At this time, the student has not legally changed genders.
On many occasions, the student has expressed to Student Life staff that he has felt safe, listened to, supported and cared for at George Fox – by students, faculty and Student Life staff. He has acknowledged that this is why he has chosen to remain at the university.
George Fox strives to be a Christ-centered community and our residential facilities are single sex because of our theological commitments. The student’s request to switch from female-only on-campus housing to male-only on-campus housing is one that many institutions would struggle with. (Borgen, 4/4/2014)
GFU’s claim to empathetic interaction with Jayce has some demonstrable support. It is true, for example, that GFU staff refer to Jayce with male pronouns. But one controversial aspect of this statement was the statement that the university’s “residential facilities are single sex because of our theological commitments.” When this statement was written, no explanation of GFU’s theological commitments on this matter was in existence. Nor did, or does, GFU’s parent body, Northwest Yearly Meeting, have a statement relating to transgender persons.
GFU more recently came up with a transgender policy, which includes a theological statement. The theological statement, however, is not entirely clear. It appeals to the notion that God has designed an ideal gender experience for every human being:
“God created humans in the Divine image: male and female. (Gen. 1:27; Gen. 2:21-25; Gen. 5:2; Matt. 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9) As a result of the fall, complete physical and emotional wholeness will never fully occur on earth. (Gen. 3:1-24; Rom. 5:12-21) Humans’ experience of sex and gender … may not always be as the Creator originally designed. God cares deeply about every person, including their pain and suffering. Hope and contentment in life rely on the knowledge of God’s love, compassion and redemption. Our full identities are found in God alone. (Matt. 22:36-40; Gal. 2:20; Gal 5:22-25; Col. 1:15-20; Jude 1:24-25).” (www.georgefox.edu/transgender)
While this kind of statement acknowledges the reality of transgender experiences, it simultaneously seems to imply that they are a divergence from God’s original intentions. The analysis by Mark Yarhouse, a professor of “Christian Thought in Mental Health Practice” at Regent University, who is touted by Christianity Today as “the leading Christian scholar on transgender issues,” proceeds mostly along these lines. Yarhouse seems to understand the condition of transgender persons “as a reflection of a fallen world in which the condition itself is not a moral choice,” and he cautions against a misunderstanding of “gender identity conflicts [as resulting from] willful disobedience or sinful choice.”
In a more positive vein, drawing more on anthropology than Christian Scriptures, Yarhouse suggests that Christians might also regard transgender persons as providing welcome diversity, and celebrate the desire of transgender persons “to be accepted and to find purpose in their lives.” While he describes it as a more radical option than the usual evangelical resistance to transgender claims, he concedes that one can truly be an evangelical Christian and also be open to deconstructing gender norms. (Yarhouse, July/August 2015) Paul Anderson, Professor of Religion and Quaker Studies at GFU, agrees with Yarhouse that transgender persons offer welcome diversity in our communities. (Anderson, 7/24/2015)
According to Yarhouse, those drawn to this lens of diversity “cite historical examples in which departures from a clear male-or-female presentation have been held in high esteem, such as the Fa’afafine of Samoan Polynesian Culture.” Of course, there are many examples of cultures in which people do not see gender as a strict male/female duality. (Yarhouse 2015, 49; Schmidt)
While proclaiming that “each and every one of us struggles with brokenness,” Yarhouse’s tentative nod toward a more radical option notwithstanding, this kind of analysis usually sets up a strict dual caste system whereby cisgender heterosexual persons at least have the possibility of complying with God’s intentions for them through the marriage of a cisgender man and a cisgender woman, whereas the implication is that the lives of LGBT persons will always be characterized by brokenness. (We note here that “brokenness” is a very vague and ambiguous term, which perhaps bears on its frequent appearance in discussions like this. We have found “definitions” of the term ranging from psychological/physical disability, personal misfortune, the effects of sin, sin itself, the general human condition, and God’s efforts to bring low human pride; and this sample is not exhaustive. Most uses, however euphemized, are strongly redolent of the “damaged goods” connotation mentioned above by RAchel Held Evans.).
We have run into this kind of theology before in the witness of the Evangelical Quaker-founded group, Where Grace Abounds, (The name is taken from Romans 5:20 – “But the law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”; this passage is also cited by GFU in its transgender policy) a Christian organization in Colorado that is popular among many Evangelical Quakers. (Angell 2010-2011, 3).
Jayce has stated clearly that the GFU administration has subjected him to a system of “separate but equal” treatment; (Roth, 2/23/2015) in the background of his remark, one must always recall the unanimous decision on Brown v. Board of Education by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954, that separate is always inherently unequal. The same is true here. Transgender persons, under the particular kind of Christian theology endorsed by the GFU administration, have a higher mountain to climb to seek God’s favor than do cisgender heterosexuals. In this discriminatory context, to proclaim that “grace abounds” is but faint consolation.
Citing Paul’s letter to the Galatians, however, GFU proclaims a Christian theological principle around which all Christians can unite:
Understanding that one’s gender identity might not conform to his or her birth sex, we want all students to feel embraced within our faith-imbued community of learning. Believing also that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free person, male nor female, we believe that God does not show favoritism between persons or genders. God loves all persons equally and calls us to do the same. (www.georgefox.edu/transgender)
Many Quakers, including some members of Northwest Yearly Meeting, wonder why this stirring proclamation, based on Galatians 3:28, does not serve as the foundation for GFU’s theological analysis, rather than merely one element of it. Wess Daniels, former pastor of Camas Friends Church, in an interview with Amelia Templeton of Oregon Public Broadcasting, also pointed to this verse from Galatians as a persuasive basis for treating Jayce equally by providing him with appropriate on-campus housing.
“Paul says there’s neither Jew nor Greek, nor male nor female. All are one in Christ Jesus. At the core of the Quaker tradition is this equality of all humans.” Daniels differs from GFU officials specifically on whether there is a basis for a definitive statement from evangelical Friends on transgender issues: “We don’t have a statement on transgender folks.” At the present time, he noted, “our yearly meeting has been doing a lot of work and discernment around human sexuality, and we have people from all different perspectives trying to stay together at the table.” (Templeton, 7/17/2014)
Darleen Ortega, a GFU graduate, an Oregon judge, and a OneGeorgeFox supporter, states, “As a person of faith and a Quaker myself, I see nothing in Scripture or Friends’ theology that justifies or even supports the university’s position. What I find in Scripture, instead, are calls for compassion and kindness for everyone. And I don’t understand how one can deal ethically with someone in Jayce’s situation without working to understand his circumstances and come alongside him.” (Borgen, 7/11/2014)
God loves everyone equally. Scripture calls for compassion and kindness for all. Perhaps this set of theological statements could provide a basis for common ground among all Friends, and for a more understanding approach toward the life situations of transgender persons such as Jayce.
Intervention by the US Department of Education
Early in July 2014, the U.S. Department of Education “closed (and ostensibly denied) Jayce’s complaint” against GFU. Their rationale was that GFU was to be granted a religious exemption from the Title IX provisions of the 1972 Education Amendments. (Borgen, 7/11/2014)
GFU had applied for its religious exemption on March 29, during the hectic week that included the university’s denial of Jayce’s final internal appeal by President Baker, and Southwick’s April 4 filing of a complaint with the Department of Education. They applied for this exemption without giving notice to Southwick or Jayce that they were proceeding along that course. According to GFU, the exemption was granted on May 23, but Jayce and his attorney did not learn about this until July, when Jayce’s complaint was closed.
According to Seth Gordon, Southwick faulted GFU for its “lack of transparency.… While we were going through [the internal negotiations] process, they continued to try to get more information out of me saying, ‘What exactly are your legal concerns? Tell us more.’ We were very upfront with them. We told them we thought there were possible violations of Title IX, the Fair Housing Act, and other things.” (Gordon, 7/16/2014) Southwick also noted that the granting of the religious exemption to GFU was unusually quick. Usually, such applications are considered for years. Southwick planned an appeal on Jayce’s behalf; he maintained that since GFU receives federal funds, it should be required to abide by the nondiscrimination policies mandated by Title IX. (Tracy, 7/15/2014)
During this process, GFU officials also “consulted” with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an organization of evangelical Christians that has actively opposed transgender students’ use of what those students see as sex-appropriate restrooms. (Hunt and Pérez-Peña, 7/24/2014) (It is worth noting that GFU does not oppose single-user gender-neutral bathrooms that transgender people may use, and, in fact, some buildings on campus, now under construction, will include such bathrooms.) (Anderson, 8/18/2015) There was a previous connection between GFU and the ADF; Gregory S. Baylor, a member of the Advisory Board of the GFU Politics Department, is Senior Counsel for the ADF. (George Fox University, “Politics Department: Advisory Board”)
The ADF has been called “the 800-Pound Gorilla of the Christian Right.” (Israel, 5/1/2014) It is a huge, well-funded operation supporting a very large number of anti-LGBT court suits and legislation, both within the United States and abroad. (Human Rights Campaign, undated) In regard to transgender individuals, their policy is to advocate that
“student restrooms, locker rooms and showers that are designated for one biological sex shall only be used by members of that biological sex. . . . Students that exclusively and consistently assert at school that their gender is different from their biological sex shall be provided with the best available accommodation that meets their needs, but in no event shall that access to the school restroom, locker room, or shower of the opposite biological sex.” (Alliance Defending Freedom, undated) They are backing legislative attempts in several states to make it illegal for transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. A Texas bill supported by the ADF, for example, would outlaw entering “a public restroom, shower or changing room for the sex different from the ‘gender established by the individual’s chromosomes.’” (Brodey and Lurie, 3/9/2015)
[Parenthetically, some states, such as New York, have established quite different policies for transgender students’ bathroom use than that proposed in Texas. New York State allows transgender students to use the bathroom that correspond with their gender identity. Carlos Ball, a Rutgers University professor who has studied such issues, states that he has found “absolutely no empirical evidence” for widely-voiced concerns relating to transgender individuals using bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity, but “on the other hand, there is a plethora of reports of transgender people being physically assaulted, verbally abused and harassed for being quote-unquote in the wrong bathroom.” (New York Times, 7/27/2015; Harris, 7/20/2015)]
It should be noted that not only Christian college administrations defending their handling of complaints from transgender students, but also students and alumni from Christian colleges seeking a welcoming and affirming approach to LGBT students on their campuses, have formed alliances. We have previously noted (In QT #26) the nearly simultaneous inception of LGBT-supportive groups such as OneWheaton and OneGordon at other colleges with strong evangelical Christian connections. So OneGeorgeFox has allies in its quest to introduce a degree of change in evangelical Christian college culture, (Fager and Souza 2014, 106; Francis and Longhurst 7/23/2014) as broad alliances on both sides collide over these momentous issues. Chuck Conniry states that Paul Southwick’s advocacy for Jayce is “one piece of a much larger agenda;” (Conniry, 8/17/2015) but, if that is true about Southwick, it may also be true about the GFU administration. For both parties, this controversy is a piece of a larger agenda, and it is one with numerous alliances in play.
GFU Professor Paul Anderson unconvincingly contests that there is, in this respect, any similarity between GFU, on the one hand, and Paul Southwick and OneGeorgeFox, on the other. Anderson states that GFU “is not seeking to launch a national campaign in favor of its sexual mores; it is seeking to be faithful to its longstanding commitments on sexual behavior, and is therefore, not levying a national campaign against activists’ groups.” (Anderson, 8/18/2015)
Anderson protests too much. By accepting assistance from the Alliance Defending Freedom, GFU indeed associates with such a national campaign against LGBT activists.
Some legal scholars have worried that religious exemptions from education law were too easy to obtain in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, but it is also true that certain exemptions granted to Christian colleges in the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby decision fell short of the breadth of the latter. (Kingkade, 7/28/2014; Jaschik, 7/25/2014) Another Christian college, Spring Arbor University, that was granted a Title IX exemption around the same time as GFU, had requested a broader exemption, one that would allow it “to terminate or deny enrollment” to cross dressers and transgender persons. GFU never requested as sweeping an exemption from federal law as this. (Jaschik, 7/25/2014)
In that context, the mutual decisions by GFU and Jayce to continue engagement, neither seeking to sever the relationship between the two, despite enduring, strongly-held disagreements, looks moderate in the Christian college world. (Roth, 2/23/2015) Paul Anderson asserts that many people see GFU as “the most liberal of evangelical institutions.” (Anderson, 8/18/2015)
Nonetheless, journalist Daniel Borgen reported, “Jayce is simply baffled the college he know and loves has dug in like this. ‘I’m shocked and disappointed that the federal government has given George Fox permission to discriminate against me and is allowing it to do so with federal funds,’ he says. ‘But I’m not giving up. I deserve to be treated like other men on campus. Apparently, the university disagrees, as they have made clear by forcing me to live off-campus. The university is operating under the doctrine of “separate but equal,” and the religious exemption they received now gives the government’s stamp of approval to what they are doing. My own tax dollars will fund the university’s discrimination against me. I don’t understand it and I don’t think it is fair.’” (Borgen, 7/11/2014) [George Fox University benefits from federal funding for some purposes – Pell Grants, for instance. (George Fox University: Financial Aid)]
Despite all of the struggles, Jayce has great affection for GFU: “I still love being a student at George Fox. My friends and professors are great. I’ve also become one of the leaders of Common Ground, the unofficial LGBTQ student group on campus. And I’m really busy with classes and work.” (Borgen, 10/15/2014)
Southwick reached out via conference call to C. Wess Daniels, then pastor of Camas Friends, and Mike Huber, pastor of West Hill Friends in Portland, to ask if, in fact, the kind of discrimination for which GFU was seeking a religious exemption was grounded in Friends’ principles. Daniels recalls combing through the NWYM Faith and Practice one afternoon, finding nothing in that book that commented on issues facing transgender individuals. “What made me respond was that the Yearly Meeting was being used as a shield for the University.” (Daniels, 7/29/2015)
Both Daniels and Huber had already taken stands on behalf of LGBT persons, with the backing of their congregations, as we reported in previous coverage of NWYM. (Fager and Souza 2014) There is more on West Hills Friends below.
In the aftermath of the news of GFU’s receiving a religious exemption, they decided that they could not remain silent. Daniels recalls GFU’s receiving a religious exemption “at the tail end of the Hobby Lobby decision” as being a motivating factor for taking action at that time. He admits that he was “irritated with Christians getting religious exemptions, that Christians could not take care of their own business without the involvement of the government.” For Daniels, the decision to speak out was a clear one. “If you see an injustice taking place, you let people know.”
Nevertheless, in both the OPB interview and a letter in PQ Monthly, Daniels tried to put the Yearly Meeting in a good light. NWYM “has good statements about gender,” he observes. He also wanted to avoid bashing GFU, but rather to “call it to its better self.” (Daniels, 7/29/2015) Paul Anderson notes that the Oregon Public Broadcasting interview, which aired shortly before the 2014 yearly meeting sessions, “signaled potential division in the Yearly Meeting over discipline revisions on human sexuality.” For Anderson and many other NWYM Friends, “that was terribly hurtful.” (Templeton, 7/17/2014; Anderson, 8/18/2015)
Huber and Daniels quickly released a letter chastising GFU for (in their view) misrepresenting the position of NWYM Friends. Their letter was published in the PQ Monthly, embedded in Daniel Borgen’s reporting:
“As pastors in NW Yearly Meeting, we urge George Fox University to provide safe housing for Jayce M,” they write. “It is our understanding that our ‘Faith and Practice’ provides no theological grounds whatsoever for excluding transgender students from housing consistent with their gender identity. As Quakers, the biblical teaching that men and women are created in the image of God convicts us that ‘… all persons have equal value and are created in the image of God’ (Vision, Mission and Values: 1). The theological framework of our Faith & Practice affirms the inherent dignity of all people, regardless of their gender identity:
We witness to the dignity and worth of all persons before God. We repudiate and seek to remove discrimination based on gender, race, nationality, or class. We deplore the use of selfish ends to gain unfair advantage, and we urge political, economic, and social justice for all peoples. We consider civil order most just when conscience is free and religious faith uncoerced (Faith Expressed through Witness: 11).
The same Faith & Practice urges us to consider: Do you speak out for justice and morality, and against oppression, exploitation, and public wrong? Do you recognize the equality of persons regardless of race, gender, or economic status (The Queries #18: 13)?
Based upon these theological convictions, we ask George Fox University to honor the housing requests of its transgender students. Let us follow the example of Jesus Christ, and extend hospitality to those who might otherwise be unsafe and unwelcome in our communities.” (quoted in Borgen, 7/11/2014)
Thus, in their view Jayce’s situation does not pose an issue of sexual morality, or “sexual purity,” but rather one of human justice. In seeking a framework of interpretation for Jayce’s request of GFU, rather than engaging in an Augustinian meditation on sin, human fallenness, and sinners’ need for God’s grace, as had GFU’s transgender housing statement, Daniels and Huber focused on the theme of the radical hospitality of Jesus, the one who welcomed lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, and Roman centurions into the beloved community. Their quotation from NWYM’s Faith and Practice, calling on Friends to speak out against oppression, is in accord with Jesus’s witness in his home synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:18) where he read aloud the exhortation from Isaiah 61 to let the oppressed go free.
GFU Professor Paul Anderson disputes that this justice frame is applicable to Jayce’s situation at GFU, when the university had been doing its very best to ensure the best possible housing arrangement for Jayce. (Anderson, 7/24/2015) Still, many see the Daniels-Huber letter as a clarion call to the GFU administration, and to Friends of NWYM, to break out of a conventional, safe, middle-class mode of response to the requests from transgender persons in their midst.
And GFU may well be beginning to break out of its previous model of response. In March 2015, the GFU Board appointed a committee “to review and revise [GFU’s] stance on gender identity issues.” The committee’s charge is “to provide ‘safe and appropriate housing for transgender students;’ to seek to preserve the dignity and worth of each person; to ‘seek to foster a healthy and life-producing community, rooted in loving concern for one another and seeking to live in ways pleasing to God as informed by Scripture and wisdom’; [to build on the Apostle Paul’s insight that] ‘in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free person, male nor female, [and] we believe that God does not show favoritism between persons and genders.’”
Thus, in dealing with gender identity issues, they now bring Friends’ testimony of equality to the forefront. This is to be done, of course, within GFU’s existing lifestyle standards:
“Our convictions around sexual purity and modesty have led us to provide separate housing for each sex. We intend to maintain our same-sex housing, although the realities of transgender processes may require special considerations. To ensure the privacy and well being of all George Fox students, housing units with private restrooms and living spaces will be provided for students identifying as transgender where possible. With approval and consistent with housing policy, this may include living in a room in a shared house (or appropriate apartment) on campus with a student’s legally-recognized gender, provided housemates/apartment mates have agreed to such an arrangement. A guiding consideration will always be ensuring that students remain connected to community.”
If preserving connections with Jayce was a priority for the GFU administration (a priority which Jayce reciprocated), GFU did sever connections with another member of its academic community, as a result of a disagreement about his prophetic ministry. It turns out that Wess Daniels, one of the two pastors who authored the letter challenging GFU on its treatment of Jayce, was also an adjunct professor at Fox. Daniels has an impressive resume. In addition to being pastor of Camas Friends Church at the time, Daniels also held a Ph.D. degree in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. His dissertation, A convergent theology of renewal: remixing the Quaker tradition in a participatory culture, has been recently published by Wipf and Stock, and reviewed in this journal. He has also been the author, or co-author, of other books and articles, and an adjunct instructor at Earlham School of Religion.
In his letter critical of GFU’s treatment of Jayce, Daniels identified himself solely as pastor of Camas Friends. He did not mention to the press that he had sometimes taught courses at GFU. He in fact contacted a supervisory employee at the seminary before he was interviewed by OPB and his letter appeared in the PQ Monthly, informing her as a courtesy that he would be speaking out in the press on this matter.
According to Daniels, she listened, expressing neither approval nor disapproval. (Daniels, 7/29/2015) Chuck Conniry, dean of George Fox Evangelical Seminary (GFES), however, says that she advised him that he should consult with Student Life about this, prior to going public. (Conniry, 8/17/2015) For weeks after his interview aired and the letter that he and Huber wrote was published, he heard nothing from the Seminary or anyone else at GFU.
He happened not to be teaching a course in Fall, 2014, but he was scheduled to teach a course on “Cultures and Systems Change” for the GFES in the Spring of 2015, as he had each of the three years previously. But, in the midst of the controversy caused by the letter that he and Huber had wrote criticizing the University, his occasional relationship with the University was suddenly put in doubt.
Late in September, after he had already begun to work on his syllabus for his course, Daniels was called by the same seminary employee, who left a phone message that the seminary was going to “let [Daniels] go.” (Daniels, 7/29/2015) Chuck Conniry followed up on this cryptic message during a lunch meeting with Daniels. Conniry says that Daniels’ interviews with Oregon Public Broadcasting and PQ Monthly had raised concerns among senior administration figures at GFU about the procedures that ought to be followed if an adjunct professor disagreed with university policy. Essentially, they wanted the same level of consultation from an adjunct professor about university policies that they would expect from a full-time university employee. (Conniry, 8/17/2015)
According to Daniels, Conniry offered Daniels his job back, but only if he would agree to refrain from criticizing the University in public in the future. (Daniels, 7/29/2015) Conniry’s recollection of the conversation is subtly different. While emphasizing his admiration for Daniels and his teaching, he said that Daniels could teach his course, if Daniels would observe protocols of consulting with knowledgeable university officials (in the case of Jayce, the Student Life office) before openly criticizing the university. (Conniry, 8/17/2015)
Whatever precisely the offer he was presented, both sides are clear that Daniels refused it, knowing that by so doing he would not be permitted to teach at GFU in the upcoming academic term. Daniels’ other employment – most notably, his pastorate at Camas – was not affected by this severing of relationship with GFU.
Ironically, Daniels has not spoken publically about GFU’s housing of transgender students, after this conversation with Conniry. But, as Daniels saw it, the principle that he be free to speak on this issue was what he sought to preserve, even to the extent of losing his adjunct professor position at GFES. (Daniels, 7/29/2015) According to Conniry, Daniels said, “I don’t want to worry about whether my next blog post will get me in trouble.” (Conniry, 8/17/2015)
By all accounts, the lunch conversation with Conniry was entirely cordial. But it felt to Daniels like being fired. Adjunct professors have few or no job protections, and Daniels was not interested in contesting GFU’s decision. Conniry is clear that Daniels was not fired, but he still keenly felt the loss, both because of his very high regard for Daniels (a high regard Daniels reciprocates toward Conniry) and because the students loved and respected Daniels so much. “It was our loss.”
In an October 24 Facebook post on the OneGeorgeFox site, Daniels wrote: “In other words, Mike and I both have worked hard to be respectful, to not villainize the school, and to call it to more openness and hospitality. I am currently fond of the term ‘loyal opposition.’
“I am disappointed to lose my job at the seminary. . . . I have many friends on faculty and in administration there, and many students whom I care deeply about. I am far more disappointed that this is how the school is choosing to handle all of this.
“I was offered my job back so long as I was willing no longer to speak publically about the matter, of which I am not at all interested. I have no regrets about what I did and would do it again – thus it was probably a good idea to say no anywaysཀ . . .
“I am not interested in getting my job back. I am happy to have a church that supports me and my family and has been very supportive of me through this situation as well.
“Finally, I am not personally interested in inciting more anger towards the school. I do not believe that villainizing or creating an ‘us and them’ will get us anywhere. In fact, it will only be using the tools of empire to try to bring about change. I believe that we all must continue to build deeper and stronger networks and continue to point the school in the direction we know that it must move: towards building up the beloved community.
“Oscar Romero once wrote: ‘I don’t want to be an anti, against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us.’” (OneGeorgeFox, 10/24/2014)
In response to an expression of concern to him from Searainya Bond, GFU President Robin Baker responded to her in a private communication, also on October 24,
“These conversations developed at our Seminary and at the moment I do not know of its details. A normal process for a faculty member would have been to appeal the decision of the dean to our Provost and then to the President for additional discussion and resolution. It appears that in this particular case that did not happen. I do know that we do not have a commitment to silence complexity or dissent. There are many cases over the past two years where faculty took alternative views to the administration or other faculty and they are free to express those views. In the case of Dr. Daniels, it was my understanding that the discussion revolved around managing conflict and how an institution like GFU honors the prophetic voice while still remaining civil. Mr. Daniels did not have a contract, was not fired in that sense – the discussion was about a course he would teach in the spring. I am looking further into this discussion and I would hope to speak with Dr. Daniels at some point in the near future.” (Private communication from Robin Baker to Searainya Bond, 10/24/2014, copied out and posted as a comment to the OneGeorgeFox website, 9:58 PM; Quotation verified as accurate by Rob Felton, 7/23/2015)
According to Daniels, Baker never attempted to contact him, but Daniels also admits that he never attempted to contact Baker, either. (Daniels, 7/29/2015) The process Baker outlined here is not entirely dissimilar to what would be expected at other Quaker seminaries, should a faculty member wish to criticize publically some aspect of his or her seminary’s policies. Professors are asked to discuss disagreements relating to policies at their employing institutions with their administrators, prior to going public with criticisms, so that their co-workers are not blindsided by objections that they had not realized were there.
