After describing Hannah Barnard, in the first of these sketches, as the archetype of liberal Quakerism, Joel and Hannah Bean defy that archetype in almost every particular.
Where she was an innovator, they clung to orthodoxy. Where she was assertive, they preferred to be quiet. Where she relished controversy, they tried to avoid it. And where she faced defeat with stubborn defiance, they sought to leave it behind and start over.
Yet despite these stark differences in temperament, historical currents combined with their character to make of the Beans perhaps the key figures, indeed the founders, of the modern liberal Quaker ethos. “Beanite Quakerism” is the term coined by Geoffrey Kaiser, a penetrating amateur Quaker historian, to describe the modern liberal branch of the Society, and once their role is clear, the accuracy of the term should be evident.
Joel was a New England Friend, and Hannah a Philadelphian, but they left the East for a farm in West Branch, Iowa in the late 1850s. There they settled into a rapidly growing Quietist Quaker community, and within ten years, they had been chosen as clerks of Iowa’s Men’s and Women’s Yearly Meetings, respectively. They also traveled in the ministry, to Hawaii in the west, and east to England, New and Old, where they came to be widely respected as ministers.
So far, so good. Then in the 1870s, revivalism came to Iowa Friends.
The early revivalist Friends insisted that the older, Conservative Quakerism was spiritually asleep, or even comatose, and needed to be shaken up. Many younger Friends agreed: they complained that Quietist worship was dominated either by an idolatry of increasingly empty silence, or by the too-often repetitive and dry preaching of elderly elders.
At first, the Beans were sympathetic, despite their basically Quietist preferences. Joel Bean wrote approvingly in 1870 that in the Iowa revival “The Lord’s work is progressing in many localities and deepening in many hearts. A true work of grace was begun, and has been carried forward.”
But on returning home after another long trip to England in the mid-1870s, when revivalism had intensified and incorporated a new call for “sanctification” or “holiness,” the Beans began to have doubts. Still, they stuck with their meeting, and when, in 1877, the bulk of the Quietist Friends seceded to form a rival Iowa Conservative Yearly Meeting, the Beans declined to join it.
They stayed because they strongly disliked separations. But as holiness revivalism advanced, they came to dislike it even more, both in terms of doctrine and practice.
Doctrinally, the revivalists vehemently rejected the Quaker notion of a universal, saving Inner Light, declaring that the Spirit dwelt only in those Christians who had been properly saved and sanctified.
They were also relentless in their demands for ever more emotional worship, programmed services, paid pastors, and the necessity for a “second blessing” experience after conversion, which they insisted would completely cleanse the soul of any sinfulness and fill it with permanent, instant, total holiness.
Such “sanctification” and its doctrinal baggage brought exaltation to many individuals, but left division in its wake wherever it appeared among Friends. For awhile the Beans hoped to moderate the revivalist impact on their beloved yearly meeting, or at least their own West Branch meeting.
But no way. The revivalists constituted a new leadership cadre, they were on a roll, and they were determined to take over and remake the yearly meeting in their image. And so they did, even reviving Bean’s home meeting in West Branch in 1880. David Updegraff, a leading revivalist, declared the process a complete success; but it left the meeting deeply divided and demoralized.
The Beans were now isolated in their own home town, and felt that the revivals had turned Iowa Quakerism into something alien. After considerable hesitation, Joel Bean poured out his concerns on paper and sent them to a journal, the “British Friend,” which published them under the title, “The Issue,” early in 1881.
In “The Issue” Bean deplored the outcome of the revivals, which he saw as turning Iowa Quakerism entirely away from the essentials of traditional Quakerism. In another article, “The Light Within,” he defended Friends’ traditional Christian universalist understanding of this idea.
“The Issue” was something of a manifesto and became a rallying point for the growing number of Quaker opponents of revivalism. It was widely reprinted on both sides of the Atlantic. Quietist Friends acclaimed it; but to the new Iowa holiness leaders, it was treachery pure and simple. And they weren’t about to put up with that.
The ax fell at Iowa’s 1881 yearly meeting sessions. Bean and “The Issue” were bitterly denounced, and revivalism was fully endorsed. Only an eloquent plea by Hannah Bean stopped a move to censure her husband.
The Beans left the session in shock, their influence in the body clearly at an end. They could feel that the momentum of the revival was likely to end in further separations, and even now they drew back from this prospect. “We need change and rest,” Joel wrote to a friend in Indiana. And within a year, the Beans had sold their farm and headed for California.
Not long after they left, their West Branch meeting broke apart.
They settled in San Jose, where they organized a new meeting, under the care of their old Quarter in Iowa, and worshipped in their accustomed Quietist fashion.
This ought to be the end of the story. But the revivalist authorities would not leave them in peace.
They redrew the yearly meeting borders and placed the Beans’ new meeting in a different, much-revived quarter. Then they sent two revivalists to see that the new meeting was properly sanctified. This precipitated a split in the small group; Joel Bean and his supporters then built a new meetinghouse for the Quietist remnant and applied for recognition as the College Park Meeting.
But Iowa’s new ruler’s scented heresy. They sent Bean’s group a list of six questions, to which they demanded yes or no answers. Among the questions were:
“Second–Do you unite with the Declaration of Faith in the revised Book of Discipline of…[Iowa] Yearly Meeting?”
“Fourth–We ask in particular, Do you believe in the statement…[in the new Iowa] Book of Discipline, that the Holy Spirit dwells only in the righteous?”
