Quaker Theology #32 - Spring 2018
NINE: From Quaker Service at the Crossroads - 1988
There’s an old Quaker joke: a young woman attends her first business
meeting as an adult member, looking to make her mark, and sits next to
a weighty older Friend in a grey bonnet who is knitting quietly. An
agenda item comes up which requires nominations to a new committee; the
young Friend eagerly raises her hand and offers a name.
The older Friend listens without looking up from her
knitting, then says quietly, “That is a name which would not have
occurred to me.” Nothing more is heard of the upstart newcomer’s
The truth is, if I was looking for a detailed
critique of the American Friends Service Committee, Guenter Lewy is a
name which would not have occurred to me. Partly this is a matter of
jurisdiction: Such an examination should be done first from within the
Society of Friends, as a species of “family business.” The AFSC is,
after all, “our” organization, is it not?
But partly too, this would be due to the fact that
over the past decade or so, I have perceived an increasing sense of
concern and uneasiness about the AFSC’s evolution among many Friends
who had once staunchly supported it. So besides it being our business,
there were also Quaker voices which ought to have been heard on the
subject. There were enough of them, in fact, to make a book, especially
once AFSC responses were included.
In real life, however, the Quaker joke was on us:
Guenter Lewy, a non-Friend and retired professor of political science
at the University of Massachusetts, also had concerns about the AFSC
(and three other major peace groups) which he wanted to put into a
book. His book got done; ours did not, at least not until now.
As a result, Quakers who have concerns about the
AFSC have to deal not only with it, but with Guenter Lewy as well. We
may not want to admit it, but his achievement in his book Peace and Revolution: The Moral Crisis of American Pacifism (Eerdmans, 1988) is sufficient to merit at least three responses from concerned Friends.
First, we owe him a vote of thanks for providing the
Friends represented here the incentive to finally put together
and into print what was in their minds about AFSC. A few have raised
their voices before, usually in private, but some critics have hung
back out of a combination of sloth and timidity which does us no
credit. The truth is that, while liberal American Quakers will denounce
their government’s iniquities at the drop of a broadbrim hat, we are
very timid about facing up to problems in our own ranks.
Lewy has not suffered from these defects, and his
book was the scholarly equivalent of a swift kick in the pants, one
well-deserved and long past due in my judgment.
Second, we should admit that Lewy has saved us a lot
of work by his researches into AFSC history, particularly during the
1960s and 1970s. As some of the writers here [in Quaker Service at the Crossroads]
assert, he may have misidentified an occasional tree of fact in its
recent landscape, but there seems to be little doubt he has pretty
accurately seen the forest of organizational evolution into which they
fit. You may judge for yourself the weight of objections by AFSC
spokespeople in the book to his methods and results, and Lewy’s
rejoinder; in my opinion, his factual data stand up rather well.
Much of the picture he paints is not very edifying;
certain of its features are embarrassing and even shameful. There is,
of course, much more to be told about AFSC, even in its recent years.
Fortunately, historian J. William Frost of Swarthmore College is at
work on a more comprehensive AFSC history. But that project is years
away from completion. [NOTE: Frost later laid aside this project.
His paper is summarized above, in Chapter One.] In the meantime, squirm
as we might, Lewy’s selective sketch of the last generation is the best
we have. [NOTE: Greg Barnes published AFSC: A Centennial History for the group's centennial in 2017.]
Finally, however, Lewy’s book presents us with a
major problem. His is an unabashedly interpretive account of the AFSC;
he has an axe to grind, and is not shy about grinding it, even if the
blade turns out to be less sharp than he had hoped. Yet his outlook and
theses have very little in common with those of most of the AFSC’s
Quaker critics. He got there first, with a book too well-researched and
revealing to be ignored; but the material he presents must he
substantially reframed before it can be of much use to Quakers for the
task of examining AFSC’s history from our point of view. This
ultimately is why his name “would not have occurred” to me.
Since such an examination is the purpose of this
book, attempts at this reframing are evident in just about every essay:
The contributions here fall into four categories:
First, there are three background pieces, which do
not relate directly to Lewy’s book (since they were written long
before) but rather address basic questions of what the American Friends
Service Committee is and ought to be about.
Then there are the contributions by AFSC defenders.
These writers challenge Lewy’s research, intentions and outlook, and
generally uphold the group’s status quo against his criticisms. They
include John Sullivan, James Matlack, Lady Borton, and Elise Boulding.
Daniel Seeger’s essay might also have fit into this
second category, since he is a longtime staff member and is certainly
devoted to AFSC’s mission and welfare. Yet it is likewise true that his
has long been an in-house voice that questioned and challenged many of
the changes in AFSC which Lewy has chronicled. He can be considered the
foremost figure in AFSC’s “Loyal Opposition”; hence I have placed him
in the third section, that of the AFSC’s critics.
Two former AFSC staff members, Ed Lazar and John
Powelson, are here also, as are two members of the AFSC Corporation,
Thomas Angell and Sam Levering. Arthur Roberts, the most distinguished
scholar and writer among Evangelical Friends today, contributes the
first extended reflection on AFSC from this quarter in many years. And
Jim Forest, the only non-Friend among these critics and a veteran staff
member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, along with Kenneth
Boulding, one of the premier Quaker intellectuals of our time, fill out
this section. My own views fit in this category too.
None of these writers, as you will see, is very
happy with Guenter Lewy’s underlying outlook and his critique of the
AFSC, however much they respect his scholarship. Hence it is
appropriate that Prof. Lewy have the opportunity answer us us, and his
rejoinder closes the book.
It is fair to say that, while the writers
represented here range from strongly favorable to the AFSC and its
development to sharply critical of it, there is remarkable agreement
among them that much of Dr. Lewy’s critique of AFSC misses the mark, at
least as far as Quakers and the religious values are concerned. Let me
try to say why I think this is the case.
First a bit of background: Guenter Lewy was born
into a German Jewish family which escaped from the Nazis just before
World War II. He told me during a conversation about his book that he
had seen a democracy destroyed once in his lifetime, and that
experience left him convinced of the fragility of civilized values and
democratic structures. Lewy is thus not only a non-Friend he is a
non-pacifist and very strongly anti-Communist as well, with a base of
experience for this outlook with which is hard to argue.
Nevertheless, Lewy was once active in the peace
group SANE, when it was supporting the Limited Test Ban Treaty
negotiated by President Kennedy with the Soviets in 1963. But he was
among the more conservative members of the early 1960s peace movement,
who felt unable to tolerate the changes wrought in it by opposition to
the Vietnam War and the rise of the 1960s counterculture. One gets the
impression the evolution of the movement reminded him all too much of
the ordeal he had been lucky to survive in Germany as a youth. In any
case, Lewy supported the Vietnam War. Indeed, one of his earlier books America in Vietnam,
(Oxford University Press, 1978), defended American policy and conduct
there against, among other things, the allegations of rampant war
crimes that were made by some peace activists.
