ONE: “Truly Radical, Non-violent, Friendly Approaches”(1): Challenges to the American Friends Service Committee

H. Larry Ingle

Reprinted from Quaker History, Volume 105, Number 1, Spring 2016. Published by Friends Historical Association

Nearly twenty-five years ago, on the occasion of the American Friends Service Committee’s seventy-fifth anniversary, Swarthmore College historian J. William Frost published a scholarly examination of the group’s early history. In his second paragraph, Frost stressed that from the beginning the Committee had had its critics, both from inside and outside the Religious Society of Friends. Looking around in 1992, he took special note of recent Quaker critics, Friends who targeted the Service Committee for what they saw as its tendency to sympathize with one side over the other in wars of national liberation and its staff’s increased professionalization, the small number of Friends among them, and the decline in their explicit religious commitment.(2)

Because Frost was introducing AFSC’s origins, he did not remark on what was even more astounding about this criticism, that almost all came from inside what might be called the “liberal” wing of Friends, members of meetings within Friends General Conference, the 20th-century umbrella group consisting primarily of Hicksites and their descendants.(3) Even more confounding — such Friends were often normally among the Committee’s chief allies, some even having worked with it in various ways. Their experiences revealed gaps between the ideals inspiring the Committee’s founding and the reality it embodied, not totally unexpected in a body of that age.

The relationship between the Religious Society of Friends and the Service Committee had always been an anomaly, as Frost’s article indicated. The Committee met first on April 30, 1917, less than a month after the United States entered World War I on April 6. Young Friends from both the Philadelphia Hicksite and Orthodox yearly meetings had conferred in February and March about opportunities for relief work in Europe where the war had been stalemated almost since its beginning in the summer of 1914.

The Committee’s purpose was at first limited. After the United States joined the Great War, it offered young male Quaker conscientious objectors a way to serve the nation without joining the military. Its founders were primarily rather affluent Friends from the Philadelphia area; they came together as individuals representing only themselves, but they were very influential—the Quaker term is “weighty.” The Committee ultimately drew support from yearly meetings around the country, including the largest body of non-Hicksite Orthodox Friends, the Five Years’ Meeting headquartered in Richmond, Indiana.(4) Its first statement showed that Friends appreciated the conflict’s broad popularity with the general population and were unwilling to repudiate it: “We are united in expressing our love for our country and our desire to serve her loyally.”(5)

From its origin until 1928, when the AFSC was incorporated,(6) a Board of Directors made up of interested and available Friends set policy for the Service Committee; then until the early 1990s the Corporation, which met annually, chose Friends for the Board, but after 1993, non-Friends, if clerks of regional offices, might be named. And through most of that time the overwhelming majority of members of both bodies were Friends from Philadelphia and others within ready traveling distance of the City of Brotherly Love. The legal situation was, as the Service Committee’s longest serving executive secretary (twenty-one years) Clarence Pickett told an executive staff meeting in 1945, that “there is no legal connection between the S[ociety] of F[riends] and the AFSC.” “Theoretically,” he admitted, “the AFSC could become composed of non-Friends entirely.” Yet in his next breath Pickett insisted that one of the AFSC’s concerns was to foster the Society of Friends “in every way.”(7) This statement clearly implied that the Service Committee and the Service Committee alone would determine how that fostering would be done and what it would look like.

Questions of governance, decision-making, setting policy and priorities, were central to the criticism directed at the American Friends Service Committee through the years: on the one hand, evangelical Quakers insisted that a Friends’ organization’s sole purpose should be proclaiming the gospel of the risen Christ to non-believers and, on the other, more modernist Friends wanted “service” defined to embody relief to suffering humanity. Over time a more radical goal of transcending and transforming contemporary society came to the fore. As early as 1919, Orthodox Friends in Richmond took exception to a public speech by a returned veteran of AFSC’s efforts in France because Henry Scattergood’s talk to high school students seemed simply too pro-German, too anti-war for them.(8) In other words, it did not reflect the conventional patriotic wisdom then prevailing in central Indiana. These critics believed it should have.

Years later, by the beginning of the Cold War in 1947, a similar situation emerged, except that the AFSC, with Pickett still its leader, was now mirroring the conventional wisdom, not of Richmond, Indiana, but of circles in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, places frequented by more genteel and liberal intelligentsia. After receiving the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for Friends, the Committee and its leadership considered taking a more pronounced political posture in resisting the undeclared war between the Soviet Union and the west; this move, coupled with a decision to hire professionals rather than rely on Quaker volunteers, marked a rather sharp break with its past yet kept it firmly within the sophisticated milieu in which it still existed. Unchallenged and mostly unnoted, the change distanced Friends from AFSC’s activities.(9)

By the 1960s, the received American culture had come under broad and sometimes fundamental attack by civil rights advocates, anti-war activists, dissatisfied women, liberated youth, and uncloseted homosexuals. Despite rejecting the military force that ultimately supported things as they were, Quakers and the AFSC did not escape such questioning. In 1969, for example, the Committee received an angry demand from an African American group to fund a housing rehabilitation development at a cost of $350,000; its Board approved $25,000 for a feasibility study to end the matter. That fall, a group calling itself the Black Economic Development Conference informed Philadelphia Yearly Meeting that it wanted its endorsement of reparations to the descendants of former slaves and expected half million dollars by January and $1 to $5 million more within two years.(10)

