Quakerism 101

In Fall 2005 I led a six-week Quak­erism 101 course at Med­ford (NJ) Month­ly Meet­ing. It went very well. Med­ford has a lot of involved, weighty Friends (some of them past year­ly meet­ing clerks!) and I think they appre­ci­at­ed a fresh take on an intro­duc­to­ry course. The core ques­tion: how might we teach Quak­erism today?

This is the pro­pos­al for the course. I start­ed off with a long intro­duc­tion on the his­to­ry and phi­los­o­phy of Quak­er reli­gious edu­ca­tion and ped­a­gog­ic accul­tur­a­tion and go on to out­line a dif­fer­ent sort cur­ricu­lum for Quak­erism 101.

I took exten­sive notes of each ses­sion and will try to work that feed­back into a revised cur­ricu­lum that oth­er Meet­ings and Q101 lead­ers could use and adapt. In the mean­time, if you want to know how spe­cif­ic ses­sions and role­splays went, just email me and I’ll send you the unedit­ed notes. If you’re on the Adult Reli­gious Ed. com­mit­tee of a South Jer­sey or Philadel­phia area Meet­ing and want to bring me to teach it again, just let me know.

Thoughts on a Quak­erism 101 Course

Over the last few years, there seems to be a real groundswell of inter­est in Quak­ers try­ing to under­stand who we are and where we came from. There’s a revival of inter­st in look­ing back at our roots, not for his­to­ry or orthodoxy’s sake, but instead to try­ing to tease out the “Quak­er Trea­sures” that we might want to reclaim. I’ve seen this con­ver­sa­tion tak­ing place in all of the branch­es of Friends and it’s very hopeful.

I assume at least some of the par­tic­i­pants of the Quak­erism 101 course will have gone through oth­er intro­duc­to­ry cours­es or will have read the stan­dard texts. It would be fun to give them all some­thing new – luck­i­ly there’s plen­ty to choose from! I also want to expose par­tic­i­pants to the range of con­tem­po­rary Quak­erism. I’d like par­tic­i­pants to under­stand why the oth­er branch­es call them­selves Friends and to rec­og­nize some of the pec­u­lar­i­ties our branch has uncon­scious­ly adopted.

Ear­ly Friends didn’t get involved in six-week cours­es. They were too busy climb­ing trees to shout the gospel fur­ther, invit­ing peo­ple to join the great move­ment. Lat­er Qui­etist Friends had strong struc­tures of record­ed min­is­ters and elders which served a ped­a­gog­ic pur­pose for teach­ing Friends. When revival­ism broke out and brought over­whelm­ing­ly large num­bers of new atten­ders to meet­ings, this sys­tem broke down and many meet­ings hired min­is­ters to teach Quak­erism to the new peo­ple. Around the turn of the cen­tu­ry, promi­nent Quak­er edu­ca­tors intro­duced aca­d­e­m­ic mod­els, with cours­es and lec­ture series. Each of these approach­es to reli­gious edu­ca­tion fid­dles with Quak­erism and each has major draw­backs. But these new mod­els were insti­tut­ed because of very real and ongo­ing prob­lems Friends have with trans­mit­ting our faith to our youth and accul­tur­at­ing new seek­ers to our Quak­er way.

The core con­tra­dic­tion of a course series is that the leader is expect­ed to both impart knowl­edge and to invite par­tic­i­pa­tion. In prac­tice, this eas­i­ly leads to sit­u­a­tions where the teacher is either too dom­i­neer­ing _or_ too open to par­tic­i­pa­tion. The lat­ter seems more com­mon: Quak­erism is pre­sent­ed as a least-common-denominator social group­ing, form­less, with mem­ber­ship defined sim­ply by one’s com­fort­a­bil­i­ty in the group (see Brinton’s Friends for 300 Years.) One of the main goals of a intro­duc­to­ry course should be to bring new atten­ders into Quak­er cul­ture, prac­tice and ethics. There’s an implic­it assump­tion that there is some­thing called Quak­erism to teach. Part of that job is teas­ing out the reli­gious and cul­tur­al mod­els that new atten­ders are bring­ing with them and to open up the ques­tion as to how they fit or don’t fit in with the “gestalt” of Quak­erism (Grundy, Quak­er Trea­sures and Wilson’s Essays on the Quak­er Vision).

