Reactions to our Friends of Color issue
The sad thing is a certain Quaker well-intentioned blindness. It is one thing to want to bring heaven to earth at the present moment (“the Second Coming is now” of early Friends); it is another to think we have got there. We constantly assume that we have a gift for the world—“the world needs us”—without realizing that we are part of that world. We also share its prejudices, inconsistencies, and self-righteousness. We try to be nice to each other without recognizing the hurts we cause each other. Perhaps we need more modesty? And, dare I say, repentance?
The structural violence of racism that surrounds us in society is easily carried through and acted out in Quaker circles, as many can attest, including the authors of the articles in the October Friends Journal, as well as the classic text Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship. I believe that it is only when we enter into the transformative divine energy, drinking deeply from that Living Water, that we can be cleansed of our faults and prejudices and set to rights, able to live a life of mercy and justice under God’s guidance. All of our administrative tasks for meetings must be secondary to our faithfulness to the Holy Spirit of God. No ancestry can do this for us: only our own daily effort to take up our cross and follow that Teacher who alone can lead us rightly.
My prayers are with all those who are responding to the issues of October’s Friends Journal, especially with those who have suffered much at the hands of white Friends, and my hope is that the divine spirit can show mercy by moving to lift the burdens of those who are suffering most, and can gently reach and heal the hearts of those who are most in need of change.
The October issue was disturbing. I felt as eighteenth-century Friends must have felt after a visit with John Woolman. I also had a vision of George Fox railing against the people in historic meetinghouses. He would call those places “steeple houses” and say church is “the pillar and ground of Truth made of living stones,” not stones placed on the National Historic Registry. I have taken the message to heart and am praying to be aware of my own blind white privilege.
Conflicting narratives at Upper Dublin
As one of the two clerks of the Upper Dublin Meeting Graveyard Committee, I am appalled at the absolute untruths once again told by Avis Wanda McClinton about our meetinghouse and its members. I am the only person that speaks to Friends interested in a burial in our graveyard, and never have I ever stated to someone nor attempted to sell a plot nor discussed the possibility of ever using the grounds that we have held sacred for the last 200 years. Avis has only been with us for the past four or so years, but for some reason she is under the impression that we have only “through her leadings” held that ground sacred since her arrival. There has always been a Graveyard Committee in place there to protect the grounds, those buried in our cemetery, and our proud history. I am a descendant of the Atkinson family so this means so much to me, my family, and all of our members.
As far as the other hateful untruths told regarding “racial hatred,” I don’t even have the words to express the upset that these very serious allegations have caused and will continue to cause.
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting clerk’s response
As the presiding clerk of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, I am writing to clarify the yearly meeting’s role and actions related to the concerns raised in the October 2014 Friends Journal article “My Experience as an African American Quaker” written by Friend Avis Wanda McClinton, a member of Upper Dublin (Pa.) Meeting. While recognizing the article represents Avis’s experiences in her voice, there are aspects of the article that directly impact the yearly meeting that need to be addressed.
As the article states, the issues within the meeting have been several years in the making and have become compounded over time. In February 2014 the clerks of Upper Dublin Meeting, in part by Friend Avis’s request, contacted the yearly meeting asking for assistance. Since then Philadelphia Yearly Meeting senior leadership has been actively engaged with the concerns. The general secretary at the time and I consulted with Friends with minuted healing ministries and professional licenses to discern how best the yearly meeting could be of assistance. In addition, we had conversations with the clerks of the monthly and quarterly meetings, Friend Avis, and others. As clerk, I asked two Friends gifted in healing to assist Upper Dublin Meeting. The meeting was open to their ministry, and they have been working together.
Many Friends of Upper Dublin Meeting have been hurt and are hurting, including Friend Avis. I was and remain grateful for their willingness to engage in the hard, long personal and communal work of addressing the concerns to gain healing. It is often difficult to open ourselves up when we are hurt, and these Friends are in the beginning stages of that process. If there is no room on our benches for those who hurt to sit with those who have been hurt in the face of God to seek healing, then where is there room for such work in this world?
As clerk, I am concerned with the spiritual state of the entire meeting. When we become members of the Religious Society of Friends, we commit ourselves not just to our monthly meetings but to a communion of Friends seeking that of God in everyone. This community, as the individuals within it, is imperfect. Yet we obligate ourselves to love each other. We promise to be open with each other, to receive and offer each other help. We also commit ourselves to remaining open to being transformed. It is easy in time of difficulty to just walk away. Work toward healing is an act of communion, an act of love. It is our sacrament. It requires ample time and effort. I remain committed to supporting the work of healing. The yearly meeting senior leadership is committed. I pray that the members of Upper Dublin Meeting, including Friend Avis, remain committed. I ask that this tender work already underway be respected and allowed to continue.