AFSC responded to such outsider pressures by recognizing an internal pressure group, the Third World Coalition that presumably spoke for self-described people of color working for the Committee, and an Affirmative Action program to give preference in hiring to people other than white males. One result of these actions was to increase the number and influence of non-Quakers employed by the organization; inevitably, this new reality resulted in people being hired who did not necessarily embrace Friends’ pacifism and emphasis on non-violence as a way of life rather than a mere tactic. In its defense, AFSC justified these moves because they made it more inclusive and representative of the nation’s population, assessments that were true enough but failed to assuage the discontent of some Friends that the Service Committee was drifting away from Quakers.(11)

Part of the problem that emerged in the late 1970s was related to the situation of any sixty-plus years old group with the radical heritage from early Quakerism.(12) AFSC’s founders had long since departed the scene and certain ways of doing things had become customary, even ingrained, both of which is to say that people had become comfortable with the usual and the familiar. The new departures instituted at the Cold War’s beginning enjoyed approval from Friends—at least no one except their supporters commented on them, no one negatively—so those in charge could continue to be in charge, making whatever decisions they desired. Any radical spiritual underpinnings that might exist as history could be after such a long period of time encrusted over and ignored; their absence sustained a kind of impregnable bias toward keeping things as they were.

So by the late 1970s, a rich religious history going back more than 300 years to the English Revolution of the 1650s offered the Service Committee’s leadership an array of Quaker examples—support for women’s rights and black freedom, liberation for oppressed people, such as homosexuals, economic justice, and of course opposition to war and work for peace—to shore up their numerous efforts. When they wrapped their goals and programs in such glittering historical finery, AFSC’s leaders were equipped to justify their stewardship to any likely critics.

Over the course of sixty years there gradually evolved an internal culture to support the milieu of the AFSC as its leadership defined it. They had the right, as Boards of Directors, to make decisions that they believed helped make those broad Quaker goods real. Members of the staff were intelligent, fashionable, and sophisticated Friends—or at least broad-minded, tolerant, liberal, concerned women and men committed to the same broad social goals as Friends. And let those with power aver, for only one example, that the Third World Coalition made the Committee more Quakerly, it ipso facto became so. Thus a culture that enjoyed the power to rule but also to marginalize, if not totally silence, critics took hold, grew deeper, and held sway.(13)

Daniel Seeger, director of the New York regional office of AFSC, candidly admitted the difficulty reformers faced when they confronted an ingrown culture that had become almost like a religion. In a 1978 memorandum he circulated to his staff he named two ways that had been “tried for producing spiritual change” in AFSC—raising constructive criticism from within and “frontal attacks on the AFSC from the outside,especially if launched by weighty and prestigious Friends”—had both proved wanting. Reform needed a new and basic approach, a way to undercut and replace the dominant culture.(14)

A long time member of AFSC’s Board of Directors, Ronald Mattson of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, wrote to the chairman of the Board in 1980, addressing the same issue using different expressions. He explained that as long as he had been involved with the Committee, he had heard the “perpetual query/plea” for more Quaker involvement. Why could any Friend, he wondered, be interested in a concern that she knew nothing about? To make his point, he instanced that the executive secretary’s report on Brazil at the last Board meeting might well have elicited Friends’ support if they had known about it. But uninformed and unaware of it, they remained ignorant of the need. Even the executive secretary, Mattson concluded, could not initiate a program to deal with an unheralded problem.(15)

Seeger’s April memo, coming as it did following a dramatic but unpublicized protest by one of the country’s renowned economists but before the New Yorker’s own more internal one, was prescient. On March 11, 1977, Kenneth E. Boulding, a seventy-four year old economist at the University of Colorado, held a previously announced personal vigil at the newly constructed building housing AFSC. A charming and gregarious Quaker, he had informed a committee of his meeting, a committee on clearness, of his plans.

The immediate issue that galvanized him to undertake what was an unprecedented protest against AFSC was the excuses it made for the newly victorious Vietnamese government there. An article by pacifist Jim Forest in Fellowship magazine of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the previous October on violations of human rights in the newly unified Vietnam directed Boulding to the problem. Among other details, Forest highlighted an estimate by noted French anti-war journalist Jean Lacouture that the Vietnamese now in control had put 300,000 former supporters of the old regime into prison camps for what the victorious Communists called reeducation.(16)

Boulding went public with his misgivings in mid- December 1976 when he signed a call addressed to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam complaining about its violations of human rights, something some 100 other antiwar activists did. (Joan Baez, a folksinger with a Quaker background, was the most prominent signer.) A reporter for the Washington Star contacted AFSC’s headquarters for its take and was told that the allegations by Forest and the signatories to the call were, in executive secretary Louis Schneider’s words, “without merit”; instead, he lauded Vietnam’s new government for “an awesome task of post war reconstruction.”(17) (Schneider, a New Yorker who had been a Congregational minister before joining Friends in 1946, became AFSC’s executive secretary in 1974.)(18) And, finally, Boulding was outraged that the AFSC pressured signers to withdraw their names from the call, a move he pronounced “disastrous.” Two non-Quaker groups, Amnesty International and OXFAM, he reminded Philadelphia, acted in a more Friendly fashion.(19)

Boulding wrote Wilmer Tjossem, an Iowa Friend and AFSC fundraiser with whom he was close, that Friends had taken the AFSC for granted too long and it was time for a bit of high-level interaction between local meetings and their principal agency. He denied wanting to create problems for an organization he supported both personally and financially, but the issues Forest had uncovered regarding Vietnam needed a clearer explanation, not to mention AFSC’s opposition to Forest’s charges—which was why he looked forward to hearing about Vietnam from his Friend when he returned from a trip there presently. He warned that he would treat Tjossem’s conclusions as “Evidence rather than Truth.” So Boulding generally viewed the AFSC as having distanced itself from Friends, resulting in an uncritical acceptance of anything the new winners in Vietnam wanted to do toward their former opponents. Boulding found this strange position lacking veracity, especially for a Quaker organization.(20)

The AFSC’s debate with Boulding, and indirectly with Forest, had an academic and abstract air about it—perhaps this was not surprising given Boulding’s credentials. Neither Forest nor Boulding had been on the scene in Vietnam, the former relying on journalists, even if reputable ones, or refugee reports, not necessarily reliable either, the latter placing his trust implicitly in Forest’s reading of this second-hand evidence. As Schneider emphasized in his letter, AFSC’s position grew out of reports from its people on the ground in Vietnam as well as those with the Mennonite Service Committee, a reliable group; about 15 of these folk met with Forest on October 20 in New York in an effort to get him to withhold his article while the evidence for his charges would be considered by a small “impartial” group of knowledgeable people.

