The Quaker Wars?

Over on Quo­ra, a ques­tion that is more fas­ci­nat­ing than it might at first appear: What wars in his­to­ry were fought in the name of Quak­erism (Soci­ety of Friends)?:

This ques­tion is nei­ther sar­cas­tic nor rhetoric. As many peo­ple insist that vio­lence and atroc­i­ties are an inher­ent part of reli­gions, that reli­gions would cause wars, I real­ly want to know  if that is the truth. Per­son­al­ly I believe reli­gions can be peace­ful, such as in the cas­es of the Quak­ers and the Baha’i, but I might  be wrong. 

The obvi­ous answer should be “none.” Quak­ers are well-known as paci­fists (fun fact: fake can­non used to deceive the ene­my into think­ing an army is more for­ti­fied than it actu­al­ly is are called “Quak­er guns.”) Indi­vid­ual Quak­ers have rarely been quite as unit­ed around the peace tes­ti­mo­ny as our rep­u­ta­tion would sug­gest, but as a group it’s true we’ve nev­er called for a war. I can’t think of any mil­i­tary skir­mish or bat­tle waged to ral­ly­ing cries of “Remem­ber the Quakers!”

Quaker guns at Manassas Junction, 1862. Via Wikimedia.
Quak­er guns at Man­as­sas Junc­tion, 1862. Via Wiki­me­dia.

And yet: all of mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion has been shaped by war. Our polit­i­cal bound­aries, our reli­gions, our demo­graph­ic make-up – even the lan­guages we speak are all rem­nants of long-ago bat­tles. One of the most influ­en­tial Quak­er thinkers, the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry min­is­ter John Wool­man, con­stant­ly remind­ed his brethren to con­sid­er those lux­u­ries that are the fruit of war and slav­ery. When we broad­en the scope like this, we’ve been involved in quite a few wars.

  • We like to remem­ber how William Penn found­ing the colony of Penn­syl­va­nia as a reli­gious refuge. But the king of Eng­land held Euro­pean title to the mid-Atlantic seaboard because of small wars with the Dutch and Swedes (and lat­er held onto it only after a much larg­er war with the French New World settlements).
  • The king’s grant of “Penn’s Woods” was the set­tle­ment of a very large war debt owed to Penn’s father, a wealthy admi­ral. The senior William Penn was some­thing of a scoundrel, play­ing off both sides in every-shifting royalist/Roundhead see­saw of pow­er. His longest-lasting accom­plish­ment was tak­ing Jamaica for the British (Bob Mar­ley sang in Eng­lish instead of Span­ish because of Sir William).
  • By most accounts, William Penn Jr. was fair and also bought the land from local Lenape nations. Most­ly for­got­ten is that the Lenape and Susque­han­nock pop­u­la­tion had been dev­as­tat­ed in a recent region­al war against the Iro­quois over beaver ter­ri­to­ries. The Iro­quois were skill­ful­ly play­ing glob­al pol­i­tics, keep­ing the Eng­lish and French colo­nial empires in enough strate­gic ten­sion that they could pro­tect their land. They want­ed anoth­er British colony on their south­ern flank. The Lenape land reim­burse­ment was secondary.

The thou­sands of acres Penn deed­ed to his fel­low Quak­ers were thus the fruits of three sets of wars: colo­nial wars over the Delaware Val­ley; debt-fueled Eng­lish civ­il wars; and Native Amer­i­can wars fought over access to com­mer­cial resources. Much of orig­i­nal Quak­er wealth in suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions is indebt­ed to this huge land trans­fer in the 1680s, either direct­ly (we still hold some valu­able real estate) or indi­rect­ly (the real estate’s sale could be fun­neled into promis­ing businesses).

Not all of the fruits of war were sec­ond­hand and coin­ci­den­tal to Friends them­selves. Many wealthy Friends in the mid-Atlantic colonies had slaves who did much of the back­break­ing work of clear­ing fields and build­ing hous­es. That quaint old brick meet­ing­house set back on a flower-covered field? It was prob­a­bly built at least in part by enslaved hands.