Like many others of similar views Lewy was convinced
that the peace groups he examined, and perhaps the AFSC above all, were
pivotal in undermining America’s national will to win in Vietnam. He
believes furthermore AFSCs work against the war help produce, not peace
but enormous evil in Southeast Asia, including the exodus of the boat
people and the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia.
Further, Lewy asserts that AFSC’s activist role in
the anti-Vietnam movement was shaped by internal changes which he
chronicles in detail and which, he argues, represented the victory of
radical leftist tendencies within the organization. He traces with
particular emphasis the abandonment of a longstanding informal
prohibition on joining coalitions which included any explicitly Marxist
groups such as those associated with the Communist Party.
In Lewy’s view the abandonment of this prohibition
was perhaps its key bargain with the devil. He sees it as leading
inexorably to the effective abandonment of AFSC’s Quaker pacifist
heritage, and its alignment with violent and totalitarian forces, not
only in Vietnam but more recently in Central America.
As many of the writers here explain, they share at
least some of Lewy’s concerns about AFSC’s recent attitudes toward many
revolutionary groups, finding it too often tilted in a simplistically
leftward direction. But on two of his biggest issues, the justice of
the U.S. war in Vietnam and the meaning of pacifism, Lewy finds little
sympathy here. Because these shape so much of his critique, they
deserve a brief response here before we go further with our efforts at
reframing. Let me summarize mine, along with some thoughts on AFSC and
During a Washington seminar on his book, Lewy
declared that “in the last analysis,” the AFSC’s antiwar work in this
period had failed the practical test of results because of what
happened after the war in Vietnam and Cambodia.
From across the table, I replied that this was by no
means the last analysis, it was only his analysis. While much of the
aftermath of the Vietnam war has been horrible indeed, it is not at all
clear that the peace movement and the AFSC can be fingered with the
responsibility for that.
In fact, another equally plausible “last” analysis
could be that, bad as the war’s aftermath has been, the peace movement
helped avoid an even worse toll of destruction and killing that was
likely had the war continued for many more years with increased U.S.
involvement. After all, suppose the war had been escalated at the end
of the 1960s, as many of the military commanders wished? Lewy evidently
thinks we could ultimately have defeated. North Vietnam and established
a regime satisfactory to us m Saigon.
But is he right? And even if he were, “ultimately”
could be a long time. Who is to say that we might not still be begged
down there? the somber black marble of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
might now be a half mile long and still unfinished; and how many
millions more Asians would have been killed since 1975?
History suggests continued bloody stalemate is at
least as plausible as any hope for victory; the record of the
Vietnamese for fighting outsiders, be they French, Japanese or Chinese,
goes back not decades but centuries. And what risks of escalation into
a nuclear confrontation Vietnam’s social social Soviet and Chinese
allies would we have run in the meantime? These were not minor even
Additionally it can be argued that Cambodia’s slide
into savagery began with an illegal “secret” U.S. bombing campaign
followed by the CIA-sponsored coup which replaced Prince Sihanouk, the
linchpin of that nation’s stability, with a corrupt and doomed military
junta. It is entirely reasonable to suggest that this, as well as the
illegal U.S. invasion of 1970, had more to do with the rise of the
Khmer Rouge than any machinations of domestic doves. It is one of the
many ironies of our Indochina debacle that the Khmer Rouge massacres
were only stopped by the invasion of Cambodia by another communist
army, that of the victorious Vietnamese.
The debate over the Vietnam War will certainly not
be settled here. My point was simply that while Lewy is entitled to his
analysis of it, his analysis is hardly the last,
nor the most convincing. In my judgment, those who opposed the war,
including AFSC, are not obliged, even by the postwar evils, to confess
that they were wrong and that the war should have been supported and
If anything, the postwar record suggests just as
plausibly that American involvement in Vietnam can be compared to
kicking rocks down a mountainside: it started an avalanche of evil
which continued to roll destructively across the slopes of Southeast
Asia long after we had left the scene. No, the only regret this former
anti-Vietnam protester has is that I did not do more (nonviolently) to
stop it sooner, and I believe most AFSC partisans feel the same way.
Similarly with pacifism. Lewy believes the AFSC’s
turn to the left 1n the1960s led to the abandonment of a traditional
and authentic concept of pacifism, which he believes had guided it
until then. But his understanding of pacifism, as most writers here
reiterate, is a very restrictive one, which identifies it with what
pacifists call “nonresistance,” a simple refusal to take part war,
which leaves those who do wish to make war unchallenged in their
To be sure, such nonresistance is an ancient
and honorable form of pacifist witness; but it is not and has not been
the only one. After all, as far back as the Sermon on the Mount
(Matthew 5:9), Jesus pronounced a blessing on peacemakers, and the
Greek text is clear that the blessing is reserved for those who get results,
not simply those who stand aside from the fray and pray. As Milton
Mayer says, the religious idea underlying the AFSC involves both faith
In any case, as John Sullivan also argues,
nonresistance has never been the exclusive expression of pacifism among
Friends. In 1675, for instance, the Quaker Lieutenant Governor of Rhode
Island, Nicholas Easton, canoed deep into the woods and risked his life
in an effort to prevent the bloody regional Indian uprising known as
King Philip’s War, unsuccessfully, alas. In the 1750s, Philadelphia
Friends worked vigorously, and against the desires of their rulers, to
head off similar conflicts in Pennsylvania. In 1854 a British Quaker
delegation visited the Czar of Russia in an attempt to stop the Crimean
War. Like Easton, they too failed, and came home to face a wave of
fierce public attacks on their patriotism.
The list of examples could be much longer, and not
all have been failures. Some of these peacemaking sorties were wise,
others perhaps foolish. But none of the Friends involved was considered
“un-Quakerly” for attempting them. In like manner, the nonresistance
aspect of pacifism has never been the exclusive understanding within
the American Friends Service Committee, and no one in these pages
charges that the AFSC is “un-Quakerly’‘ because it takes an activist
approach to peacemaking.
To be sure, once people or groups set out not simply
to avoid war but to help make peace, their choices and judgments can
and should be subjected to rational analysis and practical criticism;
to this extent Lewy is correct. AFSC’s attempts to apply their active
version of pacifism may not always have been wise––indeed, I many other
writers here think some clearly were not––but they were not wrong in
principle and Lewy seems to have trouble admitting this. And let us
remember that any attempted evaluation will reflect not only the facts
but also the critic’s values.