Forest refused. Schneider did not deny the possibility of violations of human rights on the part of the new Vietnamese government, but he suggested that a concern for truth in the situation required Friends to at least be aware of the complex situation and Forest’s lack of direct evidence. He took “exception to the general thrust of your [Boulding’s] letters to me” even though he was “not unaware of the strength of your feeling and concern” about “the general trends within AFSC which you think are leading it away from basic Quaker principles and practices.”(21) This article is not the place to sort out the truth, or lack thereof, of what occurred in the newly unified Vietnam; it does explore the basis of conflicting interpretations the two sides applied to disputed facts.

Hence Boulding temporarily laid aside his affability and informed the Board and “Concerned Staff” of the AFSC that he planned “a personal silent vigil” in the entrance hall of the Committee’s offices on Friday March 11, 1977, from 9 to 11 AM in response to “a call which requires obedience.” He confessed himself burdened with a “deep spiritual anguish.” Stressing that he did not want to embarrass or place impediments in the way of efforts to relieve human suffering, he wanted no outside publicity, for he considered it “strictly an internal matter between the conscience of an individual Friend and the AFSC.” Yet when AFSC sought to discredit the appeal he and other pacifists had signed, its actions suggested it had “lost touch with that ‘religion of veracity rooted in spiritual inwardness’ which [philosopher] William James described as the essence of the Society of Friends.” The AFSC, he concluded, “is pursuing a course which seems to me deeply in error,” so he hoped his actions would initiate a dialogue between it and local Friends and meetings.(22)

Though he never mentioned any direct concern with communism or Marxism in his comments to the AFSC, some AFSC insiders opined that Boulding and his Colorado Quaker colleague and economist Jack Powelson were so obsessed with ferreting out these ideologies that they tended to read them into AFSC statements. One such, Earle Edwards, head of AFSC’s fund raising, pointed out that the AFSC was “anxious not to feed cold war attitudes and leans over backward about the socialist countries.” He believed that the prospect of reconciling these attitudes was minimal if some resolution of the disagreement could not be found. Perhaps the AFSC, he ventured, should be as forthright in questioning socialist countries as it was toward internal American problems.(23)

After the vigil, Boulding and Schneider met with those AFSC staffers who wanted to discuss the issues. From the visitor’s perspective, nothing came from this “threshing meeting”—a Quaker term for a meeting for a free-ranging discussion—“I felt I got nowhere,” Boulding recalled. “I felt a total lack of communication.” Later he came up with an idea for AFSC staff members to win a fellowship to come to local Quaker meetings where they might study and participate in its activities for a time, but it garnered little attention from the AFSC or its staff. Hence, like other critics of AFSC, he simply “withdrew” to his meeting in Boulder, “feeling that the AFSC had to go its own way and that nothing much could be done about it.”

Afterwards Boulding wrote a brief article for Friends Journal and visited a number of AFSC offices scattered around the country, finding an assortment of attitudes. One he remembered as open and receptive was in New York, where another Friendly critic, Daniel A. Seeger, was in charge.(24)

Seeger had already had a significant impact on the American pacifist world. In 1965, he won a unanimous Supreme Court decision in United States vs. Seeger to establish the principle that a non-believer could meet the legal criterion to gain conscientious objector status. In subsequent years, he became a Friend and headed AFSC’s New York office. Because of his commitment to nonviolence, over time he came to believe that some of AFSC’s approaches were drifting away from Friends and the pacifist stance that gave it note, both in domestic and foreign arenas, regarding anti-Vietnam War activities, civil rights, and liberation movements abroad. To Seeger the AFSC seemed “seduced by the idea that the AFSC ought to have a recognizable place in the great historical anti-Vietnam-war current, rather than sticking to our unique testimony of pacifism and non-violence, which would isolate us from the multitude.”

Of especial concern was a thin pamphlet, Nonviolence Not First for Export, by AFSC’s long time man in New Delhi, India, James Bristol, circulated by the National Peace Literature Service, a division of the Committee. Bristol called for a nonviolent revolution in the United States but stated “it is neither humane nor practical to urge non-violent revolution upon others whose situation is so totally different from our own.”(25)

The thoughtful forty-four year old Seeger was an insider, a careful person, one who knew how to cultivate and hoard his influence, but his deep concern for AFSC moved him. A bit over two weeks after his vigil, Boulding visited Seeger for a long discussion about the Committee, the first time the two had conferred. They quickly agreed that the Committee exhibited “a sense of drift, bewilderment and malaise” and tended “to adopt ‘imported’ rhetoric and analyses instead of developing its own creative responses”; it was not so much the intrinsic merits of such approaches but that they had a following in the peace movement and seemed “exciting, trendy and relevant.” Seeger’s caution surfaced when he “confessed to confusion” about such judgments, yet he eagerly acknowledged that AFSC’s “corporate efforts” were often disappointing. On “the essential malady” of AFSC they agreed—“a lack of a compelling and clearly relevant vision, a grasp of animating values.” This unity led to a conclusion that the AFSC was no longer tethered to its Quaker heritage and had drifted away.

