Guilford and ESR: Quaker institutions in trouble

Johan Mau­r­er has a good run-down at con­tro­ver­sies brew­ing at Earl­ham School of Reli­gion. I’m very wor­ried about it. I’ve known the sud­den­ly oust­ed dean Matt His­rich for years through blogs, Twit­ter, and a face-to-face hand­shake or two and I read his hon­est memo to staff last week. He’s always impressed me as impas­sioned, fun­ny, and full of integri­ty. His memo was con­cern­ing but seemed well-reasoned and fair. The larg­er com­mu­ni­ty should know what’s going on. That Earl­ham Col­lege took half of ESR’s endow­ment is a very wor­ri­some development.

Guil­ford Col­lege in North Car­oli­na has been going through sim­i­lar tri­als. Its new pres­i­dent has pro­posed dra­con­ian cuts across major lib­er­al arts depart­ments that would evis­cer­ate the school and its Quak­er her­itage. A huge out­cry from alums has been orga­nized at Saveg​uil​ford​col​lege​.com. Guil­ford’s board vot­ed on the pro­pos­al this week and decid­ed to step back from this plan and study it some more but the future of the col­lege is still very cloudy.

Many Friends who are pas­sion­ate about the future of our reli­gious soci­ety end up at places like Earl­ham, ESR, and Guil­ford and they come out now just with degrees, but with skills to help fash­ion that future. Grad­u­ates of these schools are over-represented in the mate­r­i­al Friends Jour­nal pub­lish­es. If some­thing hap­pened to these insti­tu­tions it would be a hard blow to the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends1.  What hap­pens to them should be of con­cern to all of us. And what is hap­pen­ing should be transparent.

Faith and practice, language and witness

From Steven Davi­son:

I car­ry a min­istry that forms a recur­ring theme in this blog: that our social wit­ness min­utes ought to express our Quak­er faith explic­it­ly as the heart of our tes­ti­mo­ni­al rhetoric. In my expe­ri­ence, they rarely do. Instead they use the mind­set and rhetoric of social change non­prof­its. They employ argu­ments from sci­ence and social sci­ence, and use sta­tis­tics, rather than a straight­for­ward­ly moral argu­ment. Very often, you would nev­er know a reli­gious orga­ni­za­tion had writ­ten them, let alone a Quak­er meeting. 

In his post he rewrites a recent minute on cli­mate change. It’s an inter­est­ing experiment.

I must admit I’ve rolled my eyes more than once over min­utes. I remem­ber one some years back that went into detail about pro­posed mis­sile sys­tems and the minu­tia of glob­al nuclear deter­rence pol­i­cy (my mem­o­ry is that it was writ­ten by a high school math teacher but that might be an embell­ish­ment). I had no qualms about the min­ute’s argu­ments, which I thought were quite sound and well-reasoned. But I seri­ous­ly won­dered who the audi­ence was sup­posed to be. Did the Friends approv­ing the minute real­ly think this was going to go up the chain of com­mand to to upper ech­e­lons of the Pen­ta­gon, the House Com­mit­tee on Defense, etc? “Gen­er­al, sir, we have a minute from some Quak­ers you must read right away!”

I’ve writ­ten polit­i­cal blogs and I like ana­lyz­ing poli­cies. I can make informed sec­u­lar argu­ments about cli­mate change and mil­i­tarism. Stay­ing on top of sci­en­tif­ic changes and under­stand­ing the effects of gov­ern­men­tal poli­cies is impor­tant for us. But it’s not the source of our col­lec­tive pow­er as Friends. Peo­ple look to us for our moral clar­i­ty, which (when we actu­al­ly pos­sess it) is a result of our spir­i­tu­al ground­ing. Mis­siles are wrong because threat­en­ing to kill peo­ple is wrong. Design­ing weapons capa­ble of war crimes is wrong because mass mur­der is wrong. These are sim­ple state­ments. They are sure to be con­sid­ered naive by those who only think of poli­cies. But they can speak to oth­ers (“speak to that of God in them”) who can feel their truth in their heart.

George Lakey on going out into the world

A brand new video from Quak­er­S­peak inter­views George Lakey on the Choose Democ­ra­cy project.

