AMA: Conservative and Liberal Friends?

Marlborough (Pa.) Friends meetinghouse at dusk. c. 2006.
A few weeks ago, reader James F. used my seldom-visited “Ask me anything!” page to wonder about two types of Friends:

I've read a little and watched various videos about the Friends. My questions are , is there a gulf between "conservative" friends and liberal? As well as what defines the two generally? I'm in Maryland near D.C. Do Quakers who define themselves as essentially Christian worship with those who don't identify as such?

Hi James, what a great question! I think many of us don’t fully appreciate the confusion we sow when we casually use these terms in our online discussions. They can be useful rhetorical shortcuts but sometimes I think we give them more weight than they deserve. I worry that Friends sometimes come off as more divided along these lines than we really are. Over the years I've noticed a certain kind of rigid online seeker who dissects theological discussions with such conviction that they'll refused to even visit their nearest meeting because it's not the right type. That’s so tragic.

What the terms don't mean

The first and most common problem is that people don’t realize we’re using these terms in a specifically Quaker context. “Liberal” and “Conservative” don't refer to political ideologies. One can be a Conservative Friend and vote for liberal or socialist politicians, for example.

Adding to the complications is that these can be imprecise terms. Quaker bodies themselves typically do not identify as either Liberal or Conservative. While local congregations often have their own unique characteristics, culture, and style, nothing goes on the sign out front. Our regional bodies, called yearly meetings, are the highest authority in Quakerism but I can't think of any that doesn't span some diversity of theologies.

Historically (and currently) we've had the situation where a yearly meeting will split into two separate bodies. The causes can be complex; theology is a piece, but demographics and mainstream cultural shifts also play a huge role. In centuries past (and kind of ridiculously, today still), both of the newly reorganized yearly meetings were obsessed with keeping the name as a way to claim their legitimacy. To tell them apart we'd append awkward and incomplete labels, so in the past we had Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Hicksite) and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Orthodox).

In the United States, we have two places where yearly meetings compete names and one side's labelled appendage is "Conservative," giving us Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). Over time, both of these yearly meetings have diversified to the point where they contain outwardly Liberal monthly meetings. The name Conservative in the yearly meeting title has become partly administrative.

A third yearly meeting is usually also included in the list of Conservative bodies. Present-day Ohio Yearly Meeting once competed with two other Ohio Yearly Meetings for the name but is the only one using it today. The name “Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative)” is still sometimes seen, but it’s unnecessary, not technically correct, and not used in the yearly meeting’s formal correspondence. (You want to know more? The yearly meeting's clerk maintains a website that goes amazingly deep into the history of Ohio Friends).

All that said, these three yearly meetings have more than their share of traditionalist Christian Quaker members. Ohio's gatherings have the highest percentage of plain dressing- and speaking- Friends around (though even there, they are a minority). But other yearly meetings will have individual members and sometimes whole monthly meetings that could be accurately described as Conservative Quaker.

I might have upset some folks with these observations. In all aspects of life you'll find people who are very attached to labels. That's what the comment section is for.

The meanings of the terms

Formal identities aside, there are good reasons we use the concept of Liberal and Conservative Quakerism. They denote a general approach to the world and a way of incorporating our history, our Christian heritage, our understanding of the role of Christ in our discernment, and the format and pace of our group decision making.

But at the same time there’s all sorts of diversity and personal and local histories involved. It’s hard to talk about any of this in concrete terms without dissolving into footnotes and qualifications and long discourses about the differences between various historical sub-movements within Friends (queue awesome 16000-word history).

Many of us comfortably span both worlds. In writing, I sometimes try to escape the weight of the most overused labels by substituting more generic terms, like traditional Friends or Christ-centered Friends. These terms also get problematic if you scratch at them too hard. Reminder: God is the Word and our language is by definition limiting.

