Category Archives: Quaker stuff

At Baltimore Yearly Meeting

The reason I haven’t been posting much here this past week is that I’ve been at the Baltimore Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. As nearly always seems to happen when I come here, I start off by thinking I’ll manage to get plenty of time to blog, but end up not able to do much. Partly it’s because the internet connection is slow. But partly, too, it’s because I go into a different mental zone when I’m here.
I wish I had the energy to tell you some of the interesting, uplifting, and thought-provoking things that have happened here. But I’m afraid I don’t even have the energy to do that.
Ommmm.
John Woolman, 1763: “Love is the first motion.” Yes, indeed.

Great resources on Quakers… on YouTube!

I just found a collection of wonderful video shorts on YouTube, that show members of the Quaker meeting (congregation) in Watford, UK, both practicing and talking about Quakerism. They are produced by someone called Chris, I believe Pettit.
I was drawn, first to this 4m40s video in which some Watford Quakers talk about the Quaker testimonies. But then I watched, and really enjoyed, the two 8-minute videos described as “An introduction to Quakers”, parts 1 and 2; and this shorter video about our very distinctive form of decisionmaking and (anti-)leadership.
I am so grateful to Chris and the members of Watford meeting for producing and posting these videos. We’re a rum lot, Quakers. We have such great respect for integrity and dignity of all other persons that most of us find it very hard to think of doing anything that might suggest “proselytizing.”
Well, actually that applies mainly to the Quakers (Friends) who– like the British Friends and those of us on the east coast of the US– still hold “unprogramed” meetings for worship… But the further west you go across the US, the more the Quakers become, in many respects, like other Christian churches. Till in the midwest they start calling their congregations “churches”, not meetings, and they start having pastors and programing a liturgy for their worship sessions… And then when you get even further west they start being “Evangelical Friends” who– guess what!– evangelize… And hence, most Friends (Quakers) in the world today (a) live in Africa, and (b) are Evangelical.
I have worshiped with great joy with Evangelical Friends in Africa. But still, I love our very simple, non- or anti-hierarchical pattern of worship and internal organization. You can find out a lot more about it by watching some of these videos, including, in the first part of the “Introduction to Quakers” the camera will even take you inside a worship session very similar to the ones we have, in Charlottesville.
Check ’em out!

Fear and violence: Lessons from John Woolman

Today I co-taught the sixth of seven classes I’m committed to teaching to the second- and third-graders in our Quaker meeting’s First Day School (Sunday school.) My co-teacher, Linda Goldstein, and I had done some pretty good things with the kids in the earlier classes, but we hadn’t fixed on a firm plan for today’s class till half-way through the week, when a light went off in my head and I told Linda, “Hey, we really should do at least one session on John Woolman!” She agreed.
So we have four seven- and eight-year-olds in our class. One has pretty severe autism, so a teenage member of the meeting sits with him, which is great.
There is so much of interest about John Woolman’s life and writings that all American kids– not just the relatively small number of Quaker kids– shoulkd know about and understand. Since the unit we’re teaching is on peace and peacemaking, I decided to focus primarily on the incident when, during the big war of the 1760s between, on the one hand, the Anglo settlers in North America and on the other, the French settlers and some of their allies among the Native Americans, when John Woolman decided to head out west from Philadelphia to try to actually meet with, and understand the viewpoint of some of the “Indians” there…
And then– but let’s let John Woolman tell this in the words of his own journal (p.272-3 from the e-text here):

    On reaching the Indian settlement at Wyoming [this is a place in Central Pennsylvania– not in the state of Wyoming!], we were told that an Indian runner had been at that place a day or two before us, and brought news of the Indians having taken an English fort westward, and destroyed the people, and that they were endeavoring to take another; also that another Indian runner came there about the middle of the previous night from a town about ten miles from Wehaloosing, and brought the news that some Indian warriors from distant parts came to that town with two English scalps, and told the people that it was war with the English.
    Our guides took us to the house of a very ancient man. Soon after we had put in our baggage there came a man from another Indian house some distance off. Perceiving there was a man near the door I went out; the man had a tomahawk wrapped under his match-coat out of sight. As I approached him he took it in his hand; I went forward, and, speaking to him in a friendly way, perceived he understood some English. My companion joining me, we had some talk with him concerning the nature of our visit in these parts; he then went into the house with us, and, talking with our guides, soon appeared friendly, sat down and smoked his pipe. Though taking his hatchet in his hand at the instant I drew near to him had a disagreeable appearance, I believe he had no other intent than to be in readiness in case any violence were offered to him