I ask Friends to join us in praying for the facilitators, the spiritual supporters, all of the Friends of Upper Dublin Meeting, and our wider Quaker community for which the work of welcoming all God’s children is mighty.
Jada S. Jackson
Presiding Clerk, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Waypoints on the path
Thank to Gabbreell James for sharing her experiences among Friends (“There is Hope,” FJ Oct.). I enjoyed learning more about you from this article. I regret that Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting did not feel welcoming to you, because I’d love to share membership with you there. As a member of Central Philadelphia’s Committee on Racial Healing and Wholeness, I can surely testify we’ve got some serious work to do related to race and look forward to the progress I pray we’ll continue to make. I’m deeply grateful that Green Street Meeting helped you feel at home. Thank you for the many ways you seek to create a more welcoming Religious Society of Friends. I’m sincerely blessed to know you and your family, Friend. I look forward to the good work we and others will do to create a healthier and more whole Religious Society.
A Friend’s Journey
Vanessa Julye’s willingness to share her own journey in such a transparent way (“A Journey toward Eliminating Racism in the Religious Society of Friends,” FJ Oct.) got me thinking afresh about the pressures on us to attach to a one-sided persona that then constricts our growth and distances us from others. For me it was my sexuality; I was too naïve then to be able to describe myself as gay, but I reacted anyway by trying to become “the best little boy in the world.” It’s a thread that continued even though I chose to be a rebel in terms of mainstream norms, and a thread made of steel that’s hard to dissolve.
Julye writes so beautifully and from such a place of wisdom that I find myself moved. What a community the Society of Friends could be if we all moved in the direction you indicate: a chance to become what Dr. King called a “beloved community.”
John Brown’s raid
Esther Coppock Shaw’s story about her ancestors’ involvement in John Brown’s raid (“On the Right Side of Harpers Ferry,” FJ August) depicts the Coppoc brothers’ involvement as a choice between their Quaker commitment to pacifism and their Quaker opposition to slavery, with the brothers abandoning the former in favor of the latter. But a series of then-recent laws regarding fugitive slaves had created conditions in which pacifism was no longer a viable option. When runaway slaves from Missouri crossed through Quaker farms in southeast Iowa, young men like the Coppoc brothers were often forcibly conscripted into service to hunt down those slaves. It was not a question of whether to remain pacifist: violence was forced upon them. The only decision was whether to agree to use violence in pursuit of the slaves, or to use violence in service of abolition instead. Iowa Quakers deeply resented the posse comitatus laws which forced their sons to participate in manhunts. Brown knew this well, and understood that the Quaker settlements in Iowa were a prime place to recruit supporters and to train his followers for their eventual raid on Harpers Ferry.
Iowa City, Iowa
There’s nothing wrong with self-assessments
I think that all organizations need to do an annual self-evaluation (“Doing Good Well” by Charles Schade, FJ Feb.). It is one important way to keep clear their intentions and directions. It is not hard to do many of the simple assessments that the author suggests, and they do not need professional statisticians. They do need time, perhaps some help from others, and maybe a bit of funding, but they are manageable.
Clarification of aims, missions, goals, and clear articulation are essential. Not all outcomes are assessable by the same means, but all are able to be evaluated in some form. The fact that many organizations are mostly volunteer operations doesn’t exempt them from these processes. I am not sure why we would think otherwise. In some ways, it is more important for volunteers to know if intended outcomes are achieved for continued motivation. The moment one suspects that the work is not doing what is intended, the volunteer’s motivation is affected.
Some of the quantitative evaluations are simple math, and many should be done as a matter of operation. The additions and subtractions in what should be required bookkeeping can be interpreted into a summary and the percentages reflected in general categories for the viewing of others.
Other aspects that are more qualitative in evaluations can be collected anecdotally and through narratives. How people’s lives are affected can’t be told by numbers but can be told through stories. Quaker discernments and processes lend themselves to these kinds of evaluations.
In discussing the need for appropriate evaluations and if evaluations are appropriate, I am reminded of Alice and the Cheshire Cat:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
Website attests to Quaker values
Lucinda Vandervort’s article, “Quaker Colleges as Rape-Free Zones?” (FJ Sep.), is flawed. She targets Swarthmore College for “coverups” and “failure to take effective steps” against sexual assault and never acknowledges that Swarthmore has developed a model sexual assault policy. Vandervort also portrays college students as vulnerable and passive pawns of a “rape culture,” while never mentioning the national student movement that galvanized Swarthmore and other colleges to change how they respond to sexual assaults.
