By Chuck Fager
Much of Quaker theology is inextricably interwoven with our history. This is a truism fitting most if not all religions; yet it is especially true of the Religious Society of Friends, because of our relative paucity of formal theologizing.
Hence it felt natural, at last autumn’s conference on the Legacy of George Fox, to seize a rare opportunity to ask working historians to illuminate some key corners of Quaker theologizing in action. The topics were, admittedly, targets of opportunity. In this case, they included why Quaker editors in the 1720s thought it was perfectly okay to alter the writings of a founding Friend such as James Naylor without any acknowledgment of the fact; how London Yearly Meeting’s evangelical establishment fell apart; and why Indiana Quakers in the 1920s were so eager to join the Ku Klux Klan. The people asked, Thomas Hamm, Thomas Kennedy and Erin Bell, are among the very best scholars and thinkers able to handle such queries, and their intriguing and provocative reflections are offered here as a kind of theology-off-the-cuff.
Similarly provocative, but very calmly and reasonably so, is Osborn Cresson’s exposition of what he calls “materialist Quakerism,” a Friends spirituality that explicitly eschews the divine. The Editor was particularly pleased that his discussion brings to the fore and documents the fact that such sentiments, or sentiments very near them, have some rather distinguished ancestry among Friends, going back over a century. His is a perspective we are unable to share, except in part; but it is certainly a live strain of thought and life in the Society today.
Lauree Hersch Meyer, continues our series of explorations into the theology of peace and peacemaking, in an ecumenical context. This is an exploration that we can’t afford to let go of, in these times of what the older elders would have called “worldly tumults and commotions.”
A very different slant on peacemaking, and most matters moral, is offered by H. Larry Ingle in his profile of the Jewish Quaker author, prophet and wise man Milton Mayer. Ingle’s portrait is an admiring one, and this bias is frankly shared by the Editor. Mayer was an amazingly witty, and very often profound writer and Friend, who deserves to be more widely read and talked about among Friends and others. May this sketch and tribute contribute to that end.
We close with another review, of a one-time Friend’s pilgrimage through the Society and into Catholicism. This too is part of an informal series, following the account in our last issue, “From Reason to Truth to Mystery: An Odyssey to Orthodoxy” by the former evangelical Friend John W. Oliver.
Altogether a substantive issue, but with much to lighten the pages too.