Editor’s Introduction, #19

Does it mean that Quaker Theology has “arrived” when it becomes part of the opening prayer at Indiana Yearly Meeting? Well, that’s what happened, according to more than one credible witness: our cover “teaser” reference in Issue #18 to “Indiana Trainwrecks” was mentioned in an appeal there for divine guidance and protection.

We earnestly hope such guidance will be forthcoming.  In support of that hope, we’ve done something new with this issue: in late Eighth Month (August) 2011 we uploaded a “Preview Edition” of Issue #19, before the full complement of articles and reviews was finished. This made available online the latest report, “Lopping Off A Limb?” by Associate Editor Stephen Angell, in time for reading in advance of some key discussions in Indiana Yearly Meeting. It is the most detailed account of recent and impending developments in IYM that we know of.

Also in the Preview, we exercised our editorial prerogative and devoted most of this Introduction space to an Open Letter to Friends in West Richmond Friends Meeting, Richmond Indiana.

That Open Letter is appended to this Introduction, for the record. In the meantime, this issue was already shaping up to be packed full of substantive, important  Quaker reading. Besides Steve’s essay, we have a very provocative piece by Damon Hickey on the vexed question of Friends’ rather mixed record when it comes to retaining the loyalty of their young adults. Besides his scholarly work, Hickey has been able to observe Quakers close up around Greensboro NC and the  Amish in central Ohio. Putting these observations together with some study of typical practices for dealing with young adults, he arrives at some surprising and challenging insights.

Hot on his heels comes Keith Helmuth, who considers the work of two most remarkable Friends, John Bellers in the 1700s, and economist Kenneth Boulding, who towered over much Quaker thought for the last half of the twentieth century. From their pathbreaking thought and writings, Keith reflects on the continuing “evolutionary potential” of our Society in a tumultuous world.

Another twentieth-century Quaker thinker, Maurice Creasey, is the focus of the first review. The onetime Director of Studies at Britain’s Woodbrooke study center, Creasey was a prolific writer whose work has been in eclipse for more than a generation. Is it time for Friends to revisit his version of “Christ-centered” Quakerism? Editor David Johns thinks so and has produced a collection of Creasey’s essays, which we examine.

A more familiar figure evoked the second review essay: Mother Teresa, whom multitudes regard as a great saint of our time. Her admirers include persons from many faiths and not a few Friends. Many, including your Editor, were thus taken aback when it was disclosed that for most of her adult life, this tireless and devout Catholic nun had, in fact, felt utterly abandoned by God and Jesus, and lived in continual, well-concealed despair.

This story was told in her own words, by letters to spiritual directors which she asked to be destroyed. But they were preserved and have now been published. Your editor read the resulting book and found it both unsettling and difficult to fathom. For help in plumbing the meaning of this decades-long “dark night of the soul,” we turned to a previous contributor who had much familiarity with the Catholic monastic tradition, George Amoss, Jr. George provides his own trenchant analysis and reflection on this story, drawing on some outside critical views of Mother Teresa’s work. It makes disturbing but illuminating reading.

Altogether, this  Issue #19 of Quaker Theology should be   a worthy addition to the reading list of many Friends and others.

– Chuck Fager, Editor

An Open Letter To West Richmond Friends Meeting, Richmond, Indiana 8th Month 2011

Dear West Richmond Friends,:

Let’s start with a question for you: would getting booted out of Indiana Yearly Meeting really “help you out?” Really?

If that’s the kind of “help” you need, what would its opposite look like?

It’s being suggested that you need such special assistance because, by being led to be “affirming” of LGBT folks,  you have tossed aside all standards or boundaries, succumbed to “postmodern normlessness,” betrayed your faith in Christ and completely abandoned the Bible. (Other than that )

I have a different view: You have done no such thing: you have plenty of standards and boundaries, and your faith in Christ and the Bible is evident.

The fact that you’ve been led to formulate these in a way that differs from some others is not a denial of any of that. But it would be a  deep denial to passively permit your meeting  to be kicked out for following this leading, especially under the guise of “helping you out.” To submit to this would be a tacit guilty plea to the accusations that your Meeting is, in fact, illegitimate, a band of heretical interlopers which has no authentic place in IYM – that your honest testimony is somehow shameful, not worth standing up for, because it can’t stand the light of day. All of which is baloney, by the way.

You do have a relationship with Jesus, of which your minute is one expression, and no human in Indiana has been commissioned to judge or invalidate it. If some can’t bear it that you have followed your leading as you have, that is their problem. It does not make you “guilty” if they cannot hold back from threatening a “chaotic shattering” of the yearly meeting because you have gone where the Spirit has led.