On another specific, Boulding and Seeger also agreed. Seeger related his frustrations with the inability of AFSC delegations to South Africa to find and support nonviolent liberationists, even acquiescing in the apartheid government’s banning a prominent one, Robert Sobukwe. Their rapport yielded some concrete plans: an independent workshop at the up-coming July meeting of Friends General Conference, the principal branch of liberal Friends, in Ithaca, New York, would give them an opportunity to plan strategy; Boulding volunteered to prepare some introductory papers for that meeting as well as another one they planned in the fall for New York Yearly Meeting’s conference center, Powell House.(26)

On June 20, 1978, Seeger sent fourteen Friends an invitation to meet during Friends General Conference at Ithaca. He included a packet of materials by various weighty persons, including Boulding, Schneider, and Gordon Zahn, a Roman Catholic pacifist, to make the discussions serious and deep. He suggested that contemporary affairs demanded “truly radical, non-violent, Friendly approaches which adequately address these challenges.”(27) In some fundamental ways, Seeger’s words described the assumptions of those who challenged the embedded and long-standing culture of the American Friends Service Committee. Yet one of Seeger’s adjectives—“truly radical” stands out—was a bit of an exaggeration, for few of the critics wanted to go so far as to challenge basic power arrangements in the larger society.

The three-day workshop was, to the core, an insiders’ get-together, hardly a collection of bomb-throwers, with the mild-mannered if determined Boulding present. One of those who attended and united with the group’s concerns, Lewis Hoskins, had even succeeded Pickett as executive secretary. Five came from the New York office’s executive committee, people Seeger told Boulding in March who had been “misconstrued as being conservative” in Philadelphia when they were in fact “unusually intelligent and spiritually sensitive.”(28) Others hailed from North Carolina and Illinois. John Sullivan, who ran AFSC’s public information office, was there at Schneider’s order to preclude hints of a cabal, but he did not intrude into the conversation. To the contrary, the fifteen wanted to be open to all of AFSC. Each session began with a long period of worship, which may have led them to conclude “that there is a divine will for the AFSC.” It took nearly two months following the sessions to prepare the eleven-page report.

Seeger undoubtedly composed the memorandum to the leadership and Board of Directors of AFSC, for it reflected his prolixity, though its senders were all named. A comprehensive examination of the AFSC, it first requested a thorough examination of the philosophical underpinnings of Committee actions to forestall Board decisions emerging “only by implication through program decisions made in a piecemeal fashion.” It then moved to procedural matters, recent occurrences pointing to problems, and “Possible Underlying Causal Factors.” Three “specific recommendations” to the Board of Directors followed:

1) one major area of AFSC’s current efforts—the memo suggested work in southern Africa, one of the flashpoints of criticism—would be examined extensively for the next year, calling on the best resources, including Friends and perspectives among AFSC’s various constituents, and halting all new initiatives until the study was complete;

2) normal budgetary processes would be suspended from October 1980 to allow the Board to assess AFSC’s size, activities and priorities, with responses from the Corporation, meetings, contributors, committees, and staff; and

3) update lists of Friends with special expertise in program areas and call upon them periodically for assistance.

The final seven pages of concerns ran over the entire range of AFSC philosophical presuppositions and actions, leaving almost no area unmentioned; the rhetorical questions that dominated them illustrated better than the remainder of the document how close to the inner workings of the AFSC these critics were. Perhaps what might appear a relatively minor area, “Language and Borrowed Rhetoric,” will demonstrate how close to the quick these concerns came:

“How is the Quaker belief in the redeemability of all persons reflected in our choices of language?” and “Do we lapse into easy phrases, popular denunciations, and the right words to produce a head nodding agreement out of a failure to think?”

The participants then complained that observers had reported that a few staff members spoke in committee meetings more than many of the committee members; they also repeatedly advocated a particular course of action as though these full time staffers “are in a position to wear down the convictions of lay people.” The signatories instanced a staff “strike” over appointment of a national Peace Secretary six years before. Was not that “an early warning,” they queried, of a “significant breakdown in community and shared values in the AFSC?”(29)

Word of the Ithaca meeting inevitably got out—the General Conference attracted Friends from all over the country for its week-long gathering of more than a thousand Friends, so when they met over three meals a day, they swapped stories that circulated widely—and concerned Quak- ers began to importune the national office for copies of the statement.

Sullivan turned aside such requests with claims that the statement had gone to the Board and was hence an internal matter.(30) AFSC staff members could be colored irate when they heard about these insiders’ analysis. One such, Ken Lawrence in Jackson, Mississippi, confessed he was not a Friend and hence his voice and gestures were “not always precisely those common to Quakers.” Someone in the Atlanta office of AFSC, he reported, referred to it as the “infamous Ithaca document” and the two clerks of the Third World Coalition held it in similar low esteem. They all saw it as an attack on affirmative action and South African programming, giving credence to “ominous rumors” over the last two years of a “conservative trend within AFSC.” We should be proud of such policies, Lawrence had decided, particularly the one in South Africa, site of the foremost struggle against oppression in the world.(31) Sullivan, who sat in at Ithaca, was impressed enough with Lawrence’s critique that he suggested circulating it to other insiders, presumably not those responsible for the document.(32) But one Ithaca signer, responding to Lawrence, ventured that the furor their statement had generated within AFSC provided “an index of how close we were to hitting the nail on the head.”(33)