If you like the sociology of such things, Isabel Penraeth wrote a fascinating article in Friends Journal a few years ago, Understanding Ourselves, Respecting the Differences. More recently in FJ a Philadelphia Friend, John Andrew Gallery, visited Ohio Friends and talked about the spiritual refreshment of Conservative Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting Gathering and Quaker Spring. Much of the discussion around the modern phrase Convergent Friends and the threads on QuakerQuaker has focused on those who span a Liberal and Conservative Quaker worldview.

The distinction between Conservatives and Liberals can become quite evident when you observe how Friends conduct a business meeting or how they present themselves. It's all too easy to veer into caricature here but Liberal Friends are prone to reinventions and the use of imprecise secular language, whileConservative Friends are attached to established processes and can be unwelcoming to change that might disrupt internal unity.

But even these brief observations are imprecise and can mask surprisingly similar talents and stumbling blocks. We all of us are humans, after all. The Inward Christ is always available to instruct and comfort, just as we are all broken and prone to act impulsively against that advice.

Worshipping?

Finally, pretty much all Friends will worship with anyone. Most local congregations have their own distinct flavor. There are some in which the ministry is largely Christian, with a Quaker-infused explanation of a parable or gospel, while there are others where you’ll rarely hear Christ mentioned. You should try out different meetings and see which ones feed your soul. Be ready to find nurturance in unexpected places. God may instruct us to serve anywhere with no notice, as he did the Good Samaritan. Christ isn't bound by any of our silly words.

Thanks to James for the question!

Do you have a question on another Quaker topic? Check out the Ask Me Anything! page.

Mixing it up

Back in Novem­ber I start­ed a blog post that ran out of umph and stayed in my drafts. At time time I was react­ing to the pro­gres­sive debates about safe­ty pins as a sym­bol but it seems we’re are in anoth­er round of self-questioning, this time around the Women’s March and oth­er ini­tia­tives. As I find myself fre­quent­ly say­ing, we need lots of dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple orga­niz­ing in lots of dif­fer­ent styles. So maybe this blog posts’s time has come again.

Maybe this is just anoth­er stages of grief but I’ve been notic­ing a num­ber of online dis­cus­sions in which pro­gres­sives are shut­ting down oth­er pro­gres­sives for not being pro­gres­sive enough. Every time I see a pos­i­tive post, I can pre­dict there’s going to be about three enthu­si­as­tic “yes!” com­ments, fol­lowed by a 500-word com­ment explain­ing why the idea isn’t rad­i­cal enough.

Folks, we’ve got big­ger prob­lems than try­ing to fig­ure out who’s the most woke per­son on our Face­book feed.

Suc­cess­ful social change move­ments are always a spec­trum of more or less politically-correct and rad­i­cal voic­es. It’s like a chord in music: strings vibrat­ing on dif­fer­ent fre­quen­cies sound bet­ter togeth­er. Some­times in pol­i­tics you need the crazy rad­i­cals to stir things up and some­times you need the too-cautious lib­er­als to legit­imize the protest mes­sage.

Some years ago I was part of an cam­paign in Philly that tar­get­ed what many of us felt was a pro­pa­gan­da push around Colum­bus Day. An attempt by all of the con­cerned activists to come togeth­er pre­dictably went nowhere. There were too many dif­fer­ences in style and tac­tics and lan­guage and cul­ture. But that break­down in coör­di­na­tion allowed each sub­cul­ture to pick a tac­tic that worked best for them.

The Quak­ers did their vis­i­ble agit­prop lead­ing and got detained. The anar­chists made cre­ative posters and set off sur­rep­ti­tious stink devices. Some anony­mous pranksters sent out fake press releas­es to dis­rupt media cov­er­age. The resul­tant news cov­er­age focused on the sheer diver­si­ty of the protests.

If protest had indeed come from a sin­gle group fol­low­ing a sin­gle tac­tic, the dis­sent would have been buried in the fourth para­graph of the cov­er­age. But the cre­ativ­i­ty made it the focus of the cov­er­age. Diver­si­ty of tac­tics works. Mis­takes will be made. Some pro­gres­sives will be clue­less – maybe even some of the ones con­sid­er­ing them­selves the most woke. It’s okay. We’ll learn as we go along. We might laugh at how we used to think wear­ing safe­ty pins was effec­tive – or we might won­der why we ever thought it was mean­ing­less sym­bol. What­ev­er hap­pens, let’s just encour­age wit­ness wher­ev­er and when­ev­er it’s hap­pen­ing. Let’s be gen­tler on each oth­er.