Finally, to the matter of coalitions including
Marxist groups. It seems to me Lewy’s analysis here is shaped by the
traumas of the liberal left in the 1930s and 1940s, in which many
groups fell victim to a pattern of seemingly principled cooperation
with Communist groups which open the way to the liberal groups being
infiltrated and captured by Marxist cadres, followed by the groups”
subversion, manipulation & destruction.
This was a real enough pattern, and such things did
occur in the 1960s, as the destruction of Students for a Democratic
Society testifies. Yet it seems to me that Lewy’s analysis has missed
the essence of what happened with these late 1960s coalitions, both
more broadly and with specific reference to AFSC.
On the broadest level, I see the antiwar coalitions
as comparing less to the Popular Front leftism of the 1930s than to the
alliance of the United States and the Soviet Union against Hitler
during World War II. In the book Ed Lazar expresses a somewhat similar
perspective in his essay, and he was involved in many of these efforts
as an AFSC staff member. That is, they were emergency convfederations
of highly dissimilar and often mutually suspicious parties, most of
whom had little in common except their opposition to the Vietnam War.
And Like the U.S.-Soviet alliance, none of them outlasted of the war,
though some insignificant vestiges remain.
What these coalitions did not do, particularly in
AFSC, was reproduce the 1930s-style pattern of infiltration, subversion
and destruction. Lewy specifically acknowledges that there is no
evidence that the developments he dislikes in AFSC can be shown to be
the result of direct involvement by the minions of Moscow, Hanoi or
Managua. Yet clearly the experience left its impact, and much of it was
negative. So what happened?
My own sense is that rather than the infiltration –
subversion model, we have seen deficit over the past generation is the
rise of a new establishment, made up largely of former 1960s radicals
of various stripes, who have, rather than operating as a conspiracy,
more or less backed into becoming a distinct careerist constituency
which I call the “organizers’ subculture.”
I doubt that many of these men and women started out
thinking in career terms; their mood–mine, too–in the late 1960s was
too apocalyptic for that, nor did it fit with the outlook summed up in
the slogan “Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty.” Once irrevocably past that
dreaded landmark, however, with families and possessions and debts
arriving sooner than the revolution, career considerations became
unavoidable; yet many of these men and women were still alienated from
“establishment” institutions and conventional career tracks. So what
were they to do?
Here I’m in line with Kenneth Boulding’s reflections
on how Marxism built a “niche” or base in the peace movement while it
was losing ground just about everywhere else, now including many
socialist countries: Over time, and with artful application of their
organizing skills, a kind of informal network of professional activists
with similar histories formed, concerned to protect and advance its
members much like those of any other such network.
The gradual, indirect character of this transition
is dramatized in Jim Forest’s essay. He tells of an AFSC staffer
shouting at him that his criticism of the North Vietnamese for human
rights violations would cost him his “career” in the peace movement.
Forest says that was the first time he realized peace movement work
could be a “career” rather than a vocation. That was more than ten
years ago, and Jim is still at it.
In the case of the AFSC, this evolution has produced
a sharp erosion of its Quaker roots, as I explore further below. Yet
Lewy’s 1930s infiltration/subversion analysis, with its alarm about the
antiwar coalitions, does not offer much in the way of understanding of
it. My sense is that even if AFSC had firmly eschewed joining the
coalitions it would not have avoided the problems it now has; there was
no safe haven for it from the Sixties. Furthermore, I agree completely
with Arthur Roberts and Elise Boulding in their insistence that it is
appropriate for AFSC and others concerned for peace to maintain
contacts with persons and groups from Communist countries in this
effort, and that whatever its risks, this can be–– and has been–– done
without automatically becoming communist dupes.
What all this comes down to is the assertion that,
rather than repeating a previous generation’s mistakes, these 60s
activists made some new mistakes of their own. And this conclusion
means that Lewy’s analysis of what went wrong is not all that useful,
especially to AFSCs Quaker critics. Which brings us back to the need to
reframe Lewy’s data for our own Quaker purposes.
Thus at this point we will set aside the arguments
with Lewy over whether Vietnam was a noble lost cause, and whether
pacifism should be confined to nonresistance; there is little division
among the Quakers represented here on these points, and hence they do
not engage the central issues of this book. Rather the key concerns of
the writers here are threefold:
First, whether the American Friends Service Committee and still be considered an authentically Quaker agency;
Second, whether its work over the past generation is
on the whole of a quality and direction that Quakers can be proud of;
Third, what can or should be done to remedy any shortcomings revealed by the first two inquiries.
On the second point, which I believe is most
specific to those raised elsewhere in these pages, suffice it to say
that a great deal of the AFSC material I’ve seen in the past 15 years
dealing with current peace and justice issues I would not be prepared
to show persons whose intellect, spiritual depth or scholarship I
respected, even though I often agreed with the specific positions being
advocated. That is because too frequently it was simply of inferior
quality: shoddily researched, needlessly tendentious and freighted with
dubious political baggage. It was just bush league.
This is an embarrassing, even humiliating admission
to have to make. I consider Quakerism to be, if you will, a first class
religion, and I want the public manifestations of my religious
denomination to reflect that level of quality. Corruptio optimi pessima
(The corruption of the best is awful indeed.)
(Major exceptions to this observation are the AFSC’s two books on the Arab-Israeli conflict: Search For Peace in the Middle East, [AFSC,1970] and A Compassionate Peace,
[Hill & Wang, 1982]. These two books were carefully-researched,
clearheaded, evenhanded. Yet they were also brave and firm in their
advocacy of reasonable though controversial proposals for a just and
peaceful resolution of that tangled conflict. They stand out as
appropriately first-class expressions amid a crowd of mediocrity. In
their company. I would also put In Place of War [Grossman, 1967], which brilliantly made the case for considering a nonviolent approach to national defense.)
On the first point, that of Quaker identity,
opinions differ sharply, though more and more Friends have come to have
increasing doubts. Lewy’s book mentions this concern only in passing,
which given his agenda is to be expected. But his research, as distinct
from his interpretations, has brought to light much that is useful for
this enqurry, and some data that is rather disturbing.
Indeed, Lewy’s examination of AFSC archives, while
far from exhaustive, makes plain what increasing numbers of Quakers
have felt in recent years, namely that whatever else it might now be,
the AFSC today does not have many real ties to the Society of Friends.
Moreover, they believe it has largely forsaken the objective laid out
by the Statement of Purpose in its by-laws (Article 1, Section 3),
which states that AFSC is to work “on behalf of the participating
Yearly Meetings and other bodies of the Religious Society of Friends in
America; and in addition...to promote the general objects and purposes
of the participating Yearly Meetings and other bodies of [Friends]....”
