[INTRODUCTORY NOTE: These discussions were sparked by an event that is unmentioned in these documents: the publication in The New Republic magazine of a cover story by Stephen Chapman called “Shot From Guns: the Lost Pacifism of the Quakers,” in its June 9, 1979 issue. The piece was especially critical of AFSC. I figured there would be a lot of talk about this article and its allegations at the annual Gathering of Friends General Conference at Earlham College in a few weeks. As I was planning to attend, I looked forward to joining in, and following wherever they led. However, when I arrived at the Gathering and combed through the daily schedule, I didn’t see any occasion, formal or informal, scheduled for feedback about it. So I signed up to hold one during the free afternoons, was assigned a small classroom and put up a few flyers. When the time came, the classroom was completely mobbed, and we had to move to a much larger room to hold the 150 or so Friends who showed up. They were very eager to talk. But few wanted to spend much time on the New Republic article: their concerns were their own, much broader, and had been gathering steam long before the article appeared.
The fact that the session was not sponsored by AFSC proved to be critical. Under its auspices, similar gatherings had been stuffed with “dog-and-pony shows,” pep talks about programs, which left little time for feedback. Any concerns raised were usually carefully deflected by the group’s staff. Which is to say, anything challenging was deftly stifled. This time, though, the discussion focused on hearing the concerns of the gathered Friends. They were very eager to speak. It took two sessions to hear them all; I took notes, and brought to the final session a summary of the concerns raised
most often and most deeply felt.(It’s in the Prelude, below.)
When I reviewed these, someone from AFSC quickly objected that we did not have unity/consensus on the points. That’s right, I replied, but this is not a formal minute, only a summary of what we’ve heard, which I planned to send to AFSC headquarters over my own signature. Opinions about the concerns voiced could vary, and any Friends who wished to join me in signing the letter would do so only as individuals.
Friends lined up to co-sign it; Larry Ingle, whom I first met at these sessions, counted 144. Since then, Larry and I have carried these concerns, sometimes separately, sometimes jointly. And nearly forty years later, the main concerns voiced in this 1979 Summary, in my view, remain unaddressed. The trends of secularization, politicization and what I call the “De-Quakerization” of AFSC (this last now nearly total), have continued unchecked. Thus, alas, my upbeat tone in the second piece of the Prelude, on “Reappraisal,” now sounds dated, naive and more than a little foolish.
The rest of this volume brings together most of the major pieces we have produced, using our respective skills–history and personal experience for Larry; experience amd journalism for me. The one important supplement to it is the separate volume, Quaker Service at the Crossroads, which I edited & published in 1988; the Introduction from it is here, but much of the rest still remains relevant too.]
Final Summary of Concerns About the AFSC Published in Friends Journal, October 1, 1979
During Friends General Conference at Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 7/1-7/79, three open meetings were held to discuss concerns of Friends regarding the American Friends Service Committee. More than 150 Friends participated in these discussions convened by Chuck Fager. This summary of the views expressed is not a consensus document; not all participants agreed with all points, nor did they attempt to assess the validity of the concerns.
Throughout these discussions, there was general expression of warm support for the AFSC as the major Quaker service agency. Many of the firmest statements of support came from Friends with the most deeply felt concerns. It is in this basically affirmative context that the following points were offered.
Concerns regarding AFSC structure and communications with Friends
Frequently-expressed concerns about structure
AFSC structures and decision making processes are not understood by many Friends. These should be made more widely known and understood, especially the means by which local Friends and meetings can gain access to decision making. The processes by which the Friends Committee on National Legislation regularly solicits and incorporates the views of local Friends and meetings of all types in its program and priority decision making was repeatedly mentioned as a model which AFSC should study and perhaps adopt.
Frequently-expressed concerns about communication with Friends
More stress should be laid in AFSC literature and public statements on the religious basis of Quaker service. Several Friends reported unsettling incidents involving AFSC staff and local Friends, incidents suggesting staff indifference to the need for close and reciprocal communication and interaction between them.
Other concerns expressed
One Friend felt strongly that AFSC s structure is essentially out of control, and has become an administrative monstrosity; this Friend urged that expert outside help be engaged to assist in making the structure manageable.
Concerns regarding AFSC staff
Many staff members, the large majority of whom are now non-Quaker, seem to lack in their work a religious basis which is consistent with Friends processes and testimonies. Some also felt there should be a significantly higher proportion of Friends on the AFSC staff.
Many felt that all AFSC staff, of whatever denomination or none, should be committed to pacifism and nonviolence, and they were concerned that this was increasingly not the case. One Friend suggested that an explicit inquiry to this effect be added to the employment application form. There should be training programs in AFSC to prepare young Friends to fill leadership positions in Quaker service groups.
Pursuit of affirmative action goals in hiring should not be allowed to dilute the essential Quaker character of the AFSC, or its commitment to the Peace Testimony and opposition to all violence.
Several Friends felt the National Board and staff of AFSC were resistant to new ideas which were not generated within their circles.
Other concerns mentioned
AFSC staff openings should be publicized as widely as possible among Friends, e.g., by mail to all meetings, and through ads in various Quaker publications. It was asked whether the developments in AFSC which concern us reflect only that organization’s condition, or the general state of our Society?
It was felt that young people in our meetings should be better prepared both at home and in religious education, to participate in Quaker service, and be available for AFSC training programs.
Is it proper for AFSC staff to take part in forming consensus decisions on matters of policy, program or personnel? At least one Friend felt strongly that it was not. The Search Committee which is seeking a new national executive secretary should take into account the concerns expressed in these sessions.