Joan Baez cites Quaker upbringing in presidential endorsement

From the musician’s Face­book page:

My choice, from an ear­ly age, has been to engage in social change from the ground up, using the pow­er of orga­nized non­vi­o­lence. A dis­trust of the polit­i­cal process was firm­ly in place by the time I was 15. As a daugh­ter of Quak­ers I pledged my alle­giance not to a flag or a nation state but to humankind, the two often hav­ing lit­tle to do with each oth­er.

A reply to The Theology of Consensus

L.A. Kauffman’s cri­tique of con­sen­sus deci­sion mak­ing in The The­ol­o­gy of Con­sen­sus is a rather peren­ni­al argu­ment in lefty cir­cles and this arti­cle makes a num­ber of log­i­cal leaps. Still, it does map out the half-forgotten Quak­er roots of activist con­sen­sus and she does a good job map­ping out some of the pit­falls to using it dog­mat­i­cal­ly:

Con­sen­sus decision-making’s little-known reli­gious ori­gins shed light on why this activist prac­tice has per­sist­ed so long despite being unwieldy, off-putting, and inef­fec­tive.

All that said, it’s hard for me not to roll my eyes while read­ing this. Per­haps I just sat in on too many meet­ings in my twen­ties where the Trot­sky­ists berat­ed the paci­fists for slow process (and tried to take over meet­ings) and the black bloc anar­chists berat­ed paci­fists for not being brave enough to over­turn dump­sters. As often as not these shenani­gans tor­pe­doed any chance of real coali­tion build­ing but the most bor­ing part were the inter­minable hours-long meet­ings about styles. A lot of it was fash­ion, real­ly, when you come down to it.

This piece just feels so…. 1992 to me. Like: we’re still talk­ing about this? Real­ly? Like: real­ly? Much of evi­dence Kauff­mann cites dates back to the frig­ging Clamshell Alliance—I’ve put the Wikipedia link to the 99.9% of my read­ers who have nev­er heard of this 1970s move­ment. More recent­ly she talks about a Food Not Bombs man­u­al from the 1980s. The lan­guage and con­tin­ued cri­tique over large­ly for­got­ten move­ments from 40 years ago doesn’t quite pass the Muham­mad Ali test:

Con­sen­sus deci­sion mak­ing is a tool, but there’s no mag­ic to it. It can be use­ful but it can get bogged down. Some­times we get so enam­ored of the process that we for­get our urgent cause. Clever peo­ple can use it to manip­u­late oth­ers, and like any tool those who know how to use it have an advan­tage over those who don’t. It can be a trib­al mark­er, which gives it a great to pull togeth­er peo­ple but also intro­duces a whole set of dynam­ics that dis­miss­es peo­ple who don’t fit the trib­al mod­el. These are uni­ver­sal human prob­lems that any sys­tem faces.

Con­sen­sus is just one mod­el of orga­niz­ing. When a com­mit­ted group uses it for com­mon effect, it can pull togeth­er and coör­di­nate large groups of strangers more quick­ly and cre­ative­ly than any oth­er orga­niz­ing method I’ve seen.

Just about every suc­cess­ful move­ment for social change works because it builds a diver­si­ty of sup­port­ers who will use all sorts of styles toward a com­mon goal: the angry youth, the African Amer­i­can cler­gy, the paci­fist vig­ilers, the shout­ing anar­chists. But change doesn’t only hap­pen in the streets. It’s also swirling through the news­pa­per rooms, attor­neys gen­er­al offices, investor board­rooms. We can and should squab­ble over tac­tics but the last thing we need is an enforce­ment of some kind of move­ment puri­ty that “calls for the demise” of a par­tic­u­lar brand of activist cul­ture. Please let’s leave the lefty puri­ty wars in the 20th cen­tu­ry.