I have been asked why this whole issue is seen to be
of any consequence; why is a “Quaker identity” for service such a big
deal in a world full of starving and oppressed people. What difference
does it make what label goes on the work that is done?
The primary response to such questions can only be
that for many Quakers, Quakerism is valuable in itself. Besides such
outward contributions to history as its role in the struggle for
freedom of religion, and its character as the seedbed of the
anti-slavery and feminist movements, it has also been a bearer of
mysticism within Protestantism and has carried the standard of
universalism in theology and pacifism in practice when almost all other
major Christian bodies had forgotten or denied they were ever parts of
This is a very significant record for a small
religious society scarcely 300 years old, and Quakerism in my view is
by no means played out. The history of such a movement is very much
worth preserving and its potential worth advancing. But who else can
Quakers expect to do that but Quakers themselves? More concretely, the
idea of AFSC as an instrument of the organized bodies of Friends once
had considerable functional reality, the memory of which is both
precious and poignant. A great many Friends once bore witness in many
places through various kinds of service under AFSC auspices.
Indeed there was once an almost organic, reciprocal
kind of relationship between AFSC and numerous Friends groups; but this
relationship is now at best a vestigial one, and you don’t have to look
hard to find Friends who benefited from it directly and are grieved and
quietly angry about the loss. John Powelson’s essay describes the
crucial importance AFSC had for him in his younger years. Several other
writers tell similar stories, and these could be replicated hundreds,
nay thousands of times by Friends of two generations.
But how many Friends under 30 today could tell
similar stories? Not many, unfortunately. Much of this is due to the
virtual disappearance of certain programs especially, the now legendary
Quaker youth programs centered around work camps. With their
elimination was also lost an important service, that of giving many
young Friends a “hands-on” exposure to Quaker faith in action, for
which AFSC was once a principal provider.
The end of these programs is another outcome of the
upheavals of the 1960s which Lewy does not focus on. They were
ridiculed as elitist and composition, patronizing to the purported
beneficiaries and the superficial “Band-Aids” in their social impact.
As these attitudes spread among the youthful participants, they soon
made work camps all but impossible to continue. I know this to be true,
for I was one such young person.
Thus this was a development that the AFSC cannot be
entirely blamed for: the work camps were in large measure a casualty of
turbulent times.Yet as the years passed and the attitudes among such
rebellious young Quakers as myself began to mature, many of us realized
our mistake. We came to see that, despite our shortcomings as a mostly
white, middle-class American group, we Quakers nonetheless had our
gifts to offer and our own work to do, in our own way. And
opportunities to see this tradition at work, to join it and to pass it
on, were worth having.
Furthermore, many of us likewise came to see that
these experiences were central to maintaining AFSC’s Quaker
constituency; but more than that, they nurtured a widespread sense of
Quaker “ownership” of AFSC.
A very astute Friend, political scientist David
Leonard of Strawberry Creek Meeting in Berkeley, California, has
pointed out that such a widespread sense of Quaker “ownership” of the
AFSC is crucial if the group is effectively to play the role it now
conceives of itself as playing, that of being the “cutting edge” body
for the Society, bringing new issues and concerns to our awareness and
facilitating an active response to them.
Without it, AFSC becomes just one more of the scores
of cause groups knocking at our meetinghouse doors with slideshows and
displays, and filling up our mailboxes with fund appeals. This sense of
“ownership” cannot be regained by simply shuffling structures at the
top, though such change may well be indicated to make its renewal
possible. Rather, it depends on making AFSC once again an integral and
living part of American Quaker culture, if that can still be done.
Unfortunately, disdain for the work camp approach
has become institutionalized orthodoxy in AFSC. Its response to the
many calls from concerned Friends, among them not a few chastened
ex-1960s radicals, for the reconstruction of a meaningful program of
this sort has been token and grudging. That hurts both the AFSC and the
Society of Friends.
Another important aspect of this problem is that in
its early years, the AFSC played an important ecumenical role among
American Friends, helping draw together the Hicksite an Orthodox wings
after a century of painful separation. This function too has long since
gone by the boards; it is the sad truth that the AFSC is now, and has
been for some years, one of the sources of deepest division and
contention among us. And a factor that feeds this friction is AFSCs too
often indifferent or even high-handed response to much Quaker input and
Whether its Purpose Statement ever fully described
how the AFSC actually worked, it is incontestable that the AFSC today
does not now operate in any meaningful sense “on behalf of” any other
Quaker body. One measure of this reality is financing: the vast
majority of its $20 million annual budget comes from non-Quaker
sources. Another measure is its makeup: in 1985 only 15% of the staff
was Quaker in 1988 the proportion of Friends was even lower. [And as
Larry Ingle notes in this volume, “From Supporter to Friendly Critic,”
above, the percentage in 2017 was almost nil.]
No doubt most of the non-Quaker AFSC staffers are
dedicated and smart, but it is not reasonable to expect them also to be
guardians and devotees of a religious tradition which they do not
share. Yet in any such institution, as the direct involvement of the
parent constituency declines, at some point its founding tradition
becomes simply a relic, a vestigial organ with no real meaning or
If it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when this
threshold is reached, there is little doubt that it exists. This was
starkly illustrated by the recent case of the YMCA in Beverly Hills,
California, which protested an advisory group recommendation that, as a
religious organization, it not be given space in a proposed city-owned
As reported in the Washington Post September 3,
1988, the YMCA officials insisted that it was not a religious body,
despite the fact that the C in its name stands for Christian, and the
Y’s statement of purpose describes it as a “fellowship united by a
common loyalty to Jesus Christ for the purpose of developing Christian
personality and building a Christian society.” Beverly Hills Mayor
Robert Tannenbaum, who is also president of the Y’s board, told the
reporter that he regards the purpose statement as “institutional
rhetoric that acknowledges the historical roots of the association and
in no way mandates religious commitment on the part of the Beverly
Hills family Y.”
No doubt Mayor Tannenbaum is right, and one suspects
the Beverly Hills Y will eventually gain its niche in the new city
building. But in light of this incident, and the fact that the
proportion of non-Quaker AFSC staff is considerably more than
two-thirds, it would be fair to ask, on this basis alone just how much
longer the F in AFSC’s name will carry any more meaning than the C in
This uncertainty is increased by the fact that the
spectrum of Quakerism represented among the Friends still in AFSC is a
very narrow one. Among the various streams of Quaker religious
thinking, it is the major outpost of what was once called “progressive
Quakerism,” which essentially melded liberal Quaker forms with an
individualist-rationalist Unitarian theology.