I always find this to be an amazingly powerful story.
We talked with the kids a little about John Woolman, what his family and community were like as he grew up in New Jersey, and then why he had decided to try to go and meet some Indians. A fear-stoked war-fever was running pretty high in Philadelphia and the rest of the Anglo settlements of the eastern seaboard at the time, so what John Woolman decided to do was very gutsy. (I’m thinking Jimmy Carter here.)
We talked a little about how scary it must have been for JW, traveling in an area with people whose language he did not speak. (Though I also found this page, that has downloadable audio clips of some common phrases in the Lenape language, which the kids found pretty interesting.) And we talked about how, for the Lenape people there, JW’s arrival might have seemed pretty scary, too.
We did a great little role-play– though unfortunately I got one of the key details wrong, in that I had misremembered it as being the Lenape man who was in the house, and JW who was approaching it, though from the journal it was clearly the other way round… But still, the essence of the story was the same: the two men had many reasons to be wary or even fearful of each other. The Lenape man had a weapon, and on seeing JW, pulled it out from under his coat. JW had to decided pretty quickly how to try to defuse the tension, and this is what he did: “I went forward, and, speaking to him in a friendly way, perceived he understood some English. My companion joining me, we had some talk with him concerning the nature of our visit in these parts; he then went into the house with us, and, talking with our guides, soon appeared friendly, sat down and smoked his pipe…”
Moreover, JW was at pains to attribute a non-hostile motivation to the other man’s baring of his weapon: “I believe he had no other intent than to be in readiness in case any violence were offered to him.”
We talked a little bit about other choices JW could have made. Or what if he himself has also had a weapon? Might he then have reacted differently? What role does fear play in stoking violence, etc?
Of course, there is also much, much more in John Woolman’s testimony that is worth exploring. He had such a broad, indeed, “systemic” analysis of the relationshiop between the Native Americans and the white settlers. Read the last paragraph of p.271 and the first paragraph of p.272 there. He also, in other chapters of his journal, shows a very sophisticated understanding of the terrible ills and wrongs of slavery, the relationship between slavery and warmaking, the relationship between greed and violence, and so on…
Much more to think about, write about, and discuss.
… The kids in our Quaker meeting are such a blessing! Ever since 9/11 we’ve had a steady flow of new young families coming into our meeting. The parents, in general, seem eager to find a place where they can help raise their kids in a way that helps them resist the pressures of the violence-laden society all around us. We also have lots of great Quaker elders, including half a dozen who are active Friends in their 90s… Today, we sang John McCutcheon’s great “Happy Birthday” song to Dieta Raisig, to mark her upcoming 92nd birthday. “It makes me think of the good old days… ”

Very important: Quaker peacebuilding, Kenya

Readers may or may not be aware that the largest body of Quakers anywhere in the world is in Kenya. I have thought and prayed a lot for them during the very damaging inter-group violence that has plagued their country since the highly contentious (and most likely, illegally “stolen”) election of last December 27.
What can members of a religious group that is deeply committed to nonviolence (pacifism) do when their home communities become caught up in a self-cycling paroxysm of violence, hatred, and fear?
Two or three days ago, a Quaker from Massachusetts called Mary Gilbert started sending me a large amount of information from the Friends (Quakers) in Kenya, about what they were trying to do there. Mary wanted me to post this on JWN. But it was so much information that I encouraged her to start a new, special blog to follow this situation. Never having blogged before, she had some initial trepidation to overcome. But now, in record time and with great courage and skill she has done it. Great work, Mary!
I am delighted to recommend to you all the new blog: Kenyan Peacework.
I’m imagining that Mary will be keeping it updated with further bulletins from Quakers working in Kenya, as they come in. Looking at it today, I was delighted to learn that the Kenyan Quakers have been holding a conference over these past three days (January 25-27) to pray on, discern, and coordinate their ongoing reactions to the crisis. Read the Jan. 26 report from that conference here.
I’ve been particularly interested in reading the reports sent out by David Zarembka. Dave is a long-time Quaker whom I know fairly well. Though he grew up in the US, his wife Gladys is Kenyan, and he has worked in Kenya and nearby countries a lot over the years. Last year, he and Gladys moved (back) to Kenya to live full-time there. He is an astute observer of the situation.
In this January 21 report he wrote:

