Forum November 2018

Friends Publishing spring survey

Earlier this year, Friends Publishing sent out an online survey to understand how readers of the magazine and viewers of the QuakerSpeak video series were using our content. Almost 600 people responded, giving us a valuable snapshot of our work. We were grateful to learn that most of the responders read most of every issue of Friends Journal. 63 percent were subscribers; 17 percent read their meeting’s copy or the copy of a friend.

Print is still our most important medium: Three-quarters reported regularly reading the print magazine, while 22 percent read the digital PDF and 28 percent read articles on the website.

Readers generally like us! When we asked if people liked, loved, or disliked different sections of the magazine, the majority of responses consistently landed on like, with a little extra love going toward the Forum and Books sections.

More Quaker material: When we asked what topics survey takers would like to see more of, the top responses were Quaker practice, Quaker history, and faith and theology. Social justice, outreach, and religious education were also strong.

When questions turned to QuakerSpeak, we were happy to learn that 63 percent of respondents watched all or most of the weekly videos.

Email is popular: Two thirds of the respondents rely on the QuakerSpeak email list to learn of new videos, while 17 percent found out about new videos on Facebook and 16 percent by subscribing to the YouTube channel.

Quaker focus: When we asked what topics they’d like to see in our videos, Quaker practice, faith and theology, and resources for seekers were viewers’ top responses.

We know that not every article or issue or video will speak to everyone’s interests or concerns. There are topics that some respondents urged us to feature more prominently while others told us to stop worrying about. It’s all valuable feedback as we try to help the magazine and video series reflect the world of passionate Friends. Thank you for reading and watching.

Upcoming Friends Journal themes announced

A few months ago we enlisted readers to help us dream up new topics for Friends Journal to explore. It was great to hear from everyone. We read through all of the suggestions and combined and brainstormed and boiled it all down to a list to take us through the end of 2020. Extended descriptions and general writing guidelines can be found at That page also has tips for writing for the two issues a year we keep open for the great writing we get that doesn’t quite fit a theme.

May 2019: Friendly Competition?
June/July 2019: Food Choices
August 2019: QuakerSpeak at Five
September 2019: Open Issue
October 2019: Friends in Africa
November 2019: Gambling
December 2019: Quaker Kids
January 2020: Drugs
February 2020: Open Issue
March 2020: Unnamed Quaker Creeds
April 2020: The State of Quaker Institutions
May 2020: Thin Spaces
June/July 2020: Membership and Friends
August 2020: Pastoral Friends
September 2020: Open Issue
October 2020: Quaker Process
November 2020: Quakers in Translation
December 2020: Emerging Witnesses

Nonviolence and civility

Lucy Duncan’s “Civility Can Be Dangerous” (_FJ _Oct.) speaks my mind. The conflation of nonviolence with passivity is a critical topic for those of us who want to stand on the side of the oppressed without demonizing any specific person or groups of people. I pray that pieces like this spark a dialogue about solidarity and strategy in these tumultuous times we live in.

Bilal Taylor. Philadelphia, Pa

I find Henry Cadbury’s attitude toward Jews condescending, part of the Christian anti-Semitism so accepted in those days, to which Friends were not immune. In the same year, Clarence Pickett, the general secretary of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), wrote in a letter to a Friend that Jews would have to wait their turn for help and not try to push themselves to the top. Friends had a lot to learn. Given the incessant criticism of Israel today by many Quakers, especially at AFSC, one wonders how much we have learned.

Allan Kohrman
Newton, Mass.

Henry Cadbury’s speech would seem to be a simple gotcha moment. Fair enough. But let’s look at what Cadbury actually said:

If Jews throughout the world try to instill into the minds of Hitler and his supporters recognition of the ideals for which the race stands, and if Jews appeal to the German sense of justice and the German national conscience, I am sure the problem will be solved more effectively and earlier than otherwise.

I wouldn’t be so sure. I feel certain that they couldn’t do much about the mind of Hitler and his close supporters. But let’s note that Cadbury’s approach was never attempted, and most Germans had a long history of good relations with the German Jewish community, so much so that most Jews in Germany considered themselves German first, Jews second. Cadbury was not urging passivity, which is what most of the world’s Jewish community was in fact offering. Among the German Jewish leadership, the leading approach being taken was “duck and cover”—and I would not want to have been led by them. (Rabbi Samuel Schuelman—the one who counseled “resisting evil” —was not a German rabbi, by the way; he had come from Russia to the United States in 1868, when he was four years old and had no special knowledge of German conditions at all.)