This stream bears some brief examination, as I
believe it is important in accounting for AFSC’s evolution. The figure
who best exemplified it was Henry Cadbury, who was both a professor at
the Unitarian-related Harvard Divinity School and for forty years a
central figure in the AFSC.
Cadbury came to Quakerism by family inheritance. His
personal religion was frankly ethical and non-mystical, and evidently
fluctuated between agnosticism and atheism. He was candid in offering
this outlook, and what could be called the “Ethical Action” approach he
drew from it, as a basis for Quaker life and work. A typical remark in
1947, recorded in the biography Let This Life Speak, by Margaret Bacon, reaffirmed that this view “is frankly non-mystical, and holds out no promise of a realized experience of God in this life.”
Cadbury’s outlook is in marked contrast to that of
Rufus Jones, the most famous Quaker figure of the first half of the
20th century. Jones saw Quakerism as a kind of active mysticism, and he
was no agnostic. While the history books paint AFSC as the “lengthened
shadow” of Rufus Jones, and he was indeed central to its creation
during World War One, he was only its chairman for little more than the
first decade. Thereafter, Henry Cadbury was an extremely influential
presence in AFSC policymaking until the end of the 1960s. Today’s AFSC
bears far more the stamp of Cadbury’s “Ethical Action” Quakerism than
it does of Rufus Jones and his prophetic mysticism.
The problem with Cadbury’s approach is that it is a
theological square peg which ill fits the round hole of Quaker
institutions and processes. All these presume the centrality of living
inner religious experience as the basis of action. Our worship is based
on this conviction of presence of leading; our testimonies are its
outward witness; the business procedures make it their goal; our
structures are built around this discernment and nurture.
Indeed, Quakerism is designed to operate on inward
religious experience as surely as a car is designed to run on gasoline.
If, say, you had a car but did not believe in gasoline, you could still
perhaps learn much from it about automotive history, components,
cultural significance and so forth. But when you wanted to actually go
someplace, you would have to use something else.
Similarly, without this conviction of presence, the
peculiarities of Quaker process and testimonies make no real functional
sense, and sustaining them would become increasingly difficult and seem
increasingly unnecessary. This is especially the case in a setting
where there is intense ideological competition from philosophies and
political programs which claim to be more vigorous and purposeful.
Here, I believe, we find the theological basis of
the AFSCs accelerating secularization. Whatever the strengths and
weaknesses of this process, that it has put AFSC on the very outer
layer of the Society’s periphery seems all but inarguable.
This marginalization has been increased by the fact
that in recent years the Cadbury “progressive Quakerism” ethos has been
in broad retreat within FGC circles, swept back by a quiet but
unmistakable resurgence of mystical/religious seeking and finding as
the basis for witness. This resurgence owes far more to Rufus Jones and
even programmed Friends such as Elton Trueblood, and Wilmer Cooper’s
work at the Earlham School of Religion. Related to this has been a
marked increase in ecumenical contacts among the various Quaker
branches in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet the AFSC, controlled from its
enclave in Philadelphia, has remained all but isolated from this
widening and exciting processor cross-fertilization.
How deep is AFSC’s isolation among Friends? Dan
Seeger describes several of the Quaker activities he pursues in
addition to his AFSC staff work; but he is something of an exception.
My own experience is not reassuring. A few years ago, for instance, I
spoke with a Quaker member of the national AFSC staff who had not long
since worked in its Ohio office. I asked if he had ever had contact
with the Evangelical Friends Church-Eastern Region, which has its
headquarters in Canton, Ohio and churches throughout the state.
I was not surprised when the reply was negative;
Eastern Region Friends, after all, have had little sympathy for AFSC
for decades; but I was surprised when he went on to indicate that he
had never even heard of the group. On another occasion I heard a Quaker
member of the national Board speak of Friends at large with contempt,
as a drag on the AFSC’s accomplishment of its mission. In the years
before and since, I have heard many similar stories from other troubled
This narrowness of Quaker vision is also clearly
shown in, and regularly reinforced by, AFSC’s formal governance
processes. In theory these are directly linked to the larger Society;
in practice they are effectively impervious to any outside Quaker
influence. Sam Levering’s essay, among others, cites several examples
The AFSC’s formal link to the Society of Friends is
through its Corporation, to which various American Yearly Meetings send
representatives, and from which the AFSC Board of Directors is
selected. Theoretically the Corporation selects the Board members; in
fact, the members, who meet once a year for a few hours, simply
rubberstamp an officially-selected slate. This is not surprising, since
a body which meets so infrequently and briefly can hardly be expected
to achieve much in the way of real oversight or policymaking. Nor, I
gather, is it supposed to.
But as if to guarantee the Corporation’s pliability,
more than half its members are appointed not by Yearly Meetings but “at
large,” by AFSC’s own internal nominating committee; and almost all the
Board candidates in recent times have been drawn from this inside “at
large” pool. Thus it is an understatement to say that the range of
Quaker viewpoints represented in AFSC’s councils is rather limited; it
runs the gamut from A to B.
But that is not all. As Lewy’s research shows, the
overwhelmingly non-Quaker staff, as a result of the upheavals of the
late 1960s and early 1970s, has become a very influential, perhaps
dominant force in much of AFSC’s policymaking and governance. In many
sections the staff has gained a virtual veto over the selection of
their supervisors. As a practical matter they determine the direction
and content of most decision-making in both program committees and the
Board, where little happens in either of which they disapprove.
Given that this essentially non-Quaker staff, only
tamely supervised by a Quaker board which in any case represents a very
narrow slice of Quaker thinking, does not take its agenda from the
Society of Friends, where do its initiatives come from? Lewy speaks
generally of a leftist peace movement constituency tainted by the
involvement of communist oriented groups. I think it would be more
accurate to look again at the “organizers’ subculture.”
Its members circulate among a number of peace and
other issue organizations, which include all four that Lewy writes
about and numerous others. Like any such subculture, it has its own
values, jargon, fashions and quarrels. While it indeed displays a
generally left wing political bent, this is a homegrown leftism, not
one franchised from Moscow, Hanoi, Havana or even Managua, as even Lewy
affirms. As he also shows, in the case of the Forest and Baez appeals
to North Vietnam in 1976 (recounted here by Jim Forest), and other
incidents, the AFSC response to intra-movement issues often reflects
the leftward end of this constituency.
Personally I agree with many (though not all!) of
the current positions of this “organizers’ subculture.” My concern here
is simply that its relationship to the Society of Friends, even the
Society’s more liberal wing, is strictly incidental; and its
colonization of the AFSC star and decision making has steadily
reinforced the group’s secularization and accelerated its move out of
the Quaker orbit.