Most of the Bean group’s answers were deemed evasive, but the answer to the fourth question was a red flag. It was:
“We have never heard the expression used in teaching by any of our members that the Holy Spirit `dwells’ in the unrighteous. That the light and Spirit of Christ is in all men is believed and taught.”
Iowa’s response to such flagrant unsoundness was to lay the meeting down. But since the Beans had built the meetinghouse, the yearly meeting couldn’t stop them from gathering in it, and attendance grew. Reports of the Iowa action drew numerous denunciations from Eastern and British Friends.
The Iowans were not troubled by these effusions from the unsanctified. And in 1892, when it introduced a list of doctrinal questions for all its ministers to answer, the Beans’ answers were judged unsound and the next year they were deposed as ministers.
There was an international outcry against the Iowa action; a letter denouncing their “inquisitorial” proceedings, signed by 400 Friends, was circulated widely as a pamphlet. But the revivalists were secure in their position; and a few years later, the Beans were dropped from membership entirely when the Iowans purged their rolls of “inactive” members.
Following news of this action, the Beans were readmitted to membership by Joel’s home meeting in New Hampshire, and their ministry recognized. More important, though, was what they then did in San Jose.
In 1889 their meeting was reorganized as an independent corporation, the College Park Association of Friends.
Thus the Beans, who despised separation and wanted only to preserve what they considered to be the essential and ancient traditions of Quakerism, perforce became separatists and innovators.
In the long sad history of Quaker schisms, College Park was a novelty: it was not thought of as the nucleus of a new yearly meeting. Rather, its attenders were to retain their membership in whatever yearly meetings they hailed from, if any; College Park was to be a vehicle for joint worship and fellowship, rather than a disciplinary center. The later evolution of the Beans’ religious thought has not yet been traced in detail by scholars, though the Beans, as much as any 20th Century American Friends, deserve a full-fledged biography. Yet it seems evident that they came to feel that where doctrine is concerned, less is more.
This is shown in the College Park Association’s purpose statement, which was a mere three sentences long: “To promote the interest of Christianity and morality and to disseminate religious and moral principles.” To hold property; and “To maintain a meeting for worship of the Society of Friends” in their meetinghouse.
A later statement of its “Discipline” was longer– five whole sentences, a total of 122 words; the section on “Doctrine” stated, in full:
“Friends believe in the continuing reality of the living Christ, available to all seeking souls.”
Other sections specifically declared its worship to be unprogrammed, nonpastoral and open to all, and named an imperative to social witness.
Such sentiments may sound like bromides to today’s liberal Quaker reader, particularly the large majority who are innocent of the historical background. But seen in context, the Discipline’s intentional contrast with the pastoral holiness revivalism of Iowa and its evangelical offspring bodies (such as Friends Church Southwest, which was also begotten by Iowa) is apparent.
San Jose was not exactly on the beaten track of Quakerism at the turn of the century. But the international prestige of the Beans made College Park a magnet for ministers and intellectual Friends from many parts of the world. College Park also proved fortunate in attracting distinguished visitors from nearby Stanford University, including a classics professor, Augustus Murray, and a student named Herbert Hoover.
Thirty years later, when Herbert Hoover became President of the United States, he asked the now retired professor Murray to come to Washington as an informal “chaplain”; Hoover also saw to it that a new meetinghouse was built in Washington, which would be suitable for the chief executive to attend.
By then, the Beans were dead, but the Friends Meeting of Washington was only one of their many spiritual/organizational offspring. Numerous unaffiliated meetings had sprung up in the West, loosely affiliated with College Park. And in other regions, new liberal meetings were being formed, populated mainly by convinced Friends, on a similarly independent or “united” basis.
The character of this movement was shaped in large measure by Joel Bean’s granddaughter, Anna Cox, and her husband, Howard Brinton. Between them the Brintons helped the College Park Association face up to what it now was, a yearly meeting in all but name, becoming Pacific Yearly Meeting in 1947, and the “mother church” of three independent liberal yearly meetings in the western part of the U.S.
The Brintons were similarly influential in the east, when they directed Pendle Hill near Philadelphia from 1938 to 1952. There they were actively involved in the movement to reunite the two branches of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, sundered for over a century, on a doctrinal basis that, in essence, is much like that of College Park.
In these developments–Herbert Hoover at a united meeting in Washington, and the Brintons’ work on yearly meeting construction and reconstruction on both coasts, is seen the breadth of “Beanite” influence among liberal Friends.
We can also see that underlying this stream there is a definite, albeit rarely stated, theological perspective, the elements of which make up much of the ethos of contemporary liberal Quakerism: The universalism of their belief in the Inner Light; finding the measure of authenticity in the practice of worship and witness, rather than adherence to theological formulas or emotional experiences; the insistence on a free ministry, equally available to all; a fiercely congregational polity, with “higher” structures kept to a minimum and restricted to cooperative and consultative functions; and, though it was not part of the College Park Discipline, an emphasis on the magnetic effects of personal example and contact, “letting your life preach,” as the proper basis for congregational growth or “evangelism.”
Each of these elements deserves fuller treatment than they can be given here. Suffice it to say that these emphases did not fall from the sky; nor were they invented by some New Age liberal. Instead, while they speak to the condition of many, we can see how they were forged from the trials and trauma undergone by Joel and Hannah Bean over forty years, as they labored to cope with a revival movement which swept away virtually everything that Quakerism had meant to them, and to many others, for more than two hundred years.
Given their obscurity today, to speak of “Beanite Quakerism” sounds to many liberal Friends like a joke, perhaps a clumsy pun on the vegetarians among us. But to an increasing number who know something of its history, the term is one to be repeated with pride.