On a late lunch, just finished “Conflicting Views on Foreign Missions: The Mission Board of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Freinds in the 1920s” by Tesuko Toda from the Fall 2011 issue of Quaker History.
Sounds like a page turner, right? But it’s interesting history that’s still resonating. Toda’s piece sheds light on a generational sea change that happened among the evangelical-leaning subset of Philadelphia Friends (a minority of the Orthodox yearly meeting):
When the story begins, Friends interested in mission work have to organize independent of the yearly meeting. Over time they come into the fold but it’s right when younger Friends are giving up the idea of bringing Christianity to the heathens for the idea of international fellowship (a similar attitude change was happening throughout Protestant denominations). Toda writes:
Young Philadelphian Friends did support foreign missions, but did not support conventional ones. Actually, none of them approved of foreign missions aimed at conversion. Although some pointed out the advantages of Friends missions, no one insisted on denominational missions. What kind of foreign missions did young Philadelphia Friends think was suitable for the new era (the 1920s), then? The first point to be noted is that young Philadelphia Friends unanimously had a negative view of traditional missionaries.
There’s a lot of back-and-forth in the group but it finally funnelled its energies into the still-new American Friends Service Committee. The AFSC had been set up to support conscientious objectors in World War I and there was no expection that it might continue after the war. That it did was because it better represented the internation fellowship model.
I’m not going to write a full review but those of you interested in the sociological history of that kind of bold, “let’s change the world” energy in Friends should look it up, as should those curious about how generational shifts sometimes play out in yearly meeting politics.