Three Twentieth-Century Revolutions
Liberal Theology, Sexual Moralities, Peace Testimonies
by Jerry Frost, Jenkins Professor of Quaker History and Research at Swarthmore College and Director of the Friends Historical Library
Friends General Conference, July 2000
A Saturday evening ritual in our household is listening to PBS's "Prairie Home Companion" featuring Garrison Keeler. Not everyone appreciates hearing about Lake Wobegon. My son, for example, insists that Keeler is the Lawrence Welk for ex-midwesterners of a certain age. I don't tell him that as a child I liked Lawrence Welk or remind him that so did he, when as a grade-schooler he visited his grandmother. On the April 1 program, Keeler's monologue featured Constable Leroy. Leroy attended the Lutheran Lenten service, which had an interval of five minutes for silent meditation; a period that seemed to Leroy to last forever.The Constable had trouble with silence, because he believed he knew what his neighbors should be thinking which was not what they were actually thinking, and they were thinking about him. So Leroy did not appreciate silent meditation. Yet in the course of five minutes, Leroy came to realize that he could not sell his snow mobile for $750 - $75 was a more realistic figure - and that he could not use the proceeds to go visit his cousin in Newark NJ and become a famous songwriter. In five minutes, Leroy attained a modicum of self-understanding. Quakers would say that this was a profitable silent meeting.The historian is more constrained than the storyteller, for, unlike Keeler, he or she cannot dictate what his characters say or do during silence. When I attend meeting, I cannot be certain what my neighbors are contemplating or what they should be contemplating or even if they are meditating with closed eyes rather than fighting sleep. The implications for a historian are stark, for the meeting for worship, the central ritual of the Society of Friends, that which allows us to endure over time, is off limits because we have no liturgy, no surviving written sermons. The process of a successful meeting for worship is mysterious even to the participants. So the historian of liberal Quakerism, that group which comprises the membership of FGC, must describe the contents of the faith by secondary ways, always remembering that the visible reflects and distorts the invisible.A second difficulty in assessing 20th century Quakerism is that we are just starting to write its history. We now have a few books on the period before 1960, but for the last third of our century it is still impossible to separate the forest from the trees, and yours and my personal experiences elucidate as well as camouflage understanding what is significant in the enormous paper trail we are leaving. So this, in a sense, is the first draft for that history. Fortunately, there are many here who will be able to test what I say by memory, and I hope that you will inform us of the strengths and weaknesses in my presentation because it is easier to correct errors before they become established. After all, history does not repeat itself, but historians often repeat each other.My purpose is not just accurate description of the past but to crack the historical coconut for relevant juice, and we all know that Quakers are a rather "tough nut to crack." There is ample Quaker precedent for my kind of enterprise, beginning with George Fox's selective history in his journals, in William Penn's preface to the published version, termed "Rise and Progress of the People called Quakers," and in Rufus Jones' locating the origins of Quakers in spiritualists rather than English Puritans in the magisterial five volumes of the Rowntree series of Quaker history which were published at the beginning of the twentieth-century. So tonight I am continuing a long tradition of using historical evidence for didactic purposes, to derive lessons from examining a few trends of the last hundred years of liberal Quaker history. I will try to describe significant trends in FGC over one hundred years by focusing on three important and related aspects: teachings about the content of faith or theology, changing perspectives about morality, and the evolution of the peace testimony. The common theme will be the impact of religious liberalism on FGC Friends in the twentieth-century.
The birth of FGC in 1900 came at the same time as a new theological synthesis, sometimes termed Liberalism or Modernism - and I am using these terms in a religious context separate from any political connotations. The appearance John W. Graham, a London Friend, as keynote speaker at our first meeting symbolized a new era. Since the 1827 schism London Friends had looked at Hicksites as an embarrassment, people who were not really Christians or even Quakers. Unfortunately from the English perspective, the Hicksites had not died out and remained the majority in Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore Yearly Meetings. By 1900, for a group of Modernist reformers of London Yearly Meeting, evangelicalism-- now identified with revivalism, the pastoral system, and the Richmond Declaration of Faith of Five Years Meeting-- seemed suspect, a simplification of Quakerism and Christianity. Hicksites, even in the 1830s had been unhappy with an emphasis upon strict doctrinal formulations on the nature of the Trinity and atonement as tests for membership, and before the Civil War, under the influence of Lucretia Mott, had flirted with Unitarianism/ Transcendentalism. London Liberals judged right, for by 1900 the FGC was ready to repudiate the last vestiges of quietism and embrace Modernism.Throughout the twentieth-century Modernism has permeated FGC Quakerism, becoming so dominant a motif that we forget that it was a revolutionary reinterpretation of Quakerism. Still, among Hicksites in 1900 few complained because Modernism seemed so compatible with their understandings of Quaker traditions. Both emphasized the primacy of religious experience, treated doctrinal statements as symbolic utterances rather than literal truth, saw the Bible as a product of history rather than eternal truth, stressed a loving rather than a judging God, and emphasized New Testament ethics. Jesus became a supreme ethical exemplar and the Sermon on the Mount a guide for reconstructing the general society. Liberals were optimistic, believing in the possibility of creating the Kingdom of God on earth. God was immanent in the creation and revealed His personality through nature, poetry, music, and familial love.Liberalism or Modernism offered Hicksites and some Orthodox (the non-holiness, silent-meeting group centered on the East coast) an escape from what both branches saw as the sterile controversies of the nineteenth-century and linked Quakerism to the best in contemporary thought. It also offered a way to affirm the values of both religion and science. Liberalism's emphasis upon religious experience meant that Friends would not have to worry about Darwin or higher criticism of the Bible. Freud was still beyond the pale, but William James' Varieties of Religious Experience showed the compatibility of psychology and religious commitment. Liberalism allowed Friends, who were increasingly desirous of attending college, with a clear conscience to read novels, attend plays and concerts, and participate in the intellectual and political life of the nation. They would no longer be estranged from the influential minority of fellow liberals in the Methodist, Baptist, or Congregational churches and all Protestants would work together in a movement termed the Social Gospel to regulate big business, enfranchise women, create world peace, and legislate prohibition.Modernism, in short, seemed to emancipate Friends from the past schisms, allowed them to link their actions with those of first generation of Friends, and legitimated social action. And it accomplished all this by rethinking the history of Friends. George Fox, allegedly the first Liberal, espoused a positive view of human kind, downplayed creeds, emphasized an unmediated experience of God, and sought to revolutionize Puritan England. Early Friends practiced, in Howard Brinton's phrase, an "ethical mysticism" and so should we.Liberalism had a cost, however, and it involved a repudiation of much of what had earlier defined Hicksites (and the Orthodox as well). From 1700 until the 1870s American Friends had insisted upon a sectarian way of life; they used the term "guarded" or a "garden enclosed" as a reminder to keep Friends distinct from other Americans. They had emphasized the truthfulness of Scripture and the divinity of Christ, worried about Quakers being corrupted by involvement with outsiders in benevolent associations or politics, and made arduous and time consuming the process of becoming a member. Quietist Friends, who had been a majority of both Hicksite and Orthodox before the Civil War, emphasized that a minister was a person set aside because he or she was a spokesperson for God. Intellectual attainment could be a liability in the ministry, but being steeped in the minutiae of the Bible was a first requisite. Liberalism jettisoned sectarian Quakerism and joined Friends to mainstream American culture at the risk of having members accept its values, of being conformed while trying to transform the US.Modernism was a movement of intellectuals whose leaders came from two sources: British Friends who were often teachers like Graham, A. Neave Brayshaw, and Rendell Harris and college professors in America. The chief FGC popularizer of modernism was Swarthmore College's Jesse Holmes, a man trained in science who became a philosopher and who regularly wrote for the Friends Intelligencer, the main Hicksite periodical, and spoke at FGC conferences. Jane Rushmore, for many years one of two paid employee of FGC, translated liberalism into Sunday school literature. For reasons that I have not yet figured out, however, the major American Quaker liberal authors all came from evangelical homes: Rufus Jones, Thomas Kelly, Howard Brinton, Douglas Steere, Elbert Russell, Henry Cadbury and even the social activists like Clarence Pickett of AFSC and Raymond Wilson of the FCNL.Quakers had long had a bias against paying religious leaders, but Liberalism, like evangelicalism, weakened this testimony. In the mid-west a pastoral system emerged for preachers who devoted full time to Quaker concerns. Liberal Friends kept silent meetings; however, professional Quakers emerged in departments of philosophy in Quaker colleges, as paid staff in Quaker organizations, in FGC, in the AFSC in 1917, in the FCNL founded in 1943, in the Friends World Committee for Consultation1952?, and in the bureaucracies of Yearly Meetings. In essence, the AFSC worker was like the Quaker missionary; college teachers like Holmes, Jones, Kelly, Pickett, and Steere - even when they claimed to be philosophers - were also pastors for students and individual Friends. All the Quaker professionals saw their occupations as religious vocations, a spiritual calling.Modernist theology allowed the 1827 schism to end. The old disputes were really about words, and words used by theologians were only symbols pointing to religious experience. An historical approach to studying the Bible and the modern "scientific" approach to theology made the old issues irrelevant. Eastern Gurneyites, Wilburites, and Hicksites could begin to socialize with each other in athletic contests, Young Friends organizations, the American Friends Service Committee, Pendle Hill, and then in joint yearly meeting committees. First, individual meetings, then selected yearly meeting