Friends at Gathering call for a more racially conscious and inclusive FGC
In a petition circulated at the Friends General Conference Gathering held July 3–8, Friends named the existence of white supremacist culture within the FGC organization and called for FGC to change the racial makeup of decision-making structures and to undergo an institutional audit to fully explore and address these concerns.
The events that prompted the petition began before the start of the Gathering during a pre-conference for Friends of color that was hosted by FGC. For the past few years, FGC’s Ministry on Racism Program has sponsored this pre-Gathering retreat for Friends of color and their families. According to FGC, the intention of the event is to create an opportunity for this group to come together in fellowship as a way of support, empowering its members to engage with the entire Gathering community, which is predominantly white.
Like in past years, the retreat was held on site, this year at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn., the weekend prior to the main Gathering. After arriving for the pre-conference, multiple Friends of color reported to FGC staff that they had experienced microaggressions and harassment from campus security. As a result, many Friends of color felt unsafe in the environment chosen by FGC’s site selection committee, a committee composed only of white Friends. According to the 2015 census, the city of St. Joseph has a population of 6,864; the latest available statistics on race, from 2013, reveal an overwhelmingly white majority: 94 percent white, 2 percent Asian, 1 percent black, and 1 percent Hispanic.
On the morning of Sunday, July 3, a group of Friends of color met with six members of FGC staff, including general secretary Barry Crossno, to communicate their negative experiences with campus security and their concerns about the site selection process that they felt persistently excluded people of color’s voices and priorities.
That evening at the All-Gathering Welcome there were no people of color on stage, which was filled with FGC Gathering and Executive Committee members and staff. No more than a handful of people of color were in the audience, either. When Crossno addressed the crowd he explained that many participants from the Friends of color pre-gathering were intentionally absent from this event, and shared about the meeting he had with the retreat group that morning. One person of color summarized a portion of the dialogue that occurred in the meeting and gave Crossno words to share with the Gathering body, beginning with this: “The milk of human love can go sour when we conform to the norms of the dominant American culture, a white supremacist culture where whiteness trumps any card, no matter how worthy.” The message ended with a set of four queries for Friends to reflect upon in worship:
- What has been my response to the call for spiritual growth that would be brought by inclusion?
- How can I join with others and admit that we are powerless over having been colonized by our white supremacist culture—that our lives fall short of their full human potential because of this colonization?
- How can I join with others and come to believe that we can work in community with others to interrupt white supremacy and practice a culture based on partnership rather than domination?
- How can I join with others and decide to turn our will and our lives over to wholeness in Spirit and Truth?
FGC made a transcript of that message available on its website later in the week, along with background information on the events that had precipitated it and the steps FGC had taken in response. The night before that statement was shared, Philando Castile, an African American male, was fatally shot by police after being pulled over for a broken taillight in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, Minn., about 80 miles southeast of St. Joseph. In the document written by Crossno and posted by FGC on Thursday, July 7, Crossno acknowledges Castile’s unjust death, along with other recent police-related killings of black men: “In light of the deeply disturbing shooting deaths of Philando Castile in St. Paul, Alton Sterling in Louisiana, and Jerry Williams in North Carolina, the need to confront and dismantle systemic racism within our hearts, within our institutions, and within our countries grows more glaring by the day.”
In the same statement, which apologizes for FGC’s failure to successfully address the serious problem of locating the Gathering in places where Friends of color have had negative experiences either on campus or in the surrounding community, Crossno acknowledged that “there have been no Friends of color involved in site selection” and that “Friends of color must have a more direct role in site selection and have positions of authority within the structure of FGC.”
The statement also shared that FGC took some immediate steps following the Sunday meeting with Friends of color, including meeting with the college host about how campus security is being handled, with the outcome that patrols would be lessened to create a more hospitable environment. Additionally, Crossno revealed that FGC has started reviewing its internal structure and processes in order to “do our very best to secure future sites that reflect the need of all Friends, not just white Friends.”
The petition was written by Sharon Lane-Getaz and Paul Ricketts, co-clerks of the Spiritual and Institutional Accountability Work Group, formed at the Gathering. It states: “We the undersigned are pained at the lack of cross-racial community at The Gathering and in The Religious Society of Friends. We strive to build a beloved multi-racial, multi-cultural, inclusive community, and are called to move beyond ideals and dreams into action. . . . Our aim is not to just add People of Color to [FGC] decision making structures but to understand and change the structures so that they better serve People of Color, which in truth serves all of us. In humility and faithfulness, let us be bold!” The last sentence echoes the 2016 FGC Gathering theme, “Be Humble. Be Faithful. Be Bold.” The deadline to sign the petition was given as Labor Day, September 5, after which the list of names will be delivered to FGC.