    There is no political settlement in sight. One newspaper columnist stated today in the Daily Nation that the longer that things drag out the better it is for the Kibaki side: so, they have little incentive to genuinely engage in mediation. On the Raila side this means that time is against them so they might turn to drastic measures.
    Although there were no demonstrations over the weekend, the violence did not subside. Once the genie of violence gets out of the bottle, it is very hard to put it back in…
    To summarize, the election results were the spark for the violence. The tinder was all the alienated youth in Kenyan society. As time goes on the ethnic dimension will increase and attacks will lead to counter-attacks. As attacks become successful in forcing people to leave the Rift Valley, the violence becomes self-reinforcing leading to more attacks. At this point we must be thankful that the attackers have only traditional weapons–clubs, bows and arrows, machettes, and spears. If they had guns (which, if the violence continues, they will soon acquire in one way or another) the the death toll would soar and soar. Even now I am not sure that a political settlement will end the violence in the countryside, although it would give the security forces a greater chance to deal with it…

Dave’s Jan. 13 analysis of the way much of the western MSM has been misreporting the crisis is also well worth reading. It includes this:

    Here is a January 7 story from Agence France Presse, titled “Police cheer as Kenya’s witch-wary looters return war spoils.”
    “Dozens of looters who profited from Kenya’s post-election unrest began returning or dumping their ill-gotten gains around the port city of Mombasa Monday, frightened of cursed goods, police said.
    Television footage showed fearful, if not shameful, looters and their accomplices returning beds, sofa sets and other items after rumours that victims had deployed witch doctors to punish the thieves.”
    The Kenyan papers had other explanations for the return of the goods. First, the government had declared an amnesty period of two days during which anyone who returned looted goods would not be prosecuted. This was reinforced by the Imams who preached in their mosques that people should return stolen goods. The fact that this peacemaking effort by the Moslems also contradicts the violent jihadists stereotype that Moslems are not peacemakers is perhaps why this was omitted from the “witchcraft report.” Christian preachers also advised the return of stolen goods. The Kenyan reports had no mention of the alleged witchcraft…

So please go on over to the Kenyan Peacework blog if you want to gain some unbiased, direct, on-the-ground information about what is happening in Kenya, and also to find out what those dedicated peace-builders, the Kenyan Quakers, and their allies there are doing.
I am sure that their work would benefit a lot from more funding! If you’re able to make a donation, the “African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI)”, which Dave Z. has been working with for many years now, has this web-page through which you can make secure online donations. It also has mailing info for where to send a US check.
One of KP’s posts– this one— has information about another emergency fund established by friends of the Quaker projects in Kakamega, in western Kenya. I am not as familiar with the organization described there as I am with AGLI, but I am sure they do a great job, too.
Give what you can– of money, of loving concern, and of prayers.
And again, a big thanks to Mary Gilbert for her fabulous work there.

My article on the post-9/11 world in ‘Friends Journal’