Remembering Juanita Nelson

juanita04One of the coolest activists of her (or any) gen­er­a­tion is gone. Juani­ta Nelson’s obit­u­ary is up on the nation­al war tax coalition’s site. My favorite Juani­ta sto­ry was when some agents came to arrest her at home and found her dressed only in a bathrobe. They told her it was okay to go into her bed­room to change but she refused. She told them that any shame was theirs. She forced them to car­ry her out as her clothes fell off. Talk about rad­i­cal non-coöperation!

Update

Pam McAl­lis­ter point­ed out on her Glob­al Non­vi­o­lence: Sto­ries of Cre­ative Action Face­book page that this sto­ry is online. Here’s a bit more of Juani­ta her­self telling that bit:

Sev­en law enforce­ment offi­cers had stalked in. I sat on the stool beneath the tele­phone, my back lit­er­al­ly to the wall, the sev­en hem­ming me about in a semi­cir­cle. All of them appeared over six feet tall, and all of them were annoyed.

“Look,” said one, “you’re gonna go any­way. You might as well come peace­ful.”

There they stood, ready and able to take me at any moment. But no move was made. The rea­son was obvi­ous.

“Why don’t you put your clothes on, Mrs. Nel­son?” This was a soft spo­ken plea from the more benign deputy. “You’re not hurt­ing any­body but your­self.” His pained expres­sion belied the asser­tion.

The essay where that came from is much longer and well worth read­ing.

Reblogging

My long-running blog over at http://​quak​er​ran​ter​.org has been out of the loop for awhile. I don’t often have the time for long-form blog­ging. The style of clas­sic blog­ging feels less imme­di­ate nowa­days: Face­book, Google Plus, Tum­blr, etc. are eas­i­er to post to and get more respons­es. The imme­di­a­cy of the social net­works pro­vides mini ego boosts. The staff at the hos­pi­tal where my daugh­ter Lau­ra was born last week invit­ed me to bring my cam­era phone into the oper­at­ing room to take pic­tures of the new one. The hos­pi­tal had pub­lic wifi so it was just a click of a but­ton to share it to Face­book. I was receiv­ing my first rounds of aww’s and con­grat­u­la­tions before my wife has even been stitched up.

But being an ear­ly blog­ger (start­ing near­ly a decade before Face­book became an open net­work), I know that the most influ­en­tial posts took months and even years to make a dif­fer­ence. It’s not very rev­o­lu­tion­ary to find out your friends are your friends, which is 90% of Face­book com­men­tary. Per­son­al change hap­pe­na when you meet some­one new; cul­tur­al change hap­pens when you’re exposed to peo­ple whose ideas are new to you. On the inter­net that hap­pens at two in the morn­ing when you won­der whether any­one has made a con­nec­tion between two ideas obsess­ing you – the unex­pect­ed results in a Google search can change how you under­stand the world. It can starts you down the path of a new self-identity. It doesn’t mat­ter if the post is a cou­ple of years old: what mat­ters is that it’s speak­ing to the spir­i­tu­al con­di­tion of that searcher. 

I know this (and I’ve writ­ten about it before) but I still tend toward short social media posts. So I’m going to inte­grate my Google Plus account with my WordPress-powered blog at Quak​er​ran​ter​.org. I’m pick­ing Google Plus because it’s where I’ve found myself writ­ing the more thought­ful bits and pieces. A neat Word­Press plug in called Google Plus Blog (link below) will help the inte­gra­tion.

Embed­ded Link

The Google+ mus­ings of Daniel Tread­well
Google+ Blog Con­cept — Daniel Tread­well. View your Google+ Posts in the form of a clean and sim­ple blog. Also home of the Google+Blog Word­Press plu­g­in.