And today, it’s impos­si­ble to step free of war. Most of our hous­es are set on land once owned by oth­ers. Our com­put­ers and cell phones have com­po­nents mined in war zones. Our lights and cars are pow­ered by fos­sil fuel extrac­tion. And even with solar pan­els and elec­tric cars, the infra­struc­ture of the dai­ly liv­ing of most Amer­i­cans is still based on extrac­tion and con­trol of resources.

This is not to say we can’t con­tin­ue to work for a world free of war. But it seems impor­tant to be clear-eyed and acknowl­edge the debts we have.

Hashtagging politics

I’ve been most­ly sit­ting out the Hillary vs Bernie debates. I’m in a late vot­ing state and I have bet­ter things to do than get into Face­book flame wars. I have a nat­ur­al polit­i­cal bias toward Sanders, but I respect Hillary Clinton’s accom­plish­ments and would rather see a cen­trist than any of the increasingly-insane GOP candidates.

With that said, I’m notic­ing a num­ber of retweet­storms of anti-Sanders quips fill­ing my Twit­ter feed. I’m sure the infa­mous “Bernie Bros” exist, but most of the dis­mis­sive posts I see are from Hillary sup­port­ers. A lot of them seem to sim­ply be mad that he would run (and be run­ning so well). Oth­ers attack him for things said or done by sup­port­ers with no con­nec­tion to the Sanders campaign.

I don’t know if it’s my observ­er bias giv­en my pol­i­tics and/or the make­up of friends but my dis­tinct impres­sion is that my Bernie-supporting friends are excit­ed by Bernie and his ideas while my Hillary-supporting friends are mad at Bernie and his ideas and followers.

Our Christian Disciplines tweet the Debate

John S made an inter­est­ing com­ment at the end of my last post (all ) about live twit­ter­ing tonight’s Pres­i­den­tial Debate got me think­ing about a Quak­er response to the debates might be. As I’ve admit­ted I can be rather snarky and par­ti­san. So I pre­pared some inter­est­ing quotes from some old Quak­er tes­i­monies and have been sprin­kling them through­out my twit­ter commentary. 

  • 1762: Friends ought not be active in elect­ing to offices, the exe­cu­tion where­of tends to lay wast our Chris­t­ian testimony
  • <1879: Mem­bers should main­tain inof­fen­sive, cir­cum­spect emeanour towards all men, man­i­fest­ing peace­able spir­it of Christ.
  • <1879: Friends should avoid those heats & con­tro­ver­sies respect­ing the poli­cies and govt’s of the world.
  • 1874: The mere nat­ur­al wis­dom and will of man have no palce in the church of Christ.
  • 1808: The preser­va­tion of love and uni­ty is a duty in every state of reli­gious attainment.
  • 1853: It is upon the sim­plic­i­ty of the Truth as it is in Jesus that our tes­ti­mo­ny to plain­ness and mod­er­a­tion rests.
  • <1879: Friends are to avoid elect­ing brethren to civ­il govt as may sub­ject them to temp­ta­tion of vio­lat­ing testimonies.
  • 1808: Friends are not to unite in war­like mea­sures, either offen­sive or defen­sive, we are subj of Messaih’s peace­ful reign.
  • 1843: Fds must decline accep­tance of any office or sta­tion in civ­il govt w/duties incon­sis­tent w/our reli­gious principles.
  • 1843: Friends warned vs. rais­ing & cir­cu­lat­ing paper cred­it w/appearance of val­ue w/o intrin­sic reality.
  • 1843: Friends should be open-hearted and lib­er­al in rais­ing funds for relief for mem­bers in indi­gent circumstances.
  • 1843: So may we be liv­ing mem­bers of the Church mil­i­tant on earth; and inhab­i­tants of that city which hath foundations.
  • 1853: The stan­dards which the world adopts in pur­suit of trade and desire for rich­es in not safe for dis­ci­ple of Christ.
  • 1853: May no Friends involve them­selves in worldy con­cerns dis­qual­i­fy for right use of their time, tal­ents & tem­po­ral substance.