Earlier this year I had a strong leading, as we Quakers say, to do more writing for a specifically Quaker audience. This is a part, really, of the personal/spiritual journey that I’m on right now. It is not that I want to abandon the broader public sphere in which I’ve participated pretty vocally for, oh, more than 30 years now. It’s more that I want to try to bring things together: what I do in my fabulous spiritual home in Charlottesville Friends Meeting (i.e., my home Quaker congregation) and in other Quaker forums, and what I do in “the world”, as well.
So one thing I decided to do was write this article for Friends Journal, which is the monthly magazine published by Friends General Conference, the principle network for (mainly) liberal Quaker congregations across North America. You can find out more about FGC here.
The article is a little bit personal, and it also draws on a lot of what I’ve been writing about here over the years. In it, I try to make the point that the peace testimony that has been a cornerstone of Quakers’ witness ever since the Religious Society of Friends was founded in 1652 has more relevance today than ever. And certainly, my own professional assessment of the outcomes of recent “foreign wars”– Israel’s in Lebanon, and the US’s in both Iraq and Afghanistan– has also come ever more strongly to the conclusion that mere military superiority on its own cannot bring (and may well actually impede) the achievement of strategic goals of lasting value.
I guess for me, one part of the challenge is to try, when necessary, to keep my Quaker convictions separate from my professional assessments. But when they come together, as they do so strongly on this question of the utility or disutility of war, then I want to be able to claim that, too. I really do feel that a commitment to nonviolence and the nonviolent de-escalation and resolution of existing conflicts is more than ever, nowadays, a supremely pragmatic approach to the world.
Anyway, do read the article if you feel so led. I see there’s some provision for commenting over there. But I’m not sure quite how that “registration” thing works. You know you can always comment here…

US Quaker activists gather

This past weekend was the annual
conference
of the Friends Committee on
National Legislation
.
Veteran Quaker activists on
peace issues and other issues of intense social concern had come to a
conference center in Washington DC from all
around the US. I have gotten to know quite a few members of FCNL’s
national headquarters staff in the months I’ve had the affiliation of
“Friend in Washington” with them; and of course, from my home Quaker
meeting (congregation) back home in Charlottesville Virginia, I’ve had
one small grassroots view of how FCNL operates. But what was new and
energizing this weekend was to experience this critical mass of engaged
social-activist energy all in one place at one time.

I heard many great stories of what FCNL’s mainly– but by no means
exclusively– Quaker supporters have been doing around the country:
contacting their members of Congress; writing to local papers;
organizing peace vigils; working on pro-green projects; delving deep
into the challenges of peacemaking and peacebuilding; etc, etc.

The keynote speaker, on Saturday night, was Congressman John Lewis
(D- Georgia), who was honored with FCNL’s Edward F. Snyder Award for
National Legislative Leadership in Advancing Disarmament and Building
Peace.  Lewis was born in 1940 in Troy, Alabama, the son of
African-American sharecroppers.  At a young age he became one of
the historic leaders of the US civil rights movement.  When he was
23 he was the head of the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee
(SNCC), and in that capacity he was one of the speakers at the
important “March on Washington” along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

He told us that he had been just 17 when, as a student at the
historically Black Fisk University in Knoxville, Tennessee, he first
made the acquaintance of Quakers, who were organizing workshops on
nonviolent social action in a nearby church.  He started
participating in the workshops which, he said, moved him very deeply.
Soon enough, he and his colleagues from Fisk and elsewhere in the
still-segregated south started a campaign of going to sit down at
“Whites Only” lunch counters:

We sat in at the lunch counters and
people would come up and spit on us, or put lighted cigarettes in our
hair or down our backs.  And we wouldn’t react.  We wouldn’t
get angry.  We kept our
eyes on the prize
.

Lewis has been a member of the
US House of Representatives
since 1987 and the senior chief deputy
whip in the Democratic caucus since 1991.  He has been a
consistent and strong voice in the anti-war caucus in Congress, too.

He told us on Saturday,

Nothing has troubled me more than the
war in Iraq and the prospect of military engagement in Iran. 
These would both be wars of choice, not of necessity.

… Sometimes I feel like crying out loud for our nation, for what the
administration has done in our name!

He recalled the occasion when he and Dr. King spoke to the March on
Washington.  And he said,

We hear a lot about the Rev. Martin
Luther King’s speech there that day: the ‘I have a dream’ speech. 
But we don’t hear nearly enough about the important speech
he made at Riverside Church in New York City
, just a year before he
died, in which he spoke out against the Vietnam war and said the US was
the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.

If he could speak here tonight, he would tell us that war is not the answer; war is
obsolete.

