After publication, we learned that “Beyond Goodness Sex” (Su Penn, FJ Nov. 2015) misquotes Al Vernacchio and contains errors about what is and isn’t in For Goodness Sex. While individually these discrepancies are minor, taken together they mischaracterize Vernacchio’s arguments and overlook the rhetorical techniques he uses in the book to circumvent heteronormative and gendered language. Our contributors’ opinions are their own, but as publishers we have a responsibility to fairly represent the subject of a review or article, especially when it is coming under criticism. We regret the errors, which do a disservice both to Penn’s arguments and to Vernacchio and his book. —Eds.
Violence and self-defense
Thanks to Seres Kyrie for sharing her inner wrestling over self-defense (“Guns and Pepper Spray,” FJ Feb.). I’ve never quite been able to say 100 percent that I’m a Quaker, because I just don’t know where I stand on self-defense or using violence to defend children. Just to see someone else’s concerns made plain is a gift.
I had a similar scary camping-alone experience. My campsite was next to that of an insomniac man who had been left by his church in the campground for a week to dry out. As he tromped around my tent all night gathering firewood, I realized my only defense would be to shine my flashlight in his eyes if he came to the door of my tent. I slept with my flashlight on my chest and moved my campsite the next morning. I never had to resort to “holding my annoying neighbor in the Light.” The park employee laughed when I asked him why he put me at the space next to Mr. Insomniac in an almost empty campground. The laugh was scarier than my neighbor.
I wrestle with the issue of self-defense, as do many Friends. My wife, an Episcopalian, does not share my struggle; indeed, she would not hesitate to resort to violence if someone were to threaten her or our children (I presume I might also be on that list).
By extension, I also struggle with someone committing an act of violence on my behalf. If I call 911 and the responding officer acts violently to save me, how does this absolve me of any responsibility for the act?
South Hero, Vt.
The “Turn the other cheek” passage in Matthew 5 is typically misunderstood as advice to be a “doormat.” Jesus did not recommend violence, but he did recommend taking action that would make the other look bad in the society. This is hardly a rollover response.
I don’t know what he would have said about pepper spray, which he would have never dreamed of, but I am not so sure he would be opposed in cases of real danger. Although pepper spray has rarely caused a death, it is certainly not intended to, and aside from such rare cases, does not have a lasting effect.
Ploughing hearts so seed can grow
I’m grateful to Eileen Flanagan for raising the topic of the role of a meeting’s peace and social concerns committee (“Life in the Meeting,” FJ Jan.). I agree that meeting members can easily treat it as their common default conscience, so that anything that anybody wishes somebody would do something about just gets referred to the committee. My meeting’s peace and social concerns committee recently made an explicit commitment to not try to do the work that others wish somebody would do.
We are working to define ourselves as the group that provides pastoral care to individuals—and to the meeting as a whole—in the area of work and witness in the world. If a concern of an individual comes to our attention, we spend some time in our meeting considering what we know about the issue and what resources we are aware of (other concerned individuals, groups, funds, materials, etc.) that might be available.
Isaac Penington speaks of ploughing our hearts. I see this as ploughing the heart of our meeting, so that whatever seeds of work and witness are there—in our members or our meeting as a whole—can more easily grow.
Jesus’s hardest commandment was “Love your enemies.” It seems crazy, inconceivable, and out of the question even to contemplate applying that commandment to ISIS. Love ISIS? Are you out of your mind?
But Jesus didn’t make any exceptions when he gave that preposterous-sounding command. He didn’t say “Love your enemies, except for . . . .”
In the 1970s, I was in a demonstration at Philadelphia’s City Hall. Participants, many of us Quakers, carried signs and banners. A group that disagreed with our cause came menacingly across Market Street, shouting at us, ripping up our signs, and threatening bodily harm.
We pulled our group into a circle and prayed for the outraged attackers. Behind me, I heard one of them ask, “What are they doing?” “I think they’re praying for us,” another answered. “Oh,” said the other. The attack lost its punch and defused.
