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I am very grateful to Joe Ossmann for inviting me to facilitate this adult study. Around a dozen Friends took part, and it was very meaningful and enjoyable experience. All of the Friends who participated were involved with some kind of community service or activism. Many were involved with the Alternatives to Violence (AVP) project, teaching inmates how to resolve conflict nonviolently. Most had taken part in peace demonstrations. Others were helping immigrants or those experiencing homelessness. In other words, they are typical Quakers!
I am grateful for the inspiring work that Joe Ossmann does with AVP and for sending me a copy of this fascinating documentary Quakers: the Quiet Revolutionaries. I watched it with my wife Jill, who is a very committed housing justice advocate and is also an Evangelical Christian. She loves Quakers and attends Orange Grove Meeting with me and has learned a lot about Quakers since we met ten years ago at the Palm Sunday Peace Parade and were married soon after. I, in turn, have learned a lot about Evangelicals, especially progressive Evangelicals like her and Shane Claiburne and Tony Compolo. Jill and I were both very impressed with the quality of this documentary.
I am going to share my thoughts about this documentary and then take a pause so that you can ask questions and share some of your thoughts before I go on to the second more personal part of my talk. Please feel free to use the chat to ask questions or make comments.
“The Quiet Revolutionaries” provides an engaging and useful overview of Quaker history from a activist perspective. Thanks to PBS, it has been broadcast to over 250,000 households nationwide. Director-producer Janet Gardner, Cinematographer Kevin Clouthier, Consultant Richard Nurse and others on this team deserve kudos for their efforts to make Quaker history come alive. Like Margaret Hope Bacon’s The Quiet Rebels: the Story of the Quakers in America, this documentary is intended for a popular audience and is spreading the Quaker message where it most needs to be heard.
This documentary doesn’t just celebrate Quaker achievements, however; it also presents Quakers warts and all. For example, it mentions that William Penn held slaves—an issue that has come up recently as we struggle to decide what to do about monuments that commemorate racist figures in our past. Was Penn a racist? Should we change the name of William Penn house? We need thoughtful discussion of such questions.
I’m glad that the documentary acknowledges that Quakers made mistakes, like promoting penitentiaries in the early 19th century, based on the erroneous belief that putting people in isolation would help them to repent and become better people. We know now that such isolation is a form of torture. Fortunately, modern Quakers have repented and made amends with programs like AVP that provide inmates with skills to resolve conflict nonviolently. Other Friends like Laura Magnani of the AFSC have called for dismantling the prison-industrial complex. I highly recommend Laura’s books, America’s First Penitentiary: A Two Hundred Year Old Failure, (1990) and Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System, (2006).
This documentary also points out that our Quaker presidents Hoover and Nixon didn’t have very good track records as far as our Quaker values are concerned. Hoover let his conservative economic ideology stand in the way of his humanitarian impulse to help those in need, and Nixon preferred power over principle.
On the positive side, the documentary acknowledges the importance of Evangelical Quakers, including the fact that there are more Evangelical Quakers in Kenya that there are Quakers of all types in the USA. I wrote a biography of the Quaker historian and theologian Howard Brinton who produced what many considered the definitive book on Quakerism, Friends for 300 Years, but he didn’t regard Evangelicals as “real Quakers” and left them out of the story. Thankfully, current Quaker historians like Ben Pink Dandelion take a more inclusive view. For ten years, I was very active with the Friends World Committee on Consultation with the goal of bringing together programmed and unprogrammed Friends from around the world and I regard this as very important work.
“Quiet Revolutionaries” portrays Quaker involvement in causes like abolition and women’s rights. It highlights Margaret Fell, co-founder of Quakerism along with George Fox, as well as other important Quaker women leaders like Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul. It also lifts up the important but underappreciated Bayard Rustin. An African American civil rights activist, orator, writer, singer and pacifist Bayard Rustin was deeply influenced by the Quaker roots of his grandmother. He was a conscientious objector which earned him a three-year prison sentence during World War II. Rustin advised Dr. King on strategies of nonviolent resistance and was chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. As a result of the stigma of being openly gay, Rustin was not widely recognized during his lifetime, but was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. I was recently involved in a campaign to honor Bayard Rustin with a commemorative stamp. A resolution in favor of this stamp was passed by the California state legislature, but despite our best efforts it did not even come up for a vote here in Pasadena. I must add that Pasadena has the dubious distinction of being a city where Rustin was arrested and served two months in jail for engaging in a homosexual act in 1953. My heart leaped for joy when a student from our local Quaker school stood up before the city council and spoke in favor of honoring Bayard Rustin. I think Bayard would have been very pleased.