Seeing and listening to this historic figure was incredibly
inspiring.  Lewis had a wonderful, down-to-earth charm.  At
one point, he recalled the time he had spent in his youth helping his
parents raise chickens– and how even as a boy he had gathered the
chickens and some of his younger cousins together in the hen-house, and
practised “preaching” to them. He commented,

Continue reading

Yo navego en ti…

I’ve been think a lot recently about interdependence. In particular, the specific form of interdependence that exists between the (less than) 5% of the world’s people who happen to be US citizens, and the more than 95% who are not.
In Meeting for Worship this morning, I kept thinking of the great Peter, Paul and Mary song on this theme: Somos El Barco. (Words here.) I looked for a version of someone singing it on Youtube. This was all I could easily find: here. I think that version is mainly in Japanese. It sounds good.
(Talking of interesting nuggets of multilinguality, I was folding one of my husband’s shirts yesterday when I noticed that on the label it said “Made in Pakistan / Hecho en Pakistan.” Hecho en Pakistan, huh? Shouldn’t Sam Huntingdon now be called on to throw another hissy fit about the growth of Hispanophonia.)
… Anyway, the interdependence of all the world’s peoples is a big theme in the book I’m currently writing– which will be on US foreign policy after Bush. The past couple of evenings I’ve been reading Beyond the Age of Innocence: Rebuilding Trust Between America and The World, by Kishore Mahbubani, previously Singapore’s ambassador to Washington and the UN. It’s a fascinating, very well-informed and passionately argued book in which Mahbubani, a long-time admirer of “the American idea” agonizes over how incredibly provincial, self-referential, and ignorant Americans can be about the huge effects that their (our) power has on the rest of the world.
I’ve been interested to note the frequency with which Mahbubani, too, refers to the important little fact that US citizens make up only 5% of the world, and should really do a lot more sustained thinking about– and listening to– the views of the other 95% .
(I think my first mention of this idea on JWN was here, in November 2003. But at the time and in many subsequent posts on the theme I’d rounded the US population to being closer to four percent of the world’s total than five. Right now, I’m too tired to do a definitive recount. But in the interests of being logically conservative about the estimate, let’s say it might be five percent.)

Tragedy at Virginia Tech

Tragedy has struck the community at Virginia Tech, our state’s “other” fine flagship university, which is located around 120 miles southwest of my hometown, Charlottesville.
Apparently a single gunman went on a rampage there earlier today and killed at least 30 members of the university community– most likely, most of them students.
Obviously, this is a truly horrible blow for all members of the community there.
Equally obviously, we know that communities throughout Iraq have been suffering blows as huge as this one– or on occasions, even larger blows– on a daily or almost daily basis throughout the past 3-4 years. Many communities in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from gun violence on this scale, too. And last week, Algeria, in North Africa, was the scene of two extremely lethal suicide bombings…
Can we all unite in grief together, and in sad wonder at the senselessness of ultra-lethal weapons and the tragedy of their widespread availability and use in many different parts of the world?
Can we unite in sad wonder at the depth of alienation and hopelessness that leads some people to engage in mass killings, even sometimes to the point of throwing their own lives into the project, as well?
Can we unite with a commitment to support, help, and try to repair all those bereaved by these and other acts of violence?
Can we unite around a strengthened commitment never ourselves to resort to violence, and to redouble our search for the nonviolent ways that always do exist to resolve any differences among us as humans?
I have only been to Virginia Tech once. It was a magical half-day I spent there, in the summer of 2005. The Friends General Conference (FGC), which is the main body of ‘liberal’ north American Quakers, was holding its annual summer gathering in a small part of Tech’s beautiful campus, which is built from flinty blue-grey stone in the incredibly beautiful foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I wasn’t a participant in the gathering, but I made a special trip there one evening to spend a few hours with my dear friend Misty Gerner, who was then in a fairly advanced stage of her cancer. Misty, her husband, and I walked around the beautiful lawns a bit, and had dinner at a small nearby restaurant. Then Phil (the husband) left Misty and me alone a while. We walked and talked a whole lot more. She was wracked with bouts of pretty intense physical pain but her spirit was radiant.
I prefer to remember Tech’s campus as the place where I talked with Misty on that sunny evening about life, death, love, God, justice, peace, and the Middle East… She died last summer. Maybe a little part of her still hovers over the Tech campus. If so I hope she can help to comfort the many shocked and bereaved people there today.
God forgive us all for having let the spirit of violence permeate our communities and animate our actions to this extent.