Daniels has since resigned his pastorate at Camas in order to become the new William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center at Guilford College in North Carolina, and thus has relocated thousands of miles to the east. He deserves congratulations, and he also will be able to gain some distance from his conflict with GFU.
George Fox University is unquestionably a moderately conservative institution, but also one that faces considerable pressures to change, especially in its practice of grounding education so thoroughly on such principles as “sexual purity,” a fact that undoubtedly reassures some constituents while perplexing or outraging others. GFU has a divided constituency, including hundreds who back the LGBT-friendly OneGeorgeFox movement and the unofficial organization, Common Ground, which provides an on-campus presence for a gay-straight alliance. It has a close relationship with its parent Quaker body, Northwest Yearly Meeting, which is actively discussing these same issues, and is also deeply divided over what to do about them.
GFU continues to assert that its lifestyle standards are unchallengeable, thereby discouraging internal dissent. Still, it does not appear that GFU is immovable. There seem to be significant pressures toward repressing any opposition, but others toward conciliation. It is too soon to predict the end result.The courage of Jayce and his many supporters is to be greatly applauded, as they have fearlessly and most appropriately highlighted significant shortcomings in the housing policies of George Fox (and, it must be said, other Christian colleges), and have forced some movement, however gradual that change may be at the present.
One conclusion to this essay will hearten anyone who loves the subject area of this journal:
Theology matters. As one examines both the Scriptures and individual and collective religious experience, it matters a great deal if the principal interpretive frame for viewing transgender people is “sexual purity” in its pre-twenty-first-century version, or if the primary interpretive frame is one of human justice and equality. To the extent that Quaker and Christian administrators, faculty, students, and other college constituencies embrace the latter as their principal frame, the quicker we will progress toward the “beloved community” in which all people – whatever their sexual orientation – are welcomed and affirmed.
On July 24, 2015, only hours after the annual NWYM sessions had adjourned, NWYM elders communicated to West Hills Friends Meeting (WHF) that they had been expelled, or, in the elders’ term, “released,” from the yearly meeting.
This action has a long pre-history that we have covered in QT #24. WHF is a 1989 “church plant” in Portland, Oregon. It has been wrestling with the question of whether to provide welcome and affirmation for gay and lesbian members almost since its inception, particularly as new and continuing attenders frequently raised the question.
After an extended period of consideration by the Meeting’s elders, WHF approved two statements in 2008. A statement on Authority declared: “It is our experience and testimony that God works through people without regard for race, age, gender or sexual orientation.” Another statement discerned characteristics of healthy sexual relationships that would be applicable regardless of sexual orientation. They thus became part of the Congregation of Welcoming Congregations “working toward full inclusion and equality for transgender, lesbian, bisexual, gay, and questioning persons.” (West Hill Friends, “History of Process”)
They reported the results of discernment promptly to the Yearly Meeting Superintendent, but for four years, they heard nothing, except that it was not timely for NWYM to take up these issues. Yearly Meeting Clerk Tom Stave wrote that, while, for two years prior to 2012, the Board of Elders had been discussing (in private) possible clarifications to the NWYM Faith & Practice on issues of human sexuality, in general these issues had “been present below the surface in Northwest Yearly Meeting for some time, but not in a way that fosters healthy and open treatment. Not in a way that encourages trustful and respectful dialogue.” (Stave 2012, 22-23; see also NWYM 2010, 54; 2011, 57)
Let’s digress for a moment, to examine some possible exceptions to this generalization. Stave acknowledged that some young Friends in NWYM had “expressed concern” over controversial remarks by Bob Adhikary, a Friends’ missionary in Nepal who had addressed NWYM in 2009. According to Micah Bales, a visitor to NWYM sessions, Adhikary had described the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005 as evidencing the wrath of God having been loosed “on the United States for accepting sin – in particular, homosexuality.” The Senior High Epistle subsequently noted that some of Adhikary’s statements had “caused a difference of opinion among the members of our group.” The epistle of the entire Northwest Yearly Meeting quoted the Senior High Epistle on this matter. (Stave 2012, 23; Bales 8/3/2009; NWYM 2009, 21-22, 28)
During the 2008 sessions, the ministry of Tony Campolo, a Baptist minister and a well-known Evangelical Christian leader, had also addressed the issue of homosexuality, but, according to Stave, in a different way than Adhikary. (Stave 2012, 23) At that time, Campolo’s aim in addressing issues of human sexuality was to build “bridges of understanding.” He then argued for the conservative position that the Bible did not approve of gay or lesbian sexuality (see Appendix 1 for Tony Campolo’s Scriptural interpretations in respect to homosexuality). However, his wife Peggy supported monogamous, same-sex relationships, and Tony Campolo said they would discuss the issue publically and with great respect for each other’s position. On the whole, Tony Campolo has been remarkably empathetic and supportive of gays and lesbians. (Gay Christian Network; Tony and Peggy Campolo, 5/1999)
In June 2015, Campolo shifted positions, and came out in support of same-sex marriage and of full acceptance in Christian churches of gay Christian couples. “Through Peggy, I have come to know so many gay Christian couples whose relationships work in much the same way as our own.” (Campolo 6/8/2015)
We’ll return now to issues surrounding WHF. After the formation in March, 2012, of the GFU alumni group, OneGeorgeFox, the issue suddenly took on heightened urgency. West Hills Friends were supporters of OneGeorgeFox. A variety of interactions of this Meeting with the Elders of NWYM ensued, with some interactions being supportive, and others less so. Other steps also were taken, including small group discussions of issues of human sexuality at Yearly Meeting sessions, revealing diverse attitudes and opinions. (Participants in this process were advised not to let their diverse opinions disrupt NWYM Unity. As one comment declared, “If you wanna go fast, go alone. If you wanna go far, walk together.”)
There was also an effort to rewrite the applicable sections of Faith and Practice (see Appendix 2) so that NWYM’s public pronouncements on the subject could be “season[ed] … with grace.” (NWYM 2012, 8; NWYM 2013, 18) Opinions were solicited from monthly meetings in NWYM, and meetings responded with epistles stating their sense of the meeting. According to Jon Kershner, minister of McKinley Hill Friends Church in Tacoma, WA, it seems that an “overwhelming” majority favoring preserving NWYM’s present positions on human sexuality. Some meetings were divided and could not come to consensus on a response.
On October 18, 2012, a group of NWYM Elders, in a meeting with some West Hills Friends, asked WHF to reconsider their minutes of human sexuality. The latter agreed to do so, but the Spirit guided them back to the same place they had been. In March, 2013, they minuted their reaffirmation of “welcoming lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning people and to honoring their relationships.”
(Note, according to the NWYM Faith & Practice, the Board of Elders is described as “a wise, discerning, and spiritually mature group of Friends who help encourage the overall, spiritual welfare of NWYM.”
Among numerous other duties, it is expected to:
“• Respond to crises and serve as peacemakers in NWYM, offering and implementing a process for reconciliation as needed.” [And]
“• Oversee matters of church discipline and doctrinal dispute.” http://nwfriends.org/governance/boards/elders/)
In the spring of 2013, WHF was deemed by NWYM Elders to be “out of compliance” with the Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice (especially with a 1982 statement of NWYM that had condemned homosexuality as unscriptural in very strong terms), and on July 25, 2013, was found by the NWYM Elders to be both a “noncompliant” and a “shattering” presence within the Yearly Meeting. (West Hills Friends, “History of Process;” NWYM Board of Elders, 7/25/2013)
The Elders wrote, “We recognize that this action may seem punitive, but our goal for this process is restorative – to return West Hills Friends to full fellowship and harmony with NWYM.” (NWYM Board of Elders, 7/2013b)
At the same time, the NWYM Elders handed West Hills Friends their “Draft Proposal for a Formal Process to Deal with Churches in Noncompliance with Faith and Practice.” It noted that the Board of Elders can receive from anyone an allegation of noncompliance with Faith & Practice. The Board must then investigate to determine, first, if the allegation is true, and second, “If the noncompliance rises to the level of being ‘shattering to the local church or to the YM’ as required by Faith and Practice.”
The Elders determined the answer to be “yes” to both of these questions.
In which case, the procedures then stipulated, “this determination is minuted and a Letter of Noncompliance is issued to the church including the relevant Faith & Practice process leading to substantial compliance or to dissolution of the church’s relationship to NWYM. The sub-committee has up to 2 years to effect reconciliation or to determine that reconciliation is not possible. If progress is being made, the 2 year requirement can be extended by approval of the Board of Elders. … If reconciliation is not possible, the Board of Elders issues a Declaration of Dissolution severing the church’s relationship to NWYM, including membership and removing members who serve on YM Boards, committees, and commissions. Property issues are dealt with in consultation with the NWYM Trustees, and should be handled with grace, making every effort to send them away with our blessing. … The local church receiving the Declaration of Dissolution has the opportunity to appeal the decision of the Board of Elders to the Presiding Clerk.” (NWYM Board of Elders, 7/2013a)
(Notice that this process document did not give permission for local churches, not marked for “dissolution,” to appeal on the behalf of their aggrieved sister church. That broadened basis for appeal came later, perhaps after the “release” of West Hills was announced in July 2015.)
Explaining the Elders’ finding of WHF to be “noncompliant” is straightforward. Mike Huber writes, “By welcoming LGBTQ people as full participants in the life of our meeting, WHF became out of compliance with the Faith & Practice of NWYM. I think everyone agrees about that.” (Huber, 8/24/2015)
But, if our readers find their use of the word “shattering” mystifying, rest assured that this journal’s contributors and editors found it mystifying, too. It is a relatively recent addition to NWYM’s Faith and Practice, having been approved only in 2009, as part of a disciplinary section that, for the first time, would sanction erring churches, not just erring individuals. There was no explanation of the term’s origin or specific meaning.
In our 2014 report, Quaker Theology attempted to find an explanation of its meaning and history. In brief, it seems to arise from a decades-long history of outspoken pastors and other church leaders in various yearly meetings in Friends United Meeting and Evangelical Friends Church International, attempting to compel some monthly meetings, those of which they did not approve, into submission or departure, by verbal abuse, threats of withhold yearly meeting financial donations, or leaving the body altogether, along with a variety of other means, official and unofficial. (Fager and Souza 2014)
Thus this use of the term “shattering”in relation to West Hills seems to imply that specific Friends Churches threatened to leave NWYM if West Hills was not disciplined. Mike Huber, pastor of West Hills Friends, also understands the term to have this meaning, as NWYM Elders use it: “In short, ‘shattering’ simply means that the conflict was threatening division in our YM.” (Huber, 8/24/2015) However, no communications from individual churches that make such threats have been made public.
The Portland Area Meeting, consisting of eleven Friends churches including West Hills, communicated their disagreement with the use of the word “shattering” in a letter to the Elders in November, 2013. They wrote:
We are concerned about the lack of objective criteria for the Elders to use in determining whether something is “shattering” to the Yearly Meeting. There is no definition of this word in the Faith and Practice. We are puzzled by the sudden application of this undefined term to pressure West Hills into reversing their position on an issue which they have held for quite some time and was not previously considered “shattering” by the Elders of the Yearly Meeting. We are concerned that a church might be forced out of the Yearly Meeting based on a subjective understanding of an undefined and unqualified word. (Reedwood Friends, 8/18/2015)
Reedwood Friends admonishes its fellow NWYM Friends Churches as follows:
We call upon churches who have advocated for expulsion or reorganization to cease these efforts, as these are the actions that have proven shattering to our body. … We call upon Elders to implement a process of reconciliation between those churches who feel that they cannot live in fellowship with each other. (Reedwood Friends, 8/18/2015)
Generally, it is not true that the conservative Friends churches diverge from yearly meeting policy less often than the liberal ones do. For example, as we covered in QT #24, conservative Friends churches have often excluded women from the pastorate or certain other forms of church leadership, contrary to NWYM Faith and Practice. (Fager and Souza 2014, 108) Jon Kershner notes that NWYM meetings have advocated US military intervention, something else that is in contravention of positions held by Evangelical and other Friends for centuries.
But, while there have been complaints about this, liberal churches in NWYM have not tried to drum out conservative ones over such divergences. Kershner states, “I would not advocate excluding churches that support military intervention. But neither should WHF be excluded from the YM. NWYM, as a Christ-centered yearly meeting, can hold different views on Biblical interpretation, and how it is being expressed socially, without excluding anybody.” (Kershner, 8/14/2015)
The Elders’ disciplinary process toward West Hills struck some NWYM Friends as an unwarranted intrusion of unhealthy politics from the outside world. The Portland Area Meeting wrote in 2013 of their concern that the Elders’ process “mirrors the political allegiances of the country rather than being characterized by the priorities of the upside-down kingdom. We desire to see a process in which Jesus, rather than cultural allegiance, is truly the head of our meetings and discussions.” (Reedwood Friends, 8/18/2015)
None of the three members of the Elders’ Subcommittee that met with West Hills Friends, hailed from the Portland region, however. Two of the elders came from Idaho. The third was the pastor of North Seattle (WA) Friends. Yet West Hills Friends did not experience the Elders’ investigation as hostile. “The subcommittee and most YM Elders have been demonstrably kind and loving toward us.” (Huber, 8/24/2015)
But discussions with others in the broader NWYM community often “had too little Light and way too much heat,” reflected Greg Morgan, a WHF member and elder. “It has still been painful to listen to dear Friends in this meeting recount the vitriolic personal attacks they have suffered through and endured from those claiming the mantle of Christianity. It is beyond my capacity to understand how such attacks can be grounded in the love of which the Scriptures speak so profusely.” (Morgan, 8/1/2015)
Meanwhile, the Faith and Practice subcommittee charged with rewriting the NWYM statements on Human Sexuality reported the results of their work at the 2014 Annual Sessions, proposing the following language:
We believe that God created humans with a desire for connected community, for friendship, for family, for sexual intimacy, all of which are part of God’s good creation. We give testimony that the purpose of sexual intimacy is both for procreation and for formation and sustenance of bonds of mutual love and respect between husband and wife, which nurtures the health and stability of the family and the community. We believe, therefore, that distortions of sexual intimacy including infidelity, premarital sex, same-sex sexual acts, and pornography contribute to the brokenness of the individual and community. (NWYM 2014, 20)
The resulting discussion on the floor of NWYM annual sessions was “tender and respectful,” but NWYM Friends “were unable to come to unity” to move this language forward in the discipline revision process.
Subsequently, NWYM Superintendent Becky Ankeny proposed a five-year moratorium on revisions in the sexuality statement.
She would like us to lay down our conflict over it and spend time learning how to be loving neighbors to those in the sexual minority among us and outside us. She hopes we can be a YM where people can be who they are, where each of us, including sexual minorities, can praise God for the body and mind we have been given. ALL of us need to lay our entire identity down at the feet of Jesus. She asked that we make no “sudden movements”: specifically, that we not perform same-sex weddings and that we desist from threatening to leave. (NWYM 2014, 21)
Mike Huber notes that Ankeny’s “request for ‘no sudden moves’ included a request that Friends stop using Faith & Practice as a tool for division. … Later communications made it abundantly clear that Becky’s request was personal and informal, not the official policy for NWYM. Just as WHF rejected a five-year moratorium on same-sex marriage, others refused to extend the discernment process to five years. Her ‘deal’ had no buyers.” (Huber, 8/26/2015)
With this impasse, the question of unity or separation within NWYM loomed larger. Recognizing this fact, the Portland Area Meeting and seven local churches (North Seattle, North Valley, Camas, Eugene, Newberg, Reedwood, and Klamath Falls) all “independently affirmed that they were in consensus to remain unified despite holding differing convictions on sexual expression for gays and lesbians.” (Reedwood Friends Church, 8/20/2015)
In May 2014, same sex marriage became legal in Oregon. In the following month, West Hills approved the following statement: “West Hills Friends stands in unity in our support for same-sex marriages and stands with our pastors when they are lead to officiate at same-sex weddings. These leadings have been seasoned by many years of discernment and by our shared life as a welcoming community.” (WHF, 6/22/2014) West Hills pastor Mark Pratt-Russum remarks that he and fellow West Hills pastor Mike Huber “wanted clarity” as to what they could do after same-sex marriage became legal in their state. An older lesbian couple in their congregation had been eager to marry when it became possible.” (Pratt-Russum, 8/20/2015) They had become members of WHF in 2011; “they are both loved and valued as ‘weighty Friends’ in our community.” (Huber, 8/26/2015)
This was not a difficult discernment process for West Hill Friends, because “our decision to be welcoming and affirming means certain things,” and one of those things was recognizing and honoring same-sex relationships on the same basis as opposite-sex relationships – and now the way was clear to do so by marriage. “But we knew going into it that it would be a problem with the yearly meeting.” (Pratt-Russum, 8/20/2015)
Mike Huber elaborates, “When the WHF Elders met with the YM subcommittee on July 29, 2014, the Yearly Meeting elders asked WHF to refrain from same-sex marriages for a year (until the expiration of our two-year process). They informed us that the two-year time frame might be abbreviated if there was a same-sex wedding at WHF.
At the time, WHF had no plan to perform a same-sex wedding. However, the WHF Elders refused to make any commitments. In fact, they wrote this reply: “WHF Elders are deeply troubled by the inequality implicit in the request for a moratorium on marriages that would apply only to our gay and lesbian Friends. After honoring the request to prayerfully consider our position, the Elders of this meeting do not recommend reopening our discernment in support of same sex marriages.” (Huber, 8/26/2015)
On May 23, 2015, about two months prior to yearly meeting sessions, the lesbian couple mentioned above was indeed married in the West Hill Friends Church by Mike Huber. Some NWYM Friends see this as a regrettable violation of Faith & Practice, and also believe that WHF should have acceded to Superintendent Becky Ankeny’s request that member churches engage in no “sudden movements” like same-sex marriage. (Anderson, 8/18/2015) Huber writes that, after the marriage just mentioned, “We heard that at least some of the YM Elders felt ‘betrayed’ by our action. To me, ‘betrayal’ suggests that we misrepresented ourselves in some way. That’s hard for me to fathom. We’d been saying ‘We support LGBTQ people and honor their relationships’ for at least three years. In 2014, we overtly refused any agreement to delay same-sex marriage. While I certainly knew that YM Elders opposed same-sex marriages (and would not be happy about the wedding), I honestly don’t understand why some would perceive our actions as betrayal. In any case, it’s certainly fair to say that the same-sex marriage ‘became an additional point of contention between WHF and the Yearly Meeting Elders.’
“I’d like to add, however, that I personally believe WHF would’ve been expelled whether or not we had a same-sex wedding. Although today’s NWYM would never find unity around the current statement on sexuality (written in 1982), the YM Elders created a process that had one doorway to reconciliation: ‘bringing WHF back into compliance’ with Faith & Practice. I don’t think anyone expected WHF to change its sense of leading about LGBTQ folks. This point is especially important to me, because I don’t want the couple married on May 23 to think that their ceremony wrecked an otherwise plausible reconciliation. Not only would that implication be unkind, it’s simply not accurate.” (Huber, 8/26/2015)
Beginning at the 2013 yearly meeting sessions, the NWYM Elders had allowed two years for West Hill Friends to conform to the Elders’ understanding of Faith and Practice. This two-year period expired in July, 2015. The Elders did not address the issue of WHF during the yearly meeting sessions, as they said they were listening intently to discussions around sexuality during sessions.
(We note for comparison that in Indiana Yearly Meeting, between 2011 and 2013, most of the decisions relating to purging a nonconforming monthly meeting, and its supporters, took place away from yearly meeting sessions, in Representative Council Meetings. To us this indicates a pattern of not wanting open scrutiny of such actions when the greatest and most representative sampling of Friends from the yearly meeting will be present.)
On July 24, shortly after NWYM sessions had closed, and Friends were returning home, the NWYM elders released the following statement:
Recognizing that our yearly meeting is unable to embrace our current diversity, and recognizing the shattering that is ensuing, with grace and charity we sorrowfully release West Hills Friends Church from NWYM membership. It is our hope that this will free WHFC to pursue the call of God they have discerned. We record our respect for the process WHFC has followed and the sincerity of their convictions, which include their affirmation of committed same sex relationships and the decision to perform weddings. We are grateful for the respect this body has shown us as elders and for the friendships that have developed. We grieve our loss, even as we recognized the pain this community will feel at being disconnected from the NWYM of Friends. We have experienced WHFC as a strong, healthy, growing community of Christian Friends, and we know that in spite of this painful and unwanted action, they will continue to thrive, perhaps forming other connections. We nurture the hope that a reconnection with NWYM might be possible in the future.
Even so, out of love for the whole of NWYM, we sense that this is the way forward. While we respect WHFC’s convictions, we recognize that NWYM as a whole is not in any position to recognize same-sex marriages or record as pastors people who are living in committed same-sex relationships. We discern that taking no action in the case of WHFC would only cause more shattering at this point in time.
Our Faith and Practice provides a way to appeal this decision.
We recognize that as a yearly meeting, we are not in consensus over our statement on human sexuality in the Faith and Practice. We recognize that we need to do the hard work of theological reflection as Friends on the issues of revelation (including the authority of both the written and living Word of God) and human sexuality (in a broader sense than just LGBTQ issues). As elders we plan to facilitate this reflection. We need to seek and discover what God is saying to us at this time around these issues, in a spirit of humility, love and faith in a God who delights to unlock these mysteries.
The NWYM Elders attempted to square the circle by delivering a controversial, divisive decision in a tender tone, one that was careful not to foreclose possibilities of reconciliation and reunification. Nancy Thomas, one of the elders, wrote, “We [elders] went into yearly meeting week mindful of the differing perspectives we represented, matching the whole gamut of positions in the wider yearly meeting. But throughout the week we managed to proceed with love and respect for each other. And we did indeed come to a new place. We found we could not find fault with WHF for not ‘being in compliance’ with a section of Faith and Practice that the yearly meeting no longer holds in consensus. . . . We came to the language of ‘releasing’ WHF out of our growing respect for the way these brothers and sisters were moving forward, our desire for their spiritual prosperity and our hope for a future reconnection.” (Thomas 8/1/2015)
While the good intentions for the use of the word “release” are evident in Thomas’s blog post, it is still an odd usage, given that “release” (in Friends’ parlance) generally means a divine leading that is shared by any individual involved, as well as all radiating circles of Friends’ community, and is therefore something that is acted on out of a sense of the broadest possible unity. A Quaker pastor, for example, is often known as a “released Friend.” And while unprogrammed Friends do not have pastors, they will sometimes release one of their members for a ministry supported by the whole meeting community.
I have made several attempts to interview members of the Board of Elders about their decision, all unsuccessful.
West Hills Friends Church (with an average attendance of 130 persons weekly, although somewhat fewer in the summer) had a “varied” response to the Elders’ letter, according to Pratt-Russum: “There are congregation members who have grown up in the yearly meeting, who have relied on the yearly meeting, and for them, the decision was extremely painful. It felt like a family split. On the other end of the spectrum, many LGBTQ members in our congregation had looked at NWYM as an oppressor, and for many of them, the decision came as something of a relief. For other LGBTQ Friends, it was painful because they were once again being told that they are not welcome at the table. The majority of the members of the church fall in the middle and feel all of these emotions.”