“The Quiet Revolutionaries” highlights not only the well-known Quaker Peace Testimony but also to our sustainability testimony, also called Stewardship of the Earth. During the 20th century, an era of two cataclysmic world wars, Quakers rightly focused on our Peace Testimony, starting right after WWI when British Friends called together the first World Conference of Friends. During this period, the American Friends Service Committee was formed to provide an alternative to military service. Quakers engaged in anti-war protests and activities during WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam war right through to the present endless wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. But now that we are facing the prospect of environmental catastrophe and mass extinctions, including the possible extinction of the human species, the Sustainability or Stewardship Testimony has become as crucial in the 21st century as our Peace Testimony was in the 20th century. This is evident from the fact that the at the World Conferences of Friends in Kenya and Peru, Friends from all branches of Quakerism came to unity about the need to address the environmental crisis of our time. When I attended the Conference in Peru, I was encouraged to see how passionately young Friends and Friends in the South care about this issue. It is also gratifying to see that the documentary features the efforts of George and Ingrid Lakey and EQAT in opposing mountaintop mining.
At the same time, the documentary reminds us that many, in fact, most Quakers were quietists in the 18th and 19th century and withdrew from political activism. They focused more on maintaining Quaker practices and customs than on social justice and peace. Many strongly opposed women social justice activists like the Grimmke sisters and Lucretia Mott. Today we still have a split between Quakers who are activists and those who consider themselves “spiritual.” This is something that I feel is worth discussing since I have encountered my share of resistance from quietist Quakers. I am going to pause here and see if anyone has any questions or concerns about this documentary before I go on to talk about my own spiritual journey as an activist Friend.
Journey of a Spirit-led Activist
I will be 72 years old in May, and I’ve been a Quaker for the last 35 years, so I hope you’ll indulge me if I take you on a 15-minute trip down memory lane. I feel privileged to have been part of Quaker history, not simply an observer or chronicler, but as someone who played an active role. If you’ve been involved in an interesting Quaker project, or are about to embark on one, please share it in the chat and we can talk about it later.
I became a Quaker during the dark days of the Cold War when Reagan was president and we seemed to be poised on the razon’s edge of nuclear holocaust. I joined Princeton Meeting in New Jersey in 1984 after earning my Ph D in British literature from Rutgers.
While attending Princeton Meeting, I became editor of an interfaith publication called Fellowship in Prayer. Founded in 1949, the year I was born, this magazine encouraged people of all faiths to pray for peace. For me, a perennial spiritual seeker, this was a dream job. I had the opportunity to meet and interview religious leaders and teachers from diverse faith traditions, from Hasidic Jews to Sufis to Tantric monks. I became interested in meditation and spent nine months living and practicing in a Zen Buddhist center in Providence, RI. After I joined the Religious Society of Friends, I went to Philadelphia, the Mecca of Quakerism.There I met an amazing Quaker woman named Janet Riley who wanted to dispel the myths surrounding Communists and people in the Soviet Union by putting together a book of stories and poems by Russian and American authors. When she learned I had a Ph D in literature, she asked me to help edit it. Her enthusiasm was irresistible, so I joined the Quaker US/USSR Committee and it changed my life.
book was called "The Human Experience” and it was jointly edited and
published by Russians and Americans. It
was about all human beings being human and not enemies.
efforts were well received because Quakers had been reaching out to Russians in
friendship since the early 1950s. They built relationships and trust at a time
when many Americans and Russians were being encouraged by their leaders to be
paranoid. In 1951 Anna Brinton wrote a Pendle Hill pamphlet about this Quaker
outreach called “Towards Undiscovered Ends.” She talked about Quakers who had
visited Russia since the 19th century and ended by describing a
group of Quakers who went to Moscow on a peace mission in 1951. At that time, it was hard to imagine
that the US and USSR would be on the brink of nuclear war for over 30 years and
that this terrifying conflict would end in large part because of citizen
diplomats like the Quakers. I can’t begin to describe how thrilling it was to
see the Berlin Wall come tumbling down, and realize that we Quakers had helped
to bring this about.
We also helped set the stage for important nuclear treaties like the one in 1987 that banned Intermediate Range Nuclear weapons. Gorbachev and Reagan would not have signed this treaty if they didn’t feel they had enormous popular support.