Viewed through the lens of this national movement to change how campuses respond to sexual assault, members of the Swarthmore community should be recognized, not condemned. Online resources available to all show that the Swarthmore community has been actively engaged for several years in sometimes difficult dialogues about sexual assault. Where Vandervort accuses “family members, peers, faculty, and administrators” of responding to sexual assault victims with “bullying,” “self-righteousness,” and “revictimization,” documents readily available on the Swarthmore website show a college community bringing a high level of discourse and demonstrated compassion to their collective work. Their efforts attest to rather than depart from the values of Friends.
Myth-busting ahead of their time
Related to the “Quaker Myth-Busters” theme of the August 2014 issue, I should note that “myth” is in the subtitle of the book I co-wrote with Vanessa Julye: Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice. Note, too, that the idea of “myth” was quite coincidentally used to describe the two of us as “Quaker Myth-Busters” in the headline for a Philadelphia Inquirer article published the day before the 2009 book launch.
The headline was created by an Inquirer editor, not by us. But if myth-busting means telling the truth about some things that have not always been fairly or fully presented and giving credit where credit is due—then we can proudly plead guilty. Our purpose was to learn as much as we could about the truth for all Friends. We had no idea it would take us seven years to do that, but the years were marked by great support from Friends and Quaker historians whose encouragement kept us going.
Now, we admit we’re taking the mention of myths as an opportunity to remind Friends the book has been out for five years now and is almost sold out. Write or call QuakerBooks of Friends General Conference and get your copy while they last!
White narcissism and white privilege
Friend Ron McDonald offers an insightful analysis of a complex issue in “White Narcissism” (FJ Sept.), but I would quibble with his comparison to genetic inheritance. While we cannot (yet) control the genes we pass to our progeny, his own father’s example demonstrates that we can work to correct the cultural inheritance we give our children.
More significantly, McDonald seems to have overlooked one factor that seems important to me. As a 64-year-old gay Caucasian male I have accepted the “privilege” afforded to my race and gender, not because I believe I am better than others, but because I believe that courtesy and respect are due to everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, or any other categorical difference society notices. But if I am walking alone at night in a secluded area, I will feel some anxiety about any stranger I encounter. If that person is bigger than me, or otherwise seems more intimidating, that can add to my anxiety. And, in a world where racial strife is considered more newsworthy that racial amity, a racial difference would also contribute to my anxiety—and probably to that of the other person, as well.
On one tragic night in Sanford, Fla., volunteer neighborhood-watch coordinator George Zimmerman observed a young man, who was temporarily resident in the area, walking alone at night, wearing clothing that tended to obscure his identity, in a neighborhood that had experienced a number of robberies, and decided to follow him. Unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, talking by phone with a friend while walking back toward the home he was visiting, noticed a “creepy” middle-aged man who appeared to be stalking him. Each had a reason to be suspicious and fearful of the other. And the racial difference could only aggravate the reasonable anxiety that each would feel. Tragically, this ended with one life cut short and another scarred by irreparable public notoriety. But it is not clear to me that this is really an instance of “white narcissism.”
John van der Meer
I have a different assessment of the causes of slavery and today’s racism than those ideas expressed in this article by Ron McDonald. Slavery (the ownership and enslavement of Africans) was not a result of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder of white Europeans, but rather racism is defined by two characteristics: prejudice and power.
The prejudice shown toward the ownership and enslavement of Africans was primarily brutal, violent, and horrific. The issue of power was economic power: the ability for small and large (plantation) property owners, primarily in the South, to maintain wealth at the expense of the labor of others who were not paid and who were brutalized in order to comply with the wishes of their owners.
When Dr. King was referring to the “the Drum Major Instinct,” he was not talking about the positive aspects of the personality disorder called Narcissism but rather that everyone has a desire to seek recognition and attention, and that if this desire is not controlled it may lead to snobbishness, exclusivism, and even to antisocial behavior.
More gun talk
I am a Quaker farmer and have owned and operated an on-farm slaughter or butcher shop for 30 years, where guns are used as tools. Missing from the discussion about gun control is the reason guns move (for some) from just being tools into symbols of something much different.
Gun control can limit some forms of gun violence, but it will never end the desire for and use of guns as long as they are glorified in print and movies. As a society, we need to ask ourselves if we want assault weapons (such as the AK-47s), which invoke a military type mentality, to be freely distributed to the general public? We used to have strict limits on military style weapons in the public sector; this has changed with the privatization of military weapon manufacturing.
I believe there will always be deadly weapons (3D printers, anyone?), so we really have to question why people in the United States have become more aggressive or feel a need for arming themselves. How do we as Quakers counter the fearmongers of the airwaves?
