Editors’ Introduction, #10

By Chuck Fager & Ann Riggs

The theological history of American liberal Quakerism has not been examined in any comprehensive way; it has been terra incognita to those both within and without its fold. But in recent years several researchers, including your Editor, have been at work making forays into this unknown territory and bringing back snapshots, each of which is like a disconnected puzzle piece.

But this past summer, at the meeting of Quaker historians in Oregon, several of these pieces began to fall together to suggest a sketch of some of its essential elements. And among these essentials, all the signs in Chuck’s work are pointing toward the voice and labor of Lucretia Mott as a central and formative figure.

The evidence for this gathering conviction is presented here, as it was offered to the historians’ meeting. Another puzzle piece came to us unbidden in midsummer, from religion scholar Priscilla Eppinger, looking more closely at the Christology which was a key to Lucretia’s religious thought.

There is much more to be learned and written about the formative figures and years of American liberal Quakerism. We hope to bring you more of them as the way opens.

There are also many issues which demand careful analysis in witness, particularly peace witness. One of them, back in play after protests against the World Trade Organization, is the question of whether nonviolent action can or should include any kind of property damage. Dean Johnson of the Church of the Brethren, a scholar-administrator at Mennonite Goshen College, takes on this difficult matter. He seeks a nuanced, useful approach to tactical and strategic decision-making, applicable beyond the confines of the “Historic Peace Churches.” (Brethren, Mennonites & Friends).

Quakers have traditionally been closer to the tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. than that of the Berrigans in their views on property damage as a tactic of public witness. Both editors would stand in this tradition and Chuck Fager was at one time on Dr. King’s staff. Yet, the symbolic action advocated in general by the Berrigan tradition also has resonance within the Quaker heritage. There are significant instances in both the Bible and the witness of Friends of earlier times. The frequency of the use of property damage as part of non-violent action for social change in our own time suggests that reviewing the questions this activity raises is particularly timely.

Another developing theme of our work is also represented in the essay by Brett Miller-White. It is a series of what specialists call “narrative theologies,” personal accounts of contemporary Friends’ religious-theological journeys. In our pages these have included, among others, an account of the making of a Quaker atheist (in QT #1); an Evangelical Friend’s pilgrimage to Orthodoxy (QT #7); and a Quaker anthropologist/filmmaker’s religious/cinematic odyssey (QT #7). Here we learn about how a Friend who left Christianity but ultimately found his way back to Jesus, by becoming a Muslim, while still remaining a Quaker. Several of our reviews have tackled similar accounts of other Friends: the remarkable Korean Quaker Ham Sok Hon (QT # 5); and the manifesto of two Quaker pastors who have become classic Universalists (QT #9). Who knows where this series will lead us next?

This issue’s reviews deal with tragedy, the authentic and the faux. One looks at a new book, Towards Tragedy/Reclaiming Hope, which considers the interplay of literature, sociology, and theology, centered on the history and prospects of a tragic view of life, culture and Quakerism. The other seeks a considered view of the film sensation of the spring, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, a long season after it appeared.

All in all, a varied and exciting issue, which we hope you enjoy and find as provocative as we did.

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