The quotes are culled from “Chris­t­ian Advices” (1879) and “Rules of Dis­ci­pline” (1843), both pub­lished by Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing. I think these are Ortho­dox and Hick­site respec­tive­ly, but I’m not an expert in the inves­tiga­tive details nec­es­sary to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between year­ly meet­ing pub­li­ca­tions. If any­one knows “Chris­t­ian Advices” says it’s avail­able from the Friends Book­store at 304 Arch Street; “Rules of Dis­ci­pline” is print­ed by John Richards of 130 N. Third Street.

Mixing Quakers and Politics?

Update: I’ll be adding #qqtalk to tonight’s live Twit­ter blog of the Pres­i­den­tial debate. If you have a Twit­ter account you can just fol­low me at “martin_kelley” and non-Twitter users can see all the qqtalk posts by going to this “qqtalk” page. And def­i­nite­ly check out the fas­ci­nat­ing dis­cus­sions hap­pen­ing in the com­ments of this post!

Wess of Gath­eringin­Light just emailed me if we might des­ig­nate a “qqtalk” tag for those
of us Quak­erQuak­er reg­u­lars who are live-blogging tonight’s
pres­i­den­tial debate on Twit​ter​.com. Inter­est­ing idea but I’m worried
that it will be too par­ti­san. I, for one, have not been live blogging
the debates as a Friend.

I’ve tak­en a lot of care to keep Quak­erQuak­er culturally-neutral
so that we keep the focus on the faith. I want it to be a place where
peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds and val­ues will find com­mon ground in
their inter­est in the role of Quak­er tra­di­tion in their lives. I’m a left­ie East Coast Chris­t­ian anarco-pacifist – veg­an, bike rid­er, you get the pic­ture, right? – and while I can argue that my val­ues jibe with my
under­stand­ing of Quak­er faith, I would nev­er want to pre­sume that you
have to adopt them to be a good Quaker. 

Part of the problem
with Quak­erism in all of its forms is that we’ve mixed up the faith
with the cul­ture and some­times don’t know where one ends and the other
begins. That’s kind of nat­ur­al but it’s led to a sit­u­a­tion where we’re
some­times divid­ed against one anoth­er over the wrong issues. We also use the words “Quak­er” or “Friends” as a short­cut for a range of val­ues and don’t do the work explain­ing how the faith leads to the values.

So
in the few hours we have till the debate, any ideas about whether to
adopt a qqtalk tag? Drop them in the com­ments. Also, if you’re a Quaker
who’s going to be live-twittering tonight, leave your twit­ter name
below so peo­ple can see what we’re doing on an indi­vid­ual lev­el if they
want. 

I’ll start off: 

I’m at http://​twit​ter​.com/​m​a​r​t​i​n​_​k​e​l​ley and have been using #debate08 for my debate coverage.

Talking like a Quaker: does anyone really care about schism anymore?

Over on my design blog I’ve just post­ed an arti­cle, Bank­ing on rep­u­ta­tions, which looks at how the web­sites for high-profile cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions are often built with­out regard to nat­ur­al web pub­lic­i­ty – there’s no focus on net cul­ture or search engine vis­i­bil­i­ty. The sites do get vis­it­ed, but only because of the rep­u­ta­tion of the insti­tu­tion itself. My guess is that peo­ple go to them for very spe­cif­ic func­tions (look­ing up a phone num­ber, order­ing tick­ets, etc.). I fin­ish by ask­ing the ques­tion, “Are the audi­ences of high brow insti­tu­tions so full of hip young audi­ences that they can steer clear of web-centric marketing?”

