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 Saveguilfordcollege.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 Friends. What happens to them should be of concern to all of us. And what is happening should be transparent.
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.
Friends Journal’s Student Voices Project is up to its eighth year. This year FGC is co-hosting an online writing workshop for Quaker students wanting to participate. This is a really cool opportunity. If you’re a Quaker high schooler or know one, you can sign up here.
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.
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 allowed a “prodigal child” to easily slip back in to Quaker worship.
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 choosedemocracy.us
Update: The Boston Globe.
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).