This secularization is a familiar feature of the
history of religiously-founded institutions. It has been perhaps best
known in the case of colleges going as far back in United States when
Yale was founded as a more orthodox alternative to Harvard’s galloping
Most Quaker colleges have trod a similar path. A
glossy 1989 admissions brochure for Bryn Mawr College indicated how far
one school had gone: The school was originally opened in 1885 to give
women a “guarded education” in the Orthodox Quaker mode; but nowhere in
the brochure, not even in its summary of Bryn Mawr’s history, were the
terms Quaker or Friends mentioned.
Among colleges the shift has typically been away
from denominational peculiarities and control toward the culture of
professionalized academia. In the case of the AFSC, I believe we can
see an analogous process at work, with the shift being toward the norms
and concerns of the professionalized, careerist and largely secularized
This secularizing trend in religious service groups
is, of course, not confined to Quakers or the AFSC: An award-winning
Methodist Journalist, Roy Howard Beck, in his book On Thin Ice
(Bristol Books, 1988) shows in some detail how the United Methodist
Church’s Board of Global Ministries closely parallels many features of
the AFSC as detailed by Lewy.
Beck covered many top religious stories of the
1980s; and he brought to them, unlike Lewy, a basically liberal
outlook. Thus it was with dismay that he reported his repeated
discoveries of evidence of the Board’s uncritically leftist bias, the
staff’s minimal commitment to the denomination and Christianity, its
careful evasion of any real accountability to the Methodist Church
constituency, and the chronically poor and biased quality of the
information on which many of its campaigns were based. It is a
depressing and all-too familiar story.
Beck does not put his findings in any larger
context; Lewy, Quakers and the AFSC are never mentioned. Yet comparing
the two accounts, it seems clear to me that the real point of reference
for the Methodist Board is the same as for the AFSC, the “organizers’
The AFSC’s oft-repeated rationale for the decline in
numbers of Quakers on its staff is that in the early 1970s the group
undertook an affirmative action program aimed at making it
representative of the diversity of our society; and since American
Friends remain almost entirely white and middle class, their numbers
must inevitably decrease in AFSC as this goal is approached.
In response, it must first be affirmed that surely
the AFSC in those years was past due for an internal shakeup. Those who
knew it in the mid-1960s recall a staff structure centered around a
middle-class, middle-aged white male hierarchy, attended by dutiful and
devoted female secretaries. This was by no means a fitting embodiment
of the ancient Quaker testimony of gender equality, never mind the
contemporary resurgence of feminism and black power.
In addition there was the perennial reality of
generational struggle: many of these incoming executives had been
youthful conscientious objectors during World War II, who in their day
had grumbled and chafed against the AFSC establishment of those years.
Having replaced it two decades later, their turn was now coming, with
challenges appearing from both upstart women as well as ‘60s male
There’s nothing unusual about all this, and similar
situations turn up like red threads in the stories of all the four
groups that Lewy chronicles. And at first glance it makes the fact that
AFSC underwent internal upheavals aimed at changing these realities
seem not only justified, but overdue.
Unfortunately, this effort and practice proved
disastrous many ways, working to the detriment of AFSC on numerous
fronts. I believe it has contributed materially to the declining
quality of many if its publications, and the vulgar leftism that
pervades much of its positions. I have heard AFSC staff and committee
people decry an internal atmosphere of intimidation, double standards
and manipulation of policymaking through “racist bating”.
But perhaps the most serious of its ill effects was
the de-Quakerizing of the AFSC. The argument that this was a necessary
outcome of seeking gender and ethnic diversity in AFSC is not
convincing. In fact I believe it to be a largely self-serving myth, and
the purported diversity it has allegedly brought AFSC in place of
Friends is almost entirely bogus. It is “diversity” strictly within the
highly restricted limits of the “organizers subculture.” Furthermore,
its application reveals an unmistakable and sweeping anti-Quaker bias.
This bias may be largely unconscious, but it is very
real, and it becomes obvious when we consider that in fact among the
demographic categories of “diversity” specified in AFSCs vaunted
affirmative action goals (women, gays, handicapped and “Third World”)
only one would actually seem to require much recruitment beyond the
ranks of the Society of Friends. That is, there are already plenty of
female, gay and handicapped Quakers available, if those are what AFSC
says it needs.
And even in the latter, “Third World” category,
there is in fact no need to look beyond the Society, only beyond the
borders of the United States. That’s because most Quakers in the world
are now nonwhite and Third World: There are tens of thousands of black
African Quakers, and numerous shades of Friends in Central and South
America. Among them are undoubtedly numbers of bright and dedicated
Quaker men and women who would jump at opportunities to witness to
their faith through service in the world in a Quaker agency.
The problem with such real “Third World” Friends of
course, is that they are mostly not politically or theologically
“correct” according to the prejudices of the organizers’ subculture. To
recruit among them would require AFSC to broaden its religious and
especially political outlook beyond these limits; and this, I think it
can be safely said, is something those now in control of AFSC are
determined not to do. If the AFSC must choose between Quakerism and the
shibboleths of the “organizers’ subculture”, there is no contest.
This priority shows itself again in the AFSC
response to Quaker concern and criticism. Over the last fifteen years
it has maneuvered to head off, deflect, discredit or ignore concerns
individual Quakers, some of great weight and unquestioned integrity,
have repeatedly tried to raise on these points, and it has for the most
part succeeded brilliantly. Lewy recounts a striking and poignant
moment of such protest, in March of 1977, when Kenneth Boulding of
Boulder Meeting staged a one-man silent vigil outside AFSC headquarters
in Philadelphia to highlight what he delicately called the “lack of
veracity” in its response to postwar developments in Vietnam. As he
reports sadly in his essay here, confirming Lewy, this protest got
Lewy mentions several other discreet expressions of
dissent by respected Friends which likewise went nowhere. Several more
are described by writers in this volume, and it would be easy to fill
several chapters with additional examples. On one occasion in 1979,
this undercurrent burst briefly into public view, on the heels of
another blast of outside criticism, a cover article in The New Republic,
“With Friends Like These,” by Stephen Chapman, published June 9, 1979.
Three heavily-attended sessions of searching discussion at Friends
General Conference produced a letter of concern to AFSC signed by over
100 Friends; but it too received only pro forma response.
Sometimes AFSC has gone beyond stonewalling. Ed
Lazar and Jim Forest recount their own experiences of this in their
essays; and here, briefly, is mine: it happened in the spring of 1972,
not long after AFSC’s Philadelphia Peace Division staff staged a strike
in March against the appointment of a Peace Secretary unsatisfactory to
them, in one of the key battles to establish staff hegemony over such
hires. I wrote an article about this incident, and a parallel case in
the New England Regional Office in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The article was actually quite complimentary to
AFSC; but when the Philadelphia office got wind of it, national
staffers, who had not even read it, nonetheless intervened directly to
get it killed by two publications to which I had submitted it.