Reading John Woolman 3: The Isolated Saint

Read­ing John Wool­man: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 (miss­ing)

It’s said that John Wool­man re-wrote his Jour­nal three times in an effort to excise it of as many “I” ref­er­ences as pos­si­ble. As David Sox writes in Johh Wool­man Quin­tes­sen­tial Quak­er, “only on lim­it­ed occa­sion do we glimpse Wool­man as a son, a father and a hus­band.” Wool­man wouldn’t have been a very good blog­ger. Quot­ing myself from my intro­duc­tion to Quak­er blogs:

blogs give us a unique way of shar­ing our lives — how our Quak­erism inter­sects with the day-to-day deci­sions that make up faith­ful liv­ing. Quak­er blogs give us a chance to get to know like-minded Friends that are sep­a­rat­ed by geog­ra­phy or arti­fi­cial the­o­log­i­cal bound­aries and they give us a way of talk­ing to and with the insti­tu­tions that make up our faith com­mu­ni­ty.

I’ve read many great Wool­man sto­ries over the years and as I read the Jour­nal I eager­ly antic­i­pat­ed read­ing the orig­i­nal account. It’s that same excite­ment I get when walk­ing the streets of an icon­ic land­scape for the first time: walk­ing through Lon­don, say, know­ing that Big Ben is right around the next cor­ner. But Wool­man kept let­ting me down.

One of the AWOL sto­ries is his arrival in Lon­don. The Journal’s account:

On the 8th of Sixth Month, 1772, we land­ed at Lon­don, and I went straight­way to the Year­ly Meet­ing of min­is­ters and elders, which had been gath­ered, I sup­pose, about half an hour. In this meet­ing my mind was humbly con­trite.

But set the scene. He had just spent five weeks cross­ing the Atlantic in steer­age among the pigs (he doesn’t actu­al­ly spec­i­fy his non-human bunk­mates). He famous­ly went out of his way to wear clothes that show dirt because they show dirt. He went straight­away: no record of a bath or change of clothes. Sto­ries abound about his recep­tion, and while are some of dubi­ous ori­gin, there are first hand accounts of his being shunned by the British min­is­ters and elders. The best and most dubi­ous sto­ry is the theme of anoth­er post.

I trust that Wool­man was hon­est­ly aim­ing for meek­ness when he omit­ted the most inter­est­ing sto­ries of his life. But with­out the con­text of a lived life he becomes an ahis­tor­i­cal fig­ure, an icon of good­ness divorced from the minu­ti­ae of the dai­ly grind. Two hun­dred and thir­ty years of Quak­er hagiog­ra­phy and latter-day appeals to Woolman’s author­i­ty have turned the tai­lor of Mount Hol­ly into the oth­er­world­ly Quak­er saint but the process start­ed at John’s hands him­self.

Were his strug­gles mere­ly inte­ri­or? When I look to my own min­istry, I find the call to dis­cern­ment to be the clear­est part of the work. I need to work to be ever more recep­tive to even the most unex­pect­ed prompt­ing from the Inward Christ and I need to con­stant­ly prac­tice humil­i­ty, love and for­give­ness. But the prac­ti­cal lim­i­ta­tions are hard­er. For years respectibil­i­ty was an issue; rel­a­tive pover­ty con­tin­ues to be one. It is ask­ing a lot of my wife to leave respon­si­bil­i­ty for our two small boys for even a long week­end.

How did Wool­man bal­ance fam­i­ly life and min­istry? What did wife Sarah think? And just what was his role in the sea-change that was the the “Ref­or­ma­tion of Amer­i­can Quak­erism” (to use Jack Marietta’s phrase) that for­ev­er altered Amer­i­can Friends’ rela­tion­ship with the world and set the stage for the schisms of the next cen­tu­ry.

We also lose the con­text of Woolman’s com­pa­tri­ots. Some are named as trav­el­ing com­pan­ions but the col­or­ful char­ac­ters go unmen­tioned. What did he think of the street-theater antics of Ben­jamin Lay, the Abbie Hoff­man of Philadel­phia Quak­ers. The most widely-told tale is of Lay walk­ing into Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing ses­sions, open­ing up a cloak to reveal mil­i­tary uni­form under­neath, and declar­ing that slave-made prod­ucts were prod­ucts of war, plunged a sword into a hollowed-out Bible full of pig’s blood, splat­ter­ing Friends sit­ting near­by.