The statement may have hit a nail on the head; it certainly did not drive it home. Nor did it occasion any visible effort on the part of AFSC’s leaders and staff to respond to its suggestions. Indeed, things went along as usual—bureaucracies, particularly sixty-year old ones, had long since learned to manage and deflect hammer blows, heavy or light, with minimum damage. Dan Seeger had been mollified to some extent, at least to judge from a memorandum he dispatched in mid-November 1978 to Sullivan at the national office. Contacted by the Quaker journalist Chuck Fager, (36) at the suggestion of Boulding, Seeger learned that he claimed to have been assigned by Friends Journal to do a story on “ferment” within AFSC. To avoid “a complete brush-off,” Seeger told him that from time to time religious organizations needed to step back and “focus on some underlying spiritual themes.” Such common developments were hardly “newsworthy,” he judged, so he recommended Fager contact Sullivan, who was certainly aware of any “threshing” going on.(34)

Though young, the energetic Fager was hardly the model of a retiring Quaker; indeed, he would turn out to be a continuing irritant to AFSC’s business-as-usual approach. Like Seeger, he was a former Roman Catholic who had gone though a period of intense doubt bordering on atheism before he stumbled on Friends in the mid–1960s when involved with the Alabama civil rights movement in Selma as an employee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He had then served on an AFSC committee in Massachusetts. In 1979 he worked with the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee of the U. S. House of Representatives.

That article for Friends Journal never materialized, but one by a different author carried in the June 9, 1979, issue of The New Republic, a politically liberal magazine, certainly grabbed his attention, as it did lots of other Friends. Penned by journalist Stephen Chapman and entitled “Shot from Guns,” it promised to relate the story of how Quakers, at least as viewed through the activities of AFSC, had long since moved away from a religiously based pacifism to support armed struggle against apartheid in South Africa and Palestinian liberation regarding Jews and Arabs in the Middle East conflict.(35)

Such charges, however inflated by The New Republic’s dramatic cover story for its audience, were bound to resonate with liberally oriented readers who contributed to the Service Committee. From Summit, New Jersey, came a letter from a woman who described herself as a birthright Friend and said that “the AFSC has always seemed to me representative of the best of Quakers,” but Chapman’s article had led her to discontinue her contributions for an indefinite period. Similar letters came from other climes, one expressing the view that an appeal to God in each person should be AFSC’s only guiding principle; even Friends in the Netherlands weighed in with their concerns.(36) One of the most poignant letters came from a former clerk of Hanover, New Hampshire, meeting, Peter Bien, who taught English at Dartmouth. After mentioning concerns he had raised about AFSC’s programs for years with little response, he speculated he had about 15 years of teaching left: “Is there any hope that before I leave I’ll be able to direct students to AFSC?”, because now “the work of AFSC,” he ended sadly, “continues to be foreign to the spiritual life of the [local] Meeting.”(37)

Chapman’s article hovered over FGC as it gathered in Richmond, Indiana, at Quaker Earlham College for the week of July 4. Fager decided to hold afternoon meetings focusing on AFSC for the benefit of Friends gathered. There was a good bit of coming and going to the sessions Fager chaired, with some people attending one meeting, some all three. To start, Fager distributed eight “Theses on Quaker Service”, the first one averring, “Quaker service is an expression of Quaker worship in the world.”

Perhaps the one possessing the most potential for divisiveness was number (6): “In conflict situations, Quaker service has not been and should not be considered ‘neutral’; to the contrary it involves firm, limited positions, among them: A. A bias toward seeing and treating all parties involved as having that of God in them; B. A commitment to working for reconciliation of conflict beyond temporary victories and defeats; C. A firm stand against violence by any parties; D. A definite opposition to solutions to conflict which are built on the perpetuation of injustice.”

The theses closed by pointing out that if at times Quaker service was not possible, “to do something and call it Quaker service would be a sin. . . .” There were also six “Theses Regarding the AFSC,” the thrust being that there should be a “close mutuality” between the Committee and the Society of Friends.(38)

The group allowed Friends to express themselves, so the AFSC got lots of plaudits from supporters—indeed, few were rabidly hostile or consistently supportive—and most speakers detailed how their own experiences led to their positions. The upshot was a “final summary of concerns,” a collection of points made during the discussions rather than any collective sense of the meeting; they covered two pages, margin-to-margin, of single-spaced typing.

In broad categories, such as the Committee’s structure and communications with Friends, there were complaints that Friends did not understand AFSC’s complex structure and decision-making process, as well as a plea for the Committee to better publicize its work’s religious basis. Regarding staff, “the large majority of whom are now non-Quaker” the concerns wanted them, Friend or not, to be pacifist and nonviolent; affirmative action should not dilute AFSC’s “essential Quaker character”; and the national Board and staff should look beyond themselves to other Quakers for ideas.

On programming, the concerns questioned whether AFSC’s approaches in South Africa and Vietnam were sufficiently non-partisan and committed to nonviolence. Others worried about “trendy” positions rather than “cutting edge” ones, as well as “radical,” “liberal,” or “socialist” solutions to economic problems. The “Summary” ended by prodding Friends to raise these issues in their meetings and with AFSC staff and boards.(39)

This last-named suggestion was unlike previous Quaker criticism, for Fager tried to enlist a strong coalition of Friends who would continue to press AFSC’s leaders to change course. For example, he tried to secure the support of prominent Friends rather than just anyone who happened to drop by the three FGC sessions. Thus two Friends with roots in Friends United Meeting, the centrist group of Friends, Franklin Wallin, president of Earlham College, the premier Quaker college west of the Appalachians, and Wilmer Cooper, Dean and founder of Earlham’s School of Religion, the only Quaker seminary, both signed, as did Alice Walton, on AFSC’s Board and a prominent liberal Friend associated with the General Conference.

