Recognizing that of God in the industrialist, capitalist, and soldier
John Coleman’s piece, “When Quaker Process Fails,” (FJ, Oct. 2012) raises the problem of sloppy institutional governance and lots of downright corruption and incompetence. But is there some failure of the Quaker process that underlies all those problems? Coleman points out the changing demographics of Delaware Valley Friends. Most are now employed in the social sector, not in business or management, and there is a dwindling number of wealthy Friends who can afford to make large gifts to Quaker institutions. He then identifies ten areas of institutional governance that urgently call for reform, and thereby implies what specific reforms are most needed. But none of this implies a failure of Quaker values.
One need not rely on large gifts to fund a religious institution; indeed, broad-based funding is more likely to build an institution that is responsive to the entire community. As for institutional governance, reforms can be made, standards can be enforced, budgets can be balanced. Thus, Coleman’s article is a useful examination of who we are as Quakers today, and it is a passionate call for much-needed institutional reform.
But it’s more. Coleman’s more subtle thesis has nothing to do with the finances and governance of Quaker institutions. It lies closer to the heart of what it means to be a Quaker. It concerns the principle that we must “walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.” The word “everyone” means everyone. To be true Friends, we must recognize that of God in the banker, the industrialist, the capitalist, and the soldier, not just that of God in the victims of unjust oppression. Does that imply complicity with greed, consumerism, and war? Not at all. But it recognizes that God distributes unique gifts to each of us, and those gifts can be mutually enjoyed only if we seek unity instead of divisiveness.
John Coleman raises many valid points. I’ve seen too many instances of Friends falling into the pitfalls he identifies in this article.
Using Friends Fiduciary as a positive example, however, doesn’t give us a realistic model for how to do it better. Friends Fiduciary has only five employees, and I have not found anything to indicate that they are under the care of any monthly, quarterly, or yearly meeting. Those two circumstances greatly simplify matters of governance.
I would be very much interested in seeing examples of nonprofits of similar size to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, as well as other denominations, that have done a better job of weathering the recession. I would also like to see Coleman name (or describe without naming) more “Friends organizations [that] model the opposite on each of the dimensions discussed above.” It would be refreshing to hear news of Quaker organizations that “are not only thriving, but surpassing peers on the most relevant measures of effectiveness and faithfulness to mission.”
We absolutely need positive role models. I have been in many business meetings where folks raise general concerns about the topics Coleman lists. Without knowing how to fix those problems, however, we end up without the changes we need; in many cases, we seek answers but can’t find them. Quaker monthly and yearly meetings don’t have the luxury of handpicking a dozen of the most talented Quaker business people within their regions to provide the business and organizational development leadership they need.
So in lieu of that, what are Coleman’s suggestions for concrete steps to take to get to a state of organizational competence and sustainability?
I agree with almost all of what John Coleman has written, but there are other underlying reasons why Quaker Process Fails:
1. Single issue Friends who speak at length about their own issue but don’t really listen to others or have any willingness to compromise or stand aside.
2. A belief that, even in the complex twenty-first century, there is only one righteous path forward in every situation, and it can be discerned if we talk about it long enough.
3. Weak clerking which doesn’t allocate meeting time in proportion to issues’ importance or delays issue resolution rather than striving to understand and enunciate the sense of the meeting.
4. An unwillingness to cause any discomfort whatsoever to any individual Friend, resulting in glacially slow decision making and often a degradation of the quality of life for the larger community.
I believe that some of these led Philadelphia Yearly Meeting into their financial predicament.
While I agree that many Friends organizational structures are incomprehensibly complex and involve too many Friends overseeing the work of a few, I’ve seen the 150-member Friends General Conference Central Committee arrive at expeditious, thoughtful decisions because of good clerking, thoughtful appointment by their monthly and yearly meetings, and very few single-issue Friends.
While a dedicated group of Friends has recently started to right Philadelphia Yearly Meeting finances, the fundamental problem remains that PYM is too large for our dwindling membership. As a result, it sucks up energy and time that should be spent strengthening our meetings and reaching out to our neighbors, many of whom would be surprised and delighted to find out about our way of worship and our beliefs.
Friends need to stop thinking that the yearly meeting is going to do it all for us. An alternative way of organizing is what was done with the Fair Hill Burial Ground, where it was decided not to incorporate under PYM’s care. The original members (of which I was one, though I am no longer on the board) weighed the advantages and concluded that, given our limited resources, we could either spend our time sitting on benches in committee meetings downtown or we could do valuable work in one of Philadelphia’s most blighted corners. We chose the latter.
Fair Hill has had ups and downs, but its steady leadership has created an effective Friends presence in a neglected corner of the city. The wider Quaker fellowship gets the reflected credit.
Instead of depending on PYM to “do” something for us, Friends with concerns might consider starting their project under the care of their own meeting or quarter and build from there. Lucretia Mott did not have grants from her yearly meeting to create her ministry. She did not have a staff member doing her work for her. Getting back to that spirit would invigorate our meetings and the Quaker world.
I and many other Friends in our monthly meeting and neighboring meeting are deeply troubled by the conduct of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s leadership and evasive response in relation to finance. Those entrusted with leadership of the yearly meeting failed to tell its members, for a period of several years prior to 2012, that restricted funds were being spent for purposes prohibited by the restrictions. The only people who knew about that impropriety at the time were the treasurer and people with similar positions of leadership. To fail to disclose and address that fact in the response, and to blame “the faith community” rather than those who actually knew those facts, is the height of arrogance and suggests a need for a forensic investigation.