Why? A new spirit emerged because we neither skedaddled in fear nor tried to defend ourselves physically. Our “defense” was nonviolent prayer. In that instance, at least, we found what some people have called Jesus’s third way.
Right now, the spirit between us and the Islamic State—commonly called ISIS— is hatred, animosity, and odium. “We will crush you.” “We will destroy you.” “We will seek you out and kill you.” What would it be like to try to inject a new spirit, a different spirit, into our relationship with ISIS?
What would happen if the adherents of ISIS saw, all across the United States, thousands of people gathering in groups to pray for them? Toward the end of his life, Jesus, looking toward the future, said to his disciples, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars . . . And because evil is multiplied, most people’s love will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:6–12). It sounds like he is saying that the answer to profound hatred is profound love. In the face of ISIS, can we keep our love from growing cold?
Racism remains a serious threat
I write responding to “Mass Incarceration and #BlackLivesMatter” (Madeline Schaefer, FJ Dec. 2015). Specifically, “How should Quakers address issues of race, both systemically, and in our communities?” I am a 60-year-old man of European-American ancestry. Though not a Quaker, I feel a connection by sharing the belief in nonviolent struggle for justice and peace.
I believe our white psyche carries shame for the long history of race relations in this land. Each of us has benefited from our white privilege. Every one of us has been touched by the poison of racism. Denying this is a significant impediment to healing and restitution. Wallowing in the guilt of our “whiteness” does the same. Moving past this is difficult. It is evident in any opinion poll measuring public reaction to a story like the killing of Michael Brown. The difference between black and white attitudes is telling. We must work toward internal healing, as well as improving relationships in our communities, spiritual and political. We need to understand our history. We must have courage to find ways to bridge what divides us.
In Schaefer’s article a young protester asks “Why should the young protesters be nonviolent . . . when nonviolence has never been effective in the past?” This statement is of course false. Read Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan’s Why Civil Resistance Works which indicates that nonviolent action is much more effective than violent action. Particularly in this case where the state has the power of firearms, police (even military if necessary), courts, prisons, money, and so on, confronting racial injustices has to be nonviolent. One of the greatest examples of nonviolent success is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Civil Rights Movement that ended de jure segregation. The status quo would love us to be violent because then they can squash us with impunity.
I sometimes use Buddhist beliefs, but that doesn’t make me a Buddhist. Hopefully the day will never come when there is a commonly accepted standard of who is or is not a Quaker (“Was Richard Nixon a Quaker?,” QuakerSpeak.com, Jan.). As a longtime, active-in-meeting, nontheist Quaker, I would be at risk for excommunication. Please, let’s not go down that theological path.
Quakers, by our nature and tenants, subscribe to a nonjudgmental position—“Judge ye not lest you be judged.” Nixon is dead and history is and has judged him to have done more good than bad. The root of his convictions are unimportant.
Politics have no place in an organized religion. Quakers should learn to leave politics to the individual and the inner voice which speak to us all independently. Let us get back to what is really important: the practice and demonstration of our faith in the conduct of our daily lives and interaction with our fellow humans as Christians.
Rather than picking apart Richard Nixon’s life and judging whether he was a good or bad Quaker, it seems we need only say that he was an inactive Quaker. He was never read out of any meeting. Despite the much-used term “birthright Quaker,” one cannot genetically inherit Quakerism. The fact is, he did not attend meeting after his mother died. The charitable answer to the question “Was Richard Nixon a Quaker?” can only be “an inactive one.” Beyond that, any of us individually or corporately could be judged wanting.
The question of Nixon’s Quaker-ness wasn’t answered in the video. The video answered the question “Does Larry Ingle (or perhaps we could say Friends Journal) like that Richard Nixon was a Quaker?” or perhaps “Was Richard Nixon actively involved in a Quaker community?”
But he was Quaker. That’s not up for discussion. On the books, never taken off, born one. Raised one. Quaker.
Kevin-Douglas G. Olive