Quaker Theology #32 - Spring 2018
TEN: Gilbert White & AFSC: A Letter to the Editor,
Friends Journal, First Month 15, 2006
(Published in the April 2006 issue.)
We were very disappointed in Margaret Bacon's review of the biography of Gilbert White, Living With Nature's Extremes.
The reviewer dismissed with a throwaway comment the deep concerns
Gilbert White developed about the direction and governance of the
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in the late 1960s.
issues became so troubling to White that he abruptly resigned as Chair
of the AFSC Board in 1969. White did not “go public” with these
differences for more than thirty years, until they were spelled out in
of Gilbert White's distinguished career and service to Friends and as a
Friend, we believe that in a Quaker journal, and in the larger Quaker
community, these issues deserve to be identified and clearly addressed,
not shrugged off as if they were of no consequence.
stated in the text, as board Chairman White was firm in “believing that
the Society of Friends, through its representation in the [AFSC]
Corporation, should lead in establishing [AFSC] priorities and
policies.” (P. 109).
during his tenure “Gilbert felt that the agenda of the AFSC was
unwisely determined more by staff than by the Board. He also felt that
the gradual decline in numbers of American Quakers was in part the
consequence of reduced opportunities for voluntary service and career
development.” (P. 115) When his repeated protests were ignored, he
resigned and cut his ties to the group.
notes that more than thirty years later, “Gilbert’s concerns about the
staffing composition of the AFSC and service opportunities for Friends
did not abate.” (Ibid.) These were shared again privately with the new
Moreover, the author quotes the late Stephen Cary, a longtime AFSC
insider, acknowledging in a 2001 interview with the biography's author
that “As to whether staff are too central, I think they are. The board
hasn’t been willing to exercise due control. And Gilbert in my opinion
was correct in his belief that the right balance has not been struck.”
past thirty-five years numerous other Friends have raised similar
concerns about AFSC’s relationship to the Society of Friends, and the
character of its governance ― and had them similarly dismissed out of
hand by AFSC defenders, as they were in the Friends Journal review, usually without even being named.
reject this way of dealing with differences by suppression. These
issues were important to Friends in the 1960s, and they remain so
today. We wish Gilbert White had spoken openly about them earlier, but
are grateful to see them now in print.
should stay “on the table” among Friends. We call on AFSC and Friends
Journal to step up and support an open, full and searching
re-examination of the questions of right governance and authentic
connection between the Religious Society of Friends and a service body
which claims the name “Friends.”
White raised these questions almost forty years ago based on close,
first-hand experience. Dealing with them was timely then. Dealing with
them openly now is urgent and long overdue.
Chuck Fager & H. Larry Ingle
Chuck Fager was editor of Quaker Service at the Crossroads, published in 1988. H. Larry Ingle published “The American Friends Service Committee, 1947-49: The Cold War’s Effect,” Peace & Change, [January 1998], both of which dealt with related issues.