committees, and then yearly meetings united with New York, New England, and finally Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. By 1955 the eastern schism was over, with New York and New England Yearly Meetings belonging to both Friends United Meeting and FGC and Philadelphia remained only a part of FGC but joining the World Council of Churches. British liberals, blaming themselves for helping to cause the split, also worked for reunification and the links between FGC meetings and London Yearly Meeting remained strong.Since there was such a strong academic flavor to liberalism, new meetings flourished in towns where there were college campuses. And educated people joined Friends. For many liberals, membership seemed less important than attendance at meetings. The Wider Quaker Fellowship sought to link those who were attracted to Quaker teachings, worship practices, or testimonies without becoming a member. So liberalism again eroded the distinction between those who were Friends and outsiders and made it more difficult to preserve a distinctive Quaker culture.Liberalism weakened the contacts and created estrangement between evangelical and fundamentalist American Friends and Modernist Friends. FGC members also were cut off from the Friends Churches established in Africa, the Caribbean, and Alaska. A keynote in the 20th century history of American Protestants is the animosity between those who ask, "Have you been saved?" and those who don't consider the question important. For example, the most recent edition of PYM's Faith and Practice uses the terms sin and grace only once and does not include the words salvation and atonement, even in the almost 100 pages of quotations. This is not only a distorted view of Quaker traditions but it seems as if PYM were consciously waving a red flag at non-FGC Quakers and other Christians.Both Liberal and Fundamentalist Friends - who each insist that they are authentically Quaker and quote George Fox to prove it - show more willingness to learn from outsiders, Buddhists and psychologists for FGC and Southern Baptists for the evangelicals, than their Quaker kin. In essence, we remain feuding and not "kissin'" cousins. Silent meeting Friends are a minority of Quakers and our peace testimony requires that we welcome dialogue with those who differ from us even on fundamentals. We cannot hope to have a constructive dialogue with the World Wide Quaker movement if we cut ourselves off from their language and concerns. After all, a basic tenet of liberalism stressed in the PYM Faith and Practice is to be open to alternative perspectives and the virtues of diversity.Liberalism transformed the meeting for worship by changing the definition of the ministry and weakening the authority of yearly meetings. From 1700 until the 20th century a minister spoke for God. The minister was a person set aside, recognized by the meeting, as someone special and there were special queries for ministers and elders whose responsibility was the maintenance of truth. Before 1930 among Hicksites select meetings for ministers and elders became worship and counsel; ministers were no longer recognized and recorded. (For the Orthodox, the change came only in the 1950s) In theory, modern Friends abolished the laity instead of the ministry; in practice, all became laity because liberal Friends disliked authority, particularly religious authority.The practice of ministry became easier. No longer was a deep inward search required, a feeling for truth. Rather a person could begin ministry by referring to an article in the New York Times and weighty Friends worried that worship could become a discussion group. Conversely, others disliked any spoken ministry and replaced the concept "silent" (or unprogramed)- which had no relationship to the amount of speaking - with quiet or silence - which meant no speaking. Instead of a proclaiming specific gospel, ministry became a sharing of a search for truth.Eventually some Friends used liberalism in order to repudiate the Christian mythos or reinterpreted Christianity in order to make it only a part of a cosmic spiritualism, a feeling of oneness with the world. Note that this was an evolution away from the original liberal synthesis which assumed knowledge of the Bible and Christianity while reinterpreting it. By the end of the century mysticism divorced from Christianity could become a rationalism, a Platonism, a Buddhism, a nature worship, or a universalism which sought value in all and refused to give preference to any religious tradition.Liberalism opened Friends to new impulses, because God's revelation could not be constrained by western civilization. The first generation of liberal Friends knew the Bible, knew modern theology and philosophy, and were aware of the centering of Friends in a community of Christians. Confident in their Christian heritage, they could explore Jung and Buddhism just as in the seventeenth century Friends had explored Descartes and the Jewish Kabala and in the nineteenth spiritualism and transcendentalism.The difference can be summarized this way: when earlier Friends by stilling all self-will plunged deep into the human psyche, at its core they experienced not the id, ego, and superego or animal instincts, but God. Knowing God was natural and unnatural; that is, natural because the potential was universal, but unnatural because God was not a product of the human personality. The experience was a gift that added something, termed Seed or Light, to make Quakers children of the divine. So God was not innate in human personality. Liberals' vagueness and metaphoric language allowed later generations to downplay the external, gift and to make the light in conscience a product of the essence of humanity.A recent dissertation analyzing British Friends argues that the expression of virtually any sentiment is legitimate now in a meeting for worship, if spoken in a manner appropriate to Friends. Rather than a content, Quakerism has become a style, a style appropriate for meeting for worship, meeting for business, and personal behavior. English Friends will not judge content for those who deny the Inward Light, but only thank them for speaking openly and honesty.A recent analysis of New England Yearly Meeting argues that the basic membership criterion has become "leading a Quakerly life." In practice this means ignoring theology and having a liberal WASP style which cuts out large proportions of the population. Since even God talk is seen as limiting or divisive, the new agenda can be summarized as "Peace, love, and granola."The difference between FGC in 1900 and the late 20th century is that earlier there was a vital shared Quaker Christian culture and an optimism that new knowledge in every field would support religious experience. The search for God began with an individual but ended with a community. Quakerism was not a do-your-own thing in search of inner tranquility, but a vehicle to power work for social justice.Liberalism lost its institutional base and much of its intellectual vitality after the 1960s. The professors grew old, died, and there were few successors in the Eastern colleges. Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr now have no Quakers in their philosophy departments and no Quaker theologians in their religion departments. (And there have not been many Quaker applicants in religion at Swarthmore.) Their faculties no longer play a vital role in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting or FGC. And the decline took place not just among Quakers, but in other Protestant denominations like the Methodists, United Church of Christ, and Presbyterians. Liberal religion for the last forty years has been in retreat, attacked on the right by those who saw its vagueness as undermining Christianity and on the left by those in revolt against its academic flavor and its use of redefined Christian language. So in essence, FGC Friends had identified completely with a religious interpretation which had lost its dynamism.The two PYMs, which had stabilized membership in 1900-1950 after a decline of two thirds in the 19th century, after reunification continued to fall in membership by almost one third. FGC meetings have about the same number of members as in 1900, but this is only because of the addition of new unaffiliated meetings and the addition of former Orthodox meetings. (Note all statistics are bad, but religious statistics are worse, and Quaker membership numbers worst of all because the formerly clear distinction between members and attenders has evaporated.) Liberalism attracted outsiders so we have survived, but the impression I get is that meetings have not been successful in retaining the children of members. A religious group dependent upon recruiting outsiders for its continuing survival at the same overall strength will not flourish in the rapidly growing marketplace of American religion, because there is something lacking in its product. Welcoming diversity is a Quaker strength, but it can lead to a dangerously shallow definition of the responsibilities of membership and can impede common activity.Pendle Hill has become the center of Quaker liberal mysticism publishing pamphlets by Carol Murphy, Elizabeth Watson, John Youngblood, Doug Gwyn, and Parker Palmer. Carol Murphy became a FGC member at age twelve. None of these Friends is a birthright FGC Friend and most either converted or became fellow travelers as adults. Most received their religious educations at non-Quaker institutions. None are university professors. Many began as evangelicals and several see their mission as appealing to FUM as well as FGC Friends. By and large they write pamphlets rather than books and devotional literature rather than systematic analysis of theological or ethical issues. (Doug Gwin is an exception because he writes mostly books and grounds his theology in historical analysis.) By contrast, the first generations of English and America Quaker liberals like Jones and Cadbury were all birthright and they wrote books as well as pamphlets. Before unification, PYM Orthodox and the other Orthodox meetings produced philosophers, theologians, and Bible scholars, but now the combined yearly meetings in FGC produce weighty Friends, social activists, and earnest seekers.Those few Friends who are interested in theology go to Earlham School of Religion where they learn to use words left out of PYM's discipline; the quote in the recent PYM discipline which says that we are all theologians was written by a student at ESR. Since ESR is an institution designed to educate pastors for programmed meetings and is joined to Friends United Meeting, relying on it for theologians has strengths and liabilities. After all, the first generation of liberals started out as unhappy evangelicals.By and large, FGC Friends are not much interested and, therefore, have been only slightly influenced by post-liberal major theological emphases - Neo-Orthodoxy, Christian realism, the New Yale Theology, narrative theology, process theology, liberation theology, feminist theology, and deconstruction. Friend's Journal devotes little attention to formal theology and few FGC Friends contribute to or read the periodical Quaker Religious Thought which tends to be heavily evangelical. There is only one focus group on Quaker theology at this year's FGC, none last year on basic Christian theology, and I suspect that our Bible study is more introductary and devotional than theoretical and academic.Even when our history should have made us major players in new theological developments, such as feminist theology, Friends have been consumers rather than