I was part of the movement to ban all nuclear weapons. I went to Kazakhstan in 1987 with International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Like the Quakers, they had won a Nobel Peace Prize for their work. We met with Kazakh peace activists on the steppes of Asia in a place called Semipalatinsk. There were about 300 of us. We wanted to raise public awareness to end nuclear testing. I’ll never forget sitting in a yurt with Russians, Americans and Kazahks, eating horse meat, drinking vodka and singing “We shall overcome.” My stomach paid a price for this later, but hey! I had access to hundreds of doctors!
I had been involved in protests to ban nuclear weapons ever since coming to California in 1989. Every spring a group of us would go out to the nuclear test site in Nevada. It seemed fitting to get arrested during Lent along with others peaceful protesters. I was teaching at the time and when I went back and told my students about getting arrested I realized that the word “conviction” means believing in something so strongly you are willing to get arrested for it. A few years ago I was talking to someone and he asked me 'what do you do?' I told him I was a peace activist and he responded, “Have you ever been arrested?” I laughed and replied, “Actually yes, more than once.” He smiled and said, “Then I guess you’re the real deal.”
Another really important tool in a peacemaker’s toolkit is compassionate listening. I learned about compassionate listening from my mentor Gene Hoffman, a Santa Barbara Friend who devoted her life to peacemaking. I was editing a collection of her writings when the planes struck the World Trade Center on 9/11. During the aftermath of this horrific event, Gene’s work had a profound influence on me and led to my going to Israel/Palestine on a Compassionate Listening project.
The Compassionate Listening project was started by a Jewish woman named Leah Green, who was a protege of Gene Hoffman, Leah brought delegations of Americans—people of diverse faiths, including Jews—to be trained in how to listen compassionately. She also taught Palestinians and Israelis how to listen to each other’s stories nonjudgmentally. It was a profoundly moving and healing experience. After receiving training, our group visited settlements, kibbutzim and refugee camps. We listened to people with very different experiences and perspectives. It was especially hard to listen to parents who had lost children to the ongoing violence. I came away with a deep appreciation for Jews and Palestinians, especially those who are committed to peace and justice.
I've been involved with interfaith peace making since 9/11 and have edited a book called “Quakers and the Interfaith Movement.” I joined the local chapter of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and went to world gatherings of religious leaders in Melbourne and Salt Lake City. Attending a gathering with nearly 10,000 people of diverse faiths, all committed to peace and justice, was one of the spiritual highpoints of my life. I shared my interfaith work and experiences with Quakers at the FGG annual gathering and served on the board of FGC’s Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee.
I also serve on the board of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) which was founded after 9/11 by Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious leaders in the LA area. Its slogan was “religious communities must stop blessing war and violence.” ICUJP meets every Friday morning and is composed of lefties and religious leaders from different faiths. We organize educational events and forums in mosques, churches, and synagogues. We also organize protests and have engaged in civil disobedience. I was arrested and went to jail with a group of religious leaders on the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. ICUJP joined the National Religious Campaign to End Torture and we have vigils each year calling for the closure of Guantanamo. My role has been to organize events, schedule speakers, and set up lobby visits as part of FCNL’s Advocacy Teams. During the pandemic we’ve been meeting via Zoom and have had speakers from around the world. A couple of weeks ago, David Zarembka, a Quaker living in Kenya, gave a presentation about how Africans have been responding to the pandemic. Our next speaker will be Katharine Stewart, author of “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.” I reviewed this book for Friends Journal and I highly recommend it. Stewart is a first-rate investigative journalist who has done an excellent job examining the world of religious extremists like those who recently stormed our nation’s Capitol. You are always welcome to join in ICUJP’s Friday Forum. Please email me if you’d like to be on our list.
I’ve learned a lot about the Quaker prophetic witness from FCNL that I’ve shared with non-Quakers. For the last dozen years I have participated in Quaker Lobby days in DC where hundreds of Quakers and their allies gather to meet with elected officials and their aides. This has been another spiritual highlight of my life. I’ve learned from FCNL lobbying skills that I now apply in the work I’m doing as a housing justice advocate.
Since Palm Sunday will be happening this weekend, I’d like to conclude by telling you how I met my wife Jill and became a housing justice advocate.
It all happened ten years on Palm Sunday.
For years I had been going to something called the Palm Sunday Peace Parade, organized by a Mennonite friend of mine named Bert Newton. Bert is a theologian as well as activist. He believes, as I do, that Palm Sunday was the first peace demonstration. Jesus’ ironically triumphal march into Jerusalem can be seen as a kind of prophetic street theater. Jesus went into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a war horse, in fulfillment of a prophecy by Zachariah who said that the Messiah would come on a donkey and remove all the war chariots and destroy all weapons and bring peace to the nations (Zach 9:9-10). Jesus’ mission was to end war and poverty. Each year the Palm Sunday Parade focused on issues like immigration, ending gun violence, homelessness, etc. and brought together people of faith who care about such issues.