US citizens: where do our tax dollars go?

The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)– which is the excellent American Quaker lobbying organization with which I have a loose affiliation– has a great downloadable flier titled Where Do Our Income Tax Dollars Go?
In case you don’t want to wait to download that PDF file, here are some of the highlights…
From every dollar you (we) pay in income tax:

    * 41 cents goes to war-related expenditures— both financial obligations from past wars, including interest on the military portion of the national debt, which altogether come up to 13c; and paying for the current wars and preparations for future wars (28c).
    * Just 1¢ goes to humanitarian aid, maintaining diplomatic missions, and international cooperation.
    * 19¢ goes to federally funded health programs; 12c to programs related to housing and other poverty-alleviation measures; 10c for interest on the non-military portion of the debt, etc., etc.

At the end of the flier, it says, “The federal budget is a reflection of our country’s moral values. Does this budget reflect your values?” And it gives information on how to lobby Congress for a more moral budget.
It strikes me, for example, that as and when we seriously restructure the US’s relationship with the rest of the world on a more rational and more effective basis, we could take just about all of that 28c per dollar of funding for present and future wars and divide it equally between: paying down the national debt (9c); investing in health and education programs at home (9c); and building strong relationships with other countries through diplomacy, international cooperation, etc (9c).
Such a program would increase the investment in global relationships by 900 percent! And in my judgment, it would be fully 1,000 percent as efficient at safeguarding the essential (and essentially human) security interests of the US citizenry as the present, heavily war-distorted allocation of our tax dollars.
FCNL’s website also has a great page with information about the many activities US citizens can undertake in this tax-payment season– which is also a time when many of our Congressional representatives will be back home for their Easter recess, and thus available to be lobbied.

Quakers and slavery, contd.

In the post I wrote here yesterday about Quakers and slavery I was arguing that it is probably just as important– for Quakers and others– to reflect deeply on the fact that for many long decades our forebears owned, traded in, and profited mightily from the labor of enslaved African persons, and to investigate the degree to which those earlier systems of violence and rapine set in place a situation of great and still continuing inequality between the communities descended from the former slave-“owners” and those of the formerly enslaved, as it is to “celebrate” the role any of our forebears may have played in ending one or another aspect of the institution of slavery…
I had found a small quote from George Fox, the 17th century English guy whom Quaker blogger Marshall Massey calls “the principal human co-founder of Quakerism.” The nub of what Fox wrote was this:

    do you for and to them [the enslaved Blacks], as you would willingly have them or any other to do unto you…were you in the like slavish condition.

On reflection, this not only does not express any clear opposition to the institution of slavery, but it seems to take the institution– and the then-present power relations within it– as an unchallengeable given, urging only the exercise of a certain degree of empathy for the enslaved “Blacks” caught up in it.
Marshall Massey writes in his blog post that,

    George Fox, the principal human co-founder of Quakerism, saw slavery with his own eyes in the English colonies of the New World, but did not condemn it outright.
    William Penn, one of the greatest second-generation Quaker leaders, not only saw slavery but practiced it himself, keeping African slaves on his estate in Pennsylvania.
    Quaker merchants were involved for several generations in the slave trade…
    As historian Douglas Harper has observed, there were African slaves in the Quaker city of Philadelphia within two years after its settlement. The great Quaker body in that area, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, didn’t turn decisively against slavery until 1758, a full three generations later. And in fact, Friends didn’t fully give up slavery until after slavery ceased to be profitable in their area.

But, Massey argues,

    There is no evidence… that early Friends as a religious body ever said slavery was a good or desirable thing.
    Some individual Friends must have said so. William Penn might have, defending his own personal decision to employ slaves. And a fair number of eighteenth-century North American Quaker slaveholders definitely did say so.
    But those were the positions of individual Friends, speaking for themselves. The overall community of Friends never did endorse their views.
    And some groups of Friends came out flatly against slavery at a very early date. It was just four years after the first slaves were imported into Pennsylvania, for example, that several members of the Germantown, Pennsylvania, monthly meeting issued a protest [1688 ~HC] against slaveholding that asked, in labored English, “Is there any that would [himself] be done or handled at this manner? viz., to be sold or made a slave for all the time of his life?”