Since the Gathering, one of the demands of the petition has been fulfilled. FGC reported that the composition of the site selection committee has been changed to include Friends of color. Four such Friends have been confirmed, making it a majority representation. FGC plans to discuss the other demand, that the organization undergo an institutional audit to help identify and provide recommendations to correct any internal structural racism or implicit bias, at its next Central Committee meeting in late October. The organization is currently learning more about what will be required to complete such an audit in terms of financial and staff resources.
At press, 287 Friends had signed the petition, which is available online at bit.do/FGC16petition.
British Quakers gather to talk business
The Quakers and Business Group, a Bristol-based charity recognized by Quakers in Britain, met at Dorking Friends Meeting House in Dorking, England, on June 25, for the group’s annual gathering. Thirty-three Friends were in attendance, and the theme centered around a question, “What would today’s Cadbury look like?”
The gathering started with this overview: Cadbury, like several other Quaker companies during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, took a socially concerned stance to its business. The business produced high-quality chocolate using high-quality ingredients—an important ingredient in its success. Significantly, as a family business it could use its profits to help address the issues of the day and improve the quality of life of its workers, creating schools and colleges and building housing.
The Cadbury model was made possible because it was a tightly held company with limited public shareholding. Once it became a publicly listed company its social concern was soon undermined by the increasing focus on shareholder value, the dominant force in business today. This raises the question, is there a model by which a Quaker business can address today’s issues the way Cadbury once addressed those of its time?
The day was a combination of presentations and workshops. The morning workshop was led by Cait Crosse, manager of the New Economy Project, a project of Quakers in Britain. After introducing the project and the scope of her work, Crosse distributed samples of the first two in a series of seven booklets to come, exploring alternatives to the current economic system.
Participants took time to share with their peers perceptions of the positive and negative aspects of the social outcomes of business now, in the past, and as they could be in the future. Some observations include: Quakers can wear suits; all materials usage can be conceived of as a loop including recycling; trade for profit has improved health and wellbeing in new markets; we see inadequate oversight of monopolistic behaviour.
After some small group work and lunch, the group heard a presentation of the current condition of the Friends House Hospitality company from Peter Coltman, clerk of the board, and Nicola Purdy, head of service delivery. The company hosted 321,000 non-Quaker visitors last year, served 46,000 coffees, and saved over 44 tons of carbon dioxide.
The afternoon workshop was led by Jon Freeman, a consultant in human emergence and organizational change. Freeman spoke to the issues of volatility, uncertainty chaos, and ambiguity that a new Cadbury would face in today’s business world. The day closed with silence, followed by tea and farewells.
Learn more about the Quakers and Business Group at qandb.org.
Friends Committee on Scouting releases peace scroll video
In early July, the Friends Committee on Scouting released a video of the “Scouting for Peace” scroll created during the 2013 Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree, held July 15–24, 2013, at the Bechtel Summit Scout Reserve near Beckley, W. Va. With almost 37,000 youth and adult participants and over 15,000 visitors, for those ten days, the jamboree was the third largest city in West Virginia.
The scroll was presented in the Faith and Belief pavilion, at the display sponsored by the Friends Committee on Scouting, an affiliated program of Friends World Committee for Consultation (Section of the Americas). The committee invited Scouts and adult Scouters to add their prayers, encouragement, inspirational messages, or just to sign it. The scroll is 165 feet long, filled with colorful words, symbols, drawings, and messages, some in foreign languages reflecting the international presence at the Jamboree.
John Norris of Amboy (Ind.) Meeting served as “display minder,” monitoring the scroll as participants added their marks. Representing the Religious Society of Friends at the Jamboree as Scout Chaplains were Tim Mullady of Annapolis (Md.) Meeting and James Lehman Jr. of Sandy Spring (Md.) Meeting, who both also minded the scroll throughout the week.
Lehman, who transcribed all the comments on the scroll, commented, “As I read through the many messages, I do hear in their voices an understanding for which I think we have not given our young folk (not just Scouts) the credit they deserve. There is humor, serious consideration of the human condition, desire to have an end to conflict, and faith in God, all of which is encouraging. Certainly not all of our respondents are of one mind in all these subjects, the diversity shown is entertaining and thought provoking (I wish I could read Arabic and Korean), but perhaps this scroll is evidence of hope for our future.”
Watch the video and learn more about the Friends Committee on Scouting at quakerscouting.org.