The great­est irony behind the Quak­erism 101 class is that its seemingly-neutral edu­ca­tion­al mod­el lulls proud­ly “unpro­grammed” Friends into an obliv­i­ous­ness that they’ve just insti­tut­ed a pro­gram led by a hireling min­is­ter. Argu­ments why Q101 teach­ers should be paid sounds iden­ti­cal to argu­ments why part-time FUM min­is­ters should be paid. A Q101 leader in an unpro­grammed meet­ing might well want to acknowl­edge this con­tra­dic­tion and pray for guid­ance and seek clear­ness about this. (For my Med­ford class, I decid­ed to teach it as paid leader of a class as a way of dis­ci­plin­ing myself to prac­tice of my fel­low Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing Friends.)

The stan­dard Quak­erism 101 cur­ricu­lum com­part­men­tal­izes every­thing into neat lit­tle box­es. His­to­ry gets a box, tes­ti­monies get a box, faith and insti­tu­tions get box­es. I want to break out of that. I can rec­om­mend good books on Quak­er his­to­ry and point par­tic­i­pants to good web­sites advo­cat­ing Quak­er tes­ti­monies. But I want to present his­to­ry as cur­rent events and the tes­ti­monies as min­istry. The stan­dard cur­ricu­lum starts with some of the more con­tro­ver­sial mate­r­i­al about the dif­fer­ent braches of Friends and only then goes into wor­ship, the meet­ing life, etc. I want dis­cus­sion of the lat­ter to be informed by the ear­li­er dis­cus­sion of who we are and who we might be. The course will start off more struc­tured, with me as leader and become more par­tic­i­pa­to­ry in the lat­er sections.


What I want to do is have one sol­id overview book and sup­ple­ment it with some of those fas­ci­nat­ing (and coversation-sparking!) pam­phlets. The overview book is Thomas Hamm’s Quak­ers in Amer­i­ca. Pub­lished last year, it’s the best intro­duc­tion to Quak­erism in at least a gen­er­a­tion. Hamm wrote this as part of a reli­gions of Amer­i­ca series and it’s meant as a gen­er­al intro­duc­tion to con­tem­po­rary Quak­erism. His lat­er chap­ters on debates with­in Quak­erism should be easy to adapt for a Q-101 series.

Ses­sion I: Introductions

  • Wor­ship
  • In-class read­ing of two pages from Quak­ers in Amer­i­ca (pro­file of Ohio Year­ly Meet­ing ses­sions, p. 1), reflec­tions. (maybe start this class 2?)
  • Intro­duc­tions to one another.

Ses­sion II: What Are Our Models

  • Wor­ship
  • In-class read­ing of two pages from Quak­ers in Amer­i­ca (pro­file of First Friends Church of Can­ton, p. 3), reflections.
  • What are our mod­els? Role­play of “What Would X Do?” with a giv­en prob­lem: JC, George Fox, Methodists, Non-denominational bible church, col­lege. Also: the “nat­ur­al break­ing point” mod­el of Quak­er divisions.
  • Read­ing for this class: “Con­vinced Quak­erism” by Ben Pink Dandelion

Ses­sion III: The Schisms

  • Wor­ship
  • In-class read­ing of two pages from Quak­ers in Amer­i­ca (pro­file of Wilm­ing­ton Year­ly Meet­ing ses­sions, p. 5), reflections.
  • Read­ing for this class: Quak­ers in Amer­i­ca chap­ter 3, “Their Sep­a­rate Ways: Amer­i­can Friends Since 1800,” about the branches