I won’t bela­bor the point, but I won­der if some­thing sim­i­lar is hap­pen­ing with­in Friends. It’s kind of weird that only two peo­ple have com­ment­ed on Johan Maurer’s blog post about Bal­ti­more Year­ly Meeting’s report on Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing. Johan’s post may well be the only place where online dis­cus­sion about this par­tic­u­lar report is avail­able. I gave a plug for it and it was the most pop­u­lar link from Quak­erQuak­er, so I know peo­ple are see­ing it. The larg­er issue is dealt with else­where (Bill Samuel has a par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful resource page) but Johan’s piece seems to be get­ting a big yawn.

It’s been super­seded as the most pop­u­lar Quak­erQuak­er link by a light­heart­ed call for an Inter­na­tion­al Talk Like a Quak­er Day put up by a Live­jour­nal blog­ger. It’s fun but it’s about as seri­ous as you might expect. It’s get­ting picked up on a num­ber of blogs, has more links than Johan’s piece and at cur­rent count has thir­teen com­menters. I think it’s a great way to poke a lit­tle fun of our­selves and think about out­reach and I’m hap­py to link to it but I have to think there’s a les­son in its pop­u­lar­i­ty vis-a-vis Johan’s post.

Here’s the inevitable ques­tion: do most Quak­ers just not care about Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing or Bal­ti­more Year­ly Meet­ing, about a mod­ern day cul­ture clash that is but a few degrees from boil­ing over into full-scale insti­tu­tion­al schism? For all my brava­do I’m as much an insti­tu­tion­al Quak­er as any­one else. I care about our denom­i­na­tion­al pol­i­tics but do oth­ers, and do they really?

Year­ly meet­ing ses­sions and more entertainment-focused Quak­er gath­er­ings are lucky if they get three to five per­cent atten­dance. The gov­ern­ing body of my year­ly meet­ing is made up of about one per­cent of its mem­ber­ship; add a per­cent or two or three and you have how many peo­ple actu­al­ly pay any kind of atten­tion to it or to year­ly meet­ing pol­i­tics. A few years ago a Quak­er pub­lish­er com­mis­sioned a promi­nent Friend to write an update to lib­er­al Friends’ most wide­ly read intro­duc­to­ry book and she man­gled the whole thing (down to a total­ly made-up acronym for FWCC) and no one noticed till after pub­li­ca­tion – even insid­ers don’t care about most of this!

Are the bulk of most con­tem­po­rary Friends post-institutional? The per­cent­age of Friends involved in the work of our reli­gious bod­ies has per­haps always been small, but the divide seems more strik­ing now that the inter­net is pro­vid­ing com­pe­ti­tion. The big Quak­er insti­tu­tions skate on being rec­og­nized as offi­cial bod­ies but if their par­tic­i­pa­tion rate is low, their recog­ni­tion fac­tor small, and their abil­i­ty to influ­ence the Quak­er cul­ture there­fore min­i­mal, then are they real­ly so impor­tant? After six years of mar­riage I can hear my wife’s ques­tion as a Quaker-turned-Catholic: where does the reli­gious author­i­ty of these bod­ies come from? As some­one who sees the world through a sociological/historical per­spec­tive, my ques­tion is com­ple­men­tary but some­what dif­fer­ent: if so few peo­ple care, then is there author­i­ty? The only time I see Friends close to tears over any of this is when
a schism might mean the loss of con­trol over a beloved school or camp­ground – fac­tor out
the sen­ti­men­tal fac­tor and what’s left?

I don’t think a dimin­ish­ing influ­ence is a pos­i­tive trend, but it won’t go away if we bury our heads in the sand (or in com­mit­tees). How are today’s gen­er­a­tion of Friends going to deal with chang­ing cul­tur­al forces that are threat­en­ing to under­mine our cur­rent prac­tices? And how might we use the new oppor­tu­ni­ties to advance the Quak­er mes­sage and Christ’s agenda?