This response shocked me. In all my journalistic
career, AFSC is one of only two subjects which had any success at
suppressing my work. The other was Lyndon LaRouche, himself a renegade
Quaker. The piece finally appeared in WIN magazine, a peace movement journal, titled “New Morning at AFSC,” in its May 15, 1972 issue.
Nor is such studied evasion only a matter of past
history I recently read the minutes of the retreat held in 1988 by
Intermountain Yearly Meeting to consider the AFSC relationship to
Friends, in which two top staff members from Philadelphia took part. In
the first session, participants were asked to speak reflectively and
self-critically about their groups, in order to set a tone for the
retreat of humility and common seeking. Local Friends did so; but the
remarks of the AFSC participants, as recorded in the minutes, were
entirely self-justifying and defensive. There was not even a hint that
anything might be less than just dandy in its positions, programs, or
its relations with Friends.
Only Guenter Lewy and his blast of outside
criticism, however heavily weighted by his own biases, has effectively
punctured this protective shield again, if only momentarily. Yet AFSC
skill and success in ignoring such feedback does not suggest a high
probability of its having any more significant impact.
But it could be that Lewy’s disclosures might make a
difference. Combined with wide discussion among Friends of the
long-brewing concerns over the AFSC’s Quaker identity, connections, and
the quality and reliability of much of its work, they might crystallize
a body of organized Quaker opinion around these issues that cannot be
so easily ignored. If this happens, it seems to me that Friends will
face a choice among three main responses, which might for convenience
be called the Three Rs: Release, Reclamation or Renunciation.
The first response would be a letting go based on an
acceptance of the changes in AFSC over the past generation. Perhaps, it
can be argued, it is time to give up our nostalgic images of what the
AFSC used to be and do, and what we think it now ought to be, and deal
with it as it is. After all, no group escapes change, and AFSC’s
defenders insist with some justice that its evolution has been based on
its own experience, which is as valid as that of the critics.
If this rationale were accepted, perhaps the
critics’ basic question today should be, how can what AFSC is and does
now be brought into a right relationship with the Society of Friends?
Laying aside old images would also begin to free up energy now devoted
to berating the Service Committee for not doing for Friends what many
of us would like it to do, enabling this energy to be redirected into
new efforts to do those things for ourselves.
In policy terms, this release could probably be
accomplished simply by abolishing the AFSC Corporation. Putting a
merciful end to its charade of accountability to the Society would ease
some Friends’ minds – it would at least make unmistakably clear that
the AFSC is an entirely independent, self-directed entity, with only as
much Quaker connection as it chooses. Those Friends who wished to work
with it would do so as individuals. This is, of course, the place at
which many Quaker schools and colleges have arrived, though as we have
seen some have passed beyond even it into arriviste amnesia about their
But no sooner is this last paragraph on paper than a
voice of protest wells up from within me. NO! it cries, this is too
easy! The past is not irrelevant to the present, and AFSC’s departure
from its own original purposes should not be allowed to pass without
The AFSC’s original model, however imperfectly
realized, produced a record of service that won a Nobel Peace Prize and
earned Friends worldwide respect; it is folly to discard it. And it is
not wrong to expect the largest Quaker service body, the bearer of the
Quaker name in much of the world, to be substantially made up of
Quakers, and to be in broad and ongoing engagement with the Society in
all its authentic diversity, bewildering and unwieldy as that sometimes
is. Simply to let go of it would mean handing over a 70-year-old,
world-famous Quaker Legacy to a largely secular, liberal left coterie
too much of which is unconcerned with what it has stood for over the
Thus the second option, the second R, would mean an
attempt to reclaim the AFSC as a body meaningfully connected to the
Society of Friends.
In practical terms what would such reclamation
effort consist of? I can see at least three elements (and the essays by
Thomas Angell and Sam Levering contain other proposals along this
First, new leadership must take the helm in the
national office and the Board. The present establishment there tends to
retreat reflexively into a bunker mentality whenever Quaker concerns
are raised, and will simply have to be replaced by leaders who would
welcome AFSC’s reintegration into the society.
Second, the term Quaker should be added to its
affirmative action goals, not as an additional category competing with
the others, but as a modifier to all of them: let the AFSC emphasize
the recruitment of Quaker women, Quaker gays and lesbians, disabled
Quakers, and “Third World” Quakers. There are to repeat, plenty of all
these out there. If some might need to be trained before they can
handle present AFSC program priorities, such preparation of a Quaker
cadre would be an integral part of AFSC’s mission.
While I am wary of specific quotas, let that not be
an excuse for equivocation: let AFSC set a goal of not less than 50%
Quaker staff within 10 years.
Third, the Corporation would be restructured along
lines suggested by Sam Levering in his essay to make it a genuine
governing body, which would include eliminating its stacking with “at
large” insiders and its domination by staff. It would be charged with
sett1ng overall program priorities, based on careful and extensive
canvassing of the life and concerns of American Friends.
This could in turn produce a reconstituted Board, no
longer exclusively insider-run and representing a broader range of
Friends, to oversee the implementation of these priorities on an
ongoing basis. One operating policy change would be to end staff vetoes
of appointment of their supervisors.
Current AFSC insiders will sometimes admit, usually
sotto voce and off the record, that part of their resistance to such
ideas is based on the fear that politically conservative Quakers, in
such a responsive structure, would be able to paralyze policymaking and
program; “We’d never be able to agree on anything,” I have heard it
said. But if such a process involving the wider spectrum of American
Friends sounds fanciful, it is not. There is an operating model for it
with forty years of success behind it.
That model is the Friends Committee on National
Legislation, the Quaker lobby on Capitol Hill. The FCNL’s program and
administrative staff is almost all-Quaker, and it is generally
acknowledged to be of very high quality; and it trains several young
interns, usually Quakers, every year.
FCNL works on an agenda of legislative priorities
which is set every two years by a nationwide General Committee of
Friends representing most American yearly meetings, both programmed and
unprogrammed. This group, which meets not for a few hours but over
several days, has been able, despite the broad diversity encompassed
within it, to achieve unity on many position in areas of peace and
justice, both domestic and international. Indeed, seasoned observers
report that some of the sessions in which this committee has labored
long over difficult issues have been truly inspirational, worshipful
experiences of Quaker process at work.
To be sure, there are issues on which agreement has
eluded FCNL, particularly abortion, homosexuality and some other
“boundaries of life” questions; the notion of economic sanctions
against countries like South Africa has also been difficult.