What role did Wool­man play in the larg­er anti-slavery awak­en­ing hap­pen­ing at the time? It’s hard to tell just read­ing his Jour­nal. How can we find ways to repli­cate his kind of faith­ful­ness and wit­ness today? Again, his Jour­nal doesn’t give much clue.

Read­ing John Wool­man Series

  • Part One: “The Pub­lic Life of a Pri­vate Man”
  • Part Two: “The Last Safe Quak­er
  • Part Three: The Iso­lat­ed Saint (this page)
  • Part Four: I Real­ly Do Like Wool­man!

Picked up today in the Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing Library:

PYM Librar­i­an Rita Var­ley remind­ed me today they mail books any­where in the US for a mod­est fee and a $50/year sub­scrip­tion. It’s a great deal and a great ser­vice, espe­cial­ly for iso­lat­ed Friends. The PYM cat­a­log is online too!

The Lost Quaker Generation

The oth­er day I had lunch with an old friend of mine, a thirty-something Quak­er very involved in nation-wide paci­fist orga­niz­ing. I had lost touch with him after he entered a fed­er­al jail for par­tic­i­pat­ing in a Plow­shares action but he’s been out for a few years and is now liv­ing in Philly.

We talked about a lot of stuff over lunch, some of it just move­ment gos­sip. But we also talked about spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. He has left the Soci­ety of Friends and has become re-involved in his par­ents’ reli­gious tra­di­tions. It didn’t sound like this deci­sion had to do with any new reli­gious rev­e­la­tion that involved a shift of the­ol­o­gy. He sim­ply became frus­trat­ed at the lack of Quak­er seri­ous­ness.

It’s a dif­fer­ent kind of frus­tra­tion than the one I feel but I won­der if it’s not all con­nect­ed. He was drawn to Friends because of their mys­ti­cism and their pas­sion for non­vi­o­lent social change. It was this com­bi­na­tion that has helped pow­er his social action wit­ness over the years. It would seem like his seri­ous, faith­ful work would be just what Friends would like to see in their thirty-something mem­bers but alas, it’s not so. He didn’t feel sup­port­ed in his Plow­shares action by his Meet­ing.

He con­clud­ed that the Friends in his Meet­ing didn’t think the Peace Tes­ti­mo­ny could actu­al­ly inspire us to be so bold. He said two of his Quak­er heroes were John Wool­man and Mary Dyer but real­ized that the pas­sion of wit­ness that drove them wasn’t appre­ci­at­ed by today’s peace and social con­cerns com­mit­tees. The rad­i­cal mys­ti­cism that is sup­posed to dri­ve Friends’ prac­tice and actions have been replaced by a bland­ness that felt threat­ened by some­one who could choose to spend years in jail for his wit­ness.

I can relate to his dis­ap­point­ment. I wor­ry about what kinds of actions are being done in the name of the Peace Tes­ti­mo­ny, which has lost most of its his­toric mean­ing and pow­er among con­tem­po­rary Friends. It’s invoked most often now by sec­u­lar­ized, safe com­mit­tees that use a ratio­nal­ist approach to their decision-making, meant to appeal to oth­ers (includ­ing non-Friends) based sole­ly on the mer­its of the argu­ments. NPR activism, you might say. Reli­gion isn’t brought up, except in the rather weak for­mu­la­tions that Friends are “a com­mu­ni­ty of faith” or believe there is “that of God in every­one” (what­ev­er these phras­es mean). That we are led to act based on instruc­tions from the Holy Spir­it direct­ly is too off the deep end for many Friends, yet the peace tes­ti­mo­ny is fun­da­men­tal­ly a tes­ti­mo­ny to our faith in God’s pow­er over human­i­ty, our sur­ren­der to the will of Christ enter­ing our hearts with instruc­tions which demand our obe­di­ence.