Elizabeth Scaife Satterthwaite
I first fell in amongst Friends in Atlanta in 1971 and found a new and wonderful spiritual home. Over the next several years I attempted to become active in the wider Quaker world by attending the general Gatherings, yearly meetings and visiting other monthly meetings. When I raised any questions about the effectiveness any of these large non-profit corporations I was treated as though I was a fool who was kicking our sacred cows. After several years I decided that the flame was not worth the candle and stopped trying. However, I did not stop paying attention to the other “wider” Quaker organizations and until recently never saw anything to heal my disenchantment. Likewise, I have seldom found much of interest in Friends Journal and at times felt quite insulted by its content.
There seem to have been (I think and I hope) progressive changes in AFSC and FGC during the last couple of years but to the best of my knowledge these efforts have been less open and transparent than they might be. Have they really addressed the systemic, organizational problems that face Friends?
I was delighted to read John Coleman’s article confronting the failures of much of the Quaker “leadership”. At last, someone is speaking truth to power and I hope that we will soon be seeing the benefits of some honest self-criticism.
Religion in America is radically changing and we are now clearly in a post-Christian, and perhaps even a post-religion world. Quakerism, like most other religious groups in America are hemorrhaging members (and attenders) as well as financial support but no one seems to be willing to admit it or take responsibility for what is happening. I hope that this we might see Friends Journal encourage Friends to seriously reconsider who we have become and where we might be going.
Poverty as a form of violence
Rick Wilson (“Economic Justice 101,” FJ, Oct. 2012) reminds us that even as we laud and cherish our Peace Testimony and are against violence and conflict, we are not paying attention to the worst form of violence—poverty. The causes of poverty are embedded in societal decisions, small and large. They are embedded in the structures of our society (hence Galtung’s phrase “structural violence”). To reduce poverty, we have to change the eroding structures of our society—fair wages, health care, unemployment insurance, accessible education for all ages—so that we all have a fair chance. Governments, if they are to govern all equally and act in the best interests of all, must oversee and regulate institutions that provide many of the facilities that make for equality. Much the same could be said about governments acting to mitigate climate change and global warming. Governments need to be concerned with what is spread, what is strewn, what is put in, and what is regulated and overseen, so that the carrying capacities of the environment are minded in the best interests of all. They aren’t.
Chuck Hosking (“An Upside to Downsizing” in the same issue of FJ) has an alternative: respond to God’s call to pursue global equity. If no one takes more than a fair share of resources, no one need be destitute. A lean approach will help us feel better about ourselves. One makes sure that one is in right relationship with God and goes for a minimalist approach. Hosking refers to those who make $50,000 or even $25,000 per year as “elite” and says that they can wallow in their dissonance or they can undertake a healthy dose of minimalism. Downsize, shed surplus baggage, find greater meaning in life through solidarity with our global siblings, and we’ll finally feel that we’re home. Remind ourselves that “the poor are always with us,” and join them.
Money in church and families
I can appreciate the dilemma that Jackie DeCarlo raised in the December Forum about how difficult it can be to talk about economic issues with one’s partner. I don’t think Peter and I would be able to do the “working out” that is required if we didn’t have Couple Enrichment. My husband and I also grew up in different economic circumstances. I was raised in a working-class family on its way to becoming a solidly middle-class professional family. He was raised in a family that once had resources, and then didn’t. The Couple Enrichment process, and the support received from other couples, has made it possible for us to work through many difficult issues, not just money issues. If you want to find out more, check out the Friends General Conference website at www.fgcquaker.org/services/participate-couple-enrichment-event.
The Gross National Happiness Index
In Elson Oshman Blunt’s article, “Knowing the Earth’s Limits “(FJ, Oct. 2012), he describes his efforts to teach an economic perspective that acknowledges the limitations of growth. He seems frustrated that ecological economics is considered a renegade economic theory.
I have been teaching Economics for the school of business at the local university. Environment and inequity are issues that cannot be ignored in our area, the Salinas Valley (the salad bowl of the world). After grappling to unify these issues, I was introduced to the concept of the Triple Bottom Line (TBL), which has helped me draw together ecological economics, social justice, and traditional economics. This approach requires that our balance sheet add two more considerations beyond profit: the planet and people. What business describes as externalized cost (considered advantageous in old-school economics) is just cost transferred to other people (often unknown to them) or the environment (not on the balance sheet). Identifying these concepts helps us to recognize the limits of our Earth. We can no longer throw things away, since everything is here on Earth to stay.
Another concept Blunt touches on is the inadequacy of our economic measures. GDP measures the movement of money, recording as positive such catastrophes as Katrina, as well as divorces and traffic accidents. Surely these are not indicators of a healthy system. The good news is that there are new measures, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), that include human well-being and environmental health as part of their total economic assessment (Bhutan has the highest score on the Gross National Happiness Index). Adoption of these measures may help us change our behavior.
It is encouraging to see that every year, more voices contribute to the discussion of the changes that our economies—local to global—must make in order to become more democratic (meaning inclusive of all peoples) and to meet environmental and human needs. It’s time for our economics to incorporate human well-being and all living systems into a sustainable Earth economy. And it’s time for us all to bring this goal into mainstream conversations.
Monterey County, Calif.
Jack H. Schick’s “Slavery in Pennsylvania” (FJ, Sept. 2012) says William Penn’s slaves were freed at his death. While an early will stipulated manumission, two later wills did not mention slaves, and slaves remained in the service of the Penn estate after his death. The 1712 Pennsylvania Assembly act did not free all the slaves in the colony, as Schick stated, but instead banned the importation of new slaves. He is correct that it was quickly negated by Queen Anne. —Eds.