Fager also publicly stressed the affirmative and centrist nature of the movement he had initiated, as he did also in the October 1 issue of Friends Journal.(40) Numbers counted, of course—by my count 144 people signed—but as important was their prominence.

Likewise, some Friends took up the Final Summary’s challenge to carry the word beyond Richmond. A month following FGC, Ferner Nuhn, a well-known Friend from California, consulted with others, including AFSC Board members, to attract 70-80 people for two sessions in Chico, California, at Pacific Yearly Meeting, the group of unprogrammed liberal Friends stretching along the west coast. Using Fager’s theses as a basis, they explored in depth what the relationship was and ought to be between Friends and the AFSC. Like the FGC group, they came to no firm conclusions, but airing views, both accolades and grievances, legitimatized and spread them to others, both important in influencing those who were not in Richmond.(41) In a five-page letter to supporters, Fager celebrated these broader successes, entitling the section that called attention to discussions held at New York, Baltimore, and California yearly meetings, “Word is Spreading.” He also flagged five articles in Friends Journal as meriting attention.(42)

AFSC’s leadership was well and certainly aware of the seriousness of the Fager Final Summary of Concerns. Less than a week after FGC’s adjournment at Richmond, Information Director John Sullivan had a five-point memorandum on Louis Schneider’s desk proposing a course of action.

He posited that Fager wanted the range of monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings to “exercise a transforming influence on the AFSC,” one that would “be critical to the future of AFSC”; this, he decided, “was potentially destructive.” To prevent that from happening, he advised sending the Summary around to program offices and staff, Board and Corporation, with comments highlighting errors and concerns that do or do not “fit reality.” The same bodies would then collaborate on a statement detailing the roles of Friends and their involvement in AFSC decision-making. A “select committee” of 10 drawn from leading yearly meetings would look at the incidents from Boulding’s vigil to Fager’s Summary, be given access to anyone within AFSC, and recommend appropriate action for the Corporation meeting the following year. Finally, “considerable and wide publicity” would serve to reassure Friends that “criticisms of AFSC are not being ignored, shunted aside, whitewashed or manipulated.” But he deemed the collaborative statement and the select committee as more important.(43)

Executive secretary Schneider moved quickly to gain insight into the thinking of the Summary’s signers by writing each and asking them to recount why they had affixed their names. Soon the replies flowed in, giving Schneider a rich source for judging the problems Friends viewed as besetting AFSC. It was hardly surprising that since the replies came from those who had been at Earlham they reflected the concerns enumerated there. The main ones centered on the complexity of AFSC’s governing procedures, the small number of Friends working for the Committee, resulting in differing assumptions about its mission, and a long list of specifics, such as ending work camps for Quaker youth in the 1960s, affirmative action, and what the writers regarded as wrong-headed, un-Quakerly policies in South Africa, the Middle East, and Vietnam.(44)

A special committee of the then all-Quaker Board examined the letters and adopted some recommendations, including one to assign the AFSC Corporation the task to enhance communication with Friends, a charge general enough to have no practical consequence.(45)

No matter the alacrity and readiness to get on top of this new upwelling of criticism from predominately liberal Friends, the mood within AFSC’s higher reaches was best summed up by a bit of doggerel dashed off by Asia Bennett, associate executive secretary for personnel who would step up to succeed Schneider the following April. How widely it was distributed is unclear, but a copy did end up in the relevant file so future historians would have some insight into the way Fager was perceived within AFSC’s upper reaches. It vividly displayed how cultural distinctions permeated headquarters and set it off from Quakers beyond. The first verse taunted, “There was a Quaker named Fager/Who was more of a faker than Quaker/His libel caused [Board Chairman Stephen] Cary/ To tear out his hairy/And seek to send Chuck to his Maker.”(46)

As time went on and he studied the matter, Cary grew determinedly angry, even incensed. He confided to an active Board member from the west coast that “Fager’s charges [of an internal power structure and staff domination] are balony [sic],” but he candidly conceded that some top non-Quaker staff members—he named Barbara Moffettt, long time head of the Community Relations Division, among others—were inarticulate on the spiritual basis of the AFSC. “Barbara, especially,” he explained, “can come across as secular, or at least humanist, in her orientation.” (In fact, this slant was hardly surprising, for she was not a member of any religious body.)(47)

Yet he admitted that if the Board did have an executive session to discuss these matters without staff present it would leave staffers “very nervous.” Yet some Board members would not “let their hair down and talk frankly if staff are present,” itself a damming indictment. On the question of affirmative action for Quakers, he had already decided that “we” [the Board] should avoid airing it “like the plague. And we will, if I have anything to say about it,” exclaimed its determined presiding clerk.(48)

Such sentiments, undergirded with the power of his clerkship, demonstrated how Board Chairman Cary’s AFSC was able to weather the strongest storms that the Service Committee had faced in decades. Neither Boulding nor Seeger was happy with the non-results their challenges produced, and Fager’s, the most crucial, well coordinated, and continuous, fell victim to the agility of the bureaucracy that had had learned how to survive less fundamental and threatening challenges before. The relationship between the Committee and Friends, programmed and unprogrammed, liberal, centrists, and evangelicals, no longer remained up-in-the-air; those who controlled it continued to do so with only a nod to those outside.

The Service Committee, as was hinted above, came to rely on the AFSC Corporation as a major line of defense against critical Friends. A legally mandated body, half its members came from yearly meetings that wished to be allied with AFSC, half named by the Corporation itself; they met annually to hear a report on finances, approve changes to the bylaws, and appoint members to the Board of Directors. It had no consultative or policy function, but it assured AFSC a convenient forum to announce whatever program or policy directions the Board wished to embark on.