shapers. Our pioneering of new social concerns has not been paralleled by sensitivity to new intellectual developments. Strangely, at a time when Quakers have become better educated than ever before, when Quaker meetings flourish near college campuses, we seem to have become anti-intellectual on the subject of religion. In turning our back on modern theology we resemble Fundamentalist Friends more than we care to admit. Like them, we ignore the challenge to faith and ethics placed by the revolutions taking place in biology and astronomy and medicine.Words in our disciplines like God, revelation, Christ-Spirit, prayer, Bible are not just Quaker words. We cannot cooperate with non-FGC Quakers or the National and World Council of Churches on peace and justice issues without considering the relationship of what we believe to the past, present, and future of the Christian Churches.The liberals who created the FGC had a thirst for knowledge, for linking the best in religion with the best in science, for drawing upon both to make ethical judgments. Today by becoming anti-intellectual in religion when we are well-educated we have jettisoned the impulse that created FGC, reunited yearly meetings, redefined our role in wider society, and created the modern peace testimony. The kinds of energy we now devote to meditation techniques and inner spirituality needs to be spent on philosophy, science, and Christian religion.The dangers from a renewed emphasis upon a rigorous theology are two: in the nineteenth century theology divided us, and early Quakers feared that intellectual endeavors might undermine the experiential basis of the meeting for worship. However, theology was only one of many causes of the schisms and early Friends, in spite of their distrust of theology, produced many tomes of it. In addition, we are already divided and, unlike earlier Friends, have learned to live disunited, even to make our diversity a virtue. So there is little prospect of theology now causing a new schism in FGC. In addition, we should remember that theology can provide a foundation for unity. We ought to be smart enough to realize that any formulation of what we believe or linking faith to modern thought is a secondary activity; to paraphrase Robert Barclay, words are description of the fountain and not the stream of living water. Those who created the FGC and reunited meetings knew the possibilities and dangers of theology, but they had a confidence that truth increased possibilities.The post-1960 generations who saw how difficult it was to reunify and feared raising divisive issues also correctly perceived there were more pressing problems. They spent their energy dealing with the Cold War, Vietnam, civil rights, ecology, women's emancipation, and a sexual revolution. Theology seemed less important than any of these challenges. By now, however, in the last thirty years FGC Friends have exercised considerable creativity in responding to these issues. What I would like is for liberal Friends now to put all these ethical issues back into a theological agenda, for the new generation of Friends to become like Graham who did books on conscientious objection as well as theology; Jones who chaired the AFSC and wrote philosophy, and Cadbury, also chair of AFSC and Bible scholar. All three were creators as well as consumers of a rigorous historical, ethical, philosophical and theological thought.The tragedy of Quakers is that since 1827 we have become numerically insignificant. One response, which could be legitimated by our history, would be to withdraw into sectarian isolation, to say that our concern is only an intense inner spirituality. This strategy, which made more sense when we lived on isolated farms and had no web sites, now would require repudiating our emphases upon education and social activism. Alternatively, we need to seek allies and, I suggest that our allies in understanding our faith as well as in political and social action will come from programmed Friends and liberals within Protestant and Catholic Churches. The service agencies of many churches believe, with Friends, that peace and justice are one word.To reiterate my theme: the liberal agenda of 1900 was to understand religious experience in terms of modern thought by using creatively the Bible, Christian theology, Quaker history, the fine arts, alternative religions and psychology, biology and physics. Facing the world then was daunting and is a more challenging task today, but it is an endeavor which requires no fear. Creating a new theological synthesis for our faith would build on our liberal traditions in a creative way, be a good way to say Happy Birthday today, and affirm that we expect the FGC to be a vital religious and intellectual movement in 2100.
The Liberals who created FGC tolerated ambiguity in doctrine but they were certain about morality. They approved of ethics enshrined in the Boy Scout code of trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous, kind, obedient, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Meetings no longer disowned for bankruptcy, but insisted that business be conducted prudently without undue risk to creditors or customers and that honesty was the best policy. Hard work built character. There was suspicion of the effects of great wealth and a strong emphasis upon stewardship; some disciplines even suggested that after having made adequate money, a Friend should retire from business and devote him or herself to philanthropy.Friends then and now would argue that religion is a source of moral teachings. In fact, Friends resemble most Americans, of whom more than 90% tell pollsters that they derive ethics from religion. In 1900 the churches and meeting shared authority over morality with doctors and teachers and newly emerging professions like psychologists and sociologists. Newspapers and secular and religious magazines, including the Friends Intelligencer, conveyed the teachings of all of these groups. The main change in the source of information for social morés has been the rise of mass media: first movies, radio, TV, and now potentially the web - where stories subtly convey alternative models of acceptable behavior.Friends in 1900 agreed with other respectable Americans that the family was the basic institution of society and its welfare was crucial to civilization. A key to the survival of Quakerism was a religiously united home in which children were raised in the faith. Most members of meetings that are now part of FGC became Friends by birthright, and children of a mixed marriage had to declare when they reached a certain age whether they wished to be members. Since the 1870s marriage to a non-Friend was not a disownable offense, but Quakers still desired a religiously united home and disciplines devoted substantial space to correct child-rearing and educational practices in the home and school.Friends did not believe in divorce. A couple, if they could not live in harmony, should separate but avoid any court proceedings. Faith and Practices advised meetings not to marry divorced individuals.All meetings, whether Hicksite or Orthodox, liberal or fundamentalist, took strong stands against the use of tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. Working for a prohibition amendment was a major theme of the Social Gospel, and Friends supported the rigorous enforcement of prohibition, at least through the Hoover administration. Most Friends continued to abstain from alcohol at least until World War II. Except for a grudging acceptance of divorce, Friends moral teachings continued unchanged through the 1950s, even though allegedly sophisticated Friends now smoked and drank.All this changed in the 1960s. London Yearly Meeting published in 1963 the conclusions of twelve psychiatrists in Toward A Quaker View of Sex (later republished by FGC) which in essence legitimated a Quaker debate on sexuality. Note it was titled "Toward A" and not "The," and what is most striking today is the tentativeness. The pamphlet was most concerned with ending the association of religion with sexual repression and fostering a healthy view of sexuality. The authors also opened for discussion whether homosexuality should be considered immoral behavior.The careful debate and gradual evolution of views envisaged by the pamphlet's authors were drowned out by new developments: first, the introduction of the pill which meant that an effective contraceptive would ease the risk of having a baby out of wedlock; second, the rise of a counter-culture symbolized by the Beatniks and then the Hippies who deliberately defied traditional morality, by embracing free love, alcohol, marijuana and LSD and, sometimes most incongruously, combining them with vegetarianism. Then in rapid succession came the impact of the war in Vietnam, the Black power movement, and women's liberation. The New Left scorned the Old Left and a generation revolted against conventional wisdom - whether business, academic, religious or moral. Cleanliness and good manners became signs of a corrupt bourgeois mentality. No one over thirty could be trusted.Swarthmore College can serve as an indicator of the rapid overthrow of traditional morality. In the 1950s Quakerism still dominated the institution, even though a majority of the students were not Friends. The college and town were officially dry and students were never served alcohol. In the 1940s a presidential candidate withdrew when told he could not serve alcohol in the president's house. Obviously, students could not drink on campus, but since the 1930s students had frequented nearby bars. Since the return of GIs, males could smoke and girls might smoke in their rooms and in certain buildings, but never on the streets. When having a seminar in a faculty member's home, male students normally wore a coat and tie.The College through the fifties had a policy of quietly asking a male and female student caught having sex to leave. The college had separate male and female dorms, and males were allowed in the parlors of girls' dorms only for a few hours on evenings and weekends. When students asked to extend the time for fifteen minutes, the Dean of Women refused. A coed complained, "What can we do in an extra fifteen minutes that we cannot do before." The Dean's response: "I don't know what you do before but you could do it twice with an extra fifteen minutes." Still by the 1960s a faculty member who served on college's judiciary committee said the burden of proof on sexual misconduct cases was so high that rarely was anyone convicted.In 1969 there was also a black sit-in. By then students smoked pot, dressed slovenly, wore their hair long as a sign of revolt, stole from the bookstore because the college allegedly had lots of money, demonstrated against the war, and ex-Swarthmore students active in radical groups built bombs. Many professors stopped having seminars in their homes because students were so careless of furnishings. All education had to be "relevant," and relevant meant about the corruption of America.In 1967 a faculty committee recommended abolishing parietals, but the Board said no, citing the Quaker traditions of the college. In 1970 the College asked parents if it should continue to act in loco parentis. The parents said they trusted their children and the college repudiated parietals. In actuality, they had already ended and legislation was just accepting the reality. Soon after there were co-ed dorms. Supervision of morals ended, as the college just tried to survive a revolution as it educated spaced out students who believed wisdom began with them. Incidentally, the divisions on campus