Forum, March 2023

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Refusing to shy away from the truth

The article on confronting the legacy of Quaker slavery is one of the most helpful I have read in my life (“Confronting the Legacy of Quaker Slavery” by Avis Wanda McClinton et al., FJ Jan.). I am also a Black Quaker, one who has served on several Quaker boards and served as general secretary of Friends General Conference. I also have Philadelphia-area Quaker ancestors who enslaved people. My pamphlet Answering the Call of My Twin Roots: Black and Quaker was written more than 40 years ago and speaks to some of my ambivalence concerning this blend. The same is true of my historical fiction writings. I am grateful to all who are working on this project.

Dwight L. Wilson
Ann Arbor, Mich.

Thank you so much for this. I am a White descendant of Quakers in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and feel that my ancestors could very well be some of those slaveholders that were written about in this piece. I very much appreciate the frank, open, and at times personal way this is written. While it is not comfortable to read these things, I refuse to shy away from the truth. I would like very much to be in touch with this project to connect with any people our family might have wronged in the past.

This passage spoke deeply to me: “I often wonder, sitting quietly on the bench in the meetinghouse, what were early Quakers believing when they were playing God with the lives of enslaved people? The White descendants of these Philadelphia Yearly Meeting enslavers worship with me in the meetinghouses built and paid for by the blood, sweat, and tears of my ancestors.” As I sit in meeting, I too often wonder about my own and other White Quakers’ resistance to fully tackling the changes we need to make to encompass those we have harmed in true love and support, including reparations for the harm we have caused and the wealth we have stolen.

Karen Linder
Onarga, Ill.

Thank you for publishing Avis Wanda McClinton in this edition of Friends Journal. I met her at a gathering in North Carolina, I believe in 2015.

I joined a Quaker meeting in New York City shortly after the gathering, and several incidents acquainted me with racism or insensitivity to racism in Quakerism following my membership. It was, however, the response to regular testimonies that I felt called upon to share during my meeting’s worship sessions that led me to cease attending meetings a few years ago. I was feeling deeply distraught about the ongoing murders of Black people reported in the news leading up to the George Floyd murder. In particular, I was disturbed by the seeming lack of reflection or commentary on the murders from my fellow meeting members. I began testifying, following news reports of murders, at meeting for worship. I would briefly state the victims’ names and a few words about their lives and deaths. Tragically I experienced push back from members of my meeting. One of my testimonies was followed by a White member yelling, during the meeting, that she was sick of hearing about Black murdered people and that she too had experienced victimization. But I sensed that other White and Black members (who benefit from acquiescing with standard polite Quaker protocol) wished me to cease my testimonies as well. My suspicions were confirmed by a few Friends who discreetly shared what was apparently being whispered about my testimonies among meeting members. After a short period of self censorship, I decided that if my “spiritual community” was not accepting of my testimonies of grief about ongoing murders of my fellow African Americans, then this was not truly my spiritual home. I ceased attending meetings thereafter.

I am grateful for McClinton’s work drawing attention to the lack of awareness and void of individual responsibility for self education in the past and present among Quakers, and I stand with her in heart, body, and Spirit.

Karen Taborn
New York, N.Y.

Struggling with White guilt 

I have difficulties with the idea of White guilt (“Reparations and Transgenerational Healing” by Lucy Duncan with editorial support from Robert Peagler, FJ Jan.). I am beginning to understand the concept of White privilege. It has been hard because I could not see any difference between my childhood and Black children’s childhood, because we also always struggled to pay our bills and keep the heat on. I believe that all of us need to support the initiatives that focus on making available to all communities the ability to buy a home, and on improving access to good schools, jobs, and whole food markets. This is a very doable approach that all Americans could support.

Underlying all of this reparation movement, to me, misses the fundamental problem: That is the spiritual aspect, that all people are our brothers and sisters. There is no separation. We are all children of the one God/Great Spirit, whatever is your belief system. Therefore, all people—regardless of where they live or their cultural heritage—deserve our respect, our care, and our love.

Gretchen Metz
Olympia, Wash.

No good pointing fingers

Thank you for teaching me about the Quaker involvement in Indian boarding schools (“How Friends Can Make Reparations for Quaker-Run Indigenous Boarding Schools” by Sharlee DiMenichi, FJ Jan. online). I have been appalled at learning about these schools and had no idea that Friends participated. It’s no good pointing fingers when it seems everybody was to blame, even if they thought they were doing a good thing.

Jessica Fullerton
Aspen, Colo.

What a challenging read. It is interesting to see Friends looking to own their history of well-intentioned harm and not repeating the same mistakes by asking, “How can we help?” I would hope this is a path to institutional forgiveness.

Sacha Bedding

Research on abortion regret

I agree with everything Erick Williams wrote in his recent Viewpoint “Quakers Must Take a Position on Abortion” (FJ Aug. 2022 online)—except the word “must.” Williams has given an excellent review of the status of federal law. He also reviewed some of the past history of lack of freedom in reproductive health, including the serious racial overtones that result from the recent Dobbs decision. I am thankful for this information.

I feel there is room in Quakerism for people who are pro-choice and for those who are against abortion. However, I feel that it is important that these decisions be well informed. Although the focus of many people in the debate about abortion is on the fetus, attention is drawn away from the woman who is forced to carry the pregnancy, often against her will.

Unfortunately, there is a history of disinformation in the debate about abortion. For instance, it is frequently stated that women who have abortions usually regret that decision. A carefully designed study has examined the question of regret and many other aspects of abortion. I strongly recommend the 2020 book The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, a Thousand Women, and the Consequences of Having—or Being Denied—an Abortion. It examines how women’s lives turn out when they have abortions, comparing them with similar women who continued a pregnancy and gave birth.

The Turnaway study has made some startling findings. For instance, giving birth to an unintended child can have negative effects on the child as well as on other children in the family. The issue of abortion is complex. It is my hope that Friends will reflect deeply on the issue, considering not only the effects on individuals but also society and our environment.

Richard Grossman
Bayfield, Colo.

A human Jesus 

Thanks to John March for his warm, open essay about his spiritual journey and ponderings (“From Atheist to Friends” by John Marsh, FJ Feb.). A few thoughts rose as I was reading.

For me, Jesus was human and Christ spoke through him in the way that Christ sometimes speaks through Friends in worship. What I take from things that Jesus said in passages like Matthew 16:28 is not that there will be a rapturous Second Coming but that some of his disciples will know Christ (or That of God) within themselves. This feels to me more about becoming inwardly transformed rather than a failed End Times prophecy.

Panentheism is an awareness that God created everything and I can be reminded of God and drawn into closer relationship with the Spirit by being present to the physical world around me. It is easy for me when I notice the budding leaves and feel the warm sun on my face to remember that this is God’s world. It’s less easy when I am annoyed by the loud condenser motor next door, but it is also a part of God’s world, and when I allow myself, I can experience it too as a reminder to turn to my Beloved Creator.

Mary Linda McKinney
Nashville, Tenn.

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