AFSC’s leadership regularly commented on the need to find a positive and constructive role for the Corporation, but nothing changed, at least as far as power was concerned.(49) Among AFSC’s numerous committees, a Friends Relations Committee appeared in 2007(50)—having now a staff of three—with the task of cultivating closer ties with meetings at all levels; it signaled any questioning Friends a place where they might enjoy influence. But regardless of that promise, let us remember Clarence Pickett’s words as he had expressed them in 1945, “Legally there is no connection between the S[ociety] of F[riends] and the AFSC.” None have been spoken since to describe their relationship more unambiguously.

* H. Larry Ingle is Professor Emeritus History, University of Tennessee- Chattanooga. His recent book is Nixon’s First Coverup: The Religious Life of a Quaker President (2015).


1 Dan Seeger to 14 Friends, 20 Jun 78, General Administration 1978, OES: Ctees & Orgs—Friends, Friends General Conference, American Friends Service Committee Archives, Philadelphia, Penn., hereinafter cited as AFSC Archives.

2 J. William Frost, “‘Our Deeds Carry Our Message’: The Early History of the American Friends Service Committee,” Quaker History, 81 (Spring 1992), 1-51. AFSC staffers were very positive about Frost’s article and distributed offprints at least to its Board of Directors; they did not take him up on his offer to oversee graduate students or finance their research. J. William Frost e-mail to author, 18 February 2015.

3 This label, a nickname, comes from the name of the leader of a reform effort among Friends in the third decade of the 19th century, Elias Hicks (1748– 1830), whose followers broke with the smaller group of “Orthodox” in five American yearly meetings in 1827 and 1828. See H. Larry Ingle, Quakers in Conflict: The Hicksite Reformation (Knoxville, Tenn.: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1986). I put the word “liberal” in quotation marks because no Hicksite meeting ever formally adopted that term for itself, though by the mid-20th century the word was fairly common colloquially. For the best example, see the book by one of liberalism’s chief proponents, Chuck Fager, Without Apology: The Heroes, The Heritage and the Hope of Liberal Quakerism (Media, Penn.: Kimo Press, 1996).

4 The term designated how frequently these geographical scattered meetings convened to conduct business, because opposition to war was one of the few testimonies that worked to unite them.

5 Frost, “Deeds,” 9.

6 John Forbes, The Quaker Star Under Seven Flags, 1917–1927 (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1962), 27.

7 Executive Staff Meeting minutes, 20 September 1945, 1, AFSC Archives. These are direct quotations from the minutes but the minute taker indicated that they were “running notes” and “not verbatim”; hence Pickett may not have used these exact words. Eight years later, Pickett was equally forthright in his memoir: the Committee, “has, it seems to me, come to be a movement of people rather than chiefly the instrument of a sect.” Clarence E. Pickett, For More Than Bread: An Autobiographical Account of Twenty-two Years’ Work with the American Friends Service Committee (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1953), 303.

8 Frost, “Deeds,” 32.

9 On this theme, see H. Larry Ingle, “The American Friends Service Committee, 1947–49: The Cold War’s Effect,” Peace & Change, 23 (Jan. 1998), 27-48.

10 Donna McDaniel and Vanessa Julye, Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice (Philadelphia, Penn.: Quaker Press, 2009), 274, 279.

11 I served on AFSC’s South Eastern Regional Office’s Executive Committee from 1976 to 1982 and heard these reasons given for the two initiatives.

12 On this theme, see Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (New York: Viking Press, 1972), H. Larry Ingle, First Among Friends: George Fox and the Creation of Quakerism (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1994).

13 My thinking here has been profoundly influenced by Wallace Henley, The White House Mystique (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revel Co., 1976), which has nothing directly to do with Quakerism.

14 Memo, Dan Seeger to Wray Bailey, et al, 3 April 1978, 3, General Adm 1978, OES: Cttees & Orgs—Friends, Friends General Conference, AFSC Archives.

15 Ronald Mattson to Steve Cary, 29 Feb 1980, Box 2, Quaker Concerns 1977–1980, Steve Cary Papers, Quaker Collection, Haverford College, Haverford, Penn., hereinafter cited as Quaker Collection.

16 Jim Forest, “Vietnam: Unification Without Reconciliation,” Fellowship, 42 (October 1976), 20-21. On Boulding, see Cynthia E. Kerman, Creative Tension: The Life and Thought of Kenneth Boulding (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1974). Background for this matter is in Guenter Lewy, Peace & Revolution: The Moral Crisis of American Pacifism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1988), 115-30.

17 Louis Schneider to Friend, 17 December 1976, Genl Adm, 1977, OES: Corresp & Criticism—Friends, Individuals —Boulding, Kenneth, AFSC Archives.

18 John A. Sullivan, Press Release, 18 January 1974, AFSC Archives.

19 Boulding to Colin Bell, 6 March 1977, Gen Adm, 1977, OES: Corresp & Criticism—Friends, Individuals—Boulding, Kenneth, AFSC Archives.

20 Kenneth Boulding to Wilmer Tjossem, 1 December 1976, 6 March 1977, ibid.

21 Schneider to Boulding, 22 February 1977, ibid. Schneider feared that Boulding had influenced a former chairman of AFSC’s Board of Directors, Gilbert White, a colleague in geography at Colorado, for he sent a copy of this letter to him. On White, see Robert E. Hinshaw, Living with Nature’s Extremes: The Life of Gilbert Fowler White (Boulder, Col.: Johnson Books, 2006).