But back to my friend, the ex-Friend. I feel like he’s just anoth­er eroded-away grain of sand in the delta of Quak­er decline. He’s yet anoth­er Friend that Quak­erism can’t afford to loose, but which Quak­erism has lost. No one’s mourn­ing the fact that he’s lost, no one has bare­ly noticed. Know­ing Friends, the few that have noticed have prob­a­bly not spent any time reach­ing out to him to ask why or see if things could change and they prob­a­bly defend their inac­tion with self-congratulatory pap about how Friends don’t pros­e­ly­tize and look how lib­er­al we are that we say noth­ing when Friends leave.

God!, this is ter­ri­ble. I know of DOZENS of friends in my gen­er­a­tion who have drift­ed away from or deci­sive­ly left the Soci­ety of Friends because it wasn’t ful­fill­ing its promise or its hype. No one in lead­er­ship posi­tions in Quak­erism is talk­ing about this lost gen­er­a­tion. I know of very few thirty-something Friends who are involved nowa­days and very very few of them are the kind of pas­sion­ate, mys­ti­cal, obedient-to-the-Spirit ser­vants that Quak­erism needs to bring some life back into it. A whole gen­er­a­tion is lost – my fel­low thirty-somethings – and now I see the pas­sion­ate twenty-somethings I know start­ing to leave. Yet this exo­dus is one-by-one and goes large­ly unre­marked and unno­ticed (but then I’ve already post­ed about this: It will be in decline our entire live).


 

Update 10/05

I feel like I should add an adden­dum to all this. As I’ve spo­ken with more Friends of all gen­er­a­tions, I’ve noticed that the atten­tion to younger Friends is cycli­cal. There’s a thirty-year cycle of snub­bing younger Friends (by which I mean Friends under 40). Back in the 1970s, all twenty-year-old with a pulse could get recog­ni­tion and sup­port from Quak­er meet­ings and I know a lot of Friends of that gen­er­a­tion who were giv­en tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ties despite lit­tle expe­ri­ence. A decade lat­er the doors had start­ed to close but a hard-working faith­ful Friend in their ear­ly twen­ties could still be rec­og­nized. By the time my gen­er­a­tion came along, you could be a whirl­wind of great ideas and ener­gy and still be shut out of all oppor­tu­ni­ties to serve the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends.

The good news is that I think things are start­ing to change. There’s still a long way to go but a thaw is upon us. In some ways this is inevitable: much of the cur­rent lead­er­ship of Quak­er insti­tu­tions is retir­ing and I think they’re start­ing to real­ize it. There are prob­lems, most notably tokenism – almost all of the younger Friends being lift­ed up now are the sons & daugh­ters of promi­nent “com­mit­tee Friends.” The biggest prob­lem is that a few dozen years of lax reli­gious edu­ca­tion and “roll your own Quak­erism” means that many of the mem­bers of the younger gen­er­a­tion can’t even be con­sid­ered spir­i­tu­al Quak­ers. Our Meet­ing­hous­es are seen as a place to meet oth­er cool, pro­gres­sive young hip­sters, while spir­i­tu­al­i­ty is sought from oth­er sources. We’re going to be spend­ing decades untan­gling all this and we’re not going to have the sea­soned Friends of my gen­er­a­tion to help bridge the gaps.


Relat­ed Read­ing

  • After my friend Chris post­ed below I wrote a follow-up essay, Pass­ing the Faith, Plan­et of the Quak­ers Style.
  • Many old­er Friends hope that a resur­gence of the peace move­ment might come along and bring younger Friends in. In Peace and Twenty-Somethings I look at the gen­er­a­tional strains in the peace move­ment.
  • Beck­ey Phipps con­duct­ed a series of inter­views that touched on many of these issues and pub­lished it in FGCon­nec­tions. FGC Reli­gious Edu­ca­tion: Lessons for the 21st Cen­tu­ry asks many of the right ques­tions. My favorite line: “It is the most amaz­ing thing, all the kids that I know that have gone into [Quak­er] lead­er­ship pro­grams – they’ve dis­ap­peared.”

Con­tin­ue read­ing