They responded also to the statements of affirmation in the Elders’ letter: West Hill Friends “have listened to the Spirit of God for a long time, and the yearly meeting honored the process we went through in its letter.” Pratt-Russum summarizes, “There is heartbreak all around, for many, many reasons. We’re doing our best to surround our LGBT Friends with love. We reassure them that nothing has changed about how we – or how God – loves them. The bottom line is that we’re OK – nothing’s really going to change.” (Pratt-Russum, 8/20/2015)
The relationship, over two years, of the NWYM Board of Elders with West Hill Friends has come under considerable scrutiny in the weeks following their action. Those critical of the Elders’ decision to “release” West Hill Friends have pointed to what the relationship of the Elders with WHF was not. WHF was never formally taken under the Elders’ care, as it would have if it had been deemed a dysfunctional meeting. Indeed, the Elders found WHF to be “a strong, healthy, growing community of Christian Friends.” (Hillsboro Friends Church); May all the Friends’ meetings in NWYM and elsewhere be worthy of such high praiseཀ
All acknowledge that what the Elders were attempting to do with WHF was unprecedented, uncharted territory, and no one has a neat description for it. Perhaps we can say that the Elders were attempting to negotiate a sharp conflict in Quaker beliefs and testimony. WHF had come to clarity on a Quaker testimony to welcome and affirm LGBT Friends. Other meetings were divided on the subject of “welcoming and affirming.” Still other meetings and other Friends (one could include some members of the Board of Elders here) were generally agreed that they should be “welcoming” and “nonjudgmental” toward LGBT people in their midst. (Anderson 8/18/2015) But they also had clarity, in regard to human sexuality, that only heterosexual relationships, in the context of marriage between a man and a woman, were divinely approved, based on their Biblical interpretation and understanding of Quaker precedent.
Huber (who emphasizes that he is only speaking for himself in what follows) characterizes the position of those who want WHF to leave NWYM as follows:
In NWYM, there are people who sincerely believe that integrity requires them to oppose any step away from clearly condemning all homosexual behavior. Those who hold this position are not ignorant. They know there’s a difference between behavior and orientation. Some of them have openly repented of speaking about sexual minorities in ways that are carelessly hurtful. They have searched their hearts and believe the Bible requires them to reject all sexual behavior that falls outside straight, heterosexual marriage. As they see it, God will not allow them to remain in an organization that cannot speak with one voice on this issue. From this perspective, ‘agreeing to disagree” is tantamount to apostasy. (Huber, 8/24/2015)
In the face of such clashing testimonies, the Elders felt it necessary to negotiate the best possible solution to preserve the unity of the yearly meeting. Jon Kershner believes that “the Elders discerned the will of the Yearly Meeting as best they could and came to a painful decision.” While he does not blame the Elders for their interpretation of Quaker process, he does look forward to the increased transparency that may result from other NWYM meetings becoming engaged in the appeals process. (Kershner, 8/14/2015)
While the elders were undoubtedly wise in making an attempt to speak to the entire range of NWYM’s very diverse constituencies, the intense flurry of reaction on social media (especially the Northwest Yearly Meeting YAF Facebook page, a public group, and NWYMunity.com, an ad hoc website) indicates that their attempts to find middle ground have largely failed with some important yearly meeting constituencies, especially Young Adult Friends in NWYM, arguably the yearly meeting’s future.
According to some estimates, while NWYM Young Adult Friends may vary in their views on welcoming and affirming LGBT people, the vast majority of YAFs favor preservation of yearly meeting unity, and oppose the expulsion of West Hills Friends. John Price, a NWYM elder, posted comments on the NWYM YAF page, assuring young adults that they were being heard, but because of the confidentiality that is asked of the Board of Elders, he could shed little light on the Elders’ decisions. A frustrated YAF wondered why the Elders are so willing to sacrifice transparency for the sake of confidentiality.
It is also clear that the patience of some NWYM YAFs is not unlimited. One who posted on the YAF page had transferred her church membership to the Disciples of Christ Church months previously, because she could not wait any longer to be part of a welcoming and affirming congregation. Other spoke openly of their growing disaffection and anger. (NWYM Young Adult Friends)
That same month, almost two thousand miles east, the Mennonite Church USA, another pacifist, strongly Christ-centered denomination, had approved on July 2, by a vote of 581 to 228, a “Forbearance Resolution” modeling a way of “grace, love, and forbearance” for dealing with disagreements over issues of human sexuality. They did so while affirming, on the same day by a 473-to-310 majority, their traditional stance that marriage is to be between one man and one woman. (Schrag, 7/3/2015) Even so, they found unity in the following statement:
We acknowledge that there is currently not consensus within Mennonite Church USA on whether it is appropriate to bless Christians who are in same-sex covenanted unions. Because God has called us to seek peace and unity as together we discern and seek wisdom on these matters, we call on all those in Mennonite Church USA to offer grace, love and forbearance toward conferences, congregations and pastors in our body who, in different ways, seek to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ on matters related to same-sex covenantal unions. (Mennonite Church USA, 7/2/2015)
Considerable open protest built in NWYM against the Elders’ actions. To many, it seemed unfair that West Hill Friends was being judged to be “out of compliance” on matters of human sexuality, when NWYM “had already begun discussion of possible changes to the Faith & Practice statement on human sexuality and it was clear that there are different leadings.” Many meetings had presented letters to the 2014 NWYM sessions confessing their lack of unity on matters of human sexuality, and thus many Friends recommended that NWYM refrain from deciding the status of WHF “until such time as the Yearly Meeting comes to unity on when to exercise forbearance rather than discipline for differences of interpretation of the Faith & Practice and the Bible.” (NWYM Unity, 7/29/2015)
A protest letter embodying these arguments was sent to the NWYM Administrative Council with the names of 230 signers, from 25 meetings; a large proportion of the signers are younger Friends. While the protest letter lacked official standing as an appeal, NWYM officials said they would read it and take it into account. (Bock, 8/24/2015)
NWYM Friends who support WHF have been finding other meanings for the powerful “shattering” metaphor. Richard Evans, a Korean War veteran and a West Hill Friends member, prayed that “God will not allow the ties that have bound us for so long to be shattered by intolerance for differing interpretations of scripture.” (Evans, 7/14/2015)
Jon Kershner, minister at McKinley Hill Friends Church in Tacoma, WA, suggests that there are destructive behaviors in his yearly meeting that might need to be shattered: “My conviction is that there is room in NWYM for West Hills Friends and the valuable ministry that they provide. It is also my conviction that if any group can shatter the tired narrative of purity by schism, self-righteousness by exclusion from community, it is NWYM.” (Kershner, 7/28/2015)
It has been noticed by many that the Board of Elders’ decision to “release” West Hill Friends was, in itself, shattering. (Kershner, 8/14/2015; Reedwood, 8/18/2015) Various NWYM Friends have proposed that the word “shattering” be specifically defined in Faith & Practice, or be entirely eliminated from that document. (NWYM YAF, 7/31/2015; Reedwood, 8/18/2015) Klamath Hill Friends straightforwardly asserts that “we strongly feel there should have been reasons given for their describing the action concerning a leading of a vibrant meeting as ‘shattering’ to the yearly meeting.” (Klamath Falls, 8/23/2015)
NWYM Faith & Practice allows for the elders’ decisions to be appealed to the yearly meeting’s Administrative Council within 30 days, or, in this case, by August 23, 2015. Only local churches may appeal. As West Hill Friends considered appeal possibilities, they held an August 9 listening meeting. According to Mark Pratt-Russum, “our elders were tasked with making a sense of the meeting, and they will bring a recommendation to our business meeting on August 23 that we should not appeal.” He added that Friends there are “scratching their heads,” wondering why the window for appeals is only 30 days. “There is no way that a congregation as varied as ours could draft a letter of appeal in 30 days.” (Pratt-Russum, 8/20/2015)
Even so, eight meetings did file appeals within the 30 day period. Among them, Hillsboro (OR) Friends and North Valley (Newberg, OR) Friends appealed the Board of Elders’ decision, in letters dated August 12, 2015; North Seattle (WA) Friends and Camas (WA) Friends appealed four days later, Reedwood (OR) Friends six days later; and Klamath Falls (OR) appealed on August 23. Eugene (OR) and Spokane (WA) meetings have also appealed. (Fager, 8/25/2015) A group from Silverton Friends (OR) (not the whole meeting) appealed on August 20. Newberg (OR) Friends seriously considered an appeal, but in the end did not achieve a sense of the meeting to do so. The North Seattle appeal is notable, especially given the fact that its pastor was a member of the Elders’ subcommittee that met with WHF for two years.
Hillsboro, North Valley, Camas, and Reedwood, all located in the metropolitan Portland area, emphasized that Friends’ unity does not mean unanimity. Friends’ meetings can agree to disagree and remain in unity, even on matters as momentous as human sexuality.
The Hillsboro appeal letter concluded as follows:
We at Hillsboro Friends Church recognize the unique light Northwest Yearly Meeting offers to the world. As Christ-centered Quakers, we have every means in place to offer a third way to a world that often sees “yes” or “no.” While that light has flickered, we don’t yet believe it is out. As demonstrated in the New Testament, Jesus silenced the loudest voices, gave voice to the silenced, and bridged gaps that had existed for generations. That same light of Christ is the light that shines in us, and we at Hillsboro Friends have seen what that light can do. Together, Northwest Yearly Meeting can do great things. Divided we will be forced to use our energy for lesser objectives. We ask for all our churches to remain in unity even while we cannot remain in unanimity. If a church chooses to leave, we wish to seek reconciliation, but ask for amicable separation if that is the final result.
The North Valley letter included these queries, which the meeting first sent to NWYM in June 2014:
What is the intent of the “What Friends Believe” chapter of Faith and Practice? Is it intended to be prescriptive and thus play the role of gatekeeper and accountability for compliance? Or is it intended to be descriptive and thus play the role of describing who we are as a Yearly Meeting community? If the intent is descriptive, the statement on human sexuality would need to reflect the breadth of the community.
[We understand] that we can be unified as one body without being in complete agreement on all matters. This is the difference between unity and unanimity. How does this understanding inform our process and help move toward an outcome that has integrity?
We are united in our belief that God speaks to and leads God’s people.
We are willing to continue talking and listening, to wait for the Spirit to lead us into truth, even if it takes time and requires patience.
We invite Northwest Yearly Meeting to join us in this work.
These meetings noted the incongruity of removing West Hill Friends for its minutes regarding human sexuality while the yearly meeting itself manifested ongoing deep divisions on such matters. Hillsboro requested that they “be reinstated as a full and active member of the Northwest Yearly Meeting family, and, to that end, that neither they nor any other churches be removed over issues on which the Northwest Yearly Meeting … remains divided.” North Valley noted that removing West Hill Friends from yearly meeting membership “is to lose a vital voice in our corporate discernment work and sends a concerning message to those who hold a conviction that is different than that which is currently expressed in Faith and Practice.”
Klamath Falls Friends wrote that “removal of West Hills Friends Church during [the five-year consideration period proposed by Superintendent Becky Ankeny] feels like a betrayal of trust.” Camas Friends stated that they “were deeply saddened and troubled by the decision of the board of elders to remove West Hill Friends Church from our Yearly Meeting. We believed that such a decision is destructive of the unity of our Yearly Meeting and hurtful to those who hold diverse views on human sexuality, especially those who identify as LGBTQ.”
These meetings raised a variety of concerns related to Friends’ business process. They note that the Faith & Practice empowers the Board of Elders to discontinue a church when the church experiences significant problems, but the Elders themselves found West Hills to be “a strong, healthy, growing community of Christian Friends.” So that would suggest that West Hills be continued, not the opposite. Another provision describes a local meeting as coming under the care of the Board of Elders when it “is out of compliance with Faith and Practice in a way that is shattering to the … Yearly Meeting community,” but West Hills was never formally placed under the care of the Board of Elders, so it is questionable that this provision is applicable to their case.
Hillsboro suggested that “such a weighty decision as removing a church from our fellowship be brought to the floor of the annual sessions,” and noted the Quaker ideal that Yearly Meeting power should be exercised by “all members of the Yearly Meeting” as led by the Holy Spirit. Spokane Friends concurred, stating that “if the Elder’s [sic] decision had come as a recommendation to the floor of Yearly Meeting, the lack of consensus surrounding it would have been apparent to all.” (Fager, 8/25/2015) Eugene Friends agreed with these points, although with six Friends standing aside from the decision.
The documents under which the Board of Elders proceeded are all very recent in vintage. North Seattle Friends observed that a key Board of Elders document, which was made available to NWYM Friends (outside of the Board of Elders) for the first time in 2013, (NWYM Board of Elders, 7/2013) “was not distributed widely, … was not transparent to the wider Yearly Meeting, and … was not vetted by any group outside of the Elders.”
If Northwest Yearly Meeting acquiesces in the “release” of West Hill Friends, one question that arises is “Who’s next?” if the Holy Spirit leads a local Friends meeting to take a bold stand in an area where there may not already be yearly meeting unity. This thought was articulated by Reedwood Friends:
“The unprecedented removal of one church from our fellowship on this basis is a threat to many other churches who are discerning what faithful witness looks like in their own ministry contexts, both around sexuality and other matters.” (Reedwood Friends, 8/18/2015)
Mike Huber elaborates this point:
Personally, I don’t think expelling us will end the conflict. Although WHF is the only meeting that has clearly articulated a position that is out of compliance with Faith & Practice, there are plenty of individuals in NWYM who think like we do. I don’t think NWYM could find unity around the current statement in Faith & Practice – with or without WHF in the room. Many of those who are appealing the Elders’ decision are asking the yearly meeting to wait until there is newfound consensus on this issue (and suggesting that, “Let’s agree to disagree” might be the basis of that consensus).
Frankly, I’m not sure that “agreeing to disagree” is a viable option. (Huber, 8/24/2015)
Reedwood Church also called for more patience and a better process of conflict resolution, as many churches are unclear exactly how to engage in ministry in these rapidly changing times:
We acknowledge that there are some local churches across our Yearly Meeting that are “out of compliance” with Faith and Practice. The integrity of our Yearly Meeting has depended upon patience and forbearance in these conflicts. We call upon Yearly Meeting leadership to model a consistent ethic and process of resolution where compliance with F&P is in question. (Reedwood, 8/18/2015)
On August 23, the deadline for appeals, West Hills Friends approved a minute of gratitude for “extended words of love, encouragement, and support” offered on their behalf by many within the NWYM community. Their minute, however, stopped short of lodging an appeal on their own behalf. They hoped that “relationships” between West Hill Friends and NWYM would continue in “life-giving” ways:
We are grateful to all who have extended words of love, encouragement and support to our community in the face of the Northwest Yearly Meeting Board of Elders’ decision to release/remove West Hill Friends from membership in our yearly meeting.
We are heartened by voices from within NWYM who say that our yearly meeting will be diminished by our absence. We hope that the reflection and discernment of those who have been led to appeal this decision will be received and held in a way that bears good fruit for NWYM.
We have been steadfast in our commitment to and participation in NWYM over the three years of investigation and discipline for our noncompliance with NWYM Faith & Practice.
With this new landscape, we find that as a community, we need to listen again for the guidance of Spirit.
In coming together to hear what rises around the NWYM Elders’ decision, we found that the allowed 30 day window does not offer adequate time for our community to come to unity in Spirit-led discernment on the question of appeal.
We note that we may be led, in time, to speak into this situation in new ways.
We note that membership and relationship are not identical, and hold hope that with or without membership, relationships between the people of West Hill Friends and NWYM will continue and evolve in new and life-giving ways. (West Hill Friends, 8/23/2015)
The Administrative Council planned to meet on September 12 to establish a process for consideration of the appeals over the West Hills “release.” This process will be shared with the Yearly Meeting. The Administrative Council aims to make a decision by the time of its November Retreat. (Northwest Yearly Meeting YAF, 8/28/2015)
This issue of Quaker Theology will go to press prior to the NWYM’s Administrative Council’s response to these appeals. Pratt-Russum observes that “if the yearly meeting asks WHF to rejoin, it is too early to say whether we would accept.” (Pratt-Russum, 8/20/2015)
When asked for further comment on the appeals themselves, Ankeny writes that “I am not free within myself to comment” on these events. (Ankeny, 8/24/2015)
Mike Huber would sum up the story this way:
It would make a compelling narrative to describe the churches that threaten to leave NWYM as “bullies.” Believe me, over the last few years I’ve learned that people really want a “bad guy” to justify their outrage. However, I’m not sure there are any bad guys in this story. The genre is tragedy, not summer blockbuster. . . .
Although expelling WHF won’t end the conflict in NWYM, maybe it will lower the temperature and allow for a more productive conversation for those who remain. (Huber, 8/24/2015)
TONY CAMPOLO: AN EVANGELICAL CHRISTIAN THEOLOGIAN’S EVOLVING VIEWS ON THE BIBLE AND HOMOSEXUALITY
1999: “Romans 1:26-27 makes it clear that any homosexual sexual activity is contrary to what the Bible allows.
“We can argue over this interpretation or that interpretation, but we must take the church very seriously. The fellowship of believers called the church of Jesus Christ has stood from the time of Christ to the present day, and I believe it speaks with authority. For almost 2,000 years, the church has read Romans 1 in a particular way. People who knew the Apostle Paul personally have written about what Paul meant when he wrote those verses.”
2015: “Rest assured that I have already heard – and in some cases made – every kind of biblical argument against gay marriage. . . . Obviously, people of good will can and do read the scriptures very differently when it comes to controversial issues, and I am painfully aware that there are ways I could be wrong about this one.
“However, I am old enough to remember when we in the Church made strong biblical cases for keeping women out of teaching roles in the Church, and when divorced and remarried people often were excluded from fellowship altogether on the basis of scripture. Not long before that, some Christians even made biblical cases supporting slavery. Many of those people were sincere believers, but most of us now agree that they were wrong. I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again, which is why I am speaking out.”
Sources: https://sojo.net/magazine/may-june-1999/holding-it-together#sthash.Y7uNwmYh.dpuf; http://tonycampolo.org/for-the-record-tony-campolo-releases-a-new-statement/#.VcPz4_nmNMG
Excerpt from NWYM Faith & Practice, “What We Believe”
Christian Witness to Human Sexuality: We hold that only marriage is conducive to godly fulfillment in sexual relationships for the purposes of reproduction and the enrichment of life. We consider sexual intimacy outside marriage as sinful because it distorts God’s purposes for human sexuality. We denounce, as contrary to the moral laws of God, acts of homosexuality, sexual abuse, and any other form of sexual perversion (see “Human Sexuality,” p. 80). The church, however, as a community of forgiven persons, remains loving and sensitive to those we consider in error. Because God’s grace can deliver from sins of any kind, we are called to forgive those who have repented and to free them for participation in the church. Northwest Yearly Meeting, Faith & Practice (7/2012), p. 11.
All internet links were active as of 8/18/2015, or as of date of posting, if subsequent to 8/18.
Anderson, Paul. 7/24/2015. Phone interview.
Anderson, Paul. 8/18/2015; 8/19/2015. Private communications.
Angell, Stephen W. Fall-Winter 2010-2011. “Current Conflicts in Two Midwestern Friends Meetings.” Quaker Theology #18, pp. 1-33. http://quakertheology.org/QT-18-Online.pdf
Ankeny, Becky. 8/18/2015; 8/24/2015. Private communications.
Baker, Robin. 10/24/2014. Quoted by Searainya Bond, in her comment on a letter by C. Wess Daniels, posted to the OneGeorgeFox Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/onegeorgefox/posts/549525301813709
Bales, Micah. 8/3/2009. “Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #9.” http://www.micahbales.com/2009/page/3/
Beemyn, Brett, Billy Curtis, Masen Davis, and Nancy Jean Tubbs. Fall 2005. “Transgender Issues on College Campuses. New Directions for Student Services, vol. 111. Pp. 49-60. http://vp.studentlife.uiowa.edu/assets/Transgender-Issues-on-College-Campuses.pdf
Beemyn, Brett-Genny Janiczek. “Ways that U.S. Colleges Meet the Day-to-Day Needs of Transgender Students.” http://www.transgenderlaw.org/college/guidelines.htm
Bock, Cherice. 8/23/2014. Update. http://nwymunity.com/updates/
Borgen, Daniel. 4/4/2014. “Breaking: Trans Student Denied On-Campus Housing at George Fox University. PQ Monthly. http://www.pqmonthly.com/trans-student-denied-campus-housing-george-fox-university/19028
Borgen, Daniel. 7/11/2014. “Breaking: Department of Education Grants George Fox Religious Exemption; Says College Can Refuse Trans Students On-Campus Housing. http://www.pqmonthly.com/breaking-department-education-grants-george-fox-religious-exemption-says-college-can-refuse-trans-students-campus-housing/20071
Borgen, Daniel. 10/15/2014. “Jayce M. Carries On, Undeterred; George Fox Refuses to Change Course. PQ Monthly. http://www.pqmonthly.com/jayce-m-carries-undeterred-george-fox-refuses-change-course
Brodey, Sam and Julia Lurie. 3/9/2015. “Get Ready for the Conservative Assault on Where Transgender Americans Pee.” Mother Jones. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/03/transgender-bathroom-discrimination-bills
Camas Friends. 8/16/2015. Appeal. http://nwymunity.com/appeal/camas-friends-appeal/
Campolo, Tony. 6/8/2015. “Tony Campolo: For the Record.” http://tonycampolo.org/for-the-record-tony-campolo-releases-a-new-statement/#.VcLCf_nmPpJ
Campolo, Tony and Peggy. 5-6/1999. “Holding It Together.” https://sojo.net/magazine/may-june-1999/holding-it-together
Campus Pride. “Colleges and Universities that Provide Gender-Inclusive Housing.” http://old.campuspride.org/tpc-gih/
Conniry, Chuck. 8/17/2015. Phone interview.
Daniels, C. Wess. 7/29/2015. Phone interview.
Eugene Friends. 8/23/2015. Appeal. http://nwymunity.com/appeal/eugene-friends-appeal/
Evans, Rachel Held. 5/16/2013. “Elizabeth Smart, Human Trafficking, and Purity Culture.” http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/elizabeth-smart-purity-culture
Evans, Richard. 7/14/2015. “Shattered.” http://www.mindingthelight.org/shattered#.Vba4rclWSgM.facebook
Fager, Chuck and Jade Souza. Winter-Spring 2014. “Northwest Yearly Meeting and ‘Shattering Conflict’: Chapter One.” Quaker Theology #24, pp. 100-119. http://quakertheology.org/Fager-Souza-Northwest-Yearly-Meeting-and-Shattering-Chapter-One.html
Fager, Chuck. 8/23/2015. “Appealཀ Groundswell in Northwest over a Welcoming Meeting’s Ouster,” A Friendly Letter. http://afriendlyletter.com/appeal-groundswell-in-northwest-over-a-welcoming-meetings-ouster/
Fager, Chuck. 8/25/2015. “Eight-Plus Appeals of Northwest Welcoming Meeting’s Expulsion.” A Friendly Letter. http://afriendlyletter.com/eight-plus-appeals-of-northwest-welcoming-meetings-expulsion/
Felton, Rob. 7/23/2015. Private communication.
Ford, Zack. 7/21/2014. “After Outrage, School Agrees to House Trans Students by Gender – But Only If They’ve Had Surgery.” Think Progress. http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/07/21/3462137/george-fox-transgender-surgery/
Francis, Philip and Mark Longhurst. 7/23/2014. “How LGBT Students Are Changing Christian Colleges.” http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/07/gordon-college-the-new-frontier-of-gay-rights/374861/
Gay Christian Network. Undated. “Building Bridges of Understanding: Tony and Peggy Campolo on Homosexuality.” https://www.gaychristian.net/campolos.php
George Fox University. Fall 2012. “Student Enrollment by Ethnicity – Undergraduate.” http://www.georgefox.edu/diversity/statistics/Diversity%20Website%20Report%20Fall%202012.pdf
George Fox University. [2014.] “Students Identifying as Transgender.” http://www.georgefox.edu/transgender/
George Fox University. Undated. “Financial Aid.” http://www.georgefox.edu/offices/financial-aid/current-undergrad/grants.html
George Fox University. Undated. “Politics Department: Advisory Board.” http://www.georgefox.edu/academics/undergrad/departments/polisci/resources/advisory-board.html
George Fox University. Undated. “Undergraduate Student Handbook.” http://www.georgefox.edu/offices/student-life/student-handbook/index.html#guiding
Gordon, Seth. 4/11/2014. “GFU, Transgender Student at Odds on Housing.” The Newberg Graphic. http://www.pamplinmedia.com/pt/9-news/216953-76627-gfu-transgender-student-at-odds-on-housing
Gordon, Seth. 7/16/2014. “George Fox Gets an Exemption in Case of Transgender Student.” Portland Tribune. http://portlandtribune.com/pt/9-news/227353-90258-george-fox-gets-an-exemption-in-case-of-transgender-student
Harris, Elizabeth A. 7/20/2015. “New Statewide Guidelines aim to Accommodate and Protect Transgender Students. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/21/nyregion/new-statewide-guidelines-aim-to-accommodate-and-protect-transgender-students.html
Hillsboro Friends. 8/12/2015. Appeal. http://nwymunity.com/appeal/hillsboro-friends/
Huber, Mike. 8/24/2015; 8/26/2015. Private Communications.