were so bitter and faculty meetings took so long that the faculty stopped making decisions by consensus and began voting.The same rapid social change occurred in FGC. Chuck Fager describes the FGC in the 1950s as an organization dominated by white men in suits. In the 1960s radicals, some of whom were Quakers, saw the openness of Friends with their anti-war stance as providing a potential institutional base to revolutionize society. Radicals attacked theological liberalism and political tactics of Friends as a cop-out, a surrendering to a dehumanizing capitalism that subverted true religion and an authentic morality. Swarthmore College and Swarthmore Friends meeting, like many local meetings on college campuses, Pendle Hill, the AFSC, and local meetings experienced a generational divide.The issue for young Quaker radicals was how to revolutionize society - preferably non-violently, but a few openly supported violent revolutions in sick societies - Vietnam, South Africa, and Latin America. For an older generation raised on Gandhi and Martin Luther King, non-violence was moral and there was no distinction between ends and means. A Quaker non-violent activist must be moral, and morality did not mean smoking pot and free love. A few younger Friends created communes and sought to develop a lifestyle of simplicity. Other young Friends seemed more interested in the declaiming against the immorality of Americans while insisting upon their own right to be free. Neither group of young Friends thought that traditional sexual morality was essential. In the late 1960s young Friends termed Quakes held meetings in Arch Street Meeting House in which they would bring sleeping bags and sleep on the floor. Unmarried male and females would sometimes sleep together.The unquestioned moral standards of the older generations were now open for debate. The change can be illustrated by successive editions of PYM's Faith and Practices. The 1955 and 1961 versions have sections on marriage and home and family, but no discussion of sex. But the 1972 version adds a section on "Sexuality" which recognized that sex is a "natural part of every human being," but stood firm: "Friends have believed that casual or promiscuous sexual relations are wrong. Friends know that such relations are widely practiced today, often quite openly; but they have not changed their belief." The hard line did not last.Meetings found the issues of sexual freedom easier to deal with after they realized that the traditional nuclear family no longer was the norm for all Friends and perhaps never had been. Quakers woke up to the fact that many members were single because they chose not to marry, were widows and widowers, or were divorced. Children were being raised by single parents or grandparents. A second range of issues deal with the age at which one becomes an adult. Boys could be drafted to fight at eighteen, and the voting and drinking age were lowered from twenty-one to eighteen. So now college freshmen could be described as adults and their sexual relationships were their own, not the meeting's business. Compassion for young members required that Friends adjust their teachings to changing social conditions.The Liberal questioning of theological doctrines based upon the Bible now was applied to moral doctrines on sexuality and family life. Liberals had insisted that a non-exploitative love was the basis for a marriage of equals. The children of Quaker liberals demanded sexual liberation by claiming that the primary Quaker values were love and respect for others, not the institution of marriage. Sex before marriage and even outside of marriage if done in a love relationship was not a moral evil.Parents faced the issue of what to do with a son or daughter who cohabited with a member of the opposite sex. At what age did a parent draw the line? So far as I can tell, and I know of no research on the subject and will welcome others' information, Quaker parents who started out saying "just say, no" to teenagers soon were telling college students, "not in my house, you don't", and eventually were resigned to a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. At least, they rationalized, sex was better than drugs and parents feared that their kids were more likely doing both rather than neither.Since it was impossible to find a biblical verse which allowed separating sex from marriage, liberal Friends who were parents ignored the Bible and accepted the new behavior by saying sex was a part of life and Christian love demanded tolerance. They hoped that their child's intimate relationship was healthy and founded on more than youthful lusts. They trusted (correctly it turned out) that eventually their child and his/her significant other would become a married couple and then have children, which would make them more conservative. For the teenager, parents advocated sexual education and pleaded for sexual delay until the person became a responsible mature adult. Besides, what alternative did the parents have, since no institution seemed able to control the youth and mass culture exalted freedom from restraint?Unlike in early days, clearness committees of Friends did not scrutinize the sexual behavior of people wishing to be married in meeting. What Friends mostly did was entrust discussions of changing sexual morality to professionals and stop the meeting's condemnation of pre-marital sex. This was not a radical change because discussion of sex had never been considered a fit subject for a meeting for worship.Eventually the meeting acquiesced in the new sexuality. The 1997 Faith and Practice noted that "Friends are wary of a preset moral code," condemned "license", and noted that "For many Friends, 'celibate in singleness, faithfulness in marriage' has proven consonant with the divine will." Left unsaid was that for many other Friends the "divine will" required neither celibacy nor faithfulness.
In the section on the family, the PYM 1997 discipline for the first time recognized the legitimacy of same sex relationships. This was a major revolution. Through the 1950s liberal Friends preferred neither to think about nor to discuss homosexuality. For example, Bayard Rustin, a birthright Quaker and a leader in the peace and civil rights movements, an employee of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the AFSC, was a clse associate of A.J. Muste, an esteemed radical pacifist who had beginning in the 1920s taught Friends the value of demonstrations and civil disobedience. Rustin was openly gay, a fact known by many Friends who continued to feature him as a speaker at FGC conferences. However, after he was arrested in San Francisco in 1952 and his homosexuality was publicized, Muste and the AFSC terminated contacts with Rustin, believing that his behavior had discredited the peace movement. A pattern of silence remained the norm for Quaker institutions. Throughout the 1960s the FCNL made no mention of guaranteeing the civil rights of homosexuals in its list of discriminatory practices needing change.Traditionally, Friends, like other churches, insisted that the Bible in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere provided a summary of the moral law, a law used to condemn homosexuality. However, in the early 1970s several scholars issued books arguing that a careful exegesis of the passages that the church had relied upon to condemn homosexuality were based either upon a holiness code in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, whose other prescriptions no one took seriously, or rested upon an extrapolation from Paul (or pseudo-Paul) that had more relevance to first century temple prostitution than modern life. At the very least, scholars showed that there were several alternative interpretations of the Scripture verses on homosexuality.For liberal Friends, the Bible was a guide for spiritual life, but it was a product of history and many of its strictures were obsolete. The women's liberation movement had long complained about patriarchal language in the Bible and the church and claimed that traditional morality had camouflaged oppression of half of the population. Friends had already accepted the legitimacy of women’s protest and sought to create a more inclusive language, referring to a Mother-Father God or Sophia. In addition, most FGC Friends by the 1970s had only a superficial knowledge of the Bible and the few surviving biblical scholars like Henry Cadbury and Alexander Purdy, now old men, had not written on homosexuality. So unlike the continuing discussion of scriptural passages on homosexuality in other denominations and even among evangelical and fundamentalist Friends, the discussion on homosexuality among FGC Friends did not rely upon biblical exegesis. Only opponents of gay rights cited theology and church history.Instead, the initial discussion was on equal rights. Gay and lesbian Friends who had been active in civil rights and anti-Vietnamese War protests realized that the treatment of gays was another form of discrimination. Homophobia led to an oppressive society that denied civil liberties. With the subject presented as an equal rights issue, it was easier for Friends to conclude that these men and women had to live in fear and were openly discriminated against. As consenting adults, they had a right to privacy. So initially Friends finessed the issues of whether homosexual acts were moral or whether persons became gay or lesbians because of biology or environment or could or should be converted to being straight.Friends began to discuss openly homosexuality around 1970 at a Conference on Sexuality of the New Swarthmore movement, in articles in the Friends Journal, written by gays using pseudonyms, and in young men's declaring that they were gay in meetings for worship. An ad which appeared in the Journal and New Republic brought a hundred responses. At the FGC Ithaca conference in 1972 gay Friends roomed in a dorm reserved for old folks (away from children) and had their own worship sharing groups.The executive committee planning the 1972 conference had agreed that unmarried couples could be housed together because Friends had no basis to judge who was married and who was not. This policy was highly controversial and was rescinded after a threshing session of the executive committee. Mixed housing would be provided only for married couples. By 1975 the executive committee recommended that Friends be "sensitive" in making roommate selections, but that their preference would be granted. The high schoolers had separate dorms for girls and boys. College age students were treated as adults.The decision of gay and lesbian Friends to form a caucus in 1971 and to confront meetings with their presence forced many straight Quakers who might have preferred for the whole subject to go away to face the issue. The alternatives became: do we drive these people away and, in essence, deny that they are children of God, or do we include them and learn to deal with their definition of sexuality?A weighty Friend told me she began attending the worship periods sponsored by the Friends for Gay Concerns at FGC because she found the larger services too often became "popcorn" meetings. She and others found the gays had a depth of spirituality, perhaps occasioned by their sense of suffering, that was authentic. Friends soon realized that there were a substantial number of gay and lesbians attending FGC, and that they liked and admired them.FGC always took pride in its sense of inclusiveness, and the decision to provide a supportive environment came with what for Friends was surprising speed. In 1972, after Quaker Mary