(Actually, the whole of that 1688 text is worth reading, and I don’t find the English in it labored, at all. It’s a magnificent text!)
I find this rather interesting. Germantown Monthly Meeting is one local congregation of Friends (Quakers). That congregation had come out clearly against the institution of slavery as early as 1688; but then it took the larger, more authoritative Quaker body of which they were part– Philadelphia Yearly Meeting–a further 66 years before it came out unequivocally against the institution by going as far as to “disown” (i.e. expel) any member of the Religious Society of Friends who refused to free such slaves as he still held. (See the timeline on p.2 of this PDF document.)
We could and should reflect on the question of “What took them so long?”
… Anyway, I have also– since I have a copy of George Fox’s Journal conveniently to hand– checked out a few of the things he included there on the subject of slavery. Basically, what he seems to be expressing in the Journal is an essentially very ‘paternalistic’, i.e. denigrating, view of the enslaved persons and their capacities.
In August 1671, George Fox set out from London with an accompanying group of twelve other Quaker “ministers”, on a visit to Barbados, Jamaica, and mainland North America. The voyage over the Atlantic was a little exciting, since off the coast of the Azores they saw what they described as a “Turkish pirate” ship standing by– the Quaker chronicler at that point, John Hull, described it as coming from “Sallee”, presumably today’s Salé, near Rabat, Morocco. (In reference to which, look at the vividness of the description at the head of the Germantown Friends’ minute regarding slavery, on the fears of “white” settlers in North America regarding the possibility of enslavement by the “Turks.”)
Fox and his companions also had at least one other, even more hair-raising adventure of being chased by a “Sallee” man-of-war as they got near to Barbados. (Domination of the sea lines of communication across the Atlantic was always central to the success of the north American settlement venture; and at that point it was still not wholly assured.)
Anyway, Fox and the companions made it to Barbados, where they proceeded to travel about a bit holding Meetings for Worship, and smaller meetings with various local notables. The Quakers in those early days– which were ones of great religious ferment in the whole English-speaking world– were eager to spread (their version of) the Word and to undertake large-scale evangelizing. Also, as much “strategic” evangelizing as they could… Why, one courageous Quaker woman minister had even set out to convert the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, perhaps with the hope that– as with Saint Helena’s conversion of her son the Roman Emperor– with that one conversion a whole empire-full of souls could be gained for the faith. She failed…
So in Barbados, the Quaker evangelizing team (which included two women ministers, and the rest men), not only held as many large meetings for worship as they could, they also wanted to make sure they had continued permission to hold such meetings– which meant they had to have some serious, strategic meetings with the representatives of the settler administration there and persuade those men that their activities were not subversive. (And maybe they tried to convert some of those officials, too.)
Remember, as well, that Fox and many of his companions had already had several long experiences of having been imprisoned under very harsh conditions back in England, on charges related to the radicalism of their views…
So at some point during their time in Barbados (still in 1671), Fox and his companions drew up a letter to “the Governor and Assembly of Barbados”, which is reprinted in the Journal, pp. 602-606. Most of the letter is comprised of a vigorous defense of the orthodoxy and general acceptability of the content of the Friends’ preachings… And indeed, the following portion of the Journal– which includes the texts of letters written from Barbados by both Fox and others, as well as journal entries– mentions quite a lot of large meetings for worship that were held, of both “whites” and “blacks”, during the three months the Quaker mission team stayed in Barbados, from October 1671 through January 1672…
So this is a key little portion of the letter Fox and his companions sent to the Governor and Assembly of Barbados:

    Another slander and lie they have cast upon us is, namely, that we should teach the negroes to rebel, a thing we do utterly abhor and detest in and from our hearts, the Lord knows it, who is the searcher of all hearts and knows all things… For that which we have spoken and declared to them is to exhort and admonish them to be sober and to fear God, and to love their masters and mistresses, and to be faithful and diligent in their masters’ service and business, and that then their masters and overseers will love them and deal kindly and gently with them…
    Now consider , Friends, that it’s no transgression for a master of a family to instruct his family himself or else some others in his behalf, but rather that it is a very great duty incumbent upon them, as Abraham did and Joshua did… And further consider this, that it is a duty incumbent upon us to pray, and to teach, instruct, and admonish those in and belonging to our families…
    Now negroes and tawny Indians make up a very great part of families here in this island for whom an account will be required by him who comes to judge both quick and dead at the great day of judgement… (pp. 604-606)