Human Rights Campaign. Undated. “10 Things You Should Know about the Alliance Defending Freedom.” http://hrc-assets.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com//files/assets/resources/10_Things_You_Should_Know_About_the_Alliance_Defending_Freedom_-_FINAL.pdf
Hunt, Joshua and Richard Pérez-Peña. 7/24/2014.”Housing Dispute Puts Quaker University at Front of Fight over Transgender Issues. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/25/us/transgender-student-fights-for-housing-rights-at-george-fox-university.html
Israel, Josh. 5/1/2014. “The 800-Pound Gorilla of the Christian Right.” http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/05/01/3429448/alliance-defending-freedom/
Janice, mother of Jayce. 4/2014. “George Fox University: Stop Denying My Transgender son Appropriate On-Campus Housing.” https://www.change.org/p/george-fox-university-stop-denying-my-transgender-son-appropriate-on-campus-housing
Jaschik, Scott, 7/14/2014. “Freedom of Religion or Free to Discriminate?” Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/07/14/two-legal-cases-illustrate-growing-tensions-over-rights-transgender-students
Jaschik, Scott. 7/25/2014. “The Right to Expel.” Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/07/25/2-christian-colleges-win-title-ix-exemptions-give-them-right-expel-transgender
Kershner, Jon R. 7/28/2015. Facebook post.
Kershner, Jon R. 8/14/2015. Phone interview.
Kingkade, Tyler. 7/28/2014. “Religious Colleges Are Getting Legal Permission to Discriminate against Trans Students.” Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/28/religious-colleges-trans-students_n_5624139.html
Klamath Fall Friends. 8/23/2015. Appeal. http://nwymunity.com/appeal/klamath-falls-friends-appeal/
Mennonite Church USA. 7/2/2015. “Resolution: Forbearance in the Midst of Differences.” http://mennoniteusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/ForbearanceResolution_2015Jul02.pdf
Morgan, Greg. 8/26/2015. Worship Message (8/2/2015) at West Hills Friends. https://www.facebook.com/groups/332032080184591/886662148054912/
New York Times Editorial Board. 7/27/2015. “For Transgender Americans, Legal Battles over Restrooms.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/27/opinion/for-transgender-americans-legal-battles-over-restrooms.html
North Seattle Friends. 8/16/2015. Appeal. http://nwymunity.com/appeal/north-seattle-friends-appeal/
North Valley Friends. 8/12/2015. Appeal. http://nwymunity.com/appeal/north-valley-friends-appeal/
Northwest Yearly Meeting. 7/2012. Faith and Practice: A Book of Christian Discipline.
Northwest Yearly Meeting. 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014. Minutes.
Northwest Yearly Meeting Board of Elders. 7/2013a. “A Draft Proposal for a Formal Process to Deal with Churches in Noncompliance with Faith and Practice.” http://www.westhillsfriends.org/2013procdoc.html
Northwest Yearly Meeting Board of Elders. 7/2013b. “Letter of Noncompliance to West Hills Friends.” http://www.westhillsfriends.org/2013noncompliance.html
Northwest Yearly Meeting Board of Elders. 7/2015. Letter terminating NWYM membership of West Hills Friends.
NWYM Unity. 7/29/2015. Appeal. http://nwymunity.com/appeal/
NWYM Young Adult Friends. https://www.facebook.com/groups/285704568203444/
OneGeorgeFox. 10/24/2014. Letter from C. Wess Daniels, and comments. https://www.facebook.com/onegeorgefox/posts/549525301813709
Piper, John. 5/8/2009. “Is It Okay to Be a Christian and Be Transgendered?” http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/is-it-okay-to-be-a-christian-and-be-transgendered
Pratt-Russum, Mark. 8/20/2015. Phone interview.
Reedwood Friends. 8/20/2015. Appeal. http://nwymunity.com/appeal/reedwood-friends-appeal/
Roth, Sara. 2/23/2015. “Transgender George Fox Student Denied Housing Request.” KGW.com. http://www.kgw.com/story/news/2014/07/13/transgender-george-fox-student-denied-housing-request/13329486/
Schmidt, Johanna. Undated. “Gender Diversity.” The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/gender-diversity
Schrag, Paul. 7/3/2015. “Sexuality resolutions: freedom, accountability.” Mennonite World Review. http://mennoworld.org/2015/07/03/news/delegates-approve-forbearance-uphold-membership-guidelines/
Silverton Friends Group. 8/20/2015. Group Appeal. https://www.facebook.com/groups/285704568203444/
Stave, Tom. “Appendix A: Discussing Same-Sex Issues in NWYM.” NWYM Minutes, 2012, pp. 22-25.
Templeton, Amelia. 7/17/2014. “Debate over Transgender Student Reveals Division in Quaker Church.” Oregon Public Broadcasting. http://www.opb.org/news/article/debate-over-transgender-student-reveals-division-in-quaker-church/
Thomas, Nancy. 8/1/2015. “NWYM and Human Sexuality: To Remember or to Forget?” http://nancyjthomas.blogspot.com/2015/08/nwym-and-human-sexuality-to-remember-or.html?m=1
Tracy, Kate. 7/15/2014. “Transgender Students Battle Christian Universities.” Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/july/transgender-students-battle-christian-universities.html
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West Hill Friends. 6/22/2014. Minute on Same-Sex Marriage. http://www.westhillsfriends.org/MINsamesex.html
West Hill Friends. 8/23/2015. Minute. http://nwymunity.com/appeal/west-hills-friends-minute-8-23-2015/
Yarhouse, Mark. July/August 2015. “Understanding Gender Dysphoria: The Leading Christian Scholar on Transgender Issues Defines the Terms and Gives the Church a Way Forward. Christianity Today. Pp. 45-50.
Readers of Friends Journal, the leading periodical of liberal Quakerism, would have been surprised in early 1994 to see a small ad placed in the classifieds section in the back of the magazine. Amidst blurbs for Quaker-related Bed and Breakfasts, a promotion for the environmentalist Friends Committee for Unity with Nature, a job posting for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and a notice about an upcoming conference for Friends for Gay and Lesbian Concerns, was an ad declaring in bold print “Extraterrestrial Encounters.” In the smaller font below, the ad continued:
“Have you, a Friend [meaning a Quaker], actually seen or encountered a structured craft, aloft or landed, showing evidence of unfamiliar or advanced technology? If so, please get in touch; you are one among many- some silent for fear of ridicule. There is much to share and a Friendly response to think about.”(1)
The author of the ad was worried that this might be seen as too open an invitation for people to contact him, so he elaborated. “Dreams, visions, trances and inner subjective events are not currently useful here,” it explained; only empirical extraterrestrial encounters were of interest. “Valid sightings with other witnesses would be of particular value.”(2) This ad was the first public outreach effort by the Friends Committee on Outworld Relations (FCOR).
Those readers who wrote to the address listed in the ad were shipped a newsletter from Asheville, North Carolina, written by the organization’s founder, John Phillip Neal. “Warm greetings to you who responded to the ad in January’s FJ or made local contact,” Neal wrote. Though FCOR only consisted of a few Quakers in Asheville, Neal believed that it represented the start of something vitally important, the only Quaker group dedicated to facilitating a friendly exchange with aliens.
Neal, 76, had retired a decade earlier from North Carolina State University Minerals Research Laboratory. Neal had a long history as an influential local Quaker. A graduate from Quaker-run Haverford College, during the Second World War he had been a conscientious objector, something that was highly respected by most of his co-religionists. Neal was also a founding member of his home meeting, Asheville Monthly Meeting, and he had been Clerk of both that and Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting.(3)
Neal and the other members of FCOR thought Earth was already the site of frequent visitation by extraterrestrials, most traveling in spacecraft (UFO’s, or Unidentified Flying Objects), a fact being covered up by the United States government. These “visitors,” as Neal explained, were benign but somewhat reluctant to engage in communication with humans, perhaps in part because they used telepathic communication. FCOR envisioned a special role for Quakers in facilitating communications with these beings.
Quakers had a historic tradition of fostering peace and attempting to deal justly with minority groups, including standing against slavery and trying to render aid to Native Americans. FCOR envisioned this Quaker responsibility as extending to otherworldly beings. “How will Friends react to the new (perhaps unnerving) frontier we are facing?” Neal asked. “Should we not be able to reach out to the visitors, accepting them as having ‘that of God’ within? Can Friends’ ministry deal constructively with the cultural shock of this encounter and the developing problems which are sure to occur?”(4) This was not an innovation in religious practice, FCOR argued; the organization would simply bring tested Quaker ideals to bear on a newly important subject.
The idea that Quakers should devote their energy to contacting extraterrestrials did not find a sympathetic audience within the rest of denomination. Though FCOR as an organization lasted until 2001, it never accrued much support, facing stiff institutional resistance in its efforts to publicize its work and ideas. Although liberal Quakers had no formal creeds and permitted a wide array of theological views, the idea that aliens were visiting earth was too implausible for many, and it was widely rejected. It turned out that even liberal religion had limits regarding what views it would tolerate.
FCOR as an organization was largely a failure. It did not achieve its stated goals, and the existence of extraterrestrials remained as much in question when FCOR ended as it was when the organization began. FCOR never had more than a handful of members and almost no budget. The group never commanded any kind of great or lasting influence, even regionally. Its total literary output was only ten years’ worth of regular newsletters. On the occasions when it was not scoffed at, FCOR continued to be largely ignored, even within Quakerism. In any kind of future magisterial history of the growth and development of American religion, FCOR is likely to be overlooked.
Historian David Hollinger has articulated his concern that the study of American religion often embraces a “Christian survivalist point of view,” which, in order to defend a commitment to Christianity, attacks the idea of Protestant liberalism which, he claims, leads to secularism.(5) Though one can take issue with this argument, there may actually be an even broader trend among scholars of giving preference to the study of religions or religious movements that survived and endured. Most accounts of American religious groups frame their narratives in terms of why that group or tradition has exercised a continuing influence, asking why they prospered.(6) Yet it may be equally important to ask why a religious movement does not succeed. What combination of factors leads to theological or religious changes being rejected by faith communities?
As a failed religious movement FCOR is an intriguing case study. It had a dedicated and articulate founder in Neal, a number of devoted members and a well-developed cosmology that aligned fairly well with a number of other successful contemporary religious movements, yet all this was ultimately of little consequence. The traditions that FCOR was trying to draw from concerning aliens were metaphysical religious ideas which had been embraced by other groups, but when introduced into the liberal religious world of Quakerism, these concepts were quickly rejected.
All religions have limits to what beliefs are orthodox. With liberal Quakers in particular these limits have sometimes been overlooked or wrongly perceived as nonexistent by scholars. Studying British liberal Quakers, who are very similar in beliefs, demographics, and liturgical style to their American counterparts, anthropologist Douglas A. Kline states that “Quakers do not rely on a common theology.” Indicating that liberal Quakers can hold a number of different religious views, including Christian, Atheist, Buddhist, Jewish or Muslim beliefs within the context of a Quaker identity, he suggests that what unites the denomination is “the symbolic nature of common action, not common belief.”(7) Even in the context of attempt to describe a limited section of Quakerism such a view is ultimately somewhat naïve, an idealized and imaginary picture of a religion united more by orthopraxy and political activism that simply does not match the reality.(8)
Quaker Studies scholar Ben Pink Dandelion, examining contemporary liberal British Quakerism, has observed that liberal Quakers are often less permissive than they at first appear. He persuasively suggests that there is an informal but often rigidly maintained “behavioral creed,” which ensures at least a kind of orthopraxy among liberal Quakers.(9) Yet Dandelion perhaps underemphasizes the extent to which liberal Quakers also enforce the boundaries around what is permitted theologically.
Liberal Quakerism in the United States has not been the subject to such extensive study. However, it often also perceived as malleable and adaptable to different theological concepts that individuals might hold- at least within a certain limited notion of personal belief- particularly when that belief had no external ramifications. But when FCOR began to suggest that there were real, physical aliens, that their personal metaphysics had an objective reality, and that there were communal duties incumbent with this belief, they came into conflict with the accepted, if largely unwritten and unspoken, norms in the denomination. An individual with a divergent theology in a silent Quaker meeting could be safely ignored, but an activist group trying to roust the community to action trespassed too many boundaries.
Anthropologist Talal Asad has written about the “authorizing practices” by which “religion” is created. In the context of the Middle Ages and Catholicism, Asad writes, this meant subsuming questions of the validity of particular shrines, rejecting or accepting “pagan” practices, or regulating rule-following orders such as the Benedictines to the wisdom of a single authority (namely, the Vatican) as “the source of authenticating discourse.”(10) Asad would be the first to recognize that the historical contexts of a liberal religion like Quakerism and of medieval Christianity are quite different, making a direct comparison difficult. Nevertheless, this paper will argue that liberal religions also struggle over what is authentic or authorized, even if the source of that authenticating discourse is less clear than if it were coming from a single, universal church, and that they must discipline their members in some way to ensure that lines are not crossed as a proper notion of religion is maintained. This paper will show that FCOR thus is illustrative about what the unspoken boundaries are within a liberal religious tradition that has few overt notions of heresy or orthodoxy. FCOR’s experience shows that even in a creedless religion, there are limits.(11)
The possibility that a religion like Quakerism could accommodate belief in extraterrestrials into its theology was not outlandish. The idea of extraterrestrials has long been present in what scholar Catherine Albanese calls the “metaphysical” religious tradition, which “would function, literally, in borderlands at the edge of liberal Protestantism.”(12)
Emanuel Swedenborg, the great Swedish seer, had perhaps the first recorded visions of direct encounters with extraterrestrial life. In the 1750s Swedenborg claimed that he had voyaged to several different planets and in Concerning Earths in the Solar World, Which are Called Planets; and Concerning Earths in the Starry Heaven; and Concerning Their Inhabitants; and Likewise Concerning Spirits and Angels There from Things Seen and Heard, he explained his meetings with Martians and people from the Moon (the moon people notably spoke from their stomachs). In other works he chronicled his travels throughout the solar system.(13) While Swedenborg expressed a great deal of hostility towards Quakerism, by the middle of the nineteenth century analysts tended to lump both Quakerism’s founder George Fox and Swedenborg together as “mystics,” so Swedenborg was not completely at a remove from Quaker thought.(14)
Further, in the United States, by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, extraterrestrial encounters were a part of several religious traditions. Perhaps most notable of these was the Theosophical Society. Helena Blavatsky, one of the founders of that tradition, explained that there were powerful spiritual beings called “Lords of the Flame,” who were from Venus. The I-AM group, considered by many to be a forerunner of most American UFO religious movements, developed this idea to claim that Venus was a home to a technologically and spiritually advanced alien race. Belief in UFO’s, which focused specifically on beings visiting earth in spacecraft rather than in dreams or through teleportation, only emerged after 1947. That was the year pilot Kenneth Arnold, flying a private plane near Mt. Rainer in Washington state, first reported seeing what was later popularly described as a flying saucer. Subsequently, many more recent groups mixed Theosophical ideas with belief in aliens and UFOs.(15)
Belief in alien visitors traveling to Earth in UFO’s (either with some regularity in the present or at some point in the distant past) became the staple of a number of New Religious Movements, including Scientology, the Nation of Islam, the Raelians and the Urantia movement. These groups were far less tied to liberal religious trends than earlier UFO beliefs had been. Still, despite the fact that they were the most high-profile proponents of alien visitation and UFO’s, their ideas were not unknown in older and more mainstream religious traditions. Quaker believers in aliens may have been few in number, but they would have had some august company and even Quaker ancestors.
Belief in alien life, though not much discussed, was not seen by most American Christians as being incompatible with their faith. By the 1980s a number of American Evangelical thinkers had integrated belief in visitors traveling in UFOs into their theology. Billy Graham, for instance, was willing to entertain the idea that UFOs might be visitations from angels and stated that his faith would not be undermined by the existence of alien life.(16) By the first decade of the twenty-first century some theological thinkers within that tradition elucidated different ways that the existence of extraterrestrial life might be compatible with evangelical soteriology.(17)
Other American evangelicals were far more critical of the idea of alien visitation, however. While they did not deny that such encounters took place, they argued that the beings involved were demons, not aliens.(18) This idea continues to have potency within the evangelical community. For example, one professor at Bible Baptist Seminary in Pennsylvania declared that although he did not believe in the ideas of Erich Von Daniken, that “alien astronauts” had spurred technological developments in ancient civilizations, he did believe that demons had fulfilled the same role with these societies.(19) The cosmology of these critics permitted the existence of UFO’s and extraterrestrial visitors as real, even if they disputed the identities of these visitors.
The leadership of the American Roman Catholic Church did not believe that aliens were regularly visiting Earth, or suggest that they had in the past. Nevertheless a number of prominent spokespeople for the Church stated that visitation by aliens would not be unwelcome and would be perfectly consistent with Catholic beliefs. By the 1990s, the question of alien visitation was one that religious organizations took seriously enough to generate official positions on.(20)
FCOR was not unaware of the discussions within other religious groups on aliens. Neal, in the FCOR newsletter, specifically cited the fact that because other groups (he seemed to mostly be referring to evangelicals) might believe that aliens were in league with the devil, Quaker action was essential. Quakers would be more sympathetic to the aliens, making it easier to facilitate a peaceable co-existence with them.(21)
Although FCOR had different beliefs about what aliens were like than Evangelical UFO believers, and planned a more hospitable welcome, the simple act of believing in UFOs and alien visitors was not itself something that would have set FCOR members apart from other American religious perspectives. Liberal Quakers as a denomination could have embraced the idea that aliens existed, or permitted that idea to flourish among many of their members, but they ultimately did not. On this particular topic they drew harder lines around what was an acceptable belief than many American Evangelicals did.
On cursory examination, liberal Quakerism seems to be a religious group that would provide fertile ground for belief in visiting extraterrestrials, and it had been linked with many traditions that have accepted similar ideas. FCOR’s development was simply part of a long tradition of Quaker involvement with esoteric traditions. Albanese has suggested that since Quakerism began in England during the seventeenth century, it has had many of the characteristics of a metaphysical religion, stating that group’s belief in the “inner light,” a notion of a divine indwelling presence usually connected with Christ, was a sort of “magic” that “brought the metaphysical into [Quakers’] everyday world.”(22)
In the nineteenth century Quakerism suffered a series of schisms dividing the denomination into several different branches. The Hicksite branch of the denomination, perhaps the most direct theological ancestors of the liberal Quakers that made FCOR, splintered again, giving rise to the Congregationalist Friends (also known as the Progressive Friends) in the 1840s. These Quakers were sympathetic to abolitionism and the cause of women’s rights. Congregational Friends were also a likely origin point for the spiritualist movement in the United States. The very idea of spirit communication, as it was practiced by its early adherents such as the Fox sisters, could be seen as a refinement of Quaker belief in Friends’ preaching relying on divine guidance. Spiritualism, one of the most prominent metaphysical practices in the nineteenth century United States, originally spread primarily through Quaker networks.(23) The birth of liberal Quakerism effectively happened alongside the creation of this prominent metaphysical belief. Quakerism seemed quite able to theologically and structurally accommodate such developments.
The early twentieth century saw the creation of a distinctive, though not officially recognized, liberal Quaker identity. The Gurneyite branch of Quakerism, which had been far more inclined towards evangelicalism than the Hicksites, was affected by the rise of theological modernism. Many prominent Gurneyite modernists like Walter C. Woodward, Elbert Russell and Rufus Jones sought fellowship with their Hicksite counterparts like Jesse Holmes. Jones, a professor of philosophy at Quaker-run Haverford College, was particularly pivotal in defining Quakerism as a creedless religion primarily based in mystical experience, rather than the beliefs about holiness and sanctification that his evangelical opponents cham-pioned.(24)
Social action, acceptance of Biblical higher criticism and the embrace of new scientific ideas such as evolution became essential to Jones’s stream of Quakerism. By the 1930s Jones’s stream was joined by that of Friends General Conference (FGC), one of the two overarching bodies created at the dawn of the twentieth century to unite U.S. Quaker Yearly meetings. It was descended from the Hicksites and was dominated by liberal theology. At the same time, British Quakers were undergoing a modernist movement of their own and became theological liberals. Due to the close friendships (and often direct family relationships) among leaders in both England and the United States, this movement took on a transatlantic char-acter.(25) The tumultuous 1960s in the United States would further alter Quakerism religiously, opening it to a broad range of religious views and cementing the idea that Quakerism was directly intertwined with predominately liberal political activism.(26)
At the time that FCOR was created in the 1990s, liberal Quakerism evidenced a great acceptance of theological diversity. Universalist Quakers, nontheistic Quakers, Jewish and Buddhist Quakers all coexisted under the banner of liberal Quakerism. The question of whether Quakers were Christian in any sense, or if they should be, was hotly debated by liberal Quakers. There was no resolution to this debate and the Quakers with hyphenated identities remained an active and visible presence in many Quaker meetings.(27)
At the same time a number of new metaphysical beliefs flourished. Religious studies scholar Courtney Bender discusses how Friends Meeting Cambridge provided a setting for shamanistic drumming circles to conduct their worship.(28) Prominent Quaker author Chuck Fager notes that within liberal Quaker Meetings, phenomena that “have sheltered under the current catchphrase ‘New Age’” have been embraced. He specifically lists widespread interest by liberal Quakers in Jungian thought, Tarot cards, Wicca, astrology, the I Ching, and the book A Course In Miracles (which claims to be a channeled message from Jesus). Fager’s work suggests that various metaphysical religious beliefs and practices have been not only common, but widely embraced, within the liberal Quaker fold.(29)
Yet Neal and FCOR were met with skepticism by other liberal Quakers. The reason for FCOR being ignored, and at time outright rejected, was likely because of another current of liberal Quakerism, a commitment to rationalism. This conviction deepened the conflict with the denomination’s traditions and inclinations towards metaphysical belief.
The Quaker modernists had tried to purge Quakerism of all that seemed to undermine modern science and reason. Undoubtedly one of the reasons that Jones had tried to suggest that Quakerism was a mystical belief system dependent on personal religious experience was that in the early twentieth century this seemed to be one of the last bastions available for intelligent theistic belief. Other Quakers were too rationalistic even for that intellectual move. Henry Cadbury, the prominent Hollis Professor at Harvard Divinity School and Jones’ brother-in-law, confessed that he questioned the existence of God, the possibility of resurrection and the validity of mystical experience, resting his religious conviction instead upon the idea of living in a moral manner as part of a religious community.(30)
Jesse Holmes went the furthest, working with a group of other liberal Quakers to publish a pamphlet called “Towards the Scientifically Minded,” which asserted that because Quakers were creedless, belief in God was optional, making Quakerism the ideal religion for modern scientifically minded people.(31) In the decades after these leaders, liberal Quakerism continued the attempt to make itself a haven for reasoned and educated intellectuals. By the early 1960s a survey done of American liberal Quakers indicated that the profession they most desired and respected was that of being a college professor (Quakers from other branches of the denomination listed farmer as their choice).(32)
Highly visible metaphysical beliefs like those espoused by FCOR, particularly ones that were rejected by mainstream science, posed a challenge to the idea of Quakerism as a spiritual home of the skeptical. The practice of permitting identities like Quaker-Buddhists or Quaker-Jews allowed many members of the denomination to affirm their commitment to religious pluralism, perhaps even a covert way to express the conviction that religion was a kind of identity rather than a holistic worldview that had any scientific implications. People did not actively express dislike or prejudice against FCOR or its members, but the organization did not achieve anything even remotely like the success the Spiritualist movement had a century earlier. Embracing Quakers who believed in aliens risked making the entire denomination seem silly.
