To be candid, I’m not accustomed to being consulted by Evangelical Friends. I’m not one, and over the past forty years, I’ve often found myself on opposite sides from many vocal or leading Evangelicals.
Nevertheless, I’ve learned things from Evangelicals, and on good days, I’m content to let them follow their leadings, while I struggle to follow mine.
So it was a surprise to be contacted by Joe & Cara Pfeiffer around Christmas 2019. They’re pastors of an Evangelical Friends Church near Los Angeles, in Midway City, California (none of which, except L.A., I’d ever heard of). They said they had a story, and maybe I could help them and their church.
Me, helping Evangelicals? Why ask me? Anyway, I’m nearly 3000 miles away.
Because I do a blog, they said, which is sometimes widely read. (And, maybe they were a bit desperate?)
Well, you know I’m a liberal, I said. They knew it.
But at the same time I was thinking like an old reporter: sometimes the best stories are the ones you’re not looking for.
Sometimes. So tell me about it, I said.
It turned out to be quite a story. And its background is laid out in the Introduction to the essay by Joe Pfeiffer, which opens this issue. I call it a Quaker David & Goliath. And while I haven’t yet been to Midway City, I can now find it on a map of Orange County, and besides long talks with Joe & Cara, I’ve also read hundreds of pages of court documents and other files and clippings. I learned a lot about it. And about the rising tide of homelessness in southern California (it’s also rising in North Carolina, and most places in between).
The first outcome of all this was a pair of blog posts in late January and early February, which to my surprise were read by a lot of people around the country. Turns out the struggle of Midway City Friends Community Church is one that spotlights some very important and timely theological issues, for Quakers and others. That’s what Joe explains in his essay, which I am very happy to have Quaker Theology bring to publication.
Another good story follows, and it is by George Amoss, Jr., a Baltimore area Friend we’ve heard from before. Here we have an excerpt from a memoir he wrote, and published online at his blog, “The Postmodern Quaker.” It fits here as part of our occasional series of Narrative Theologies, which tackles the subject not in the abstract or in search of a system, but as part of a real life, theology lived. There’s plenty of lived theology here, as well as a coming of age, and a confrontation with war, God, sexuality, belief and unbelief in the time of the Vietnam War.
One of George Amoss’s contemporaries, and another frequent contributor here, is Douglas (aka “Doug”) Gwyn. Our readers have known him as a theological historian, who has written in depth about early Friends, as well as recent American Quakers, particularly in his masterwork, Personality and Place (our review is here), which he calls a theological history of Pendle hill, the Pennsylvania study center and Quaker cultural crossroads.
But behind this diligent scholar-thinker persona, Doug has long been leading another life, as a singer/songwriter, producing and performing, as way opened, dozens of original songs. Many (but not all) have Quaker topics, and many of those have an amusing, satirical, and occasionally trenchant edge. Most, either explicitly or implicitly, reflect Doug’s lifelong theological concerns.
This expansive musical oeuvre has been largely shared with very small audiences; Doug has never excelled at self-promotion. He’s retired now (and of course has a jaunty tune, “Baby, I’m Retired” to show for it). In this new state of leisure, we were able to coax him from his lair long enough to ask some questions about this parallel life, and the work it has yielded. He was good enough to share not only some answers, but also a generous selection of the songs.
Or at least their lyrics; to hear him sing them and get their full effect, we will need to either pay him what he is worth to perform, or badger him into taking the plunge and putting the songs online for listening and download. (I found a single song on YouTube, “Yonder Stands the Quaker,” but Doug wasn’t sure how it got there.) I’m badgering as much as I can, from a safe distance.
Theological Quaker folksongs. Why not? And exclusively here.
An even more tantalizing story is that of the longtime Quaker pastor Daisy Douglas Barr, once a renowned Indiana preacher who served in half a dozen prominent Friends churches there in the first decades of the Twentieth Century. It’s tantalizing because while we know a fair amount of it, there’s even more we don’t.
We know that not long after the end of World War One, while still an active Friends pastor, Barr became the Queen Bee of the Indiana Woman’s section of the Ku Klux Klan. And we know that the Indiana Klan was the largest state chapter during the 1920s Klan resurgence: The Indiana Klan staged huge public rallies and cross burnings; it was politically heavyweight, having elected its candidates to the governorship, much of the legislature and other offices; its rolls included thousands of “respectable people” (Barr was one), and a peak membership of as many as two hundred thousand, including many Hoosier Quakers.
And we know that after its peak, when the Indiana Klan collapsed in multiple scandals, Daisy Douglas Barr carried on, active in such groups as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. And we know she was still listed on the pastors’ roster in Indiana Yearly Meeting at the time of her death in a 1938 automobile crash. And she was buried in a Friends cemetery after a big funeral at a Friends church, amid statewide publicity.
We also know, to our pain, that as George Dale, an embattled anti-Klan editor in 1920s Indiana, wrote after its seeming collapse: “The Klan may be dead as an organization, but the brand of politics . . . goes marching on.” Truly; marching right into our current politics. So this is not just about the past. Oh, no.
Yet there’s so much we don’t know: why was she drawn to the Klan?? Why did so many other 1920s Friends follow this same path? How did so many go from being the heirs of abolition to joining the defenders of lynching? Besides blatant betrayal of their own tradition, did this not also mark a grotesque theological transmogrification? How did that come about? Did she, or others, when the Klan’s heyday passed, ever have second thoughts, regrets? Does its legacy persist among Friends? Why have almost all Quaker historians (and theologians) so carefully avoided these burning questions, and elided filling in her career and publishing about it (and those of other Quaker Klansmen and women)?
And maybe above all, at least here: why and how did she become so prominent in the Klan even beyond Indiana that at the 1923 national meeting of Grand Dragons in Asheville, North Carolina, the only woman invited to join the group and speak was – Quaker Daisy Douglas Barr?
We don’t know the answers to these questions, particularly the last. But we do know what Barr said to the assembled dragons at that awesome conclave. It is here in this issue, in print we believe for the first time outside the Asheville meeting’s proceedings. And we know there is plenty of theology in her lines, Quaker theology, even if we don’t now want to remember, name it or claim it.
More sedate is H. Larry Ingle’s searching review of two books that explore the political thought of two influential early Friends, one –William Penn–famous, the other –John Dickinson–not so much. How influential was their thinking in the shaping of what became the American Republic? Does it have any continuing relevance in today’s tumultuous political realm?
And to close, your Editor observes a landmark: the completion of fifty years of active peace witness at Quaker House of Fayetteville/Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Not with a retelling of (anti)war stories but an assessment of the project as a theological enterprise.
A PS. This issue was delayed, by the reverberations of worldly events, reinforced by health issues and the impact of age. To use a technical phrase: Stuff Happens; and it did.
— Chuck Fager