In his own short journal account of what the group had achieved in Barbados, Fox wrote:

    We came from London on the thirteenth day of the sixth month [Aug.] and we came to Barbados the third day of the eighth month [Oct.], where we had many and great meetings among the whites and blacks. And there was some opposition by the priests and Papists but the power of the Lord and his glorious Truth was over all and reached most in the island. And we stayed above a quarter of a year there and I went to visit the governor and he was loving to me… And I was at several men’s meetings and several women’s meetings which was of great service for the island. And we set up meetings in families in every Freind’s house, among the blacks, some 200, some 300, in their houses that the masters and dames of families might admonish their families of blacks and whites, as Abraham did, which is a great service.(pp. 609-610)

I have to say I find these words extremely disturbing to read. The idea that Fox and his companions could so easily consider that the “masters and dames” (i.e. the slave-owners) stood at the head of some “family” that comprised their hundreds of slaves, and that this somehow gave them the right to instruct and “admonish” those enslaved persons, almost beggars belief.
“Admonish” being far too dainty a word, I think, for the kinds of punishments that were routinely administered against enslaved persons, in those times as afterwards.
I know that elsewhere Fox wrote that, while he was troubled by some aspects the institution of slavery, still, he saw the enslaved Africans as so un-“instructed” and so ill-equipped to fend for themselves that keeping the institution of slavery in place for a generation or two in order to give the “masters and dames” a chance to “instruct” the slaves up to the level required for self-sufficiency was probably the best way forward.
(Does this kind of argument have any present-day echoes in the pleadings of those who say the US occupation of Iraq may have some bad aspects… but the Iraqis are somehow not really “ready” for full self-rule, so in the meantime the occupation forces should stay??)
Anyway, Fox gives no evidence at all of having talked at any length to any of the enslaved persons in Barbados, to find out what they might have thought about his argument. Nor does he show any signs of the deep reflectiveness with which, 80 years later, John Woolman set out to try to investigate all the moral dimensions of the institution of slavery. One clear example: Woolman was deeply troubled by the idea of receiving hospitality from a plantation owner who might, in offering that hospitality, be exploiting the uncompensated labor of “his” slaves… So he proceeded, during all his visits to those slaveholders, to give some coins of due compensation for the labor involved in hosting him– either directly to the enslaved persons who had served him or to their masters, with instruction that they be “paid” to the servants concerned… In Barbados, by contrast, George Fox left us no record of having entertained any such qualms, but seemed happily to have taken at face value the claim that all the black slaves (and “tawny Indians”– I guess that was before they were wiped out completely by the colonizers) were just part of the “one big happy family” that by a most amazing coincidence just happened in every single case to be headed by the white slave-owners.
… By writing in this way, do I intend to “condemn” George Fox? No. He was a creature of his evangelizing times, perhaps blinded to some degree by the burning strength of his goal of evangelizing. (Even the Conquistadors thought they were doing a service to the people they conquered in nearby Central America– some of them argued that even if they were flailing the bodies of their captives, at least they were saving their souls!)
So I can certainly point out what I see as the terrible effects of George Fox’s extremely permissive (and also, I would say, distinctly supportive) attitudes toward and actions regarding the institution of slavery, without condemning all of George Fox as a person.
But given that I have such great admiration for many other aspects of his life and ministry, recalling that some of his actions caused real harm (in my view) to others of God’s children can indeed challenge us today to reflect on what actions we might be taking that– though we think we taking them with excellent intent– might actually be having a very harmful effect on other humans.
… Well, I didn’t mean this post to be so long. But I was interested in going back into GF’s Journal to check on what I had read there some ten or more years ago, and to be able to insert it into the present discussion on slavery, the Quakers, and the values of the “Enlightenment”.
(H’mm, maybe we should rename it “the Darkening”?)