Some found FCOR’s presence amusing but almost no one took it seriously. A letter to the editor of Friends Journal from a Quaker in Minnesota, defending the inclusion of ads for the pro-euthanasia Hemlock Society in the periodical, noted that more provocative ads like the one for FCOR had appeared. “I don’t intend to join them, but I certainly don’t feel threatened by them, and I commend the Journal for accepting an offbeat ad…. After all, for the majority of the U.S. population Quakers are quite offbeat.”(33)
FCOR was perhaps particularly offbeat for Quakers because it drew many of its beliefs from outside sources. From the beginning Neal envisioned FCOR as being in partnership with the Asheville-based Center for the Study of Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CSETI). CSETI, a nonprofit organization, was dedicated to what it explained as the “bilateral ETI [Extraterrestrial intelligence]-Human communication and exchange, and open public education on the subject.” Like FCOR, the official position of CSETI was that there was already ample evidence of alien and human contact, but that the American government (and perhaps others) had engaged in a cover up to conceal it from the public.(34)
Headed by Steven Greer, an emergency room physician, CSETI couched its message in what it intended to be a kind of scientific discourse. As historian Aaron Gulyas points out, even the organization’s name was intended to invoke the image of the far more mainstream Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). CSETI ran a number of programs, which usually required participants to pay a fee. The “Ambassadors of the Universe” training program taught students how to make contact with extraterrestrials at night with the help of remote viewing and “higher states of consciousness.”(35) Training could assist individuals in using their own mental powers to make a sort of telepathic connection with the alien visitors. One of the chief goals of this training was for participants to have the chance of participating in a “CE-5 experience,” or Close Encounter 5 experience, an extension to J. Allen Hynek’s scale of UFO encounters (which ran one through three) that was created by Greer. The CE-5 experiences involved humans and aliens communicating mutually (presumably through telepathy).(36)
By early 1994 FCOR members in Asheville Monthly Meeting were being trained by CSETI staff in how to facilitate communication with alien visitors. CSETI would eventually train at least five members of FCOR, which became the basis for FCOR’s attempts at contacting aliens.(37) CSETI techniques recommended that groups no larger than seven go out into the “field” to try to contact extra-terrestrials. Neal observed in early 1995 that FCOR had ten participants registered to participate in its outings, but that cancelations on any given night meant that they typically went out with only five people.(38) FCOR seems to have been consistent in using only CSETI approved techniques to try to contact aliens, and the workshops that they lead at Quaker gatherings were based upon these techniques.
To some degree, FCOR and CSETI had a business relationship. FCOR purchased training and audio cassettes that they thought would help them make extraterrestrial contact. Generally CSETI training was expensive, with tuition for some sessions running about $595 for a week, so it seems likely that the involvement with CSETI must have consumed much of FCOR’s budget.(39) FCOR would create its own $25 kit for working groups in Quaker Meetings outside Asheville that were interested in UFOs. This kit included two audio cassettes of CSETI training (the cost of which probably was only slightly less than the money FCOR charged for the kit), one guided meditation done by the members of FCOR designed to attract alien visitors, a notebook and a binder for recording alien sightings, and a set of “UFO call signals.”(40)
Yet CSETI was not just a vendor of services for FCOR; it was also a key source of inspiration. Neal spoke of how the methods of remotely contacting aliens employed by CSETI seemed to bear a close relationship to Quaker religious practices, particularly “thoughtful reaching out to 'that of God' in every individual (including ET's).” Linking this idea of an “inner light” to CSETI work confirmed to Neal that Quakers had something unique to contribute to interacting with extraterrestrials.(41)
Neal was not alone in this view. Jean Roberts, an FCOR member from Washington State and the editor of What Canst Thou Say? a small Quaker periodical devoted to discussing spiritual experience, was inspired to write to the FCOR newsletter after hearing Greer, the director of CSETI, give a talk at a conference. Roberts described Greer as having a personality “like the early Quakers,” a statement that was high praise considering the veneration that these pioneering leaders were given within the denomination. Roberts suggested that Greer’s campaign against (what he believed to be) a government cover up about extraterrestrials brought to mind the phrase “Speak Truth to Power,” a motto that the denomination had adopted for peace work during the early Cold War.(42)
Roberts explained to readers of FCOR’s newsletter that she was so moved by the parallels between the work of Quakers and CSETI that she began looking through the discipline of her Yearly Meeting (Pacific Northwest), the text that regulated Quaker practice and provided advice for religious living, for guidance. She quoted statements from early Quaker leader Margret Fell and twentieth-century Quaker Rufus Jones on the need for peace and the value of experience in Quakerism, which she felt offered wisdom when applied to the topic of extraterrestrials. Though she admitted that “Early Quakers were not able to foresee the future discussions on extraterrestrials,” Roberts felt they still “laid the foundations for discernment and right action by focusing on the responsibility of the individual to seek the Truth with Divine help and to act upon it with Divine guidance.”(43)
Greer was in turn quite supportive of FCOR. Though part of this was no doubt for financial reasons due to FCOR purchases from CSETI, it also seems to have been principled. The FCOR newsletter reported that Greer felt “Friends’ religious practices and philosophy should ‘mesh’ very well with the CSETI, although the latter does not specifically promote a religious outlook or orientation.”(44)
Described in the simplest terms, the relationship between CSETI and Quakerism that FCOR displayed can probably be described as one of hybridity (or what used to be called syncretism). While FCOR was decidedly less commercially oriented and more outwardly religious than CSETI, it still adapted almost all of the specifics of CSETI’s worldview.
FCOR of course did not exist in a vacuum, and the specifics of its beliefs were not completely derived from any one source. The 1990s saw a surge of alien visitation in popular culture, and a reassertion of the notion that the United States government was covering it up. Media and cultural studies professor Aris Mousoutzanis has observed that “the alien became something of a cultural icon for the popular culture of the 1990s…”(45) The most visible manifestation of this idea was the popular television drama The X-Files, which greatly shaped public perceptions about the sinister activities of the American government and the possibility of extraterrestrial visitation.(46) While there is no clear evidence that Neal was a fan, the material he was reading and the Quakers with whom he interacted were enmeshed in this all-pervasive conspiracy culture.
FCOR also drew heavily on conspiracy theory literature. Neal regularly included book reviews, usually written by him but also occasionally by other members of FCOR, as part of the newsletter. These reviews praised the works of many authors who wrote on UFOs or extraterrestrials. For instance, Neal became very enthusiastic about the work of self-proclaimed UFO authority Timothy Good, and particularly his book Above Top Secret, in which he claimed that the “government forces of disinformation” were undermining efforts to reveal the existence of UFOs to the public.(47) Neal was less tolerant of authors who were skeptical about his beliefs in UFO’s. In reviewing The UFO Invasion: The Roswell Incident, Alien Abductions, and Government Coverups, a collection of articles on UFOs and aliens originally published in the Skeptical Inquirer, Neal predicted that UFO debunkers would eventually look foolish and “in the years to come perhaps the flat earth society will offer them [skeptics] an honorary member-ship.”(48)
In addition to a vast and expansive literature about UFOs and related subjects, FCOR was also aware of the internet, a new development when the group was founded in the 1990s. The group quickly realized that they should take advantage of this new resource. By the summer of 1995 Clare Hanrahan, who was already working as FCOR’s “email intermediary” (presumably meaning the person who checked their email account), was tasked with regularly checking online Bulletin Board Systems for postings about UFO’s or extraterrestrials.(49)
A number of incidents would teach the members of FCOR not to be uncritical of the information it received via this new form of communication. Shortly after beginning to use the internet to collect information, Hanrahan brought to the group’s attention a federal law that supposedly allowed the government to quarantine anyone who was in contact with an extraterrestrial. This initially caused a great deal of alarm, something that was only alleviated when Beverly Safford, an FCOR member and a lawyer, discovered that the law in question was designed merely to allow astronauts to be quarantined after space travel.(50)
In early 1996 the members of FCOR read what Neal described as an “internet report,” probably a posting to an internet forum, that stated that an object four times the size of earth was following the newly discovered comet Hale-Bopp, which was going to pass by earth in the next year. This object behind the comet was said to be hollow and emitting radio signals, attributes that to the members of FCOR indicated that it might be a craft piloted by extra-terrestrials.(51)
As he read further, Neal became more skeptical of the reliability of the reports, causing him to call the astronomy department of his alma mater, Haverford College.
The department chair explained that he had no knowledge of such an object, and urged Neal to contact Haverford observatory if he had further questions. This conversation and the lack of media coverage of the alleged object convinced Neal that the entire affair was a hoax, causing him to write “I think it would be difficult or impossible to suppress or ignore such a phenomenon to the point where news of it would not appear somewhere on TV or in newspapers; even a report branded as speculative or false would surely appear somewhere.” He admitted that FCOR was going to have to learn to critically sort through the “constant stream of strange, unverifiable, and offbeat reports about outworld visitors and their doings.”(52)
The notion that a starship was following Hale-Bopp was widely publicized among those interested in the idea of UFOs and extraterrestrials, and the fact that FCOR considered this idea shows their close connection to that community. The entire affair was originally traceable to Chuck Shramek, an amateur astronomer, whose photographs of Hale-Bopp capturing the image of this alleged “object” were widely circulated online.
Scientific authorities and the academic community disputed the starship interpretation, viewing the photographs as merely capturing a background star in the image. The California-based Heaven’s Gate group (known formally as Human Individual Meta-morphosis), a religious movement heavily influenced by Ufology and science fiction, interpreted the alleged spaceship and the arrival of Hale-Bopp as confirmation that they should make an “exit” from their current earthly existence and committed mass suicide in 1997.(53)
The fact that FCOR was tied into these various networks and cultures would have inherently made it seem distant to many Quakers. While they would be aware of the X-Files or other popular manifestations of UFOs, most Quakers would have tended to see this as very distant from their religious lives. As FCOR brought together these divergent groups and attempted to stick them in the middle of Quakerism, it is not wholly surprising that their reception was lukewarm at best.
Even if Quakers were not enthusiastic for FCOR’s message, FCOR still wanted to reach them. It made its most prolonged efforts at this outreach by appearing at various Quaker gatherings. Because liberal Quakers generally did not have paid clergy these public gatherings were where the most important business of the Religious Society of Friends was transacted, and a place where established Quaker organizations like the AFSC tried to get drum up support and get input from the denomination.
Starting in 1995 FCOR tried to make itself visible by having a presence at the Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Asso-ciation of Friends (SAYMA) gathering. As a Monthly Meeting, Asheville, where most of FCOR’s members were located, was a constituent part of SAYMA, which meant that all the members at Ashville also were members in this larger body. Yearly Meetings include not only worship but also information and program sessions, meaning it was quite normal for Quaker organizations or interest groups to engage with the rest of the denomination in this way.
As SAYMA met at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, several members of FCOR distributed promotional literature. FCOR members held a gathering session that attracted twenty-two attendees, several of whom, though not affiliated with FCOR, confessed that they had had some kind of experience either with extraterrestrials or their space crafts.(54) Yet the SAYMA gathering did little to increase FCOR’s membership or its funding. Despite the fact that there were a number of people who claimed to have similar encounters, FCOR was unable to overcome the stigma of strange beliefs or fears of derision by more skeptical Quakers.
FCOR was at least successful in making the case that it was a legitimate Quaker organization, and was officially treated as such by SAYMA. In 2000 Neal was able to read a report on the activities of FCOR at SAYMA’s Business Meeting.(55) By 2001 FCOR’s presence was officially welcomed and its delegate was received along with the delegates from more established organizations like Friends General Conference, the Friends Committee on National Legislation and Friends for Gay and Lesbian Conferences.(56) Part of this acceptance may have stemmed from Neal’s longtime affiliation with SAYMA, and his prior service as the organization’s clerk.
Despite this public acknowledgement from SAYMA, the conference never resulted in the kind of attention that Neal wanted for FCOR. Neal was able to distribute many FCOR pins, small lapel pins with an image of a stick figure wearing a traditional Quaker hat while waving at a UFO. Though the members of FCOR hoped that the fact that these items were quickly given away indicated that there was some public interest in their organization, it does seem far more likely that the pins were seen as novelties by the people that took them.
At various SAYMA gatherings FCOR usually experienced a kind of gentle rejection. They were respected as a Quaker organization and given a platform to speak, but few found their message to be of any interest. Those that would have been drawn to the group through personal experiences of perceived alien encounters were too afraid that they would be judged for associating with the organization. While about a third of Americans believed that aliens visited earth, few Quakers were willing to publically proclaim their solidarity with FCOR, for the fear of social ostracism was too strong.(57) It did not require a creed or a heresy trial to scare Quakers who might otherwise have been inclined to believe in alien visitation from associating with FCOR; it simply took the threat that their behavior would be seen as silly.
When FCOR decided to appear at Friends General Conferences Yearly Gathering, hoping to present themselves in a manner similar to how they had appeared at SAYMA, things did not go as well. Despite attending these yearly sessions for over half a dozen years, FCOR frequently feel short of its goals of increasing its membership by these visits.
Throughout its existence, FCOR struggled with membership. After FCOR was founded in 1994, Neal was unable to even generate enough interested members to create an event at that year’s FGC gathering. On other occasions, even when events were held, they drew little prolonged interest. During the 1996 FGC Gathering, for instance, not a single new person subscribed to the FCOR newsletter.(58) In some years their events did attract a modest turnout; one year, twelve Quakers attended an event to discuss their experiences of being abducted by aliens, and in another year around twenty engaged in an outdoor “watch/signal exercise” to communicate with any nearby extraterrestrials.(59)Yet overall FCOR’s appearances under Neal, and those who directed the programs when he was busy or too ill, were not successful at FGC.
The largest hazard for FCOR at FGC, however, was institutional pressure. In 1996 FGC rejected an application from FCOR to conduct a week-long morning workshop at the conference which would have been listed in the Gathering Program, citing the fact that FCOR did not have enough material in their proposed program to justify inclusion.(60) While much of the evidence remains obscure, Neal seemed to imply that he believed that this was simply a way to exclude FCOR from a more respectable and visible place at a major Quaker gathering like FGC.
Whether Neal was correct in this interpretation is relatively unimportant. Even if FCOR was simply refused permission for the week-long workshop due to a lack of content in their proposal for the Gathering, rather than out of any hostility towards metaphysical religious beliefs, the fact they were not perceived as meriting a spot on the official program indicated that Neal was failing in his mission to make FCOR as essential to Quaker life as had been an organization like the American Friends Service Committee. New theological movements within Quakerism had been known to rise to prominence during conferences before, such as the shift brought by the Manchester Conference in 1895, but FCOR’s ideas about Quakers and aliens were simply not in a position to take hold within the denomination. At best FCOR was being ignored, and at worst it was being snubbed.
According to the FCOR newsletter, Neal felt himself partly vindicated in his view that it was being snubbed when in 1998 the carryover workshop clerk from the last FGC gathering (a position that would have given her have considerable input in approving various workshops) apologized to him, noting that during prior sessions FCOR had been treated unfairly.(61) FGC’s rejection of FCOR was not lasting, but it does indicate that there may have organized institutional pressure to stop FCOR from spreading its ideas.
FCOR’s reception at both SAYMA and FCOR is comparable with historian Erin Bell’s analysis that English Quakers in the early modern era used social coercion in subtle ways, like shaming or forcing public shows of repentance for wrongdoing, rather than physical violence or institutional power in order to maintain the cohesion of their society.(62) In prior centuries Quakerism had been quick to formally disown members who showed signs of too much theological innovation or violated either orthopraxy or orthodoxy. The rise of liberal Quakerism has made disownment for theological reasons almost entirely unknown, but standards of behavior were still enforced, now simply through informal means.(63)
Dandelion’s studies of British Quakerism shows that powerful informal prohibitions do exist which enforce standards of practice within Quakerism. What Dandelion describes is how violations of the norms of silent worship will bring a reprimand, either through a public interruption or the words of a Quaker elder (a position sometimes formally recognized in the United States, but also often informally present).(64) While Dandelion suggests in the British context that this kind of policing does not apply to belief, which remains largely open, FCOR offers some evidence that in the United States at least it does also extend into the realm of theology.
Neither SAYMA or FGC as organizations, nor its members, were going to directly confront or publically denounce Neal or the other members of FCOR, but it appears that Quakers generally were under considerable social pressure not to take FCOR seriously. By ignoring FCOR’s information sessions at these conferences, not funding the organization and treating FCOR members as cranks, the divide between what was perceived as rational Quaker practice and the particular metaphysical religion of FCOR was maintained.
Low attendance at FCOR sessions at these yearly gatherings, lack of funds and the advanced age of a number of FCOR’s members made it clear that as the new millennium dawned FCOR’s future was far from certain. Neal was very ill at times, at one point having to delay newsletter issues because he was receiving chemotherapy for a newly discovered cancer.(65) Neal expressed the desire for a younger generation to carry on his work, but he did not find anyone willing to do this. Some of the members of FCOR that had been active in Asheville moved away, which decentralized the already small organization and made it even weaker. Neal and his colleagues had set out to bring something new to Quakerism, to create a viable organization that could take the lead in communicating with alien visitors, but after six years of trying it was clear that Quakerism was not receptive to the idea.
Neal never wavered in the faith that aliens were real, and that all humans had to do was reach out to them to make peaceful contact. Towards the end of his time leading FCOR, Neal felt that all his beliefs were confirmed when, during an attempt to contact aliens with Steve Greer of CSETI, he had an encounter. Neal would describe what he believed was his first encounter with alien visitors to the FCOR newsletters readership:
“Our group had fixed its attention on what first resembled a satellite. But it was brighter and moving toward the northern horizon in an unusual direction, trailing a streamer of light. Reaching a point about 30 [degree sign] above the horizon, it suddenly 'winked out' for a second or two, then reappeared long enough to send a brilliant flash in our direction before finally disappearing. Satellite? No way. Meteorite? Too slow, and it wouldn't disappear, then appear again and act like a flash bulb.”
Neal’s belief that this was a UFO was, he felt, was further validated when a helicopter then flew over the group of alien watchers and shined a light on them. This was, he believed, a “covert group with another agenda about the visitors,” part of the government cover-up that kept them from the public.(66) FCOR may not have succeeded as he had hoped, but Neal felt that his life was well spent. He had a religious experience that confirmed everything he had thought; the truth was out there and he had found it, even if no one else knew it yet.
In February 2001 Neal admitted that FCOR was going to go dormant for a few years. He announced:
“FCOR has been held together so far by a small nucleus of loyal supporters, and has depended on three or four Friends to publish the newsletter, write reports and informational material, and organize workshops and interest groups. If this narrow base of support is reduced FCOR must become less active. Our editorial staff is now less able to help then in the past. I personally must deal with a transition in lifestyle, plus temporary setback in health and mobility. In about eight months I will change from homeowner to retirement community resident and the changeover is already under way.”(67)
Yet Neal was optimistic that this was not the end. The day would come when the visitors would be revealed and on that day FCOR would be needed again. His final parting to readers of the newsletter was to hope that “May we grow in insight and inspiration to welcome the presence of intelligent others, and seek unity with them.”
In many ways Neal was a Quaker visionary and a mystic like his early Quaker forbearers John Woolman and George Fox had been. He received a revelation of the truth as he saw it, and had a calling to stand for a cause that he saw as connected to justice, and he followed both. Yet what separated Neal and the members of FCOR from the success of the early Quakers was not their passion or the correctness of their beliefs (many would after all question John Woolman’s condemnation of maritime travel as sinful or the accuracy of George Fox raising the dead) but how the community received their message. The fact that FCOR was dismissed by Quakers is not lamentable.
That its beliefs were against mainstream science remains a valid criticism, but it should also serve as a reminder of that the line between madness and a prophetic calling within Quakerism, or American religion generally, has always been thin. Any person or group on either side of that line is remarkable enough to be studied and remembered.
1. J. Phillip Neal, “Extraterrestrial Encounters,” Friends Journal, January 1994, 30.
3. “Obituary: John Neal.” Citizen Times, June 13, 2015. http://www.citizen-times.com/services/cobrand/header/?from=global&sessionKey=&autologin=.
For information on the leadership of World War II conscientious objectors in postwar Quakerism see: Thomas D. Hamm, Earlham College: A History, 1847-1997. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1997), 195-199.
4. J. Phillip Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 1” (FCOR, February 1994), 1, Haverford College, Quaker Collection, Friends Committee on Outworld Relations, SG1.
5. David A Hollinger, After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013), 19, 45-46.
Past surveys of the scope of American religious history certainly tend to prize the study of Evangelical religiosity and histories of “mainline” denominations above most other topics when considering Christianity. See: Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People, 2nd edition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004); Jon Butler, Grant Wacker, and Randall Balmer, Religion in American Life: A Short History, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2011).
6. The widespread embracing of narratives that prize the continued influence of the group or subjects being studied has occasionally lead to rather questionable overstatements about the longevity of the traditions under examination. Perry Miller famously saw Jonathan Edwards as grasping all of modern thought and suggested that New England Congregationalists in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were actually crypto-Arminians, which enabled him to argue for their intellectual influence even after rise in popularity of Arminianism shortly before the beginning of the nineteenth century. In a more recent example Catherine Brekus suggests that the disparate eighteenth and nineteenth century female preachers she examines in Strangers and Pilgrims, who were largely forgotten after their own lifetimes, were part of the heritage of efforts of modern evangelical woman’s efforts to become ordained. See: Perry Miller, Jonathan Edwards (New York: Meridian Books, 1959); Perry Miller, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1953), 214-215; George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 60-61; Catherine A. Brekus, Strangers & Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 15-16, 340-341.
7. Douglas A. Kline, “The Quaker Journey and the Framing of Corporate and Personal Belief,” Ethos 40, no. 3 (September 1, 2012): 281.
8. Dandelion in particular has been a key advocate of the idea that Quakerism is united to some degree by orthopraxy. It might be noted that this idea that there is a core of common practice among is something most often used by liberal Quakers. Those who are more Evangelical or Orthodox theologically simply see their Christian belief as uniting them. Wilmer A. Cooper for instance simply suggests that liberal forms of Quakerism are in error and do not search for a shared essence in the same way. Carole Dale Spencer likewise rejects practice as uniting Quakers and argues that Holiness is the “Soul of Quakerism.” She faults liberal Friends for ignoring this theological idea. See: Pink Dandelion, An Introduction to Quakerism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Wilmer A. Cooper, A Living Faith: An Historical and Comparative Study of Quaker Beliefs, 2nd ed. (Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 2000); Carole Dale Spencer, Holiness: The Soul of Quakerism: An Historical Analysis of the Theology of Holiness in the Quaker Tradition (Colorado Springs, CO: Paternoster, 2007).
9. Dandelion, An Introduction to Quakerism, 136-139; Pink Dandelion, “Research Note: Implicit Conservatism in Liberal Religion: British Quakers as an ‘uncertain Sect,’” Journal of Contemporary Religion 19, no. 2 (May 1, 2004): 219–29; Pink Dandelion and Peter Collins, “Introduction,” in The Quaker Condition: The Sociology of a Liberal Religion, ed. Pink Dandelion and Peter Collins (Newcastle, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008), 5,7,8.
10. Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 37-39. Asad’s ideas on this subject of course owe a heavy intellectual debt to Michel Foucault.
11. FCOR may also seem outside the scope of academic study simply because its creation happened only two decades ago, perhaps giving the mistaken appearance that not enough time has passed for it to seem a valid object of study. However, it should be remembered that scholars of religion have been quite willing to engage in the beliefs of New Religious Movements in a contemporary context, extensively writing about groups like Scientology or the Unification church, particularly from an ethnographic or sociological perspective. Additionally, the work of Kathryn Lofton, Amy Johnson Frykholm, Heather Hendershot, and a number of others, has effectively examined current religious traditions through the lens of popular culture. See: J. Gordon Melton, “Introducing and Defining the Concept of New Religious Movements,” in Teaching New Religious Movements, ed. David G. Bromley (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 29–41; James T. Richardson and Barend van Driel, “Journalists’ Attitudes toward New Religious Movements,” Review of Religious Research 39, no. 2 (December 1, 1997): 116–36; Thomas Robbins, “‘Quo Vadis’ the Scientific Study of New Religious Movements?,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 39, no. 4 (December 1, 2000): 515–23; George D. Chryssides, The Advent of Sun Myung Moon: The Origins, Beliefs and Practices of the Unification Church (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1991); Amy Johnson Frykholm, Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America (Oxford University Press, USA, 2007); Heather Hendershot, Shaking the World for Jesus: Media and Conservative Evangelical Culture (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2004); Kathryn Lofton, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon (Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 2011).
12. Catherine L. Albanese, A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 123.
13. Susan A. Clancy, Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens (Harvard University Press, 2009), 87; Gary Lachman, A Dark Muse: A History of the Occult (Basic Books, 2009), 18-19; J. Gordon Melton, “The Contactees: A Survey,” in The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds, ed. James R. Lewis (SUNY Press, 1995), 1–13.
