Quakers acting badly

Friends don’t have a particularly good track record with regards to controversy. There’s no reason we need to pretend to be talking historically. We’ve had two major yearly meetings break up in this summer (meet Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting and North Carolina Fellowship of Friends), with at least one more “at bat” for some future long hot summer.

Controversies flare up in many places. Friend Sa’ed Atshan just broke his media silence to talk about the cancelation of his talk at Friends’ Central School in February and the subsequent walk-outs, firings, and litigations. The controversy around Avis Wanda McClinton’s disownment by Upper Dublin Meeting continues to incense large numbers of Philadelphia Friends, with fuel to the fire coming from the role that the Undoing Racism Group does or doesn’t have in the yearly meeting structure. Last year a majority of Friends of color boycotted public events at the FGC Gathering over frustration at the site selection process and the underlying issues extend to other Quaker venues.

The most-commented recent article in Friends Journal is “It Breaks My Heart” by Kate Pruitt from the online June/July issue. Many readers related to her sense of alienation and loss. Two comments that hit me the hardest were:

Not all Friends are found in Quaker Meetings. You’re better off without your meeting.

Gone now is the hope… of finding community among Quakers. To be frank, why bother? There’s plenty of brokenness right where I am.

And I get enough “Why I’m leaving Friends” manifestos in my email inbox every month that I could turn it into a regular Friends Journal column.

It seems to me that are a number of underlying issues that tie these controversies together. What do we do when a group of Friends starts acting in a manner that seems contrary to our understanding of Quaker testimonies and practices? How do we balance love and judgement when conflict arises among us? When do we break out of Quaker niceness? Maybe even more challenging, how do we maintain our integrity and accountability when controversy breaks us into camps willing to engage in exaggeration? And just what do we say when the outside public only gets half the story or thinks that one side is speaking for all Friends?

So this is a plug for submissions for December's Friends Journal.  The theme is “Conflict and Controversy" and the submission deadline is September 9. We’re not looking for blow-by-blow accounts of being mistreated, and we’re not terribly interested (this time) in manifestos about Quaker cultural norms. I'm less interested in specific issues than I am the meta of discernment: How do individuals or small groups of Friends move forward in the heat of controversy. What do we do when the easy solutions have failed? How do we decide when it's time to break out of Quaker niceness to lay down some truth—or time to kick the dust off your sandals and move along?

Interviewing the next head of AFSC

This week's Friends Journal feature is my interview with Joyce Ajlouny, who is leaving her role as head of the Ramallah Friends School to become the next general secretary for American Friends Service Committee.

I interviewed her by phone from my back porch on a snowy day and very much enjoyed conversation. I’m fascinated by the challenges of an organization like AFSC—one that has to balance strong roots in a religious tradition while largely working outside of it. How do you balancing the conflicting identities? It’s not unlike the challenge of a Friends school like Ramallah's.

I was also particularly moved by the genuine enthusiasm in her voice as she talked about engaging in honest conversations with people with whom we have strong disagreements. In this polarized age, it’s tempting to try to stay in the safety our bubbles. Joyce seems to thrive stepping out of that comfort zone:

I think we’ve learned from this last U.S. election that we need to listen more. This can often be a challenge for people who are very passionate about the positions they take. Sometimes the passion is so overwhelming that it sort of overrides that willingness to listen to other narratives. This is something that we really need to work much harder on. Truth is always incomplete. We always have to look for other truths. We need to break through some of these boundaries that we’ve put around ourselves and seek a wider spectrum of perspectives.

I think AFSC will be in good hands with Ajlouny.

Quaker publications meeting (QUIP) in Indiana

Quak­ers Unit­ing in Pub­li­ca­tions, bet­ter known as “QUIP,” is a col­lec­tion of 50 Quak­er pub­lish­ers, book­sellers and authors com­mit­ted to the “min­istry of the writ­ten word.” I often think of QUIP as a sup­port group of sorts for those of us who real­ly believe that pub­lish­ing can make a dif­fer­ence. It’s also one of those places where dif­fer­ent branch­es of Friends come togeth­er to work and tell sto­ries. QUIP ses­sions strike a nice bal­ance between work and unstruc­tured time, it’s has its own nice cul­ture of friend­li­ness and coöper­a­tion that are the real rea­son many of us go every year.

Quakers Uniting in Publications annual meeting in Richmond Indiana 2004.
Quak­ers Unit­ing in Pub­li­ca­tions annu­al meet­ing in Rich­mond Indi­ana 2004.

Arnold: Losing Our Religion

Johann Christoph Arnold has an interesting piece on the intersection of peace activism and religion [originally published on Nonviolence.org]. Here's a taste:

The day before Martin Luther King was murdered he said, "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life...But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will." We must have this same desire if we are going to survive the fear and violence and mass confusion of our time. And we should be as unabashed about letting people know that it is our religious faith that motivates us, regardless of the setting or the consequences.

Many peace activists are driven by religious motivations, which is often all that keeps them going through all the hard times and non-appreciation. Yet we often present ourselves to the world in a secular way using rational arguments.

It took me a few years to really admit to myself that Nonviolence.org is a ministry intimately connected with my Quaker faith. In the eight years it's been going, thousands of websites have sprung up with good intentions and hype only to disappear into oblivion (or the internet equivalent, the line reading "Last updated July 7, 1997"). I have a separate forum for "Quaker religious and peace issues" [which later became the general QuakerRanter blog] In my essay on the Quaker peace testimony, I worry that modern religious pacifists have spent so much effort convincing the world that pacifism makes sense from a strictly rationalist viewpoint that we've largely forgotten our own motivations. Don't get me wrong: I think pacifism also makes sense as a pragmatic policy; while military solutions might be quicker, pacifism can bring about the long-term changes that break the cycle of militarism. But how can we learn to balance the sharing of both our pragmatic and religious motivations?