Calderone lectured, New York Yearly Meeting endorsed equal civil rights for gay and lesbians. In 1973 PYM authored an ad hoc Committee of Gay and Lesbian Concerns which became a standing committee in 1976. In 1974 Young Friends of North America issued a declaration calling for the "equality of All persons before the Eternal in matters Spiritual regardless of their sexual orientation." In 1975, when the FCGC began issuing a newsletter, FGC had decided that gay couples could room together and pay the same lower room rate as married couples; the next year it scheduled the first discussion group. In the fall of 1975 four AFSC staffers publicly announced they were gay; in 1978 eighteen more came out and received a letter of support from 250 people in the organization. This letter called the treatment of homosexuals a civil rights issue and demanded that within five years there be on all AFSC committees 20% Third World people, 40% women, and a gay presence.What seems in retrospect a rather easy change of policy for liberal Friends stands in sharp contrast to a more cautious or hostile response from evangelical and fundamentalist Friends. Becoming a public debate at the 1977 Conference of Friends in the Americas in Wichita, Kansas, a controversy over the morality of homosexuality, also involving biblical authority, has embittered relations between FGC and evangelical Friends and occasioned discussions in liberal meetings. In the early 1980s various evangelical groups connected to FUM and FGC failed to change what they saw as the permissive policies on homosexuality in FGC's executive committee. In the 1990's the hostility of holiness-evangelistic Friends to what they saw as non-Christian emphases and support for homosexuality by Quakers in New York and New England lead to a call for realignment of meetings. The purpose of the realignment would be to cut contacts between those meetings associated with both FUM and FGC and the "real" Christians in FUM.Many Friends who believe practicing homosexuality is immoral now believe in no discrimination and equal rights for gays and straights. Still, the Friends Committee on National Legislation has no policy affirming the need for equal rights for gays, because its goals must reflect the wishes of all American Friends and there is at present no consensus.In the 1980s the issue for FGC members became: should meetings perform same-sex marriages? Gay Friends wished to gain the approval for their marriages without splitting meetings. Their strategy was to gain the approval of some large meetings in each yearly meeting. Then when conservatives in reaction sought to write a policy prohibiting gay marriages, no unity could be obtained because a few meetings had already engaged in celebrating gay marriages..Gay marriages remain a highly controversial issue, particularly in those yearly meetings affiliated with both FGC and FUM. Some FGC meetings now celebrate them, others bless homosexual unions but refuse to use the term marriage, and some have managed to ignore the subject. Cambridge, MA. has a policy of making sure there are written guarantees for the rights of siblings, inheritance, and social responsibility in all marriages. Because monthly meetings have become almost autonomous and there are issues of legality in different states, it is likely that there will continue to be considerable variation in practice.My forecast for the next twenty years is that issues on homosexuality are easier for liberal Friends to resolve theologically than those on sex outside of marriage. The biblical passages on homosexuality are ambiguous, and most Friends oppose discrimination and approve of rights of privacy among consenting adults. So if homosexuality continues as a divisive issue, the cause will be not religion but fear. By contrast, the biblical passages forbidding sex outside of marriage are clear and there is potential exploitation of the third parties, either in or outside the marriage, including children.The history of divorce may provide a key to the future. Not just the Bible, but Jesus issued a clear command against divorce. Yet in the twentieth-century American liberals, moderates, and fundamentalists have come to accept the legitimacy of divorce. All religious bodies and many family counselors still deplore divorce, though they recognize that it may at times be necessary. With fifty percent of marriages ending in divorce, the results of refusing to remarry divorced people or not allowing remarried people to retain membership would be to jeopardize survival. This would conflict with the primary mission of churches to minister to sinners. So most churches have learned to live with divorce. Liberals would say this is the way religions normally respond to social change and the same process is occurring over sexual mores.Meetings have already learned to tolerate couples living together who may or may not marry. With a high divorce rate and the legal complications of divorce, youth believe they can justify a trial period. (Statistics do not prove that having living together is less likely to lead to divorce, however.) More difficult to justify socially and theologically is open marriage. My prediction is that Faith and Practices will ignore sex before marriage for older youth, condemn it for high school students, and continue to deplore open marriages. Moreover, liberal meetings, all of which have already abandoned authority over lifestyles in favor of advices, will publicly and privately condemn but also tolerate open marriage.The future course of events may be determined by whether morally conservative evangelical Friends will be able to keep their youth observing an ethos of sex permissible only in marriage and be willing to bear the social cost of jettisoning members who practice the new sexual morality. Quaker history would legitimate such behavior because there is a long tradition of defying American culture by being consistently sectarian. Standing against cultural norms reinforced Quakers finest moments: opposing slavery, supporting native American and women's rights, defending COs. Evangelical Friends who uphold traditional sexual morality can legitimately proclaim that they are upholding Quaker, Biblical, and church traditions.For liberal Friends, who had already repudiated sectarianism, decisions to accept new sexual behavior patterns were easier. They already conformed to American culture and could justify the change in terms of other basic Quaker values. For the FGC in the future, the question is whether diversity of opinion and lack of clear guidance on moral issues involving sexuality before and after marriage will cause parents and youth who look to religion for ethical norms to ignore the Society of Friends.
The Peace Testimony periodically emerges as a major focus for Friends, generally when there is a major war. From 1900-1999, more people - soldiers and non-combatants - were killed during wars than in any previous century. Future generations will look back on these last hundred years as we look upon the bubonic plague and wonder how medieval Europeans could have endured. Friends endured this century by working to prevent war by expanding the requirements for peace. The theme of this section is how liberal Quakers took a traditional Quaker belief on being personally opposed to war and transformed it into a vision for all politics. The emergence of a variety of peace testimonies as a salient feature of Quakerism and the continuing changes in the definition of peace and how to attain it constitute a third revolution.Peace was not terribly important to the first generation of FGC leaders who shared the general optimism that war had become obsolete. The future would be a World Court applying international law, arbitration of disputes between nations, and Hague Conferences to guarantee rights of civilians, outlaw pernicious weapons, and promote disarmament. (Swarthmore College's William I. Hull was the major American Quaker involved in such activities; his prominence was like that of Rufus Jones in liberal theology.) Friends supported various peace organizations, attended world congresses of peace groups, and reprinted William Penn's treatise advocating a European parliament. Building world peace was part of Christianity's social gospel, and Friends saw other Protestants catching up to a testimony first enunciated in 1660s.World War I was a terrible shock and fundamentally transformed Friends’ thinking about war. First came dismay at the paroxysm of hate on the homefront accompanying the war and distress that a majority of young Friends in Britain and America would serve - phenomena repeated in World War II. One hundred leading Hicksite Friends in PYM issued a bellicose statement supporting the war. Pacifist Hicksite, Guerneyite, and Conservative Friends felt isolated from the wider American community and came to realize how much they had in common. And so in an attempt to preserve the peace testimony, they created new institutions, thereby gaining experience in the usefulness of bureaucracy.In 1914 British Friends founded organizations to help German refugees and to provide alternative service for conscientious objectors - the Friends Ambulance Corps and the Friends War Victims Relief Committee. The British Friends had three years experience before the US entered the war and so the Americans could point to the British work as a concrete example of what could be done and would model the AFSC on British plans.The AFSC would be the first occasion since 1827 that all American Friends would work together. It was created as a temporary service organization for COs who otherwise would join the army. Since the relief work was to be done in a war zone, the U.S. government allowed no religious proselytizing, a restriction Friends made into a virtue. Friends discovered that they were sufficiently good at relief that later the French would allow them to do post-war relief and reconstruction in Verdun and Americans would finance and the US government would provide food for feeding German children. Virtually all Friends during WW I embraced relief and reconstruction work as ways to fulfill the peace testimony. In addition, for some liberals, the AFSC became the living embodiment of the social gospel and working for peace an essence of religion.Friends also learned that having a successful service organization brought access to power. From 1917 until the 1970s Quakers could make important people in Washington hear their perspective, relying first on Wilson's attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer, and then Quaker Herbert Hoover who served as Wilson's food czar, later Secretary of Commerce and then President. After 1932 Clarence Pickett’s close association with Eleanor Roosevelt brought access to the President and important businessmen. In the 1950s Paul Douglas who had signed an FGC recruiting statement in 1929 became an influential Senator. Unfortunately, I don't know of any examples of successful Quaker lobbying on the most famous 20th century Quaker, Richard Nixon, but then his meeting was not a part of FGC.In 1943 in an effort to preserve the AFSC’s tax-exempt status, Friends created the FCNL as a lobby which was to represent the concerns of all Quakers to Washington. My sense is that it is much more difficult now than earlier to establish contact with Senators and Congressmen and that much lobbying is done with legislative aides. Still, the FCNL eased consciences because liberals had long known that peace work was political as well as moral. The politicization and secularization of the peace testimony are major themes of the twentieth-century.