14. The most famous person to link Swedenborg and Fox sharing a kind of common mysticism was, of course, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who frequently paired them in his essays. Steven Fanning, Mystics of the Christian Tradition (New York: Routledge, 2005), 217.
15. Christopher Partridge, “Understanding UFO Religions,” in UFO Religions, ed. Christopher Partridge (New York: Routledge, 2003), 7-21.
16. Billy Graham, Angels: Ringing Assurance That We Are Not Alone (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1995), 8-10; Anne Cross, “A Confederacy of Faith and Science: Science and the Sacred in UFO Research,” in Alien Worlds: Social and Religious Dimensions of Extraterrestrial Contact, ed. Diana G. Tumminia (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2007), 245.
17. Rob Cook, “Would the Discovery of Alien Life Prove Theologically Embarrassing? A Response to Paul Davies,” Evangelical Quarterly 84, no. 2 (April 2012): 139–54.
18. Daniel N. Wojcik, The End of the World As We Know It: Faith, Fatalism, and Apocalypse in America (New York: NYU Press, 1997), 202-204; Michael Lieb, Children of Ezekiel: Aliens, UFOs, the Crisis of Race, and the Advent of End Time (Duke University Press, 1998), 97-98. One of the more notable advocates of this view was Hal Lindsey, a writer who promoted dispensational premillennialist eschatology. Lindsey in Planet Earth- 2000 A.D. he wrote that demons, disguised as aliens, would arrive and lie to humanity that they had been involved in human evolution, creating a new religion. This development would presage the return of the antichrist. Curiously Lindsey seemed to believe these demon-aliens were in league with the Soviet Union.
19. Gary Gromacki, “Ancient Aliens or Demonic Deception?” Journal of Ministry & Theology 16, no. 2 (Fall 2012): 24–62.
20. Ted Peters, “Exo-Theology: Speculations on Extraterrestrial Life,” in The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds, ed. James R. Lewis (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1995), 187–206; Steve Rose, “The Pope Has Said That He Would Baptize a Martian – but Would They Want Our Religions?,” The Guardian, accessed November 30, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/science/shortcuts/2014/may/14/pope-francis-baptise-martian-would-they-want-our-religions.
21. J. Phillip Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 4” (FCOR, September 1994), Haverford College, Quaker Collection, Friends Committee on Outworld Relations, SG1.
22. Albanese, A Republic of Mind and Spirit, 75.
23. Ann Braude, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America, Second Edition (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001), 10-19; Chuck Fager, Remaking Friends: How Progressive Friends Challenged Quakerism & Helped Save America (Durham, NC: Kimo Press, 2014).
24. Hugh Barbour and J. William Frost, The Quakers (Richmond, IN: Friends United Meeting Press, 1988), 219-230; Thomas D. Hamm, The Quakers in America (Columbia University Press, 2003), 54-63; Pink Dandelion, An Introduction to Quakerism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 219-253.
25. Thomas C. Kennedy, British Quakerism, 1860-1920: The Transformation of a Religious Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).
26. Isaac May, “The President’s Friends and Foes: Richard Nixon and the Divisions of American Quakerism,” Quaker History 102, no. 1 (Spring 2013), 17-38. For a concise overview of the important points of liberal Quaker history see: J. William Frost, “Modernist and Liberal Quakers, 1887-2010,” in The Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies, ed. Ben Pink Dandelion and Stephen W. Angell (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 78–92.
27. Kline, “The Quaker Journey and the Framing of Corporate and Personal Belief”; Hamm, The Quakers in America, 121-128; David Boulton, ed., Godless for God’s Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism (Dent, Cumbria [U.K.]: Dales Historical Monographs, 2006).
28. Courtney Bender, The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination (Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 2010), 33-34.
29. Chuck Fager, Remaking Friends, 197.
30. Henry Joel Cadbury, “My Personal Religion” (Universalist Friends, 1936), http://universalistfriends.org/UF035.html. Accessed November 5, 2014
31. Jesse Holmes, “To the Scientifically Minded,” Friends Journal 85, no. 6 (1928): 103–4.
32. Martha Louise Deed, “Major Patterns of Religious Commitment Among Members of the Religious Society of Friends” (Doctoral Dissertation, Boston University, 1969).
33. Edward J. Stevens, “Are We Being Held Hostage?” 47, no. 10 (October 2001): 4.
34. “About Us,” Center for the Study of Exterrestrial Intelligence, 2014, http://new.cseti.org/; Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 1.”
35. Aaron John Gulyas, Extraterrestrials and the American Zeitgeist: Alien Contact Tales Since the 1950s (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013), 162-164.
36. Paul McCarthy, “Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind- Communicating with UFOs,” Omni, December 1992, http://www.paradigmresearchgroup.org/Webpages/Close%20encounters%20of%20the%20fifth%20kind%20-%20communicating%20with%20UFOs%20Omni%20-%20Find%20Articles.htm. Accessed November 11, 2014.
37. Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 4”; J. Phillip Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 5” (FCOR, January 1995), Haverford College, Quaker Collection, Friends Committee on Outworld Relations, SG1.
38. Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 5.”
39. Stephanie Ocko, Spiritual Adventures: A Traveler’s Guide to Extraordinary Vacations (Citadel Press, 2003), 264.
40. J. Phillip Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 10” (FCOR, September 1995), Haverford College, Quaker Collection, Friends Committee on Outworld Relations, SG1.
41. Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 1.”
42. Jean Roberts quoted in J. Phillip Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 24” (FCOR, March 1999), Haverford College, Quaker Collection, Friends Committee on Outworld Relations, SG1.
44. Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 1.”
45. Aris Mousoutzanis, Fin-de-Siècle Fictions, 1890s-1990s: Apocalypse, Technoscience, Empire (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).
46. David Bell and Lee-Jane Bennion-Nixon, “The Popular Culture of Conspiracy/the Conspiracy of Popular Culture,” The Sociological Review 48, no. S2 (October 1, 2000): 133–52.
47. J. Phillip Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 17” (FCOR, March 1996), Haverford College, Quaker Collection, Friends Committee on Outworld Relations, SG1; Timothy Good, Above Top Secret: The Worldwide U.F.O. Cover-Up (Quill, 1989).
48. J. Phillip Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 21” (FCOR, March 1998), 21, Haverford College, Quaker Collection, Friends Committee on Outworld Relations, SG1; Kendrick Frazier, Barry Karr, and Joe Nickell, eds., The UFO Invasion: The Roswell Incident, Alien Abductions, and Government Coverups (Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books, 1997).
49. J. Phillip Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 8” (FCOR, June 1995), Haverford College, Quaker Collection, Friends Committee on Outworld Relations, SG1.
51. Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 17.”
53. David Wilkinson, Science, Religion, and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Oxford University Press, 2013),14; Douglas FitzHenry Jones, “Reading ‘New’ Religious Movements Historically: Sci-Fi Possibilities and Shared Assumptions in Heaven’s Gate,” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 16, no. 2 (November 2012): 29–46; Benjamin E. Zeller, “Storming the Gates of the Temple of Science: Religion and Science in Three New Religious Movements” (PhD Dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2007).
54. J. Phillip Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 9” (FCOR, July 1995), 9, Haverford College, Quaker Collection, Friends Committee on Outworld Relations, SG1.
55. “Minutes for SAYMA, Meeting 30” (Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association, June 6, 2000), http://sayma.org/top/online_documents/YM2000.txt.
57. Caitlin Dewey, “The Fear That Drives Our Alien Belief,” The Washington Post, May 14, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/innovations/wp/2013/05/14/the-fear-that-drives-our-alien-belief/. Accessed November 23, 2014.
58. J. Phillip Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 2” (FCOR, April 1994), Haverford College, Quaker Collection, Friends Committee on Outworld Relations, SG1; Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 10.”
59. J. Phillip Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 19” (FCOR, July 1996), Haverford College, Quaker Collection, Friends Committee on Outworld Relations, SG1; J. Phillip Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 22” (FCOR, August1998), Haverford College, Quaker Collection, Friends Committee on Outworld Relations, SG1.
60. J. Phillip Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 20” (FCOR, November 1996), 20, Haverford College, Quaker Collection, Friends Committee on Outworld Relations, SG1.
61. Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 22,” 22.
62. Erin Bell, “The Early Quakers, the Peace Testimony and Masculinity in England, 1660–1720,” Gender & History 23, no. 2 (2011): 292-293.
63. Dandelion, An Introduction to Quakerism, 140.
64. Pink Dandelion, “The Creation of Coherence: The ‘Quaker Double-Culture’ and the ‘Absolute Perhaps,’” in The Quaker Condition: The Sociology of a Liberal Religion, ed. Pink Dandelion and Peter Collins (Newcastle, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008), 1–21.
65. J. Phillip Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 26” (FCOR, October 1999), 2, Haverford College, Quaker Collection, Friends Committee on Outworld Relations, SG1.
66. J. Phillip Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 27” (FCOR, July 2000), 27, Haverford College, Quaker Collection, Friends Committee on Outworld Relations, SG1.
67. J. Phillip Neal, “FCOR Newsletter 28” (FCOR, February 2001), 28, Haverford College, Quaker Collection, Friends Committee on Outworld Relations, SG1.
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———. The New England Mind: From Colony to Province. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1953.
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We begin by looking back to August 30, 2014, at the annual session of NCYM-FUM. The Executive Committee has just made its report.
Almost immediately intense controversy breaks out. Pastors and others from four meetings in particular rose to loudly insist that business as usual be set aside. The yearly meeting, they say, is in a crisis which demands drastic and instant response.
Two pastors, Todd Brown of Holly Spring and David Mercadante of Poplar Ridge, take the lead in asserting that the crisis is rooted in the fact that NCYM is hopelessly divided over doctrine and practice, and this gap can only be closed by a division. Brown insists that this division is made necessary because some meetings in NCYM have what he calls is a “dual affiliation” with the Piedmont Friends Fellowship, which in turn is affiliated with the liberal Friends General Conference.
“It is clear,” Brown said, according to the minutes, “that the only way to have peace and move forward is for those meetings that have aligned with Piedmont Friends Fellowship and Friends General Conference to immediately separate from NCYM. Members from those meetings should resign immediately.” (NCYM 2014 Minutes, p. 29; hereafter, Minutes)
Brown and others repeat this call for “immediate separa-tion/resignation” by the “dually affiliated” several times. But when a Friend complained that “several here today want to kick some meet-ings out,” Todd Brown retorted that “the term kicking out is not appropriate. It is not what we are doing. A recommendation of sepa-rating is not meant to be unkind. . . .” Regarding those meetings associated with Piedmont Friends Fellowship/FGC, he “loves them and they are created in the image of God, but for peace and unity it would be better for these meetings to separate from NCYM.” (Minutes, p. 42)
Two other meetings are active in the push. From Pine Hill, an unnamed member says that a decision to “split” needs to be made that day. “Now is the time for action,” the Pine Hill Friend declares, “since people have driven up here.”
And from Chatham Meeting, pastor Wayne Lamb also expressed impatience: “I believe we could make a decision on what has been said today. . . .[L]et’s go ahead and make the decision to split and work out the details later.” When the Clerk demurs, Lamb bluntly calls for a new Clerk to take the chair and approve the immediate split. (p.33)
As readers of Quaker Theology will know, these calls were stalled that day, but not ended. The drive was stopped at that session by the staunch witness of the outgoing Clerk, Bill Eagles. Although eligible, Eagles’ reappointment as Clerk was blocked by the insurgents, because he is a member of one of the ཁdually affiliatedཁ meetings, New Garden. But Eagles’ term did not end until after the annual session. And he rightly pointed out that–
A. Quakers don’t make decisions in a rush; and
B. there was nothing like a clear consensus or “unity” behind this plan, no matter how loudly the insurgent activists and their supporters shouted and clapped.
Now fast-forward a year and a week, to September 13, 2015:
In a lightly-attended business meeting, Pine Hill Meeting finally achieved its goal of a separation from these tainted, “dually affiliated” groups.
But it didn’t happen quite the way they were expecting in 2014. Instead, it was Pine Hill that resigned from NCYM, “effective immediately.”
This exit was a sharp reversal for the group. In an August 13, 2014 open letter, the meeting had insisted that “Pine Hill Friends has no plans to leave the North Carolina Yearly Meeting or withhold our Askings.” [i.e., yearly meeting dues]
The move left four prominent Pine Hill members in unex-pected exile: Brent McKinney, who has served in many NCYM positions, and even as Presiding Clerk of its larger association, Friends United Meeting; his wife, Brenda McKinney, currently president of the NC United Society of Friends Women, an NCYM group; Billy Britt, who retired after twenty years as NCYM Superintendent; and his wife Viola Britt, who is a member of the NCYM Executive Committee. (Last year, during the purge debate, Billy Britt, though strongly evangelical in his outlook, declined to join the purge outcry. “Billy stands against splitting,” record the minutes. “He said splitting is not the answer.”) (Minutes, page 32.)
To retain their NCYM posts, all will have to find another local meeting home.
The September 13 session also marks an ironic milestone of the drive begun at the 2014 session. Of the four meetings most vocal in demanding the “immediate resignation” of “dually affiliated” (i.e., “liberal”) meetings, three (Poplar Ridge, Holly Spring, and now Pine Hill) are out of NCYM; and the fourth, Chatham, appears headed for the door.
Meanwhile, all but one of the “dually affiliated” meetings they were so troubled by are still part of NCYM. And they are, if any-thing, more unabashed in asserting their religious diversity within the yearly meeting constituency.
How did this come about? And is it the end of this uprising?
Those demanding a purge in 2014 insisted that they did not want to “kick out” any meetings, and “did not want to hurt anyone”; rather, by insisting on their departure, the purgers avowed that they were showing Christian love.
But unsurprisingly, the meetings being told they had to go RIGHT NOW, saw the situation rather differently. During the session, a letter from Southern Quarter, the purge stronghold, was read aloud. Buried in it were comments that likely seemed more realistic and revealing:
“We recognize this solution is similar to major surgery in that it should never be the first option,” Southern Quarter’s letter said, “but on occasion it absolutely must be the last option.” (2014 Minutes, p. 30)
On this makeshift operating table, the purge meetings would wield the knife, while the “dually affiliated,” despite their feeling quite healthy, had been “volunteered” to be the patients/victims; and nothing was said of anesthesia.
Perhaps to the purge advocates’ surprise, the liberal meetings did not regard this surgical metaphor as an appealing one. They had their own attachments to NCYM (some going back 250 years). And those who were “dually affiliated” pointed out that there was no rule against this in NCYM’s Faith & Practice: so they had done nothing wrong.
Thus, over the ensuing months, the liberals stood up for themselves and resisted efforts to provide Pine Hill and the others a sense of “purity” and “unity” by allowing themselves to be scape-goated and amputated.
This resistance was manifest in several settings. One was the “New Committee,” which was hastily set up at the 2014 YM sessions, and charged with bringing proposals to deal with the charges raised by the purge push. It was heavily salted with purge supporters, but also included some opposed to that plan.
The upshot was that, after many agonizing and, from what we have learned, disgraceful sessions, the New Committee produced three “options,” – but no recommendations, because there was no more unity in its ranks than in the YM at large.
The New Committee made its final report at the June 6, 2015 session of NCYM’s Representative Body, which acts for the YM between annual sessions. June 6 (“D-Day,” as was pointed out by Wayne Lamb of Chatham Meeting: a moment for decisive confron-tation.) But instead of recommendations, the committee simply presented three “options,” without evaluation.
The three came down to this:
Option One would have been a quasi-divorce, with NCYM continuing to exist, but only as a holding company for NCYM funds and property, particularly its Quaker Lake Camp, but no other meaningful function. The seventy local meetings would be regrouped (presumably whether they wanted to or not) along doctrinal lines into two associations, which might be dubbed the “sheep” and the “goats.” These two groups would share nothing but the common assets, and were enjoined from talking about each other in public.
The second option, called “Bless and release,” basically reaffirmed the yearly meeting’s status quo: NCYM’s Faith & Practice has no provision for expelling meetings; but meetings are at liberty to withdraw. So, as the Committee put it, under this (existing) arrangement, “The body would ‘bless and release’ those meetings that do not feel they can remain in relationship with the Yearly Meeting under these conditions.” (By “these conditions,” the commi-ttee delicately acknowledged that the liberal meetings were there and unlikely to be expelled.)
Option three, by contrast, would brook no such mollycoddling. Its first step would be to create “a mechanism for removing meetings from NCYM that do not support the theological positions of NCYM as currently expressed in Faith and Practice . . . .” Its second step would be to subject every one of the YM’s 70-odd local meetings to a searching doctrinal “audit.” Those that were deemed “out of com-pliance” would be put on probation, and then if they failed to toe the line, as indicated by submission of letters affirming compliance with the doctrinal sections of Faith & Practice, personally signed by all members of a meeting’s Ministry & Counsel Committee – out they would go.
Option Three had one major virtue: its intentions were unmistakable.
But extensive debate showed that there was no more “unity” in the Representative Body than there had been in the New Committee. The Clerk stated this, and once its options were described, the New Committee was laid down.
In sum, for those expecting definite resolution, “D-Day” for NCYM was a dud.
Those intent on “purification” were not about to give up, however. They insisted that a newer new committee be set up, this one called a Task Force, which would pick up the New Committee’s work. And then one of the purger pastors called for a fourth option to be added to the list, that of the Indiana YM “reconfiguration,” (recounted in QT’s issues #18-#24) as that body’s recent purge was branded.
And to top off the long, grueling session, the purgers insisted that there be an extra, called session of the Representative Body in early August, shortly before the 2015 Annual Sessions, in hopes of getting their winnowing ready for approval when the full body gathered.
When the called Representative meeting convened on August 1, another major factor in the course of the struggle was highlighted: the role of YM Clerk Michael Fulp, Sr. Fulp is hardly a liberal, but through the months since last autumn he had shown considerable regard for the essentials of Quaker process, resisting the purgers’ disregard for NCYM’s Faith & Practice, and insistence on what amounted to voting. Perhaps most important, he was not to be browbeaten into declaring a “consensus” or “sense of the meeting” when no such existed.
For this session, he resolved to take a canvass of the meetings, collecting their “official” statements of preference for the options in play. It was a means of separating the actual sentiments from the claims of massive support by some.
On this list, two more “options” had been added to the three presented at the June 6 Representative meeting. The new, fourth one was adapted from the Indiana model, dubbed a “complete sepa-ration,” by which all NCYM assets would be divided between two (undesignated) subgroups, and each would then go their own way. And the fifth, a rather vague new entry worked up by the Clerk and Superintendent Don Farlow, was called the “Unity Option.” It was, frankly, a mishmash of the other four; but the “unity” label proved appealing. (5 Options online: http://wp.me/p5FGIu-Mf )
Sixty-three of NCYM’s 70 meetings were present. The after-noon-long session consisted entirely of their representatives coming forward, one by one in alphabetical order by meeting, to declare their group’s preference among the five.
The outcome was, as one Friend put it, lots of results, but no decisions. Yet the tally was informative: for instance, the inquisition and purge option, championed by Pine Hill’s Johnny Simmons, was preferred by only eight. The quasi-divorce proposal drew even fewer nods: five.
The vaguest of all, the “Unity option,” drew sixteen, the most; next was the Indiana-based “Total Separation” idea, with fifteen. Close behind was the status quo, non-purge “Bless and release” plan, with thirteen. (But there was a kicker in the tally here: six of these meetings stated that they would resist any proposal that permitted expulsions, and would refuse to stand aside from that opposition.)
Half a dozen more meetings admitted that they had not been able to choose; and one, Prosperity, rejected all five and announced its departure from NCYM, forthwith. (More on the results: http://wp.me/p5FGIu-MX )
Some of the reports were very brief, others were accompanied by lengthy statements; so there was no time for discussion, and the spread of results was, again, far from anything resembling a consensus or “unity.” Clerk Fulp said the results would be reported to the new Task Force and the Yearly Meeting, and for the group not to expect any quick resolution.
This summing up, quite proper from a procedural standpoint, was anticlimactic for the meetings most devoted to a purified body. Two of them, Poplar Ridge and Holly Spring, had already, in mid-July, resolved to move from talk about an alternative structure to action in the form of allocating up to $9000 to hire a “consultant” (an unemployed pastor) to do the legwork involved in setting up their proposed alternative yearly meeting, outlined in March.
And here, as in several other earlier moves, it could be said the purge leaders overplayed their hand.
Perhaps the purgers’ most shocking mistake came in early June, a few days before the “D-Day” session; and it had to do with staff. The NCYM Personnel Committee had sought to fill the vacant post of Religious Education Director, and had selected a young adult Friend, Emily Albert, for the position. They expected to announce this hire officially at the June 6 meeting.
However, when the moment came, late in the afternoon, the committee clerk rose to announce that they would not in fact be offering Albert’s name for consideration, because late the previous night she had called and withdrawn from the position.
Why? The reasons soon leaked out: Albert had been made the target of a campaign of assaultive opposition by certain persons, (likely from Holly Spring), who said she would not get any coop-eration in her work for the yearly meeting.
Why the opposition? Albert was a graduate of Guilford College, and its Quaker Leadership Scholars Program (QLSP), and had been doing RE work for High Point Meeting. The intimidators had nothing solid for their campaign: Albert’s character is unspotted; her academic record superior; her experience relevant; and her faith sincerely Christian.
Ah – but was she the right kind of Christian? For most of the purgers, the Guilford degree alone was one strike, and the QLSP connection was at least two more. Then High Point was one of the meetings which had eloquently rebutted the purgers’ campaign in a letter distributed last fall. (High Point Meeting letter: http://quakertheology.org/High-Point-Kellum.pdf ) What more did one need?
After all, was not QLSP known to be friendly to religious liberals, and open LGBTs? And wasn’t its founder and longtime director none other than Max Carter, a member of the arch-heretical, dually-affiliated New Garden Friends Meeting? And had not Carter even stood up for New Garden in the D-Day discussions that very same afternoon?
(Lest one think this is exaggeration, NCYM-FUM had gathered at Guilford for decades, until opposition among the proto-purgers to the school’s atmosphere of “liberal heresy” obliged the YM to move its sessions to a YMCA facility near Asheville, more than three hours away.)
Many who heard this announcement sat in stunned silence while taking in its implications.
It was time for pushback. Not long afterward that a series of open letters and statements appeared, decrying a pattern of “bullying” and abusive behavior in pursuing the purge over doctrinal differences within NCYM. Max Carter & Frank Massey’s was the first:
“We have watched with growing concern and pain as people we love have been privately and publicly bullied, harassed, and discouraged for honestly held differences of opinion. This has occurred in congregations, in our representative gatherings, in committee work, in phone calls and e-mails, and in individual conversations. It has resulted in distress, retreat from work for the Yearly Meeting, and in extreme cases in hospitalization for stress and anxiety.
It must stop.”
Another, from the NCYM Personnel Committee and Superintendent Don Farlow was also forthright:
We are concerned about rumors, innuendo, gossip and bullying not only concerning prospective personnel, but among the larger body of Friends in the Yearly Meeting. This behavior is hurtful to some and a hindrance to all, is unbecoming and not consistent with our Quaker Christian expression of love.
Two meetings, Jamestown And Spring, added letters of their own. (Excerpts: http://wp.me/p5FGIu-JY )
There was plenty of fodder for these protests, a long string of over-the-top statements associated with the purge effort, since the call for “radical surgery” on unwilling liberal victims at the 2014 annual sessions; to accusations that liberal meetings were on the road to becoming mass murderers; (Jones-Koresh: http://wp.me/p5FGIu-A3) to the Emily Albert harassment. Despite the purgers’ occasional talk about acting only from “Christian love,” the pattern was all too clear. It was significant that thepurge advocates issued no public rebuttal to these critical letters
And there had been one earlier, more fateful action that ultimately backfired: On March 18, 2015, Poplar Ridge took the first documented steps toward a Plan B: if the ‘dually affiliatedཁ liberals could not be forced out, then they would organize a rival yearly meeting. In a letter addressed to “Like-minded Friends” and others, the meeting leadership wrote (http://afriendlyletter.com/wp-content/uploads/Poplar-Ridge-03-18-20151.pdf ):
“The Ministry & Counsel of Poplar Ridge Friends cannot recommend remaining linked to the North Carolina Yearly Meeting. . . . With much prayer, fasting and discernment we believe the Holy Spirit is leading us in a new direction at Poplar Ridge. We seek to gather with like-minded Friends to explore the possibility of forming a new association. . . . From there, we would like to gather with like-minded Friends who share our convictions and our desires for a new association. Gathering formally with Friends who share our vision will help us lay the logistical and administrative groundwork for this endeavor. We imagine that we could potentially formalize our new association and amicably part ways with the NCYM by the 2015 Annual Sessions.”