However, the group has been able to live with its
differences in an atmosphere of relative harmony, and there has been
plenty of work to be done in the meantime.
For that matter, insider fears that AFSC’s present
support for abortion and gay rights would be imperiled by making the
structure responsive to Friends at large are in my view greatly
exaggerated. For one thing these emphases would have the weight of
established precedent behind them, which is an important factor in
Quaker decision-making. But more important, despite what AFSC partisans
may think, most of their critics from the unprogrammed wing are not in
the least interested in some homophobic right-to-life witchhunt. Their
concerns are rooted in much more basic issues of overall Quaker
identity and connections. Most of us fully expect AFSC to continue to
occupy the liberal left pole of the authentic Quaker spectrum in
In any event, the most conservative Friends gave up
on AFSC so long ago (the evangelicals cut ties in the 1920s) that they
have largely forgotten about it, putting their energies and resources
into other, more theologically congenial groups. (They have,
incidentally, little to do with FCNL either, despite its demonstrated
responsiveness.) The constituency for renewed ASFC Quaker identity will
initially evolve around the yearly meetings of Friends General
Conference and Friends United Meeting, but even that much of a
connection, if it is genuine, would be far broader than at present.
FCNL stalwarts generally give a wide berth to any
comparisons of their processes those of AFSC; the Service Committee,
they say, is so much larger, and its agenda so much broader and they
refer to its self-image as the “cutting edge” group whose role is to
the Quaker constituency into new issues and positions, a task which is
bound to cause controversy.
But the lobbyists are too modest. FCNL’s experience
is directly relevant to AFSC, and serves as the principal alternative
model of how AFSC’s governance and its connection to the larger Society
of Friends could be reclaimed and rerooted in the life of the Society.
As mentioned earlier, the sense of Quaker “ownership” built on such a
process could be a real support for the “cutting edge” role. The
differences of size and mission are less significant than they may
appear, and in any case they certainly do not justify the attenuation
of AFSC’s ties to Friends.
What are the prospects of such a reclamation? Short
of something approaching a revolution from inside, probably not very
good. AFSC’s structural insulation against outside Quaker influence
would work against it, as would its skill in shrugging off expressions
of concern; further, the attenuated and unrepresentative Quaker
presence within it is typically defensive when confronted with
proposals for change. Among the staff, identification with the
organizers subculture seems virtually complete.
Perhaps if enough weighty Friends, joined by a
number of yearly meetings, made a common appeal to the Board for action
on a clear short list of reforms, the Board might be shamed into a real
response. But I wouldn’t violate the testimony against gambling and bet
the farm on it.
This unpromising prospect brings us inexorably to
the next option, the third R, Renunciation. If AFSC’s remaining Quaker
connections continue to erode, and its leadership continues to ignore
the heartfelt pleas of Friends and former supporters like the critics
represented here, the time may come when they and those Quaker groups
which are prepared to join them will feel a need to clearly and
publicly disassociate themselves from AFSC. There is after all, what in
oldtime Quaker parlance is called upholding the Reputation of Truth.
This Renunciation might take the form of a formal
request that AFSC’s name be changed, as Sam Levering has suggested,
dropping the “Friends” and leaving it simply as the American Service
Committee. When the AFSC establishment declined, as it undoubtedly
would, further public actions to make this breach known to the world
Arthur Roberts’s essay describes how the evangelical
rejection of AFSC came about. But such a step for most current Quaker
critics would be a grave one, which few of us are now ready to take.
Yet it cannot be dismissed. After all, if recent trends continue much
longer there will be almost no Quakers in the AFSC, save perhaps the
Executive Secretary and perhaps a few fundraisers.
Further, the Corporation has had before it for
several years a proposed bylaws change which would open membership on
the Board to non-Friends. This is one idea which a few in the
Corporation have resisted and delayed, although the pressure from
inside to accept it has been heavy and unrelenting. Once that door is
open, the AFSC might well end up in the same boat as the Beverly Hills
YMCA. Could this outcome really pass without a response by Friends?
Given AFSC’s impermeability, such actions of
dissasociation, however traumatic for those who take some, would
probably not make much concrete difference to AFSC, at least not
immediately. But their longer-term impact might be more significant. I
say that because while AFSC raises most of its budget from non-Friends,
it does so by harvesting the fruit of the long-cultivated, intangible
but very real (and bankable) reputation of the Society of Friends as a
worthwhile and humanitarian body of people. (In line with this “market
reality,” many AFSC fundraisers have traditionally been recruited from
among exemplary Friends. The Quakerly image that’s maintained among the
donors they visit was very effective.)
Should this connection be challenged openly by
former supporters, this base of his legitimacy would be called into
question, with potentially grave long-term consequences. Theis erosion
may have already begun: AFSCs budget growth has fallen significantly
behind inflation over the past 15 years and this has forced significant
programming & staff cuts. It has also lost ground to other
religious service groups.
How serious AFSC’s long term financial decline has
been can be seen by comparison with World Vision, an Evangelical
service group whose work in many ways parallels AFSC’s. In 1971 AFSC’s
total budget was larger than World Vision’s by more than $2 million;
but by 1980, World Vision’s budget was almost 4 times as large, while
AFSC had lost almost 35% of its real income to inflation. [NOTE: In
2016, World Vision’s annual revenue surpassed one billion dollars.]
The background suggests that a loss of Quaker legitimacy would not be a small matter for AFSC.
These “three Rs” then: Release, Reclamation or
Renunciation, represent possible ways in which the AFSC-Quaker
relationship could be revised. The choice among them will be
significantly influenced by how Friends come to understand the data
about its evolution which Guenter Lewy has detailed thus far better
than anyone, though for very different purposes. None much resembles
the kind of apolitical quietism implicit in his critique; but that is
to be expected once his material has been reframed in Quaker terms.
Because of so many Friends’ fear of conflict within
the Society, however, there could be an additional, fourth R to be
mentioned here in passing–that of simply giving up and uneasily
Reconciling ourselves to the status quo within AFSC. This would leave
the Corporation to its empty annual exercise and let AFSC become ever
more fully secularized and assimilated into the “organizers’
subculture” while still making use of the Quaker reputation for its
Indeed, this could well be the most likely outcome
of any outlined here. We Quakers have a very poor record of actually
facing up to the rigors and risks of open internal struggle; and
changing the course which the AFSC is on would, I am certain, be a
If it comes to that fourth, passive outcome, this
book will have failed; and I believe Friends will have failed too. But
like the name of Guenter Lewy, giving up on the American Friends
Service Committee is an option that has not occurred to me, or to most
of those Friends represented here, at least not yet.