Trying to connect opposition to gun control measures to equality is a novel idea, and I would applaud the creativity. I fail, however, to see the logical connection, and perhaps more importantly, I fail to see much information Van Meter offers in “A Quaker Argument against Gun Control” (FJ Aug.) that would suggest a way forward to lowering gun violence. One might employ the equality argument to say that striving to limit gun violence supports equality just as easily: don’t we all deserve the right to feel safe?
Sticks and stones
I enjoyed reading the article by Jennifer Arnest on gun play (“The Gun Play Dilemma,” FJ Apr.). It is indeed sometimes a dilemma. I recall an incident when my own eight-year-old son was upset by my attitude. My husband and my father had built a fort in our backyard for the kids. It attracted all the kids in the neighborhood, and they came with their toy guns and played at shooting the Indians. At length it got to be too much for me.
So one day I said, “Let’s stack all the guns by the back door, play something else, and pick up your guns when you go home.” Not much later I saw our young neighbor riding down our driveway with blood streaming from his head. My son came in and was rigid with anger. He said, “You stupid! Without the guns, kids picked up rocks, and now Robbie is really hurt.” He was right. I should have taken the time to listen to the kids and discuss my feelings more clearly.
Friends and mental wellness
Though Lynn Fitz-Hugh’s “Friends Meetings and Personality Disorders” was published in May, my mind keeps going back to it. There are several concerns I have. First is that all the cases of mentally ill people are “others,” outsiders invading our sacred space. Although various estimates place the number of people with mental disorders at 20 percent or more, there’s no suggestion that a meeting might have to deal with a member or long-time member who develops a problem.
Second, clearly each of the persons mentioned is a burden. There is no suggestion that we have gifts to bring in spite of, or even because of our woundedness. In addition, the burden is one that must be handled by “us,” the normal members of meeting. Mentally ill people, like people with physical illness, can sometimes explain what accommodations we need.
Another problem with the article is in the section “Three Meetings Respond to Mental Issues.” It seems to be part of the same article, and there’s a white-on-black note beside it having to do with Borderline Personality Disorder.
The first case deals with a schizophrenic—one who, unlike most people with the condition, refuses to take his medicine. Combining the two diagnoses is like saying we need to be careful about including diabetics because we had an epileptic who refused to take his medicine and had grand mal seizures during worship.
The last group had a “series of mentally ill attenders . . . that left its members full of hurt and anger.” Some of the people involved were sex offenders, but we have no idea what the others were. Certainly the impression left is that mentally ill people are likely to be pretty scary.
Yes, if a person is disruptive to meeting, steps will need to be taken. I believe that such action—even if it means exclusion—can be more appropriate if done with recognition of the Light in each of us, rather than reacting to a label.
The poetry of tragedy
Robert Young’s and Namaya’s eloquent poems about the Boston Marathon bombing in the April issue moved me deeply. Especially Namaya’s words in “Light a Candle” reached a place in me that needed some light. They reminded me how often I fail to extend compassion and affection to those I’m uncomfortable with or whose actions I don’t approve of. That short poem can form the nucleus of a rewarding daily practice.
I think a lot about the necessity of broadening one’s circle of caring beyond one’s family and friends, and beyond one’s community, to include people and creatures everywhere. But Namaya talks about a different kind of broadening, which is more difficult to achieve but which is very important.
I accept responsibility for leaving the Quakers, rather than them leaving me (“Quakerism Left Me” by Betsy Blake, FJ Dec. 2013). I was originally drawn to the Quakers by a children’s biography of George Fox that my wife got out of the library for our kids. After attending a local meeting, I was introduced to the powerful writings of Lewis Benson and Joseph Pickvance, which encouraged me to read George Fox, Robert Barclay, and John’s Gospel.
I once wrote an article about Benson’s life and ministry, which opened with his observation that while he never expected to impact the course of modern Quakerism, nevertheless, he threw his lot in with it. I made a different choice. Today, I still seek to live in spirit and in truth. But I am cognizant that the ideal of gospel order is not compatible with a go-it-alone walk. I have no answer to offer others, but continue to walk in what limited light I can see.
I am the last of an unbroken chain of Quakers in America that is 350 years long. The path between my ancestors and my parents is riddled with upheaval. I ended up at the end of a branch that had become just another Evangelical church, with young people, including myself, leaving at the first opportunity. I have read extensively about the faith of the early Quakers, and I am in awe of their wisdom as I confront current issues. My conclusion is that the focus on the form of worship has pushed aside the basic beliefs that my ancestors suffered to protect. When they were imprisoned in England and murdered at the hands of New England Puritans, no one was debating the merits of silent worship. They were living their faith every minute of every day. Perhaps in the end that is all that we can realistically strive for.
Grand Rapids, Mich.
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