Included with the letter was an outline and a summary creed for the new body, described there as a yearly meeting, which included provisions for enforcing doctrinal compliance on pain of expulsion; these took pains to exalt the Bible as “wholly inspired by God,” permit outward sacraments of communion and water baptism, to insist that marriage was only for one male and one female, and to tolerate the use of alcohol and tobacco.
The “new body” was also expected to come into being with an endowment, or the equivalent of a divorce settlement, from NCYM:
“There are many properties, trust funds, etc. that would have to be divided,” the March 18 letter said. “Other groups, including Yearly Meetings, have found ways to do this. Surely we can as well. . . . In order to legally move into a New Yearly Meeting that would have assets, recorded ministers, etc., the New Yearly Meeting would need to be established before we would transfer our membership from NC Yearly Meeting.”
“Divide” the “properties”? And the “trust funds”? These last comments would come back to haunt the writers.
Poplar Ridge followed up with a series of meetings through the spring with “like-minded Friends,” while still hoping the NCYM Representative Body would adopt some form of forced separation, expelling the liberal meetings and dividing the YM assets with the “like-minded” meetings headed for the “new association.”
But as we have seen, these sessions, culminating in the irresolute “D-Day” meeting of June 6th, did not meet their hopes, or keep to the timetable to divide assets and “amicably part ways” by the annual session in early September.
So along with Holly Spring, they agreed, as recorded in Holly Spring’s minutes of July 19, to hire a local pastor, “someone who can work full-time, to research and develop a path to setting up a new association.”
(Holly Spring Minutes: http://quakertheology.org/Holly-Spring-Minutes-Pay-for-Thames-07-2015.pdf )
Within days, a copy of the Holly Spring minutes recording this decision came into the possession of the NCYM Executive Committee. The Executive Committee’s Clerk, Wallace Sills, saw in them an imminent threat to the entire yearly meeting, which could to be ignored.
He approached a Quaker attorney, Thomas Terrell, and asked him to prepare guidance for the Committee.
Terrell obliged with a detailed memo, which included a legal analysis and proposed action. In the Poplar Ridge/Holly Spring decision to hire, he saw a deep conflict of interest and the fiduciary duty of NCYM committee and board members to put the best interests of NCYM first:
“It is not an insignificant matter that these two meetings are actively engaging in decisions over the manner in which the NC Yearly Meeting is organized, how it spends its funds, and what its missions and future will be while simultaneously establishing another yearly meeting that will compete with the NC Yearly Meeting in many ways.
Service on NC Yearly Meeting committees is a fiduciary duty, and the essential quality of a fiduciary is that he or she fully serves, without compromise, the interests of the beneficiary. This conflict is most pronounced in the month of September when Friends gather for their annual session and when planning and budgeting for the coming year commences in earnest.
This is not a situation that the NC Yearly Meeting has created, but it is a situation that the NC Yearly Meeting cannot ignore. Indeed, the timing and severity of this conflict require a response devoid of lengthy discussion and handwringing.”
Thus, Terrell called for action:
“Based upon (1) the foregoing description of a situation comprised of facts that are publicly described by Poplar Ridge and Holly Spring themselves in various communications and monthly meeting minutes, and (2) the severity of the conflict of interest it creates as to these two meetings in particular, I recommend that the NC Yearly Meeting Executive Committee act decisively and without delay, acknowledging that Poplar Ridge and Holly Spring have already proclaimed their decision to leave the NC Yearly Meeting and that they are hereby released from their membership in the NC Yearly Meeting so that they may complete the formation of the yearly meeting they have already started and funded. We should do this in full respect of their decision. Because their conflict occurs at a time when the NC Yearly Meeting’s future is being decided, they have neither purpose nor rightful claim to participate in the decision of the yearly meeting they are leaving. I therefore recommend that their release is effective immediately, and posit that there is no reasonable alternative.”
Then, strangely for many who read it later, Terrell’s memo turned from what he saw as an imminent threat to NCYM to an entirely different matter: the fact that the largest liberal meeting, New Garden, had in March joined the new Piedmont Fellowship Yearly Meeting (as reported in QT #26, pp. 25-27). Here he saw a “dual affiliation,” which he also deemed unacceptable, notwithstanding the fact that there was no prohibition thereof in NCYM’s Faith & Practice, and that two efforts to establish one at Representative sessions this year had been turned aside. (Terrell memo excerpts here: http://wp.me/p5FGIu-NP )
The Executive Committee met on August 20, read and discussed Terrell’s memo, and followed his advice. It adopted a resolution “releasing” all three meetings from NCYM effective immediately.
While New Garden’s circumstances, motivations, and financial actions were acknowledged to be different from the other two: for instance, it saw the Piedmont connection as an expansion of its NCYM presence rather than a rival to it; they were not recruiting anyone to leave NCYM; and they had made no financial contribution to the new body, which in fact did not even have a treasurer or a bank account.
The Executive Committee, however, deemed these differences insignificant, and included New Garden in its “release.” Executive Committee Members were dispatched with copies of the resolution, for personal delivery to each of the three meetings. The meetings were also informed that they had the right to appeal their “release” to the yearly meeting, but that during the annual business sessions, any of their members in attendance would not be otherwise eligible to speak to any matter before the body.
As a way of changing the subject at the annual sessions, the Executive Committee action was extremely effective. News of the “releases” (immediately redubbed, more accurately, as “expulsions,”) spread like wildfire across the NCYM constituency, and fueled outrage on all sides. Evangelicals were shocked. Liberals were stunned. And practically all those headed into the mountains to the YMCA center where the annual sessions gathered, were loaded for bear.
Prominent exceptions were the two meetings which had precipitated the Executive Committee’s action. For them. shock soon turned to resolve: On August 30 and 31 respectively, Poplar Ridge & Holly Spring each issued “Dear Friends” letters, announcing that they would not appeal and were cutting all ties to NCYM forthwith.
Poplar Ridge, while proclaiming their innocence of any wrong actions or motives, noted,
“However, this expulsion has clarified many things for us. The attitudes and decisions being made by NCYM over the past 13 months further convince us that no reasonable progress is in the foreseeable future. We have been sensing a leading to leave this yearly meeting and to form a new association of Friends, and now, we have confirmed that this is a true calling. . . . So it is with a heavy heart that as of August 30, 2015, we acknowledge the end of our one and a half century ministry partnership and membership with North Carolina Yearly Meeting.”
Holly Spring’s letter was briefer:
“While we were initially disappointed and hurt that the Yearly Meeting leadership, in particular the Executive Committee, misinterpreted our intentions, we are now at peace with the release and are pleased that our ministries will go forward unimpeded by the issues that rankle North Carolina Yearly Meeting. . . . We recognize that an appeal process is available; however, we do not plan to appeal this decision. We love all of you and will continue to pray for NCYM and all of its members.”
But New Garden Friends were in a fighting mood. Their August 20 response was direct:
“New Garden Friends Meeting . . . rejects the Executive Committee’s offer of ‘release’ of New Garden from NC Yearly Meeting. New Garden rejects the purported establishment of a rule against dual affiliations as done without authority and rejects the application of that rule to New Garden as done without authority and contrary to Faith and Practice and the proceedings in Representative Body. New Garden requests that the Executive Committee reconvene immediately and rescind its action.”
(All three Letters: http://wp.me/p5FGIu-Qg)
The Executive Committee compounded their tactical errors in another letter dated August 25, directing that any consideration of appeals of the “releases” would not be heard at the annual sessions, but postponed from the annual sessions until sometime in the late fall or winter of 2016.
But Friends were not having it. When the YM’s first morning session opened on September 5, within fifteen minutes the Executive Committee report was front and center. Committee Clerk Wallace Sills read a report of their actions; attorney Tom Terrell followed up. Then the floor was opened.
The floor? More like the floodgates. Opposition from the body was vehement, nonstop, and across the board. “Release” was denoun-ced as fake terminology; “expulsion” was what had really happened. Tyranny was what the Executive Committee had presumed to estab-lish. Who would be next? And on what grounds, other than Execu-tive Committee displeasure?
After nearly an hour of this, Presiding Clerk Michael Fulp, saw the handwriting on the wall. He told Friends that the body could act to accept or reject the Executive Committee’s report, and the “releases” it contained.
The shouts of rejection were overwhelming. The “releases” were not appealed as such, but rather overturned, vacated, made null. The rebuke to the Executive Committee could not have been plainer.
But Fulp must have been relieved, because with that crisis resolved, the session was able to turn to other, routine matters, substantive but not controversial, with which the agenda was filled.
On reflection, while the Executive Committee had to endure much obloquy, and open rejection of its August 20 actions, as autumn 2015 arrives, it begins to look as though they may have unwittingly “taken one for the team,” and helped the major parties involved achieve many of their key objectives.
But if their “releases” went down, the Executive Committee had fulfilled what they saw as their prime institutional duty, that of keeping whole the NCYM properties, other assets, and trust funds.
Or take Poplar Ridge and Holly Spring: They had, remember, hoped to “part ways” with NCYM by the time of annual sessions; and so they had. True, they did not do so “amicably,” or at the head of a new yearly meeting drawing the large majority of NCYM meetings to its banner, and endowed with a substantial chunk of NCYM assets
But when the dust settled, they saw that they were finally done with being “unequally yolked”, as two Holly Spring members wrote, with liberal Friends and “dually affiliated” meetings. (http://quakertheology.org/Yorks-Holly-Spgs.pdf) Moreover, with the rejection of their “release,” they can hold their heads up when they tell the story. Hardly a total loss for them either.
Further, as this is written, Pine Hill, Plainfield, and Prosperity are unattached as well. There could be more departures from NCYM as the last months of 2015 unfold. So they may gather their new “association” after all. And with all their talk about vigorous ministries, there is a big troubled world to keep the exiting groups plenty busy in their own ways, without the distractions posed by NCYM’s diversity.
For New Garden, the ordeal was wrenching, but also turned out well: at this point they are back in good standing in NCYM, where they wanted to be and have been since before the American Revolution. Further, the proposal to ban “dual affiliations” has now been rejected three times by NCYM in this one year. And three of the most vocal crusaders against the liberal groups are gone.
So by rights, the NCYM scene ought to be ready to calm down some, at least for awhile. Instead of some apocalyptic schism, there is attrition. And several of the mainsprings of the troubles that erupted at annual sessions in 2014 have been removed.
Would that it were so simple.
Within an hour of rejecting the “releases” by the Executive Committee, the body listened to a report from the Task Force set up at the end of the D-Day session, which presented its plan to find a “Way Forward” for the yearly meeting in light of all the controversy. (Text of The Task Force Plan here: http://bit.ly/1OMQiet)
But even only a few weeks later, this grand plan has a distinctly obsolescent, not to say musty air to it. It envisions all NCYM meetings signing on to the creedal statements of Faith and Practice, even though they are repeatedly described there as not constituting a creed; it undertakes yet one more time to ban “dual affiliations,” and to forbid any use of alcohol, and codifies an approach to sexual matters that is right out of the 1950s, and leaves no room for any Friends to support of same sex marriage; and there’s more.
It also intimates that meetings which don’t go along with these specifications will eventually face expulsion.
In other words, in this “plan,” most of what had been repeatedly rejected over the past year, most explosively that very morning, could be revived and turned loose on NCYM yet again.
Or maybe not. When the next Representative session convenes, it will not include several of the main advocates of a purifying purge. Maybe a few more will have left to join them. Will the remainder of the body really be so full of the spirit of masochism as to be eager to go through it all yet again?
What’s the right phrase for this? Zombie Theology?
We’ll leave further exploration of this dim prospect for the next issue.
Following a 2005 performance of my play, A Single Woman, about the life of first US Congresswoman and lifelong pacifist, Jeannette Rankin, I was approached by a Quaker woman. She was moved by my work and felt compelled to tell me about Mary Dyer, whom she described as a Quaker martyr. She thought I might be interested in creating a play about Mary.
I filed the idea away along with myriad others I had been given by enthusiastic audience members. Although it was never my intention, I have become known for making theatre about strong historical women.
I later co-created and performed the solo piece Coming In Hot, playing 19 women who had served in the US military from the Viet Nam era to present day. Many peace activist friends and supporters felt I was somehow endorsing or even glorifying war – as far from my agenda as anything could be. But I felt some urgency to assure the world that illuminating the lives of people only increases understanding and, in my view, brings us closer to peace.
Over time, Mary Dyer started moving to the forefront of my creative impulses, and in 2010 I finally broke down and read about her. There are a plethora of biographies – some for youth, some adult-oriented – all with some agreement on events of Mary’s life, all with contradictions.
I began writing my one-person play Mary’s Joy in the fall of 2010. It was snowing out and I was, for personally indulgent reasons, listening to Brooke Shields’ audio of her autobiography. After the birth of her child, she developed post-partum disorder. Following the birth of my only daughter, in 1985, I also lived with that condition – and because it was undiagnosed and untreated for many years, it morphed into more troubling illness.
Back in 2010, as tends to happen, the different stimuli mingled in my artist’s mind and it suddenly occurred to me that Mary Dyer surely suffered from profound post-partum. In my view, it clearly explained much about the last decade of her life.
Historical fiction is sticky business. One need only look at the page on Wikipedia of any historic figure or event to see the debates that ensue. As my brother once told me, we mustn’t confuse history with the past. The past is forever tucked away, never to be seen and only to be interpreted and reported as history.
Mary Dyer’s life is almost entirely mystery. We assume she was born in England, perhaps London. We know she was married there, at St. Martin’s in the Fields, in 1633. We know she had a son, William, who died just two days after his Baptism, which probably happened the day after his birth. We know Mary moved to the New World with her husband, William, in 1635. We know she gave birth to a son, Samuel, that December. We also know she bore a lifeless, anencephalic daughter who was buried secretly, then exhumed. We know church/state leadership used the child’s condition as an example of “God’s punishment” of heretics such as Mary.
We know facts about where and when William Dyer bought land, built homes, migrated to Rhode Island, when Mary had the rest of their children, et cetera. We know Mary traveled alone to England in either 1650 or ‘51, returned to Boston seven years later and was immediately jailed. We know William retrieved her two months later. She returned to Boston, though banned (as were all Quakers) and was nearly hanged, but for a last minute reprieve. We know her son, Will, visited her shortly before she went that day to the gallows. We know she was hanged on June 1, 1660.
The most controversial point of Mary’s story is that she left her children first when she spent seven years in England, departing when her youngest was still an infant. The second time she left them, it was for good, when she chose to be hanged rather than comply with her banishment from Boston.
Author Beth Powning’s new novel, A Measure of Light, saturates the reader in painstaking historical detail. One gets a sense of the smell, the taste, the sounds and the feel of 17th century England and the New World. In my play, I include much detail, but what one can present in a 90-minute performance is a far cry from the layers available in more than 300 pages to be consumed by the reader.
Powning has given Mary a distinctly feminist voice – the voice of a woman who sees the inequities of her society and inherently knows they’re wrong. In my play, this is more of a series of discoveries for Mary, especially through the medium of her friendship with Anne Hutchinson. Anne shows her that women are capable of great thought and enormous achievement and Mary grows to believe in herself as a person worthy of not only salvation, but also prominent ministry – something unthinkable to the Puritans from which she evolved.
Powning’s Mary is as tortured as is mine, by being branded “Mother of a Monster,” following the stillbirth of her anencephalic daughter. Though my Mary keeps her post-partum madness to herself, Powning’s admits to those close to her that she cannot love her children, not as a mother should.
Any extrapolation of Mary Dyer’s life must include an invention of the disastrous effects on her spirit of losing her first child, and then her third – under such horrible conditions – and then having another slew of children. She was a woman and a mother in a time when women and mothers, girls and children in general, were little more than working property. Yet Mary was literate, which put her among an elite minority. She was well born and privileged in a time when people starved and froze to death in the streets every day – even more than today, if such a thing can be imagined. Her travels would have further exposed her to even more atrocities than she witnessed in Puritan England and Boston before her Quaker period began.
Powning’s portrait of Mary is humorless and morose most of the time. My Mary has the buoyancy necessary to hold an audience for 90 minutes. I rationalized my depiction because of the descriptions of Mary as “comely” and “cheerful” – even as she made her way to the gallows. It’s tough going, in Powning’s story, to hang in there with a Mary whose outlook is so bleak, even after she finds Quakers in Britain, takes up that mantle and works to spread the Light.
In addition, Powning’s Mary is even outwardly dour – taking up plain dress long before John Woolman challenged Friends to eschew colored cloth due to its nature as a by-product of the slave industry. My research revealed that Mary was known to push the edge of acceptability by wearing bright velvets and extra lace.
Here’s the rub, and where I remind myself that we mustn’t confuse history with the past. We have nothing but hearsay with which to describe Mary, and any detective will tell us that “eyewitness” accounts are wildly unreliable.
William Dyer, Mary’s husband, left behind more of a breadcrumb trail than did his wife. There is much evidence that William was extraordinarily devoted to Mary. Though never a Friend, he demonstrated unqualified support of her witness as a Quaker. After Mary’s death He picked up her quest for religious freedom. Even after he remarried, he continued to petition the colonies for universal freedom of speech and thought.
My William is based on a fine man I have known since I was a teenager. When I read different accounts of him, Mary’s husband emerged in my mind’s eye in my old friend’s image – tall, dark, broad shouldered, impossibly handsome and kind. Powning’s William is a smaller man, complex and even cantankerous – I found myself wondering whether she, too, based her characters on people she knows.
Much of the conflict in A Measure of Light is between William and Mary, who share passion and erotic connection until she returns from England, dramatically changed. In my play, the love between the spouses is deep and also erotic, though I surmised that part of her escape to England was to avoid becoming pregnant again. When Mary returns, in Mary’s Joy, once she has been rescued by William from the Boston jail, the two have a sensual reunion in a meadow situated someplace between Boston and Providence. I decided that she was no longer fertile and thus was capable of enjoying sex for, perhaps, the first time in decades. Powning’s Mary and William have a strained reunion, though softened by a reference to their carnal connection once they crawled into their marriage bed, together again. Conflict again arises between them as Mary is still able to bear children, but adamant that she will never again become pregnant.
There are many, many points of agreement in our fictions – much of the language is the same, we use a lot of the same reference points from biographies and various histories. We both stuck to some points of recorded documentation and rambunctiously diverted the story in others.
Ultimately, Beth Powning’s A Measure of Light is an intensely detailed cautionary tale, a feminist manifesto, a dream of a chronicle. Her writing is at times poetic, with unsentimental dialogue and vivid imagery of a rough and troubled period in history. History lovers will find it deeply satisfying, as will anyone with a love of quixotic legend.
I began reading my play publicly in the spring of 2011, under the care of and commissioned by the Boulder Friends Meeting. Feedback from Friends, including much historical correction, helped sharpen the script. Under the care of Pima Friends Meeting (Tucson, Arizona) I performed Mary’s Joy at the Friends General Conference Gathering in Providence Rhode Island in 2012, where it was produced as a Lemonade Gallery offering by Chuck Fager. [Editor’s Note: the performance concluded to an extended standing ovation.] I continued to do public readings and enthusiasm grew for the performance; and it would have taken me on a 6-month tour of the UK and parts of Europe had I not been, on Valentine’s Day this year, turned away at Heathrow for having the wrong Visa. I’m now committed to getting the performance on film and distributed worldwide.
The emergence of Powning’s A Measure of Light has strengthened my resolve to spread Mary’s story – perhaps the film will contribute to wider interest in the book, and vice-versa. Hope does spring eternal.
Can this be just a coincidence?ྭ
The full-color cover image on Holy Nation is an Edward Hicks “Peaceable Kingdom” painting. It’s the one featuring William Penn in the background, making a peace treaty with the Indians, while to the right the lion, lamb and other animals are gathered placidly along with several children.
Here’s the coincidence: the exact same painting (out of the sixty-plus versions Hicks produced) is on the cover of another book, Sydney James’s A People Among Peoples (Harvard, 1963). Though on James’s cover, the image is in black and white, and many small cracks are visible in the unrestored canvas.
The duplicate cover art may be serendipitous; but it is not irrelevant. James’s pioneering study of “Quaker Benevolence in Eighteenth-Century America” largely overlaps Crabtree’s book in time period (at least up to the establishment of the American republic), covers many similar issues, and develops an interpretation of similarly-defined problems. His book is also based on exhaustive delving into Quaker records of the time, particularly those in Philadelphia up through New England. In its area, A People Among Peoples is a, perhaps the standard work.
Given this substantial overlap in subject matter, concerns, and even cover art, one might think Crabtree would take James’s book into account: supplement, revise it, and if need be critique it.
But one would be mistaken. James is referenced only twice, indirectly (pp. 140f), and his book not at all.
This neglect is both odd and unfortunate, but alas, not untypical. The tragedy of Holy Nation is that it raises very important points and has the beginnings of a powerful thesis, but the presentation is severely hobbled by sloppy and sketchy research.
The important point Crabtree makes is that early and even “Quietist” Quakerism were decisively shaped by what she calls “the Zion tradition,” a strong sense of exemplifying, indeed inhabiting the chosen people role as earlier ascribed to biblical Judaism.ྭAs a prime example, she quotes a letter by Anthony Benezet:
“‘As a people we are called to dwell alone, not to be numbered with the Nations, content with the comfortable necessaries of life; as pilgrims and strangers; to avoid all incumbrances [sic], as was proposed to Israel of old, to be as a Kingdom of Priests, an holy Nation, a peculiar people to sheer [sic] forth the praise of him that hath called us.’” (1)
Benezet wrote during the American Revolution, more than a century after Fox and the first Quaker insurgency. But the founders can testify to it as well. Consider this rarely-noted snippet from the famous 1660 Letter to Charles II, signed by Fox and eleven other leading Friends. After declaring their non-violence, they issue a stern warning to the newly-crowned worldly sovereign against persecuting them:
Therefore in love we warn you for your soul’s good, not to wrong the innocent, nor the babes of Christ, which he hath in his hand, which he cares for as the apple of his eye; neither seek to destroy the heritage of God . . . .”
(The “babes of Christ”; the “apple of [God’s] eye,” and “the heritage of God”; in more current parlance, “Don’t mess with God’s chosen.” Full text in A Quaker Declaration of War, Kimo Press 2003, p. 70)
An unsigned pamphlet, issued the same year, continues the theme: “A Visitation of Love Unto the King, and Those called Royalists,” I found it quite by accident one day when browsing among the stacks of the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College.
The pamphlet is–as you might expect–a defense of Friends against persecution. Again, its description of the group was not modest in its claims:
“As concerning the Quakers, that are scornfully so called, we are at this day, and have been ever since we were a people, a poor, despised and contemptible People, in the eyes of the world ... and this hath been ever since the Lord raised us up to be a people...and what we are as unto the Lord, if I should declare, it could not be believed by many: but we are his people, and he hath chosen us...and though we have been and may be clouded with the Reproaches and persecutions of an uncircumcised Generation, yet in the Lord’s season it shall be manifest even to the world, and to our very enemies, that we are his people and chosen of him, and he is in the midst of us, whom we serve and worship in spirit, in truth and in righteousness.... (Emphasis added.)
Numerous other examples could be cited of this sense of chosenness, of early Friends seeing themselves as successors to, or co-inheritors with, God’s elect status bestowed on ancient Israel.
Further, this elect consciousness (or “Zion tradition,” in Crabtree’s phrase) outlasted both the First Friends and Benezet’s generation. In the earliest printed books of Discipline, and editions through much of the 1800s, the texts began with an introductory statement that declared plainly that
“As it hath pleased the Lord in these latter days, by his spirit and power, to gather a people to himself; and releasing them from the impositions and teachings of men...these have been engaged to meet together for the worship of God in Spirit, according to the direction of the holy Law-giver....” (Emphasis added. http://www.qhpress.org/texts/obod/intro.html)
Elsewhere I’ve looked at other examples of this, and set them in biblical context (http://quakertheology.org/peoplehood-1.htm).