Concerns regarding AFSC programs
Many Friends fear that AFSC has, in some recent cases, defaulted on its commitment to nonviolence and concern for all parties in conflict situations in favor of a partisan position. Southern Africa and Vietnam were most often mentioned in this connection. The Middle East and some domestic conflicts involving farm workers and Native Americans were also mentioned.
It was repeatedly stated that a major, some felt the major, thrust of AFSC programming should be the enabling of Friends and meetings of all types and circumstances to create and take part in Quaker service opportunities. This was thought especially relevant for young Friends.
Other concerns expressed
Several concerns were raised about the character of some positions taken by the national and/or various regional AFSC offices. Some felt positions are often taken and programs initiated because they are “trendy;” others feel the AFSC is no longer on the “cutting edge;” others that AFSC positions may be too “radical” or “liberal.” Some also felt the AFSC staff displays a bias toward socialist solutions to economic problems. Is the standard of accuracy of information and balance of perspective in AFSC publications still being reliably maintained?
Has the AFSC been failing to maintain its former policy of following up on the delivery of supplies and funds abroad to assure they are used as intended?
At least one Friend expressed disappointment at the deemphasis on service and relief efforts by the AFSC.
Friends sharing these concerns were encouraged to take this summary to their monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings for use as a basis of wider discussions. It was suggested that yearly meeting representatives to the AFSC Corporation be invited to attend and join in these discussions. Friends were also encouraged lo express their concerns directly and by mail to AFSC staff. Board and committees, both national and regional. Friends were further encouraged to involve Quaker publications, study centers and schools as forums for broadening and deepening this dialogue and engaging AFSC staff and committee persons more fully in it.
Final Summary of Concerns About the AFSC; and The AFSC and Quaker Service: A Reappraisal
by Chuck Fager
Friends Journal, October 1, 1979
After taking part in numerous recent discussions about the American Friends Service Committee and its relationship with the Society of Friends, there are several reflections on the dialogue I would like to share.
First, these discussions do not constitute an attack, direct or indirect, on the AFSC. The summary of concerns prepared as a result of the discussions held at Friends General Conference in July at Earlham College opened with a declaration of “warm support for the AFSC as the major Quaker service agency,” adding that “many of the firmest statements of support came from Friends with the most deeply-felt concerns.” Baltimore Yearly Meeting, a month later, exhibited a similar attitude in the minute it adopted which at the same time expressed support for dialogue about Friends’ concerns and appreciation for the work and the role of the AFSC. Because the AFSC has sometimes been subjected to strong and even intemperate criticism from outside Quaker circles, it is important at the outset to underline the “basically affirmative context,’‘ as the Earlham summary put it, in which this discussion is taking place.
One other reason why the non-adversarial character of this discussion needs to be emphasized is that, in my judgment, there is more going on here than simply the development of a critique of one particular organization. To be sure, many specific concerns have been voiced about various AFSC programs and policies, and all of these specifics need to be addressed. Yet I am convinced that beyond these specifics, like the forest that encompasses a group of individual trees, is something broader than concern over the AFSC itself. I believe what we are witnessing is the beginning of a major reconsideration by many Friends of the meaning of Quaker service in our time, a process of widespread and burgeoning searching out of how the Spirit of God is calling us to act on our faith in the world as a Religious Society.
Such a process of reexamination is almost necessarily a scattered, somewhat unfocused and inarticulate one at first because we have no pope, no church councils, no priestly elite to do this sort of seeking and thinking for us. We must do it for ourselves, as best we can.
Thus groping our way, it is not surprising that many of us focus on an existing institution like the AFSC, which has so visibly and so long been acting on its own evolving understanding of Quaker service. And if, as I believe to be the case, many Friends’ sense of what Quaker service means is changing significantly, the direction of that most visible organization’s work may come to be seen as incongruous with these leadings–and this without the organization having done anything “wrong.” Moreover, any adjustments that may then be made are not admissions of failure or fault, but simply changes made in response to new leadings.
As an example of this, consider the course of AFSC programs for youth involvement. At one time AFSC was famous for its youth work camps; it appears that much of a whole Quaker generation– not to mention thousands of non-Quaker youth– were introduced to social issues, Friends’ principles in action, and other cultures through these efforts. But in the Sixties, these programs were seen as losing effectiveness and were eventually laid down. Today a wide range of Quakers have stated a clear desire to have new opportunities for service by youth offered through the AFSC. The AFSC staff and Board have heard this expression of concern, and are attempting to respond to it, in ways appropriate to the very different conditions of the 1980s.
In no part of this evolution, in my view, has the AFSC done anything “wrong.” “The spirit blows where it wills,” declares the Gospel of John, “and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes….” Once Quakers felt that a certain variety of youth programs should be a major part of AFSC’s form of Quaker service; later, by and large, we thought differently; now it appears we are led to call for new youth programs. The wind keeps blowing.
I believe this call for new youth programs is but the first concrete result of this expanding review of Quaker service, and the AFSC response to it is encouraging. Other elements, which have yet to become clear in the discussion, I think, will involve such things as structure and governance; provision of service opportunities for meetings and Friends of all ages; bridging the gap between unprogrammed and programmed Friends in this area; and a special emphasis on maintaining the distinctively Quaker character of our service work.
All these are matters which have major implications for the AFSC; but none is centered exclusively on it. Indeed, they should have equally important implications for all our Quaker institutions. How these leadings are ultimately understood and addressed will depend in large measure on the spirit and persistence with which we pursue together the discussion and worship from which they are attempting to emerge.
I pray for a Friendly spirit and a gentle persistence as this work of seeking goes forward.
Chuck Fager is a writer currently working with the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. Actively interested in Quaker ecumenism; he is editor of the Langley Hill (VA) monthly newsletter and a member of that meeting.