Those of you who have worked with abuse victims or  the deeply oppressed should recognize this kind of message: blaming the victim: “It was her fault for getting raped, the way she was dressed.” “Too bad about the lynching, but he  didn’t  stay in his place.” “The civilian casualties were unavoidable; but after all, it was our oil under their desert.” You know the drill.

In my time, though, I’ve seen all too many Friends and meetings fall for such maneuvering; too many seem frightened almost to death of open conflict. So they settle for being humiliated, shamed and marginalized, rather than standing up for their witness and pushing back. It’s always a sad and disheartening spectacle, and I hope you will not repeat it.

It’s also something of an Indiana tradition: Back in the 1920s, there was the “trial” of  Earlham professors, on charges of teaching evolution and modern critical Bible study, which led to the departure of several churches which became  Central Yearly Meeting. (The Earlham professors, by the way, stood fast and survived.)

But that was almost a hundred years ago, and thank goodness all that foolishness about so-called Biblical “inerrancy” is behind us.

Oh, it’s not? Pardon me.

Actually, I knew that. These surges of pressure for doctrinal correctness seem to be a periodic occurrence especially in the Midwest, and it would take up too much space here to summarize all of them. But the last major outbreak is worth a mention.

In 1990-1991, a campaign for “realignment” among American Friends was mounted, centered right there in Richmond. Your pastor at that time, Ron Selleck, was a staunch advocate of the idea of slicing up, not only Indiana but all the other yearly Meetings associated with Friends United Meeting, and reassembling the pieces into two new groups: the true Christians on one side, and the heretics and liberals on the other. (It was Ron Selleck, by the way, who  preached  vehemently against “postmodern normlessness”; so there’s nothing new under the sun.)

That time though, the leadership of Indiana Yearly Meeting was solidly against the idea, on the very reasonable basis that nobody had been divinely endowed with the wisdom to know who was a “true Christian” and who wasn’t – never mind the authority to say so. Besides which, they knew full well that any such “realignment” would split Monthly Meetings, and not just Yearly Meetings, and they declined to encourage such tendencies.

That time, “Realignment” didn’t get very far; Southwest Yearly Meeting in California left FUM; Ron Selleck resigned and moved to North Carolina. Everybody else pretty much stayed.

But of course, the seeds of this bitter fruit were still around, and they have sprouted again. You have seen (and we have reported, in our Issues #9, #14, and #18) how they tied Western Yearly Meeting in knots for years over the fact that Phil Gulley dared to have some ideas of his own. Consider for a moment the outcome there: The drive to depose Gulley failed, and several meetings which favored it have left.

Our sources indicate that the key to closure was the late but finally decisive emergence in Western of an articulate “Live and Let Live” movement: moderate-minded Friends, who may or may not have agreed with Gulley’s ideas, but were content to leave him in God’s hands. When they finally stood up and said enough was enough, then it was. Those who couldn’t bear that departed and all reports from this summer suggest that Western’s sessions were rather tranquil. Frankly, if that’s what “chaotic shattering” looks like, Indiana could use a dose.

So much for history. More pointedly, permitting your meeting to be “helped out” the door would also amount to what George Fox  called “fleeing the cross.” Your affirming minute is a witness that brought down obloquy on you; is that something new for Christians and Quakers? Is that a reason to drop the cross and run for cover?

“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets,” Jesus warned in Luke 6:26. And in the beatitudes, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.11″Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:10-12.

These are familiar enough verses. And the implications here seem evident: your leading is not wrong or dishonorable, something to apologize for and creep away from in disgrace. Be yourselves, pick up your cross and stand tall, peaceably yet steadfastly; then let the chips fall.

That’s all the helping out you need.

– Chuck Fager, Editor

PS. For an account of the 1990-1991 “Realignment” purge attempt, here are several contemporaneous reports that are available online:

http://www.afriendlyletter.com/AFL-archives/AFL-archives/114- 115-AFL-10-11-1990.pdf

http://www.afriendlyletter.com/AFL-archives/AFL-archives/119- AFL-3-1991.pdf

http://www.afriendlyletter.com/AFL-archives/AFL-archives/AFL- No-123-07-1991.pdf

http://www.afriendlyletter.com/AFL-archives/AFL-archives/125- AFL-10-1991.pdf

For our reports on The Phil Gulley controversy, click these links::

www.quaker.org/quest/issue-9-gulley-01.htm www.quaker.org/quest/issue14-angell-01.htm www.quaker.org/quest/issue16-gulley01.htm http://quaker.org/quest/QT-18-Online.pdf

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