Otherwise, though, detailed treatment of this basic theme in the major Quaker histories is rare, and when it is mentioned, often muted. Sydney James, for example mentions it mainly to downplay it: “[American] Quakers after the Revolution began to accept diversity of denominations among Christians. Meetings tacitly and individual Friends explicitly adopted the view that their sect was not the one true church destined to embrace all the should truly united to God.” (p. 281)
Why the reticence about facing up to it? My speculations run along two lines: first, the notion of specialness is a kind of “dirty little secret” among modern Friends; of course most of us do feel we Quakers are “special”: such self-congratulatory sentiments can be heard on almost any First Day in unprogrammed Quaker worship; but it is very gauche to say so in public. Moreover, somewhat paradoxically, liberal Friends especially trumpet on almost every possible occasion their devotion to what is declared to be the Quaker “Testimony of Equality.” (The fact that no such “testimony” or principle is found in early Quaker Disciplines is of no consequence; nor does it matter that the idea is specifically disavowed by foundational thinkers such as Robert Barclay – see, for example, his Apology, Proposition Fifteen, II.6: http://www.qhpress.org/texts/barclay/apology/prop15.html )
The other line of speculation is that Friends of most branches have been influenced to a greater or lesser extent by the supersessionist theology of both mainstream Protestantism and Catholicism which regarded Jewish religion and “the Jews” as discarded, replaced or even hated by God, due to their rejection of Christianity as its “true” fulfillment. Alongside such notions runs a deep, if rarely acknowledged, stream of residual anti-semitism.
Whatever the reason, this Quaker “Zion tradition” is the central piece of our history that only very rarely dares to speak its name. So Crabtree earns many points for venturing to raise it up and examine it.
And she more than just raises it up: she regards it as a key to both Friends’ survival through the war-torn period she examines (especially 1755 to 1830),
“. . . Quakers gradually abandoned this hope [of converting the world] and increasingly found solace and salvation in the idea of a holy nation, an earthly Zion, a gathered community of the chosen . . . . In so doing, they relied on the paradigmatic language of the Zion tradition from the Hebrew Scriptures . . . .” (2)
Further, “These links . . . rested on the fundamental conviction that Friends, like Jews, conformed to a law that marked them as a chosen, distinctive, and separate people. Moreover, Friends identified with the Jewish experience of persecution and diaspora . . . .”(3)
Indeed, the parallels are even closer than she thinks: Quakers not only had their own kind of “Torah” (including rules about speech, dress and many forms of private behavior; a uniquely broad role for women; prohibitions on taking part in war and many other forms of public activity; a shared heroic history, including persecu-tion and diaspora; and their peculiar way of doing their church business) – they also had, in Pennsylvania, a “promised Land,” in which they had conducted a “Holy Experiment” which, despite many failings, was also a remarkable undertaking. (pp. 2-3)
Nor was this all: their separate culture, preserved as a trans-national network by the endless journeys of itinerant ministers, articulated and preserved values that, Crabtree insists, were profoundly subversive of the pretensions of both the aristocratic empires, and the revolutionary nationalist ideologies which sought to replace them.
And they passed these subversive values on to their children, both through their socially secluded families, and more formally through the “walled gardens” of their schools. Crabtree did some of her most interesting research in the archive of Westtown School in Pennsylvania (founded in 1799). She first marks the contrast between the Quaker establishments and their nascent “public” counterparts:
“the curriculum at non-Quaker schools perpetuated existing hierarchies. Textbooks denigrated American Indians . . . . They vilified Asians, South Americans, and Africans, warranting imperialism, warfare, and the Atlantic slave trade. And they purposefully erased the existence of enslaved peoples. . . .” (118-119)
But in the new Quaker schools,
“In stark contrast, young Friends learned to analyze and question the systems and structures that perpetuated these kinds of inequalities in the world at large . . . (and, it should be noted, within the Society of Friends itself).”(119)
She found that,
“The copy books left by early Westtown students also illustrate this concern for the ‘mighty work’ of philanthropy . . . . Josiah Albertson’s  piece book, for example, was filled with clippings supporting pacifism, temperance, and abolition.”ྭ(pp. 118-119)
And she notes that at the Nine Partners School in upstate New York (ancestor of today’s Oakwood Friends School), the early Quaker radical Hannah Barnard was on its library committee in the 1790s, filling the shelves with unassuming-looking but incendiary works by pioneer abolitionists such as Thomas Clarkson, where they would be found and consumed a few years later by the young Lucretia Mott. Along with other alumni and alumnae, Mott took the sentiments from there into the abolition and women’s rights struggles of the next century, with historic impact. (p. 122)
In short, in exploring her idea of “the Zion tradition.” Crabtree turns up much that is both full of significance for understanding the dynamic of Quaker survival and a kind of activism that combined conventional charitable efforts for the poor, war victims, and unschooled, with reformist efforts that were much more controversial. Their plain-dressed, nonviolent network also played important, if often unheralded, parts in forwarding reform groups and their crusades.
In the post-revolutionary “nation-building” era, Crabtree argues that such universalist Quaker notions of their Zion tradition as the refusal of war ran increasingly against the grain of the republican efforts to build a new body politic, in which “citizenship” included a mandate to wage war for the new nation against its enemies. She also contends that over time, this American nationalism seeped into the Quaker ranks, where it eroded the Zion tradition and helped sow the seeds of internal discord that came to calamitous fruition in the Quaker schisms that began in 1827.
All this is, as I say, rich with promise and potential insight.
That’s the good news.
But unfortunately, there is another, technical side to the book, which severely qualifies its value. Crabtree’s research is in many, many places spotty, superficial, and marred by errors that call into question both her results and many of her premises.
The list of these solecisms is too long to detail comprehensively, But here are a few:
She asserts that “by the early nineteenth century, more Quakers lived west of the Mississippi than in the former loci of Quaker power in the East.” (p. 55)
Um, no. If she had said west of the Ohio, there could be something of a case to be made, though the “early” nineteenth century was still “early” even there.
Similarly she claims that “by the mid-nineteenth century,” a militant reformism was expressed in “one of the most-invoked hymns inside the walls off the (northern) churches” as “tradition enshrined,” namely, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Um, no again. Julia Ward Howe’s hymn was composed at the end of 1861, eleven years past the midpoint of the century, when a very real war was raging.
Also, when Crabtree describes the poet Coleridge’s dream of building a model community modeled on what he thought John Woolman’s community was like, she says Coleridge “lauded [Wool-man’s] home along the Susquehanna as the ideal place to begin...” (pp. 187-88)
Afraid not. Most readers of Woolman’s writings know he lived in Mount Holly, New Jersey, which is more than 130 miles east of the Susquehanna, which flows through central Pennsylvania. (But Mt. Holly is near the North Branch of Rancocas Creek, which joins the Delaware River about seven miles away.)
Chronological disjointedness is also an issue. Crabtree states that “a faction of Hicksite Friends presented Senator Henry Clay with an abolition petition after he had attended a yearly meeting during the contentious years before the split.” (207)
Not quite. The Clay incident occurred in 1842, fourteen years after the “contentious” Hicksite separation. Further, it happened on the eve of a regional schism among Indiana Orthodox Quakers, over attitudes toward antislavery work.
(See A History of the Separation in Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends, Which Took Place in the Winter of 1842 and 1843, on the Slavery Question, by Walter Edgerton. Cincinnati: Achilles Pugh, 1856. Online: https://archive.org/details/historyofseparat00edge )
Last but not least on this list, the Quaker artist Edward Hicks (whose painting adorns her cover), was a cousin of Elias Hicks, not his brother. (page 204.)
What accounts for this unenviable list of errors? Here the contrast with Sydney James’s volume comes into focus: where he had more than twenty dense pages describing his sources, both manuscript and published, in careful detail, Crabtree has no bibliography at all. Where James’s nearly forty pages of notes is thick with citations from the minutes of Monthly, Quarterly and Yearly Meetings from Carolina to New England, Crabtree’s citations from similar documents is by comparison sparse and scattered.
This superficiality of the background work leaves much of her main thesis unsupported. As she acknowledges in a footnote:
“The argument that Friends turned inward during this period is frequently unquestioned in the historiography. I assume that it originated with three works: Rufus Jones, The Later Periods of Quakerism . . .William Braithwaite, The Second Period of Quakerism 1919]. . . and Jack Marietta, The Reformation of American Quakerism  . . . . It is still widely accepted today, as demonstrated by Pink Dandelion’s categorization of this period as one of ‘Quietism, 1690-1820s’ in his Introduction to Quakerism . I argue that that this period was actually one of avid engagement . . . for the Religious Society of Friends.” (p. 223) (Emphasis added.)
But if Crabtree wants to overturn the “Quietist” interpretation of this era, she will have to do more than simply “assume” its origins; the serious reader will expect her to know the historiography she is undertaking to demolish, beyond presumptions about its longevity and a scan of chapter headings. This also goes for the scholarly landmarks which apply directly to her selected period, like that of Sydney James.
This tacit admission of scholarly indolence is really rather shocking to me. One wonders why it did not raise any flags at the University of Chicago Press, or its referees.
Given these scholarly deficits, I can’t really recommend Holy Nation to readers seriously interested in Quaker history in the revolutionary and later periods.
I say this with much regret, however, because I remain convinced that, in “the Zion tradition,” she has highlighted a very important and shamefully neglected piece of Quaker history, one that has plenty current resonance and relevance. That is why, despite my many misgivings, we are offering an excerpt from it along with this review.
Perhaps it will stimulate a competent scholar to the diligence required to subject Crabtree’s insight to a thorough exposure to the records, and then refine it into a version that is both trenchant and reliable. Whoever that is to be, I say hurry up; we need it.
The Society of Friends cast themselves as a “holy nation” during this period, drawing on the Jewish tradition of Zion to articulate their relationship with God and to govern their interactions with outsiders. This parallel explained their suffering and gave meaning to their persecution. Friends drew inspiration from the ancient Hebrews who remained faithful and steadfast amidst hardship and harassment. While the Friends’ rendering of the Zion tradition was primarily a theological orientation, it carried with it significant political implications during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The rise of the nation-state (and empire-state) necessitated that the “imagined communities” of citizens coincide with specific geopolitical borders. The boundaries of the nation, in other words, had to overlap with the people and territory under the control of the state. The Friends’ “holy nation” transcended these worldly delineations, and their doctrine prevented them from identifying with the geopo-litical nations in which they lived.
Because of this unique positionality–to be in the nation but not of the nation – worldly leaders remained wary of Friends. Significantly, the Quakers’ withdrawal occurred at the same time that the governments under which they lived demanded the increasing participation of their citizens as well as mounting demonstrations of their loyalty. Those in power required men to serve in the militia, households to pay additional wartime levies, voters to swear oaths of allegiance, parents to educate their children in the traditions of the country, and everyone to participate in the pageantry that advanced the agenda of the state. Taken together, political leaders hoped that these actions would ensure that a coherent, dedicated, and submissive citizenry emerged out of a disparate and diverse population.
Quakers, however, could not abide any of these obligations. In fact, not only did the Friends refuse to promise their allegiance, service, or supplies to the governments under which they lived, they declared their commitment to one another across enemy lines and sent relief to all suffering parties, regardless of nationality or denomination. They also repudiated national tributes, celebrations, feasts, and fasts, even going so far as to gather together, host meals, and open their businesses during national prayer days. In this way, Quakers publicly undermined the efforts of those in power to create a unified and committed citizenry. They declined to participate in any of these nation-building activities promoted by politicians and, on occasion, organized counter-displays and protests.
Governmental officials resented Friends’ obstinacy and worried that their dissent would inspire others to withhold resources or to rebuff attempts at forging nationalist identities. Most of all, however, they remained anxious about the Quakers’ insistence that God was the only and the highest authority and that divine decrees superseded worldly regulations, In keeping with their conceptualization of Zion, Friends believed that the law would go out from Zion, and thus they could not comply with any edict that betrayed (their interpretation of) divine will. Quaker theology, there-fore, directly contradicted the authority of those in power and implied that the actions of the powerful authorities went against the will of God. In this way, Friends’ religious ideology highlighted the of tenuous political order of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as their protests against many state policies and burgeoning nationalism complicated the attempts of newly elected and established governments to consolidate their control over a territory and its population. They refused to recognize the authority of worldly leaders and professed allegiance only to their God.
Until now, Quaker historians have categorized the era beginning in the mid-eighteenth century and continuing well into the nineteenth as one of “quietism” within the Society, maintaining that Friends retreated from worldly politics to deal with intrasocietal discord. Yet this book has demonstrated that the Public Friends in particular remained extremely active during this period. As soldiers in the church militant, they declared war on those who pursued–or allowed–violence. They used the language of spiritual warfare to justify their continued engagement in and with the world, as they cast their peace work as campaigns on behalf of God. These comparisons worked to undercut the state’s claim of divine approbation of its war, as Friends’ public protests made it increasingly difficult for government officials to assert the universal support of its population or the inherent virtue of their actions. Additionally, Quakers’ pledge to serve only a divine commander challenged the growing association among citizenship, masculinity, and military service. Friends rejected charges of cowardice and asserted their unfettered courage in the lamb’s army. Men and women alike Joined the ranks of the church mi1itant, thereby attempting to undermine the emergence of “muscular citizenship in modern nation-states.
To train subsequent generations of Christian soldiers, Friends founded a series of guarded (Quaker-only) schools during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These institutions sought to accomplish seemingly incongruous objectives: to remove young Society members from the corrupting influences of the world and to train them to engage the world to change it. School planners adopted the metaphor of “walled gardens” to describe this dual mission, as children learned about the traditions of the Society behind protective “walls” and yet also acquired the skills necessary to transform the world around them. By educating their children thusly in the Zion tradition, Quakers rebuked the public education movement’s central goal to instruct children in the (invented) traditions of the nation. This pedagogical approach inspired a bold and unique generation of students many of whom would join several of the nineteenth-century reform movements and continue to question the definitions of nation and the obligations of citizenship. In all of these ways, the effect of these Quaker schools was more wide-ranging than previous scholars have recognized and was of fundamental importance to the philanthropic movements of this era.
As a people “zealous of good works,” Friends considered philanthropy both an obligation and a privilege. While several scholars have noted their over-representation in many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century reform movements, few have recognized the essential role Quakers played in inspiring, funding, founding, connecting, and coordinating philanthropic organizations. Many Friends preferred to play secondary roles in these associations, as they worried that the ill will and distrust many people harbored against them would tarnish the causes about which they cared so deeply. Because these movements often criticized the policies of national governments, worldly leaders remained wary of these activists. As such, to associate too closely with the Friends and their “holy nation” would have damaged the credibility of these organizations. Thus, Quakers often chose to contribute their “still, small voices” and remained intentionally in the background. Their Zion tradition compelled them to pursue justice in the world, but their refusal to compromise with or calm the fears of national governments resulted in their quiet participation.
And yet still their critics multiplied. The Friends, once admired for their universalism and benevolence, became victims of the political and the philosophical move away from cosmopolitanism and toward nationalism. Quakers had served as way for many important figures of the radical Enlightenment to stake out their position in debates about human nature and human society. French and British thinkers in particular wrote extensively about the Society to flesh out their own ideas about good government, rational religion, and a moral economy. These very same writers, however, soon decided that “the whole world [was not] their country.” The series of wars in Europe turned many of these former cosmopolites into ardent nationalists, and their writings about Friends reflected this about-face on European politics. By the time peace returned to the Atlantic World in 1815, Quakers were once again the margins of political society, shunned and vilified for their transnational vision of community.
For this reason, peace was no easier for the Friends than the three-quarters of a century of violence and persecution they had endured. Global war had irrevocably changed the political landscape, and the Society of Friends would eventually fracture amidst the pressures brought to bear by geopolitical states, exclusive definitions of citizenship, and ideologies of patriotism. Each faction chose to respond to these new political systems and structures in strikingly different ways, and their divergent paths would not reunite for more than a hundred years. In short, the Friends’ holy nation remained divided while the people and institutions that opposed it became stronger and increasingly united as nineteenth- and twentieth century states grew more robust and policed their geographic and ideological boundaries more effectively.
For the historian, however, Friends’ protests were not merely failed and futile attempts to challenge definitions of nation and citizen. Rather, the Quaker experience during this period illustrates for modern audiences a moment when religion and nation did not exist comfortably alongside each other. Much of the existing scholarship has explored the ways in which the power and authority of the church and the nation-state were mutually constitutive. These works have analyzed how politicians used religious belief and practice to promote, justify, and maintain their status and control. Scholars have also examined how, in turn, many ministers became involved in politics and advanced their own interests through their interaction with the state. Yet the Friends resisted these relationships with the governments under which they lived and rejected the strategies of other Christian denominations. They chose instead to join, support, and defend a transnational community of coreligionists and, together, to protest the constrictive and exclusive definitions of nation and citizenship that emerged during this critical period. The case of the Society of Friends thus demonstrates a moment at which the debate did not concern the role of the church within the state, but rather the place of nationalism within a universal church.
Scholars must continue to grapple with those moments of conflict between religion and nation in American history. Studies of the Society of Friends are particularly important in this regard as they complicate notions of identity and citizenship through an examination of the relationship between church and state. As of yet we have not examined fully the ways in which religion has challenged the authority–indeed the very existence–of the nation (or empire). At present, the discourse casts religion as contained by the nation; however, we need to explore the possibility of the church as both larger than and in opposition to the nation. Serious questions regarding this latter position need to be considered, such as: Is religion truly catholic? In other words, is it a universal transcendent? Does it offer a constitution and an idea of citizenship in any way similar to those of the nation-state? Most important, can one’s religious affiliation forge a new alternative political identity? And if so, should it supersede one’s nationality? Until we can provide meaningful answers to these questions, and thus a viable alternative to the entrenched rhetoric concerning religion and nation, we cannot hope to counter the growing power of fundamentalists–both religious and nationalist–in American politics.
The history of the Society of Friends, therefore, must be integrated into mainstream historical literature to forefront the inherent tension between religion and the politics of nation and empire. The potential for transnational identity and the commitment to reform enacted by the Quakers remains an intriguing possibility in a world still largely defined by the same concerns of religious and secular nationalism as well as similar debates regarding the responsibilities of citizenship. This project has demonstrated that in a time when political and economic upheaval challenged and altered ideas of nationality and citizenship, the Society of Friends offered a different possibility, one rooted in peace, progressive education, and philanthropy.
“What sustains sustainability?” Mark Helpsmeet(1) has proposed this question as an alternative title for Doug Gwyn’s deep examination of Quaker life and sustainability. How do Quaker thought and Quaker practice provide a firm foundation for individuals and communities that are trying to live in harmony with creation and with prophetic attention to the world’s problems?
In agreeing to write a review, I warned Quaker Theology that I am in no way an uninterested party. I was closely involved in the production of this book as former staff of QuakerPress, and I always thought it was a very good manuscript. However it was during my third reading, while writing study questions for meetings, that I was struck with the exciting recognition that I think this is the most important non-introductory Quaker overview title to come by in a good long time.
This is the book I want us to be talking about, not in the big forums, but in small groups in our meetings, exploring what it can help us understand when we choose how to conduct our communities and live our lives today, and for considering what it means to be Quaker in these times. Accolades aside, what is this book? Not what you would probably expect.
It is an examination of sustainability that only very briefly discusses the environment. Author Doug Gwyn assumes his readers need no further education or persuasion about the importance to our lives of the ecological crisis. Except in Steve Chase’s stirring Foreword, “Answering the Kabarak Call,” the book mostly does not address the politics, activism, or alternative technologies of sustainability. It addresses instead the spiritual and community lives of those of us who would live faithfully in covenant relationship with the earth, God, and one another.
It offers not specific recommendations, but a list of tensions, between which we must continually seek to find balance. Gwyn’s illustration for the components of faithful Quaker life resembles a wheel in which opposing spokes represent principles that work in relation to each other, informing and limiting one another—axes along which we need to seek the sweet spot for our own times. One such axis, for example, is the dynamic between a value for peaceful relationships and a value for social action, which is often confrontational. In an interview about the book, Gwyn addresses that relationship:
Peace and conflict are actually integral to each other and keep modifying one another so that we keep returning to the still center where we feel that peace, but that very sense of peace causes us to look at our own lives or look at society with new eyes and feel ourselves led to change our lives or to work for change in society . . . to be true to the light we are given. (2)
Similarly, equality stands in relationship to community; leadership shares an axis with group decision making; and (using distinctions apparent in the writings of early Friends) Light answers Seed.
It is a broad book that goes deceptively deep. Though written in the voice of a scholar, this work makes its greatest contribution, I believe, not to Quaker scholarly discourse, but in its potential service as a challenging but very meaningful and discussable way for “everyday” practicing Quakers to deepen our consideration of what we want our lives as Quakers to mean.
If I could change one thing about this book, it would be to make it a lighter read by doubling its length, to slow down the reader’s thought process. That is not to say it is difficult, but it is closely packed, grounded in Quaker history and the writings of earlier generations of Friends as well as more recent material. To read it lightly is to miss much of what it offers. A sample [from p. 40, in the chapter on personal integrity and discernment]:
Integrity is wholeness. To live an integral life is to “mind the oneness,” as Fox urges. Early Quakers called themselves “Friends of Truth.” The Hebrew word for truth, amun, literally means “solid,” “consistent.” To befriend the truth is to become consistent in word and deed with the truth we receive from the light in our consciences. Truth is more fundamentally participational than propositional. We live into the truth most of all through our actions.
Aside from its connection to the theme of sustainability, this book holds place, I believe, as a valuable brief overview of Quakerism in its historical and contemporary entirety, seen from a fresh perspective. Much of its content will not be new to the well-read Quaker, but the structure of that content, and the questions raised by the author’s deeply thoughtful consideration of the dynamic between the parts and the whole of our faith, are well worth grappling with.
“Friends have traditionally insisted that our true, sustainable spiritual resource for personal and social renewal comes from an unmediated source within ourselves. Early Friends called true spiritual knowledge “immediate,” but they didn't mean that it comes right away, like results from a Google search. It comes through a regular practice of waiting. That waiting begins as an impatient, toe-tapping waiting for something to happen, perhaps for God to answer our questions and needs. But over time, through some mysterious combination of persistence and surrender, patience develops. We learn to wait upon the Lord, the Presence, the Truth–in readiness to learn, to be transformed, to serve. That is the Copernican revolution that begins a sustainable life.” (p. 1)
“Equality and community are two threads in the seamless garment of Quaker testimony. They continually cross in the warp and weft of faithful lives. Their relationship is dialogical, not in the sense of being opposites, but in the way they continue to qualify one another. If an emphasis on equality by itself is prone to resentment and contention, an emphasis on community without equality easily lapses into sentimentality.” (p. 71)
“If peace was the dominant theme of Quaker testimony in the twentieth century, the interaction between personal simplicity and work for a sustainable human society on earth will focus much of our imagination and energies in this century. It has to. Anything less will amount to nihilism and massive destruction–a path we have traveled disastrously far already. Without the personal practice of simplicity, concern for sustainability becomes doctrinaire, ‘words without life,’ as early Friends would say. Conversely, without the global vision of a sustainable future, the personal practice of simplicity can easily become more a matter of style than substance.” (p. 129)
(1) Northern Spirit Radio interview with Doug Gwyn, 4/19/2015. See: http://northernspiritradio.org/episode/sustainable-life.
Stephen Angell is the Leatherock Professor of Quaker Studies at Earlham School of Religion, Richmond Indiana, and Associate Editor of Quaker Theology.
Chel Avery, After a work life spent mostly in Quaker organizations, including Pendle Hill, the Quaker Information Center and Friends General Conference, Chel Avery is attempting to live a retired life in eastern Pennsylvania. She is a member of Goshen Monthly Meeting.
Chuck Fager is Editor of Quaker Theology. His most recent book is Some Quaker FAQs.
Isaac May is a graduate of Earlham College. He recently earned a Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and is pursuing a doctorate in religious studies at the University of Virginia. His research focuses on American religion in the twentieth century, especially involving the topics of liberal religion, Christian nonviolence and the interaction of religion and politics. He has published several articles on Quaker history.
Jeanmarie Simpson is Founding Artistic Director of the Nevada Shakespeare Company. She has written and performed the play “A Single Woman,” about the life of the pacifist and first US Cong-resswoman Jeannette Rankin in 50 countries. She starred in the film version that featured Judd Nelson, the voices of Martin Sheen and Patricia Arquette, and the music of Joni Mitchell. In 2007, she appeared at the historic Beverly Hills Theater 40 in the American premier of the solo tour-de-force “Shakespeare Will,” produced by Leonard Nimoy. She is highly regarded for her interpretation of heroic women in modern and historic times.
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