The All Friends Conference in 1920 drew upon lessons learned in World War I by jettisoning the belief that wars were caused by evil leaders and focusing on what we now call structural conditions - economic injustice, colonialism, racism, and arms races. Insisting that personal abhorrence of wars was an insufficient conception of the peace testimony, the Friends dedicated themselves to doing whatever kind of work was necessary to prevent another major war. One step, taken in 1924, was to make the AFSC a permanent organization with separate divisions for foreign, interracial, peace, and home service, including a subcommittee on women's work.The AFSC, in cooperation with peace and social order committees of yearly meetings, concentrated upon international affairs: the League of Nations, the World Court, and efforts to disarm and outlaw war. Because social relief now counted as peace work, Friends in 1922 began feeding the children of striking coal miners, later creating new towns for coal miners, building a school and orphanage in Mexico, and providing relief to both sides in the Spanish Civil War.Because Friends had concluded that prejudice and ignorance caused wars, the peace testimony also involved campaigns to educate. In the 1930s Friends promoted peace through work camps for youth, peace caravans to college campuses, poster and essay contests in schools, and petition campaigns undertaken in cooperation with religious and secular peace organizations like the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Women's International League for Peace and Freedom - both of which had many Quaker members.For Friends seeking a politically relevant spiritually-based pacifism, Gandhi's technique of principled non-violence or Satyagraha campaigns seemed to offer an effective tool. Gandhi insisted that his campaigns for India's independence from Britain be moral in both means and ends, with the goal being not victory but the triumph of truth. The effort was to persuade, not to coerce, and both sides should be prepared to learn and change their positions during the struggle. Because Gandhi offered an alternative to arms races, power politics, and war, Quakers on both sides of the Atlantic embraced non-violence as a way to conquer evil.Neither British liberals nor evangelical Friends approved of the AFSC's policy of silence about religion, a stance that remained a necessity because of the theological divisions among American Friends. By contrast, the English created Quaker international centers or houses in Berlin and other European capitals for people to learn about Quakerism and peace. London Yearly Meeting merged into one agency missionary endeavors and the Friends Service Council. So there was a kind of theological balance in British peace work that the Americans could not duplicate.Evangelical Friends, who supported a large network of missionaries, saw peace work as a byproduct of a religious duty of converting sinners. Beginning in 1954 in Kansas and 1964 in California, evangelicalistic Friends ceased supporting the AFSC, an organization they identified with liberal Friends. Indiana Yearly Meeting's 1991 decision withdrawing institutional affiliation with AFSC but allowing individuals and meetings to continue support shows the continuing divide between fundamentalist and conservative evangelicals and liberals over how to promote peace. (Opposition to gay and lesbian rights also underlay this action.) So by default, the AFSC which began as an organization to unify all Friends became dominated by liberals, with most of its financial support coming from non-Friends.
The approach of World War II occasioned great soul-searching among Liberal Friends, who had kept close ties with British Quakers. Aware of the evil nature of the Nazi state and strenuously engaged in attempting to aid Jewish emigration from Germany and Austria, Friends also opposed British and American re-armament and, because they saw war as the greatest of moral evils, favored appeasement. The agony that the war caused perceptive Friends is illustrated by the response of two weighty Friends: Rufus Jones and Henry Cadbury. At the beginning of World War I Rufus Jones entered into deep depression; at the start of World War II Henry Cadbury underwent a similar trauma. Both soon rallied and devoted their energies to peace work.As in World War I, Friends sought to protect the rights of COs, to provide relief for the victims of war, and to plan for what they hoped would be a long lasting postwar peace. The official statements of all American yearly meetings for pacifism must be balanced against the large numbers of young Friends who volunteered or served in the military when drafted. A majority of all Friends, young and old, supported the war. The war illustrated the division between two kinds of pacifists: religious sectarians who opposed all wars on principle and liberal internationalists who saw the peace testimony as primarily political, a way of reforming institutions. In a later time period the difference would be between those who support total disarmament instead of arms control. Except during war, the disagreement could be papered over by concentrating on immediate goals.Working with the Brethren and Mennonites and with support from the Federal Council of Churches, Friends sought to do relief overseas but Congress insisted instead that pacifists work in Civilian Public Service camps located in rural areas in America. These camps run and paid for by Friends were under the authority of the War Department, an arrangement that neither pacifist men, Friends, nor the government found satisfactory. The men sought to do work of importance; the government was more interested in quarantining and not coddling pacifists; and the AFSC and Yearly Meetings were caught in the middle. Though the work the COs did in mental hospitals, in conservation, and as human guinea pigs seems in retrospect very impressive, many COs who sought directly to help people coping with war gave up in disgust, left the camps, and accepted imprisonment. Friend's estrangement from and distrust of the national government began in World War II. CPS camps, like the AFSC camps in World War I, would provide Quaker leaders for the postwar period.
The Cold War brought respectibility - the AFSC and British Service Council received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 - and controversy - with conservatives charging that Quakers were leftists who were soft on communism. In the 1930s Friends had seen the dangers of working closely with communist front organizations who were not really interested in peace; so they remained wary of being infiltrated. Yet the AFSC refused publicly to criticize the Soviet Union because building up cultural and personal contacts seemed the only way open to defuse hostilities.At home, an initial reaction in 1945 against the atomic bomb and support for a World Federation ended after the 1948 election, the Chineserevolution, the Berlin airlift, and the Korean War. Anti-communism became ingrained, supported by both political parties and Protestant and Catholic Churches. Friends were not alone, though sometimes it must have seemed so, in seeking to ease confrontations with the Soviet Union, but to conservatives all peace organizations seemed suspicious and it was easy to call critics of America's military posture "soft on communism."During the Cold War Friends pursued their work for peace with a variety of foci. The AFSC began issuing a series of carefully-reasoned political tracts on Soviet relations, the bomb, Israel, and Vietnam. Designed to reach a wide audience of educated non-Friends, the tracts contained no discussion of religion or pacifism. Direct action came from demonstrations and sit-ins led by A. J. Muste against nuclear weapons and sailing of the yacht Golden Rule into areas of nuclear tests. Nothing had much effect until in the mid-1950s nuclear testing threatened to drench the world with radiation. So Friends helped create the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy and anti-nuclear agitation became a major movement in the late 1950s and eventually resulted in a limited nuclear test ban treaty in 1962. Still, the anti-bomb agitation did not stop the increase in the number of nuclear weapons or improved systems of delivery by guided missiles.The AFSC found it was also easier to raise money for projects which had an immediate humanitarian payoff such as aiding the victims of war or helping the poor to improve their standard of living than to enlist donors for peace education. Recognizing that relief was a necessary but short term fix, the AFSC initiated rural development projects which involved Americans' expertise and financial assistance in aiding villagers. Technical competence was more important to the success of such projects than being a Friend; so gradually the number of Friends employed by the AFSC in field projects diminished.Yearly Meeting Peace and Social Order committees and the AFSC, whose members tended to be more activist than most Friends, began working for black civil rights and employing Afro-Americans in the 1930s, but most Quaker schools did not integrate until the 1950s. When Media Friends school admitted its first "Negro" in 1938, a boycott by white parents almost shut it down. When the young Friends movement surveyed its membership about Media Friends, one-third still favored segregation. Swarthmore College did not integrate until during World War II. Cape May was a segregated town during the entire time that FGC held its conferences there. Even when Quaker schools integrated, the number of minority students enrolled remained miniscule.Martin Luther King addressed the FGC in 1958 and Friends officially supported his non-violent campaigns, with a few Quakers participating in the freedom rides through the South. When Prince Georges County in Virginia, closed its public school system rather than integrate and enrolled whites in private schools, the AFSC supported and staffed an alternative school system for blacks. The Quaker vision of social justice was integrationist, and, after King's assassination, Friends who had supported programs for social justice had difficulty in adjusting to the demands for black separation and reparations.