People who are oppressed are experts on their own oppression and must be listened to and respected. But they have no special expertise in how to overcome it. If they did, they would have done so. Had the world community been led by those who most experienced German oppression—i.e., the German Jewish leadership—Cadbury might have counseled doing nothing at all.

David Albert
Olympia, Wash.

Setting a civil tone

If true, Bridget Moix’s assertion that “the Religious Society of Friends is mirroring the polarization and fracturing of our country as a whole” is frightening (“Prophetic, Persistent, Powerful,” FJ Sept.). If Quakers, along with other peace churches, can’t set a civil tone for discourse, we have lost the high ground and can’t be the shining example for others to follow. Perhaps because I belong to a small meeting in the rural Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, I don’t see the polarization among Friends. My Quaker relationships outside of the local meeting involve the Baltimore Yearly Meeting camping program, an inclusive gathering of campers, counselors, and adult volunteers from all over and from among many different worshiping traditions. These folks offer the polar opposite to Moix’s statement.

Don Crawford
Harrisonburg, Va.

Attracting newcomers

Full disclosure, I am an attender, not a member.

I’m going back about 15 years, so my memory is fuzzy about exactly what called my attention to Quakerism, but I remember clearly that Friends’ support of women’s equality called me to learn more about Friends beliefs. I was raised in a fundamentalist family and community where women were confined to home life and always subservient to male family members. Religious leaders preached women’s subordination. I wanted to attend college but in high school I was told, “Nice women don’t go to college. We aren’t sending you to college because you’re to become a wife and mother, and nothing further.” This was in the late 1960s in a Philadelphia suburb.

That gave me the push I needed to attend meeting. The moment I took my seat on the bench, I felt I’d arrived at my spiritual home. The simple surroundings, the stillness and quiet, the message that I didn’t need a go-between to bring Spirit to me—that I could open myself to letting Spirit come directly to me—felt right, just right. Seeing women participating as equals felt just as right, as did the belief in continuing revelation.

Patty Quinn
Philadelphia, Pa.

Quaker self-questioning

From one not a member: I am disheartened by the current stream of self-questioning in the Society (“What’s the Point of a Meeting?” by Mackenzie Morgan, _FJ _Aug. online). Quakers hold a special place, even if not acknowledged. You keep alive the role of meditation in the life of a seeker. Then you also display radical social justice. Within your community of faith, you hold two seeming opposites in harmony, all done within the context of compassion, love, and non-judgmentalism. This dates back to William Penn and the establishment of the colony of Pennsylvania, the only colony with a complete stance of religious freedom.

As your meeting members discern the future path, remember there are those walking and working beside you to seek the greater glory of the Divine.

L. Gazer
Tulsa, Okla.

Simple practice

After a few decades, I guess I and many others in my meeting have become just simple Quakers, finally (“9 Core Quaker Beliefs,”, July). For us—if I may be allowed to speak for others without their permission—there are really just two things that are essential for Quakers, practices which go back to the very founding of the very earliest gatherings of Quakers before they were even called Quakers:

  • Expectant waiting worship so that we might find God within us and us within God.
  • Seeking the way forward as a spiritual community by arriving at a communal sense guided by the Spirit during expectant waiting worship together.

Everything else that comes forth from Friends should be a result of those two purely spiritual practices. I dare say that if more Friends considered those two as the only essentials to being a Quaker, we would have had less Quaker schisms, more lives that speak, and a more vibrant religious society as the Spirit consumed us.

I have had many Friends over the years tell me that they believe committees or Quaker tradition or both are essential to being a Quaker. With that type of creed, no wonder we cannot get many newcomers to stick around.

Perhaps we are not seeing the elephant in the room because we have and enjoy too much business and drama going on.

Howard Brod
Powhatan, Va.

Faithful and unfaithful

I grew up among Bible-battered Midwest Unitarians (“Unlearning God: How Unbelieving Helped Me Believe,”, Sept.). Belief in God was an option. Jesus was one of many teachers. But the youth-led worship services ended in “Quaker Silence,” and no one could explain why sometimes the silence ended way too soon and sometimes lasted way too long. So I’m a Quaker. God is a reality, and I depend on Friends to help me figure it out—it’s the compact we have with each other.

Then I heard someone I deeply respected tell an FGC Gathering participant that the son of a carpenter from Galilee who died 2,000 years ago was a central force in his life: “I asked the Presence, ‘Are You simply God or are you Jesus Christ?’ And a Voice said, ‘I am Jesus Christ.'” Oops!

