Starting with the most recent comment: Lorcan says, "I find it hard to see us a marginalized sect. For our numbers, our average success rate is staggering. We have had one of our members become an American President (Hoover), and we have built hugely successful institutions in our schools, and public schools in many places like New York. We sometimes feel marginalized when we must engage in bringing our successes back to the light, sometimes, but that is a mark of our success, in my light."
I don't see disproof of our marginalization here, although I do see hints of enduring fertility in Quaker communities, perhaps traceable to the original vitality of our movement. Lorcan's arguments aren't decisive for me for a couple of reasons. First, our two presidents, Hoover and Nixon, are not exactly unmixed representatives of Quaker discipleship; nor did they campaign and win wide public acceptance by emphasizing their Quaker roots. (Nor did either one hide those roots, however, and both remained lifelong Friends. Also, in fairness to Lorcan, their more enlightened public activities could certainly be traced to a Quaker-influenced idealism.) Aside from many other complicated issues, both were commanders in chief of the U.S. military, a prospect not contemplated in our books of faith and practice!
Our institutions do shine in many ways, but they vanish into near statistical insignificance compared to the similar institutions founded by other religious groups. In a few specific locations, whole public school systems were built or modeled upon existing Quaker schools, but in other locations, the religiously-inspired schools of other bodies performed similar roles, sometimes with equally lofty ideals. And the most groundbreaking Quaker institutions, such as Indiana Yearly Meeting's Southland Institute for "freedmen" after the civil war, found mixed acceptance within their own yearly meetings. The late date by which some Friends schools were racially integrated is a sad scandal.
The story of Quaker schools marginalizing themselves is a whole sad issue in itself. Typical story arc: (1) Quaker school is founded with strong identity and mission. (2) Non-Quakers are welcomed. (3) Non-Quakers, after a while, begin commenting on aspects of the school that they're not comfortable with. (4) Quakers don't want to do anything that might make someone uncomfortable, so they accommodate the others. Result: a secular school with a faint odor of quakerishness and vague definitions of its Quaker roots using "that of God in everyone" out of context. If this is unfair to any specific school, let me know and I'll give plenty of space to their case.
Mentioning Nixon's name brings back memories of his funeral. During the funeral, his Quaker affiliation was mentioned, but the most genuinely Quaker thing that happened at that funeral was Billy Graham's clear expression of Christian faith. There, before the eyes of a huge national (and beyond) audience, Graham said the most important thing that could be said: "The Bible says, 'For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.' There's a gaining about death. For the believer, the brutal fact of death has been conquered by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Testifying with clarity and simplicity about the heart of what we have come to know about God, and its universal availability, is as Quaker as we can be; and the marginalization of this first priority in our "testimonies" is the marginalization we Friends have done to ourselves.
Well, it's at least part of the marginalization. Evangelical Friends have not done much better statistically than liberal or middle-of-the-road Friends, despite claiming a clearer Christian witness. I believe the reason for this might be found in the definition of "clarity"—the evangelical subculture overvalues doctrinal propositions, worn-out male-dominated leadership behavior, and non-transparent governance processes masked by happy-talk; and undervalues integrated and prophetic discipleship. And these compromises obscure what might otherwise be a verbally clear message.
The good news: there are hopeful signs that, within the evangelical subculture, a correction is setting in. (See this recent E.J. Dionne column, "A Shift among the Evangelicals," in the Washington Post.) And if the larger evangelical Christian movement really does reclaim its soul, the issue of Quaker marginalization will lose some of its urgency for me. Our task will then be one of continuing to infect the larger culture with some very specific insights about discipleship already shared by the most creative subversives at work there: the incompatibility of discipleship with the use or threat of lethal force; the Holy Spirit's decisive role in guiding church business and empowering leaders, not false social distinctions or powerful personalities; the connections between Christian discipleship and our economic behavior; and, maybe most important of all, the need for worship always to trust in and wait upon the Holy Spirit.
No group that gathers around Jesus Christ, and whose members support each other in living out the reality of that gathering (including its ethical consequences for daily life) can ever really be marginal. Their unity spans the planet, transcending all labels. And as they are faithful, they bless the planet as well.
Righteous Links: It's hard to believe that fifteen years have passed since Sonic the Hedgehog burst onto the video game scene, to the delight of our family. This YouTube clip tickles my nostalgia center, but there's more context in this retrospective article. The official Japanese Web site for the fifteenth anniversary game is here.
I was actually the first person in our family to defeat Robotnik at the end of level one of the first Genesis game. Whatever else I've done in the Quaker or any other context probably pales in comparison to this achievement in terms of the respect of my children!
On a completely different note (I was going to say a more serious note but thought better of it), Sean's Russia Blog has had so much rich material recently that I'm not sure where to start. Browse it all. But these two items drew my special attention: Muslims in the Russian/Soviet Empire, and The Russian Diaspora in Israel.
(Deviating from his normal Russian focus, Sean also contributed important comments on the Florida law banning "revisionism" in teaching American history.)
In the meantime, Konstantin's Russia Blog quotes approvingly a comment by Kirill Pankratov in eXile, along the lines that in the USA, it is taboo or uncool or boring to criticize most racial or ethnic or national groups,
But it is totally permissible to hate and despise Russians. It is as if a huge sign is flashing over the media landscape: "Here you may shit as much as you want!" There is a very small number of roles that Russians can play in American popular art: vicious mafia thugs and their molls, obnoxious fat apparatchiks, half-starving babushkas, raving alcoholics, pitiful girls exploited for sex trade, or the occasional brave pro-Western dissident or a spy. Any kind of "normalcy" is simply forbidden.To which stereotypes could be added a very few positive but almost equally superficial ones: cosmonauts, hockey players, ballerinas. I won't comment further on this item here, but check the extensive comments that have already appeared on Konstantin's weblog.
Here's where you can find me June 30-July 4: Portland's Waterfront Blues Festival.