22 Kenneth Boulding to the Board and Concerned Staff, 31 January 1977, Genl Adm 1977, OES: Corresp & Criticism —Friends, Individuals—Kenneth Boulding, AFSC Archives. In this letter, Boulding explained that his wife Elise, who was probably more active in AFSC concerns than he, united with his concern. A month after his vigil, a Quaker monthly published Boulding’s article beginning with the James quotation. See Kenneth E. Boulding, The Veracity of Outwardness,” Friends Journal, 23 (April 1977), 231-32.

23 “Notes on Continuing Friends Discussion on AFSC/Friends Relationships,” 14 October 1977, Gen Adm 1978, OES: Cttees & Orgs—Friends, AFSC’s Relationship with Friends, AFSC Archives. Boulding did question Marxism in an article in a Quaker monthly: see Kenneth Boulding, “A Friendly Clarification,” Friends Journal, 23 (2 Nov 77), 552-53.

24 Quaker Service at the Crossroads: American Friends, the American Friends Service Committee, and Peace and Revolution, ed. Chuck Fager (Falls Church, Va.: Kimo Press, 1988), 180.

25 James E. Bristol, Nonviolence not first for export (Philadelphia: American Friends Service Committee, [1972]), 12. On Seeger’s concerns, see Dan Seeger’s e-mail to author, 6 December 2014, in author’s possession.

26 Memo, Seeger to Bailey, et al, 3 April 1978, Gen Adm 1978, OES: Cttees & Orgs—Friends, Friends General Conference, AFSC Archives.

27 Dan Seeger to 14 Friends, 20 Jun 78, ibid.

28 Seeger Memo to Bailey, et al, 3 April 1978, ibid.

29 Memo, Boulding, et al to Collett, Schneider, and Board of Directors, 1 Sep 78, ibid. Much later Seeger gave Boulding credit as coauthor. Seeger e-mail to author, 6 Dec 2014, in author’s possession.

30 John Sullivan to Wayne Young, 6 February 1979, Gen Adm 1978, OES: Cttees & Orgs—Friends, Friends, AFSC Relationships with FGC, AFSC Archives.

31 Memo, Ken Lawrence to Calhoun Geiger, John Hunter, and Lloyd Tyler, 9 December 1978, ibid.

32 Sullivan to Schneider, 21 March 1979, ibid.

33 John Hunter to Lawrence, 3 December 1979, ibid.

34 “Confidential” Seeger memo to Sullivan, 14 November 1978, Gen Adm 1979, OES: Corr. & Criticism, Individuals—Fager, Charles, AFSC Archives. Schneider, to whom Seeger sent a copy of the less than confidential memo, wrote on his copy that Fager “was not asked but volunteered” to prepare the article; he had apparently contacted Friends Journal.

35 Information on Fager comes from discussions with him. Stephen Chapman, “Shot from Guns,” New Republic, 180 (9 Jun 1979), 14-18.

36 See the letters in Gen Adm 1979, OES: Corres & Criticism, Individuals— Chapman, Stephen  (New Republic article).
37 Peter Bien to Schneider, 22 June 1979, ibid.

38 “Theses on Quaker Service,” 7 February 1979, Gen Adm. 1979, OES: Corresp & Criticism, Individuals—Fager, Charles, AFSC Archives. For Fager’s reasons for compiling the theses, see Fager to Schneider, 14 August 1979, ibid.

39 Fager, “Final Summary of Concerns—FGC—7/5/1979,” ibid. I was at all three meetings.

40 Fager, “The AFSC and Quaker Service: A Reappraisal,” Friends Journal, 25 (October 1, 1979), 11-13. Wallace Collett, a former clerk of AFSC’s Board, had an article in the same issue that applauded the Richmond sessions and generally took a centrist position as well. Collett, “Deciding Where ‘To See What Love Can Do,’” ibid, 14-17.

41 Ferner Nuhn to Steve Cary, Schneider, and Sullivan, 28 August 1979, containing “The AFSC and Quakers,” ibid.

42 Fager to Friends, 24 September 1979, Gen Adm 1979, OES: Corr & Criticism, Individuals—Charles Fager, AFSC Archives. Seeger sent this particular copy to Information Director Sullivan.

43 Sullivan Memo to Schneider, 12 July 1979, ibid.

44 They can be found in ibid.

45 Cary, “Reflections on ‘A Friendly Letter,’ 10th Month, 1981,” Gen Adm 1981, OES: Correspondence, Individuals —Fager, Charles Fager, AFSC Archives.

46 Asia Bennett, untitled poem, ibid. Bennett’s poem may have been a result of watching Steve Cary labor to prepare a nine-page analysis of Fager’s A Friendly Letter. See Cary, “Reflections on ‘A Friendly Letter,’ 10th Month, 1981,” ibid. On Cary, see The Intrepid Quaker: One Man’s Quest for Peace: Memoirs, Speeches, and Writings of Stephen G. Cary, eds., Alison Anderson and Jack Coleman (Wallingford, Penn.: Pendle Hill Publications, [2003].

47 Gerald Jonas, On Doing Good (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971), 156.

48 Cary to Ann Stever, 2 December 1981, Box 2, General Critics 1977–1980, Steve Cary Papers, Quaker Collection.

49 Because of its lack of real power, outside legal requirements, there has been little attention given to the Corporation of AFSC, made up entirely of Friends, a few over 150 in number. I was a member from Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association for three years in the early 1990s. During my tenure, in 1993, the Corporation approved allowing non-Friends to serve on the Board of Directors for the first time; two Corporation members—I was one—asked to be recorded as standing aside from the decision.

50 Don Davis (AFSC Archivist) e-mail to Dan Seeger, Doug Bennett, Phil Lord, 25 March 2015, in possession of author.

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