I was at the World Trade Center when the towers came down, and I was furious, not gentle and forgiving. I was embarrassingly (for a seasoned Quaker) mad. And there was Jesus, sitting on a rock just inside the entrance to a tomb. “What are you doing here???” I demanded. He gently smiled, held up his pierced hands, and replied, “Where did you expect me to be?” And then I felt his arms around me as I beat my fists against his chest until my anger was spent.

I learned that whatever happens to me, however terrible life may treat me, Jesus will always be there with understanding and love: I will never be alone; and I find that comforting (which may be a useful definition of “salvation”). Buddha died from overeating, and Mohammed rode off on a horse. Jesus died on a cross, tortured until he could take no more, then conquered death and fear and the Power-of-the-World. That’s why I’m a Christian. It would be easier if I weren’t; my wife (raised in a Quaker meeting, graduate of a Quaker college) would be happier to start with. But I don’t really have a choice—only whether to be a faithful Quaker, or an unfaithful one. Most of the time it’s the latter, but occasionally (this being one) I have the opportunity to speak Truth and let it go where it will. In this, I have been faithful, and there is nothing more to say.

Roger Dreisbach-Williams
Easton, Pa.

On contempt

Thank you for J.E. McNeil’s “Contempt Is a Bitter-Tasting Word” (_FJ _Sept.). This is a topic that has been weighing on my mind for some time now. I think we’ve become trapped in a Catch-22 of our own making—on the one hand, the technology companies precisely capture our behavioral DNA on the pretext of trying to understand us better, then turn around and sell our DNA to marketers willing to pay. How can we resolve this conundrum?

First, we must take ownership of our actions and hold ourselves accountable at an individual level (integrity at the individual level). Inadvertently, we seem to have handed our autonomy to these for-profit companies. We have lived for many years without social media, and we can continue to do so—social media is not a necessity. The tech companies have done a fantastic job of duping us into believing it to be so.

Next, we must initiate that conversation with the others even if it is bound to fail—as we have to make that honest effort to see that of God in everyone. This article is an excellent and timely one.

Anand Achanta
Richboro, Pa.

The article on “Contempt” captures well the tragic impact of the growing chasms in our cultural life fed by the attitude of contempt for those with whom we disagree.

The article, however, stops short of offering a means to begin mitigating the situation. It is encouraging to know a wave of national efforts, in fact, are challenging the attitude of contempt in our communities and restoring and fostering civility. One such effort has been our “Civility First” campaign on Whidbey Island in Washington State.

Whidbey Island is divided between a largely conservative culture dominated by a large Naval air base in the north and a more liberal population in the south. Tensions between the two ends of the island have thus existed for some time, but the current political climate has made the divisions worse. Into this context we are seeking to bridge a significant cultural, economic, and political gap.

In response we recruited conservatives from the north and liberals from the south who shared a concern for the paralyzing incivility in their communities. We eventually formed a non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization with bylaws that mandate a board consisting of an equal number of conservative- and red-leaning members. We consider ourselves to be a movement of grassroots citizens who sign a pledge “to promote listening to, and learning from, people with different perspectives from one’s own and to model civility and respect in public life and to courteously challenge hurtful and disrespectful behavior.”

Slowly board friendships and trust were established sufficient to allow us to go public with a booth at the county fair for the past two years staffed by both conservative and liberal volunteers. And eventually we attracted news and TV attention that gave us credibility. The local newspapers have editorialized in support of our work. We have approached our town councils on the island asking them to sign a pledge to observe civility in their public meetings and two out of the three so far have done so.

Our campaign has included a series of Civility First workshops in both red- and blue-leaning churches, civic organizations, and political groups. We train for and model civil discourse by pairing conservative and liberal trainers as we lead exercises that invite people to explore both their differences and similarities. We offer suggestions for how to listen more empathetically to understand the values of others by encouraging them to “tell me more.”

It has now been over a year and a half since our board first formed. We have evolved to the point of being able to declare the month of October “Civility First Month” on Whidbey Island in a concerted effort with our county library system and our local community college. Book and art displays are being featured in our libraries where we will also hold various workshops for both children and adults. We are also sponsoring an art contest focusing on “capturing a moment of civility in our community.” We intend this emphasis on civility in early October will have a positive impact on the political season leading up to the November elections.

We are experiencing promoting civility as deep nonviolent peace work that is personally rewarding and spiritually challenging.

More information is on our website

Tom Ewell and Cathy Whitmire
Whidbey Island, Wash.

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