Ses­sion IV: Role of our Institutions

  • Wor­ship
  • In-class read­ing of two pages from Quak­ers in Amer­i­ca (pro­file of Lake Erie Year­ly Meet­ing, p. 7), reflections.
  • Read­ing for this class: “The Author­i­ty of Our Meet­ings…” by Paul Lacey

Ses­sion V: Con­tro­ver­sies with­in Friends

  • Could pick any 2 – 3 con­tro­ver­sies of Hamm’s: “Is Quak­erism Chris­t­ian?,” “Lead­er­ship,” “Author­i­ty,” “Sex­u­al­i­ty,” “Iden­ti­ty,” “Uni­ty and Diver­si­ty,” “Growth and Decline.” Ear­ly in the course I could poll the group to get a sense which ones they might want to grap­ple with. The idea is not to be thor­ough cov­er­ing all the top­ics or even all the intri­ca­cies with­in each top­ic. I hope to just see if we can mod­el ways of talk­ing about these with­in Medford.
  • Read­ing for this class: Quak­ers in Amer­i­ca chap­ter 5, “Con­tem­po­rary Quak­er Debates,” p. 120

Ses­sion VI: Role of wor­ship, role of min­istry, role of witnesses.

  • Focus­ing on Worship/Ministry (Witness)/MM Author­i­ty (Elders). If the cal­en­dar allows for eight ses­sions, this could eas­i­ly be split apart or giv­en two weeks.
  • Read­ing for this class: “Quak­er Trea­sures” by Mar­ty Pax­ton Grundy, which ties togeth­er Gospel Order, Min­istries and the Testimonies.

Ses­sion VII: What kind of reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty do we want Med­ford MM to be?

  • This should be par­tic­i­pa­to­ry, inter­ac­tive. There should be some go-around sort of exer­cise to open up our visions of an ide­al reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty and what we think Med­ford Meet­ing might be like in 5, 10, 25 years.
  • Read­ing for this class: “Build­ing the Life of the Meet­ing” by Bill & Fran Taber (1994, $4). I’ve heard there’s some­thing recent from John Pun­shon which might work better.
  • Also: some­thing from the emer­gent church move­ment to point to a great peo­ple that might be gath­ered. Per­haps essays from Jor­dan Coop­er & some­one at Cir­cle of Hope/Phila.

Books Used:

  • “Quak­ers in Amer­i­ca” is Thomas Hamm’s excel­lent new intro­duc­tion to Friends is a bit pricey ($40) but is adapt­ing well to a Q101 course.
  • “Con­vinced Quak­erism” by Ben Pink Dan­de­lion mix­es tra­di­tion­al Quak­er under­stad­ings of con­vince­ment with Ben’s per­son­al sto­ry and it sparked a good, widerang­ing dis­cus­sion. $4.
  • “Quak­er Trea­sures” by Mar­ty Grundy. $4
  • “The Author­i­ty of Our Meet­ings…” by Paul Lacey. $4
  • “Build­ing the Life of the Meet­ing” by Bill and Fran Taber. $4

Con­sid­ered Using:

  • “Why Friends are Friends” by Jack Will­cuts. $9.95. I like this book and think that much of it could be used for a Q101 in a liberal-branch Friends Meet­ing. Chap­ters: “The Won­der of Wor­ship,” “Sacred Spir­i­tu­al Sacra­ments,” “Called to Min­istry,” “Let­ting Peace Pre­vail,” “Get­ting the Sense of the Meet­ing,” “On Being Pow­er­ful” – I find the mid­dle chap­ters are the more interesting/Quaker ones).
  • Silence and Wit­ness by Michael Birkel. I haven’t read through this yet, but in skim­ming the chap­ters it looks like Birkel shys away from chal­leng­ing the Quak­er sta­tus quo. With­in that con­straint, how­ev­er, it looks like a good intro­duc­tion to Quak­erism. $16.
  • “Quak­er Cul­ture vs. Quak­er Faith” by Samuel Caldwell.
  • The Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing Quak­erism 101 cur­ricu­lum. It’s not as bad as it could be but it’s too heavy on his­to­ry and tes­ti­monies and too focused on the Jones/Brinton view of Quak­erism which I think has played itself out. I’ve seen Q101 facil­i­ta­tors read direct­ly out of the cur­ricu­lum to the glazed eyes of the par­tic­i­pants. I want­ed some­thing fresh­er and less course-like.