The Vietnam War occasioned a rethinking of the peace testimony as Friends searched for an effective strategy. Unlike the World Wars, virtually all liberal Friends opposed the war and few young men volunteered for the army. The AFSC coordinated anti-war demonstrations of many organizations (insisting that leftists' vituperative language against each other cease), issued pamphlets against the war, and provided draft counseling. Older Friends worried that a Woodstock generation’s bad language, smoking pot, and free love would jeopardize the political protest.The length of the war and the seeming inability of demonstrations and teach-ins and other "civilized" protests to change government policies brought more radical critiques of American society and earlier Quaker peacemaking. Friends had long insisted that one could oppose the cause or the action, but should hate the evil while loving the evil-doer. This policy was now seen as dooming protest to ineffectuality; good manners were insufficient to protest a genocide in Vietnam. For radicals and even some moderates the issue became: what kind of direct actions would cause Americans to wake up? Should Friends engage in direct violation of the law? And if they did so, should they as a matter of conscience accept imprisonment?In 1966 during the FGC gathering, America bombed Haiphong Harbor and a group of Quakers decided to go to Washington and have a worship service in the Senate gallery - an action which was against the law. The few who advocated direct action became A Quaker Action Group. In 1967 New York and Philadelphia Yearly Meetings approved of sending medical supplies to both South and North Vietnam. Because the AFSC feared jeopardizing its tax-exempt status if it openly broke the law, A Quaker Action Group sponsored sending the ship Phoenix to Haiphong. Cambridge, MA meeting among others became a temporary sanctuary for draft-resisters. Friends conducted vigils to protest the war outside the Pentagon, at courthouses, and at the White House. In order to demonstrate solidity with Buddhists in South Vietnam who were being persecuted, Norman Morrison, a Baltimore Quaker, in the Pentagon parking lot doused himself with gasoline and lit the fire. His sacrifice had little effect on American public opinion but had a traumatic impact on other Quaker peace activists and a lasting influence on Robert McNamara. His daughter visited Vietnam last year and found that her father there is a martyr-hero, a symbol of reconciliation.The crux of Friends' debate over tactics was simple: either the American war in Vietnam was a single aberration needing reform or it was symptomatic of a fundamentally sick society which needed a revolution. Most Friends believed the first and sought appropriate tactics within the system. Radicals - some young and others old - complained that the AFSC had become a white male-dominated liberal bourgeois hierarchcal organization which was too conservative in mentality and tactics. And Quaker meetings seemed even more complacent. Somehow meetings had to be radicalized from within. Within the AFSC, a few staffers hoped for a North Vietnamese victory and worked for a revolution in America. Some insisted that past Quaker relief had been ineffective because it reflected an unconscious paternalism. Effective relief could come only with adequate representation of the groups needing help, Blacks, and Third World peoples. Even though recruiting such people might weaken the Quaker component of the organization, the AFSC agreed to recruit more minorities. The result was far reaching, a geographical broadening of the AFSC board members and a lessening of PYM's influence, and a gradual divorce between the AFSC staff and Friends so that by the 1980s fewer than twenty percent or more of its employees were members of the Society of Friends. Of course, under liberalism, membership was not crucial and the AFSC now believed that more important than membership was that board and staff supported in theory and practice vaguely defined Quaker principles.Out of the turmoil of Vietnam came several modifications of the peace testimony. First was resistance to military taxes, a tactic that had been dormant since the American Revolution, but was now debated by Yearly Meetings and espoused by a small minority of Friends. Second, among peace activists there would also be a great variety of life styles from the counter-cultural communes to the middleclass women in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Third, there would also be a lessening of the number and influence of business classes among Friends, and fewer unprogrammed Friends would vote Republican. The membership of FGC Friends came increasingly from social workers, educators, and professionals - all of whom tended to vote Democratic. Fourth, Friends also pondered the effects of Americans' high consumption patterns in shaping America's business and foreign policy. The result was a rather consistent leftist slant in Quaker critiques of policies of American foreign policy. Fifth, the war in Vietnam, unlike the two World Wars and Korea, did not lead to a major influx of new members who became Friends because of the peace testimony. What seems to have happened instead is that radicals who worked with Friends to oppose the war moved on because they found Quakerism too confining. Sixth, a program termed the "New Call to Peacemaking" emerged from evangelical Friends and sought through a series of conferences to unite the peacemaking efforts of all Friends in conjunction with the work of the Mennonites and Brethren. The program's clear focus was on faith-based peace work. Unfortunately, the movement never really impacted individual congregations, perhaps because they were not interested in the merging of evangelicalism and peace work.
In retrospect, most striking about the 1980s is how quickly the ideological and tactical divisions between moderates and leftist Friends evaporated. FGC (and many FUM) Friends combined against a common enemy, the Reagan's administration heated anti-communist rhetoric which resulted in military confrontations in nuclear and conventional arms. The 1980s began with frustration as America, proclaiming an alleged military weakness, escalated its arms race with the Soviet Union. Friends had long approved cultural exchanges and detente with the Soviet Union and enthusiastically supported the two Salt treaties and the nuclear freeze, even though these measures channeled rather than ended the weapons build-up.However, unlike the 1950s, in the 1980s Quakers found powerful allies within the main line Protestant denomination and the Roman Catholic Churches which issued carefully reasoned analyses of the dangers from nuclear weapons. In addition, Roman Catholics in Vatican II and in encylicals now added pacifism and conscientious objection as morally acceptable components of traditional just war theories. The papacy sought to create detente with the Soviet Union. The landslide electoral victory of Reagan in 1984 showed, however, the limits of the anti-nuclear campaign. Still, Quakers now recognized that the anti-nuclear movement was now a worldwide phenomenon drawing support from many religious traditions.A second area of ecumenical peace work involving Quakers, other Protestants, and Roman Catholics was in opposing US policies in Nicaragua and El Salvador. The United States began sponsoring an armed revolt by Contras, some of whom had been supporters of the dictator Samoza's regime, against a leftist Sandanista government in Nicaragua. In El Salvador, the US provided financial and military support to an army linked to paramilitary groups who opposed Marxist revolution by terrorizing any potential opponent.In both countries, Roman Catholic liberation theologians justified violence as a last resort against a social structure that denied basic human rights. Quakers ignored liberation theology's strongly sacramental emphasis and were far to liberal to sympathize with its starting point of the assumption of implicit Christianity (orthopraxis) of the peasants. Instead, Friends approved of liberation theology's emphasis upon structural violence, support for consciousness raising among peasants, complaints about the practices of American companies in Latin America, and critique of the U.S.'s visceral anti-communism and indirect military intervention.Friends responded creatively to the crises in Central America. Central American meetings and towns sponsored refugees and provided legal assistance and sanctuary. A sister-village program linked a group of churches and meetings to towns in El Salvador. Groups of Friends journeyed to El Salvador and Nicaragua to establish contact with people and brought back information on conditions and the effects of U.S. policies. Humanitarian assistance might be buying a cow as a way of encouraging dairy farming or helping a village obtain an adequate supply of good water. A new organization named Peace Brigades International sent unarmed individuals, including Friends, who would live in villages or accompany activists whom it was feared the paramilitary groups might assassinate. At home, Friends and churches kept a relentless publicity campaign going which, when combined with opposition in Congress, restrained the policies of the Reagan administration and helped preclude direct American intervention. By 1990 the end of the Cold War facilitated a free election in Nicaragua and a compromise settlement in El Salvador.
