Joshua Brown, pastor of West Richmond Meeting, is also the editor of a new edition of the Autobiography of Allen Jay (1831-1910). Jay, an Indiana Friend, was a successful revivalist during the late nineteenth century, as the Gurneyite branch of Quakerism moved toward the pastoral system. Jay’s success as a revivalist came despite his cleft palate, which made it impossible for him to speak without a lisp. He was much beloved by almost everyone with whom he came into contact, and was an extraordinarily persua-sive fundraiser for Earlham College and other Quaker institutions.
We wish to highlight here, however, Jay’s vocation as a peacemaker, especially among Friends. The Hicksite-Orthodox separation occurred a few years prior to Jay’s birth, and thus comes in for only a cursory mention in his journal, but Jay extensively comments upon later divisions between Gurneyite, Wilburite, Conservative, Anti-Slavery, Otisite, and Kingite Friends, among others. His overriding perspective was to celebrate occasions when divisions were averted and to deplore every case in which they occurred. Jay was able to listen to both sides in a conflict and to see value in what each of them had to say. He hoped others would do likewise. Here is a sampling of what Jay had to say on this topic, after visiting Nantucket Island, where rampant divisions among Friends hastened Quaker decline and vanishing:
The old meeting-house where I preached many years before is now occupied by the Nantucket Historical Association, and there you can sit and study the history of Friends when they held control of the island and there was no other denomination there. . . . You sit down and wonder if their descendants have learned wisdom from their fathers. Have they learned the great truth that, “Separation is no cure for the evils of Church or State?” Have they been able to grasp the fact that you cannot make people see the great truths of the Gospel just alike? The Saviour presented himself in His glorious saving power to one in one way and to another in another, but was precious alike to them all and they all alike precious to him . . . As I listened methought I could hear a voice saying: “My children have not learned the lesson. They are still finding fault. They are still judging. They are still asking if they may call down fire from heaven to burn up those who do not see me as they do.” . . .
Now, as I hold my pen and look around my desk, I need only to reach out and turn over the pages of some of our church periodicals and see that the controversy is still going on. The fire of persecution is still burning. If some one is proclaimed a heretic, there are those who are ready to throw the wood on the fire, and all in the name of the meek and lowly Jesus. Then comes the question: “How long shall these things continue?” The answer from those who judge is “Until everybody believes as we do. We are right. God has chosen us to stand for the faith once delivered to the saints.” Such are their actions, though they do not dare to put them into words.
But I have said enough to give my views on separation, and close by asking: Has a separation ever caused more people to hear the Gospel? Ever enlarged the Church? Ever shown to the world more of the gentleness and meekness of Christ? Has a separation ever caused the world to exclaim, “Behold how these Christians love one another?” Has it ever caused those who held wrong views to turn and hold right ones?
On the other hand, some of us who have been connected with families in which husbands and wives, brothers and sisters have been arrayed against each other, know something of the bitterness that it engenders which lasts to this day. Some one says: “We must come out and be separate from sinners.” “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.” During that separation in Nantucket, a dear Friend who passed through it said sadly: “I have seen men of natural kindness and tenderness become hard-hearted and severe. I have seen justice turned back and mercy led aside.” Enough of this history.
During the time that the spirit of division was most intense among Orthodox Friends in the mid-nineteenth century, Jay was a member of Western Yearly Meeting and thus was especially concerned about the divisions that took place among the conservative and revivalist Friends in his own Yearly Meeting:
I enjoyed the revival movement, and remember how determined we were to save souls, not thinking of those we might injure in the attempt or how we might cripple the Church and mar the harmony by pressing our views too fast. Today we would all rejoice to see Western Yearly Meeting one united body, and I believe it would be a stronger and more healthy body, better prepared to carry forward the Lord’s work, if some of the conservative element that was driven out was today mingled with the extreme radical element that at times manifests itself in various places. I close this article by quoting: “And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”
Source: Joshua Brown, ed., Autobiography of Allen Jay (18311910). Richmond, Indiana: Friends United Press, 2010. [First edition, 1910.] Pp. 92-94, 96.
Stephen W. Angell, “Opening the Scriptures, Then and Now,” Quaker Theology 8:1 (Summer-Fall 2007-2008): 1-18. http://www.quaker.org/quest/issue14-angell-01.htm
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Every Person, by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland, in Quaker
Theology #9 (Fall-Winter 2003) http://quest.quaker.org/issue-9-gulley-01.htm
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http://www.soulforce.org/article/homosexuality-bible-walter-wink (Accessed Jan. 17, 2011)
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