Where’s the grassroots contemporary nonviolence movement?

I’ve long noticed there are few active, online peace sites or com­mu­ni­ties that have the grass­roots depth I see occur­ring else­where on the net. It’s a prob­lem for Non​vi​o​lence​.org [update: a project since laid down], as it makes it hard­er to find a diver­si­ty of stories.

I have two types of sources for Non​vi​o​lence​.org. The first is main­stream news. I search through Google News, Tech­no­rati cur­rent events, then maybe the New York Times, The Guardian, and the Wash­ing­ton Post.

There are lots of inter­est­ing arti­cles on the war in iraq, but there’s always a polit­i­cal spin some­where, espe­cial­ly in tim­ing. Most big news sto­ries have bro­ken in one month, died down, and then become huge news three months lat­er (e.g., Wilson’s CIA wife being exposed, which was first report­ed on Non​vi​o​lence​.org on July 22 but became head­lines in ear­ly Octo­ber). These news cycles are dri­ven by domes­tic par­ty pol­i­tics, and at times I feel all my links make Non​vi​o​lence​.org sound like an appa­ratchik of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty USA.

But it’s not just the tone that makes main­stream news arti­cles a prob­lem – it’s also the gen­er­al sub­ject mat­ter. There’s a lot more to non­vi­o­lence than anti­war expos­es, yet the news rarely cov­ers any­thing about the cul­ture of peace. “If it bleeds it leads” is an old news­pa­per slo­gan and you will nev­er learn about the wider scope of non­vi­o­lence by read­ing the papers.

My sec­ond source is peace move­ment websites

And these are, by-and-large, unin­ter­est­ing. Often they’re not updat­ed fre­quent­ly. But even when they are, the pieces on them can be shal­low. You’ll see the self-serving press release (“as a peace orga­ni­za­tion we protest war actions”) and you’ll see the exclam­a­to­ry all-caps screed (“eND THe OCCUPATION NOW!!!”). These are fine as long as you’re already a mem­ber of said orga­ni­za­tion or already have decid­ed you’re against the war, but there’s lit­tle per­sua­sion or dia­logue pos­si­ble in this style of writ­ing and organizing.

There are few peo­ple in the larg­er peace move­ment who reg­u­lar­ly write pieces that are inter­est­ing to those out­side our nar­row cir­cles. David McReynolds and Geov Par­rish are two of those excep­tions. It takes an abil­i­ty to some­times ques­tion your own group’s con­sen­sus and to acknowl­edge when non­vi­o­lence ortho­doxy some­times just doesn’t have an answer.

And what of peace blog­gers? I real­ly admire Joshua Mic­ah Mar­shall, but he’s not a paci­fist. There’s the excel­lent Gut­less Paci­fist (who’s led me to some very inter­est­ing web­sites over the last year), Bill Connelly/Thoughts on the eve, Stand Down/No War Blog, and a new one for me, The Pick­et Line. But most of us are all point­ing to the same main­stream news arti­cles, with the same Iraq War focus.

If the web had start­ed in the ear­ly 1970s, there would have been lots of inter­est­ing pub­lish­ing projects and blogs grow­ing out the activist com­mu­ni­ties. Younger peo­ple today are using the inter­net to spon­sor inter­est­ing gath­er­ings and using sites like Meet­up to build con­nec­tions, but I don’t see com­mu­ni­ties built around peace the way they did in the ear­ly 1970s. There are few peo­ple build­ing a life – hope, friends, work – around pacifism.

Has “paci­fism” become ossi­fied as its own in-group dog­ma of a cer­tain gen­er­a­tion of activists? What links can we build with cur­rent move­ments? How can we deep­en and expand what we mean by non­vi­o­lence so that it relates to the world out­side our tiny organizations?