There are many Friends involved in Choose Democ­ra­cy but it’s very con­scious­ly not a Quak­er orga­ni­za­tion (the word does­n’t even appear on its web­site). So it’s inter­est­ing to hear George share the way his faith and democ­ra­cy activism intersects:

I’m remind­ed of ear­ly Friends who loved to go to mar­ket squares on busy mar­ket­ing days and stand on a box or stand on some­thing, and preach the gospel as they under­stood it. And they attract­ed many peo­ple to become Quak­ers through doing that, includ­ing peo­ple who ini­tial­ly thought they were talk­ing rub­bish. So it’s that going out, it’s that not expect­ing peo­ple to come to us but instead tak­ing that offen­sive– it’s a mark of the growth of ear­ly Quak­erism and will be a mark of the growth of today’s Quak­erism if we’re will­ing to go out. 

Gone and back

On Friends Jour­nal,  the sto­ry of a Friend who left (dis­tract­ed wor­ship, spir­i­tu­al doubts) but came back when the lock­down closed the church she attend­ed and opened her Quak­er meet­ing via Zoom

But this only tan­gen­tial­ly a COVID sto­ry. The real lessons are the wor­ship: she need­ed more vocal min­istry than her meet­ing was giv­ing her, then need­ed more silence than her new church had pro­vid­ed. Indi­vid­u­als are com­pli­cat­ed and sur­pris­ing. I’m glad Friends were there to wel­come her back and won­der whether the rel­a­tive acces­si­bil­i­ty of online wor­ship 1 allowed a “prodi­gal child” to eas­i­ly slip back in to Quak­er worship.

Choose Democracy project getting more press

George Lakey’s cam­paign to pre­pare non­vi­o­lent activists for a pos­si­ble coup attempt has made New York­er and Buz­zfeed.

In August, Lakey helped form a group called Choose Democ­ra­cy that has been cir­cu­lat­ing a pledge com­mit­ting peo­ple to “non­vi­o­lent­ly take to the streets if a coup is attempt­ed,” which has more than thir­ty thou­sand signatures. 

Lizzie Wid­di­combe’s descrip­tion of George in the New York­er inspired a spit-take from me:

Lakey, who has white hair and bushy white eye­brows, is a Quak­er, and brings a cheer­ful, Sunday-school-style deliv­ery to lessons about over­throw­ing author­i­tar­i­an regimes. 

To get a taste of that deliv­ery, here’s a Quak­er­S­peak inter­view from last year:

I wrote about the Choose Democ­ra­cy project a few weeks ago. Check out their web­site at choosedemoc​ra​cy​.us

Update: The Boston Globe.

Modern-day apocalypticism

Steven Davi­son on modern-day echos of bib­li­cal apoc­a­lyp­tic move­ments:

Yet, times like this pro­vide unusu­al oppor­tu­ni­ty. The ancient Israelites were in fact returned to their home­land, though the redemp­tion was incom­plete and came with a cost. The Mac­cabees won their revolt and threw the Seleu­cids out, though the sys­tem they set up was itself cor­rupt and they were con­quered again a cen­tu­ry lat­er by the Romans. The Chris­tians sur­vived Dio­clet­ian only to betray Jesus’ gospel by estab­lish­ing an impe­r­i­al church. The apoc­a­lyp­tic dream is nev­er ful­ly defeat­ed and nev­er ful­ly real­ized. We lurch for­ward, fall back, lurch for­ward again.

I recent­ly read a book review by Jodi Eichler-Levine on a sim­i­lar sub­ject, Why Chris­t­ian nation­al­ists think Trump is heaven-sent.  The reviewed book’s author, Kather­ine Stew­art, has inter­est­ing obser­va­tions about the psy­cho­log­i­cal world­view of today’s polit­i­cal Evangelicals.

Some of the peo­ple I know who fall into this cat­e­go­ry are very nice, well-meaning peo­ple. Char­i­ta­ble, kind. They’re just try­ing to be good peo­ple. They want to like God, they want to like life. They’re just not con­nect­ing the dots to see how they’re being used to pro­mote an agen­da that’s not at all God­ly. The most inter­est­ing part of the review (and pre­sum­ably Stewart’s book) was the obser­va­tion that the Bible has a very monar­chist world­view that con­tributes to cur­rent Evan­gel­i­cal pol­i­tics. The con­cept of the Old Tes­ta­ment “imper­fect ves­sel” sto­ries lets vot­ers write off atro­cious per­son­al behav­iors (Trump, Brett Kavanaugh).