Disappointment greeted those Friends who hoped that the end of the Cold War would allow a respite from an emphasis upon international peacemaking. War in western Europe appeared unthinkable as the European Union even created a common currency. Peace of a sort returned to Central America, South Africa and Eastern Europe. However, ethnic cleansing occurred in Bosnia and Kosovo, genocide in Rwanda, anarchy in Somalia and Liberia, and religious war in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Possible compromise solutions over border disputes remained elusive between India-Pakistan, Israel and its neighbors, Ethiopia-Eritrea, and in the southern edge of the former Soviet Union. Congo remained on the edge of total break down. North and South Korea, China and Taiwan, Chechnya, Iran, and Macedonia remained flash points.At the beginning and end of the decade military intervention under UN auspices in Kuwait and under NATO in Kosovo, seemed like old fashioned colonial wars in the disparities in military power and casualties between the sides, but victory provided no solution to long-running problems and peace still seemed far away.Even promoting democracy seemed of little help. Elections in India, Croatia, the new Bosnian state, and Serbia increased ethnic animosity. One bright spot was the increasing use of international monitoring to guarantee a fair election, although its impact depended upon the local government's caring about international opinion.Traditional support for the UN seemed questionable after the war over Kuwait, because the great powers proved able to manipulate the Security Council for their own ends. But there was no reason to believe that sanctions alone would have persuaded Saddam Hussein to remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait. The same was true for Milosevic in Kosovo.UN peacekeeping without military force failed in Somalia; US intervention with troops eased the famine but, after casualites, the world left the Somali warlords to cause additional suffering. The US and UN refused to intervene in Rwanda until it was too late. When UN peacekeepers were lightly armed and interested in humanitarian relief, as in Bosnia, their presence may have actually facilitated fighting. Lightly armed peacekeepers proved a failure in Sierra Leone. A major UN effort to help Cambodia resulted in the continuation of an authoritarian government. By the end of the decade, even strong supporters of the UN wondered whether there was a future to traditional peacekeeping.Sanctions had earlier appeared an alternative to fighting. In South Africa sanctions which had the support of the black majority appeared to have helped influence the white-dominated government to end apartheid. But in the 1990s the use of sanctions against Haiti, Iraq, and Cuba appeared to have increased civilian sufferings. Sanctions now were seen as a too blunt instrument which hurt innocent people without weakening repressive governments.Friends also wavered in their response to globalization of markets, hoping that it would help to raise living standards but fearing that it would only increase the disparity between have and have-not nations. They searched without finding an effective way to insure that transnational companies paid decent wages and protected the environment. It is apparent that those who become the leaders of future peace activity will need a solid grounding in economics.The major focus on Quaker peacemaking in the 1990s was non-violence conflict resolution. The Alternatives to Violence Program allowed Friends to do something useful at the local level. Non-violence could be both a technique and a philosophy for life. It could be studied in colleges and public schools and used as a method of child-rearing, in community disputes and in international negotiations. The techniques were applied in an enormous variety of situations: landlord/tenant, neighborhood disputes, racial conflicts, domestic abuse, and school violence. Trained facilitators could teach those imprisoned for violent crime that there were more productive ways to solve problem.Non-violence seemed almost a panacea for liberal Friends seeking politically and socially relevant peace work. After all, it could be taught by churches as having a spiritual foundation but also be secular enough to survive a court challenge about religious instruction in schools. Non-violent conflict resolution was religiously attractive because Jesus could be seen as a non-violent revolutionary and politically correct because Martin Luther King and Gandhi had been advocates. Since the realism and idealism taught by political scientists seemed unable to deal with such a chaotic world, it is no wonder that Quakers acted as if non-violence summarized the peace testimony.However, there were difficulties in method and content. non-violence could be construed as a means to a morally suspect end. It was used successfully to implement the "not in my backyard" approach to social problems. And even if the means were moral, the end might be suspect: opposition to school integration or public housing or stopping women from entering a clinic for an abortion. Theorists distinguished between non-violence as conflict resolution which was not about compromise but a "win, win" result and as mediation of dispute. They disagreed upon the scope of the roles of the third party as teacher or facilitator. Some practitioners argued that conflict resolution was a method for managing conflicts rather than solving problems. Scholars debated whether practices should focus on issues involving "interests" or perceived "needs" of the parties.There were also religious issues: did it simplify the gospel to see Jesus primarily as an advocate of non-violence rather than a prophet for social and religious justice or an exemplar of self-sacrificing love? If non-violence were more than a technique, what was its positive program for life? Should the peace testimony be simplified into non-violent conflict resolution? The kind of critique leveled at liberal pacifism in the 1930s could be applied in the 1990s to non-violence: did it deal adequately with issues of power, did it too easily dismiss the problem of evil, did it understand the difference between what was possible for an individual and for a state? Even many who found non-violent conflict resolution an extremely useful tool to use within a society wondered about the extent to which it would be useful in intractable international disputes.Friends' love affair with non-violent conflict resolution was explainable as another manifestation of the religious liberalism of FGC Friends. Non-violence could be seen as congruent with traditional Quaker pacifism and the approved modern Quaker style of behavior. Its successes seemed to show the soundness of liberal Friends' vision of humanity as basically good. Conflict resolution was not judgmental and sought to persuade rather than coerce. Non-violence required some training but not great analytic rigor and it was most important for the practitioner to have a sensitive understanding of the participants. It could be defended as psychologically sound and, therefore, was intellectually respectable. And whatever its weaknesses, liberal Friends found no better alternative to non-violent conflict resolution as a way for them to work for peace. They concluded: better to use a flawed tool than to do nothing.
In another twenty or thirty years, we will be in a better position to access the pros and cons of this past century of FGC activities and the impact of liberalism on Quaker life. Right now, the evidence suggests that liberalism resulted in a theological reformation of Quakerism that reduced sectarianism and opened us to the wider world, facilitated a redefinition of sexual morality in the late 1960s, and was compatible with several reinterpretations of the peace testimony.In 1900 the survival of Hicksite Quakerism seemed questionable. In 2000 liberal Friends are lightly scattered throughout the US, with a few even in the Bible belt. It seems likely that Philadelphia will remain the mother lode of American Quakerism for reasons of history and the location of the bureaucracy, but it will continue to decline in influence as FGC becomes even more national in outreach.Liberalism has continued to attract members who were disenchanted with other religions, mostly evangelical Christians, Catholics, and Jews with a smattering of Buddhists and Hindus. Many of these people have had such negative experiences of moral and religious absolutism that they have come to despise any sense of authority. Often they are clearer on what they don't believe than what they affirm. Somehow we all need to realize that the sense of discipline and community we all see as necessary for a successful silent meeting of worship applies to the rest of life.Liberalism's potential is to allow Friends to stay within the Christian traditions while becoming pluralistic. This delicate balance cannot be attained by finessing difficult issues to concentrate upon style alone because a style can be as confining as a theological straight jacket. Liberalism in the past and in the future will offer a link to our history as Quakers and Christians which can be helpful in facing the social, moral, and intellectual challenges of a new century.Our visibility as Quakers is already out of proportion to our numbers or impact on American society. Sooner or later, newspapers and politicians are going to learn that what Friends say has little or no political weight. Therefore, we are either going to have to find a way to attract members of an increasingly diverse American population or become so impressive morally and/or intellectually - and preferably by doing all three - that the clarity of our insights will demand respect. Liberalism's openness to new insights is conducive to this process, but its a method and content will need to become more rigorous.Questioning the traditional moral code was not part of the liberal vision of the early nineteenth century, but has been a constant feature of Quaker religious life since the 1960s. The focus thus far has been on sexuality and the issues here are far from settled. Still, there seems reason to conclude that the moral debate will shift focus and become more intense as the revolution in biological knowledge of humans and understanding of our links to the world of nature expands and we have to shape policies on cloning, health care, animal rights, a sustainable use of the environment, adding years or decades to the biblical three score and ten, and demographic pressures. These are only a few of the many subjects that will require policies shaped by moral insight filtered through political processing. Liberalism sees religion as subject to history and therefore opposes an uncritical reliance upon the Bible or church traditions. Liberal Friends' record of seeking relevant ethical principles and applying them creatively points to the way that religious people can contribute to the coming ethical debate.Implementing the peace testimony has since the seventeenth century been a primary source for Quaker creativity. Under liberalism, this creative use of tradition continued as Friends expanded without abandoning a personal rejection of war into an opportunity for service. Over the century, Quakers gained sophistication in their analyses of the international system and domestic policies as causes of war. Peace became more than the absence of war and by the end of the century had become so all-encompassing that it could be defined as any social system or institution which allowed a person to fulfill his or her potential. Violence then became the opposite, and now was found to be pervasive in home, in school, in the treatment of women and racial minorities, and in the business world. Peace was now a theology, a philosophy, a method, a style of life. The scope for peace work became so broad that almost any activity could qualify, but a result was that Friends found it was virtually impossible to choose which action would have lasting significance. The danger is that, because the world will remain so chaotic, we will conclude that in the long run personal moral fulfillment is the only relevant marker of a peacemaker's success.In World War I Friends accepted the necessity of adding to personal witness against war a bureaucratic institution equipped to deal with governments, protect conscientious objectors, engage in relief, and implement plans for economic and educational reforms. Since then they have also supported and sought reforms to make international organizations more effective. A selective interpretation of Gandhi's satyagraha, which left out distinctly Hindu elements, became the favored practice before World War II. The primary emphasis during the Cold War was directed at national policies in the nuclear arms race and the war in Vietnam. The success of the civil rights movement showed the success of non-violence in defying segregation, but the tactic seemed of more relevance in internal affairs than in foreign policy. Beginning twenty-five years ago, the Alternatives to Violence Project is a way for individuals to utilize and experiment with the potentialities of non-violence. As a technique and a way of life, non-violent conflict resolution in religious and secular guises will likely remain a prominent part of grass-roots peace work.
I will conclude as I began with a word of caution about the limits of our knowledge. Deconstruction theorists have made us wary of giving solidity to abstractions, like the terms liberalism, evangelicalism, Quakers or Christianity. There was not in the past nor is there now a prototypical Quaker; instead, there are individuals who summarize a large or small part of their lives as being with a group of people of many ages who refer to themselves as Friends. At times, many of these seekers in prayer, in meeting for worship, in walks in nature, or in concerts have experiences they term religious and describe as the Inward Light or sense of the presence of God. Quakerism began as a movement to tell men and women about the availability of this kind of shared religious experience. It is a safe historical conclusion that so long as its rituals and belief foster that experience among diverse persons, the Society of Friends will endure.