The Parade started at the Lutheran Church next to the Orange Grove Meeting house and proceeded to the center of the city, with between 100-200 people. I was a frequent participant.
In 2011, I was walking next to a woman named Jill Shook and we struck up a conversation. I found her very interesting and attractive. I was a widow, having been married for 20 years to a Methodist pastor I met at Pendle Hill. Jill had never been married and was an urban missionary, committed to social justice. We exchanged cards and emails and went on a couple of dates. Three weeks later, on my 62th birthday, I proposed marriage and she accepted. Three months later we were married. This was a super fast courtship, but somehow we just knew we were supposed to be together. In our vows, we affirmed that “the Prince of Peace brought us together for a purpose beyond what either of us can imagine.”
This has proven true. Jill immersed herself in my Quaker world and I immersed myself in her world of Evangelical Christians, Black pastors, and housing justice activists. I helped to edit her book “Making Housing Happen” and joined her in starting housing justice nonprofit called Making Housing and Community Happen.
Since you have offered to make a donation to this organization, I’d like to end by saying something about it. First, it has profoundly Quaker roots. Jill first learned about housing justice work at the AFSC office in Pasadena in the 1990s where a group of mainly black community leaders gathered to advocate for policies like rent control and affordable housing. Jill was living in a predominantly African American section of Pasadena and took this concern to heart. She was one of the founding members of a housing justice advocacy group that we turned into a nonprofit two years ago.
Thanks to our housing justice advocacy, we’ve had remarkable successes in our city and beyond. We’ve persuaded Pasadena’s City Council to approve building 250 units of affordable and supportive housing for low-income and homeless residents in the past two years. We successfully advocated for an inclusionary policy requiring that 20% of all new development be affordable. This policy has resulted in over 1,000 units of affordable housing. Because housing justice advocates, homeless service providers and churches are all working together to influence our elected officials, we’ve lowered Pasadena’s homeless count by 52% in the last decade. You can read more about our work on our website: makinghousinghappen.org.
We are currently working on an ambitious policy that would rezone cities so that congregations can have affordable housing built on their underutilized land, like parking lots. Over 40 churches have expressed interest in the LA county area, and one church in our city has a plan to build 52 units of affordable housing on its property. The only obstacle is zoning. Most churches aren’t zoned for affordable and changing the zoning on a case-by-case basis is very time-consuming and costly. An affordable housing developer told us that it cost half a million dollars and took three years to have the zoning changed so that a church in Orange County could build affordable housing on its property. This is ridiculous. Cities should not be making it hard for churches to do what’s right and needed. Once we convince our elected officials to change the zoning so churches can have affordable housing built, churches can play a vital role in addressing our affordable housing crisis. Orange Grove Meeting has been very supportive of our work and our meetinghouse has become a center for housing justice advocates in our city.
Last summer I had an article published in the Western Friend and gave a webinar called “Loving Your Neighborhood” that describes our housing justice work from a Quaker perspective. I’d be happy to share a link to this webinar if you’re interested. Much of what we’ve learned can be applied to other cities. In fact, University Meeting in Seattle is interested in building affordable housing on its property and was recently encouraged to do so by zoning changes enacted by Seattle’s City Council. Members of this Meeting contacted us for advice and we’d be happy to meet with people anywhere in the country who want to do housing justice work.
It is a joy to work with people of diverse faiths to help end homelessness and housing insecurity. It is also a joy to be part of a Quaker effort to end war through the work of FCNL. We feel that these two goals are interconnected. The slogan of our nonprofit is taken from the prophet Micah in a famous passage calling for an end to war and housing insecurity: “Everyone beneath their vine and fig tree will live in peace and unafraid. Nations will beat their swords in ploughshares and learn war no more.” We feel this is God’s intention for our world and we are committed to making this happen. These are not small or easily attainable goals, and they won’t be achieved in my lifetime. But I am grateful to be part of a movement, a Beloved Community, that is striving to end the disease of poverty and war. I know that many of you are also working to bring about justice and peace and I am eager to hear more about your efforts.
You’re invited to our MHCH Monthly Housing Justice Educational Forum. Learn how churches are having affordable housing built on their underutilized land, and how we can make it easier for them to address the housing crisis and thrive.
When: Tuesday, March 23 2021
7:00 PM Pacific Time
Register in advance for this meeting:
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. For more info, contact Jill@makinghousinghappen.com.