Archives For Quakers

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

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  • Climate Progress reports on efforts by an alliance of Native American nations, activists, and environmental groups, to stop the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline through Lakota land. Quote: “In the wake of the State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statementfor the Keystone XL pipeline which sparked nearly 300 protest vigils across the country, a group of Native American communities have added their voices to the calls to reject Keystone XL. In a joint statement — No Keystone XL pipeline will cross Lakota lands — Honor the Earth, the Oglala Sioux Nation, Owe Aku, and Protect the Sacred announced their intention to peacefully resist the construction of the pipeline slated to cut through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska.” You can read the full statement, here.
  • Amnesty International has released a statement saying “after 38 years time to release indigenous leader Leonard Peltier.” Quote: “It is time for the USA authorities to release Leonard Peltier, an Anishinabe-Lakota Native American and leading member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), who has been imprisoned for 38 years despite serious concerns about the fairness of proceedings leading to his conviction. Leonard Peltier was arrested 38 years ago today in connection with the murders of two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, during a confrontation involving AIM members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in June 1975. While he admits to having been present during the incident, Leonard Peltier, who in 1977 was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the murders, has always denied killing the agents as alleged by the prosecution at his trial.”
  • A woman charged with the sexual abuse of children allegedly tried to silence victims by saying she was a witch, and that she would utilize spells against them if they talked. Quote: “Shocking is perhaps the best word to describe the allegations against Jessica Smith. But perhaps it also best describes her self-proclaimed job title. “Ms. Smith led the children to believe that she was a witch, a practicing witch. [She]would place hexes or spells on the children if they revealed any of the facts that had happened,” Richmond said. “Of course, these children are young and they believed her. As if what [the victims] witnessed at that point wasn’t enough, now they think someone is going to cast a spell on them.” There’s no confirmation of whether she actually adhered to some form of religious witchcraft, or if it was merely a ruse.
  • “Conscience” laws are redundant, and largely politically motivated, and even lawmakers in South Dakota realize that. Quote: “As Americans United has pointed out several times, the First Amendment already protects members of clergy from being compelled to officiate at marriage ceremonies. Why can’t a same-sex couple demand a church wedding? For the same reason that a Protestant couple can’t just walk into a Roman Catholic church and demand that the priest marry them. Members of the clergy have an absolute right to determine the parameters for the sacraments they offer. If a couple doesn’t meet those criteria, the pastor is free to show them the door.”
  • Religion Clause reports that a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling in State v. Armitage says Native Hawaiians are not infringed on by making them obtain a permit to enter an island reserve. Quote: “The Hawaii Supreme Court held that the rights of Native Hawaiians are not infringed by a statute limiting entry into the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve only to those who obtain authorization to do so through a written application process.  Defendants claim they were traveling to the island to proclaim the right of the “Reinstated Kingdom of Hawaii” to the island. The court rejected defendants’ arguments that their entry was protected by the Art. XII, Sec. 7 of the Hawaii Constitution which protects the right to engage in traditional and customary Native Hawaiian subsistence, cultural and religious practices.”
A young man wears a blindfold in an initiation ritual. (Jan Sochor – GlobalPost)

A young man wears a blindfold in an initiation ritual. (Jan Sochor – GlobalPost)

  • Global Post has a photoset up focusing on Palo in Cuba. Quote: “The cultures of Cuba’s many African descendants run deep across the island. They blend with the country’s traditional Roman Catholic practices to create vibrant mixtures. Photographer Jan Sochor captures the ritual scenes here in Santiago de Cuba and Havana, in particular capturing Palo rituals. A religious practice often confused with Yoruba religion (Santeria), but distinguished by more underground practices and initiations.”
  • Is cultural Christianity dead? That’s what  R. Albert Mohler Jr., President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary asserts. Quote: “There was in the center of the country — and I don’t mean that geographically, but culturally — a cultural religiosity that was, in the main, a cultural Christianity that trended in one direction for the better part of 60 to 70 years, and it had a kind of moral authority that is disappearing before our eyes.” 
  • Don’t be a jerk, don’t deface ancient rock formations. Quote: “Prosecutors have filed charges against two former Boy Scout leaders accused of toppling one of the ancient rock formations at Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park. State Parks officials say Glenn Taylor is charged with criminal mischief. David Hall is charged with aiding criminal mischief, another felony.”
  • Early Americans really didn’t like the Quakers much. Quote: “Known today for their pacifist and quietist ways, Quakers had an altogether different reputation in the seventeenth century: belligerent and boisterous rabble-rousers. Fueled by evangelical zeal, and asserting radical ideas for the time, the Quakers were aggressive proselytizers. As a result, they faced violent persecution in England and, to a lesser extent, in the Netherlands, where many migrated. News of their beliefs (e.g. equality for women, refusal to swear oaths, etc.) and their tactics (e.g. preaching loudly and publicly, disrupting worship services, etc.) reached the colonies before the Quakers did. Connecticut, in fact, banned Quakers in October 1656—prior to any Quakers having ever reached the colony.”
  • What’s it like being a Pagan at Penn? Pretty lonely, it seems. Quote: “Deidre Marsh, a College senior, founded Penn Wheel a semester ago in order to build a community for earth-based religions and paganism. But even in a school of over 10,000 undergraduates, Marsh has been unable to find anyone else who shares her religious beliefs.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

The Utah Standard-Examiner talks to author Sharman Apt Russell on the event of her visit for the Weber Pathways’ Seventh Annual Author Dinner Event. Russell, well known for her science and nature books, branched out in 2008 with “Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist”, which explored the history of pantheism, and her own devotion to that religious philosophy.

“Tell someone you are a pantheist, and she is likely to wrinkle her brow in confusion,” said Russell. “Tell her you believe that the universe is a miracle worthy of awe and reverence — and she may well nod her head in agreement.”

Which is all fine and good, some of my best friends are pantheists after all, nothing to write home about within the scope of this blog. What is particularly interesting is when Russell, a Quaker, discusses the distinctions between her pantheism and outright Paganism.

“I’m not a pagan dancing around a tree, I anchor myself to the Quaker community,” she said. “I belong to an organized religion, Quakerism, which is eclectic and diverse in its beliefs, but does have a sense of the sacred and … a sense of reverence. It has a lot of history to it, and so I’m am not unanchored.”

Which immediately made me wonder about all the Pagans dancing around trees who also anchor themselves to Quakerism. Some of whom I count as friends. Now, given that newspaper articles often paraphrase or quote out of context, we make not know the fullness of Russell’s feelings on the divisions between pantheism and Paganism. That said, there are an awful lot of implications to unpack from her statement. Is Paganism, in her opinion, unanchored? Does Paganism not have a sense of reverence or the sacred? What is she even speaking of when she speaks about “paganism”? I can’t imagine that a self-professed pantheist is completely ignorant of the advent of modern Paganism. Or indeed, that a Quaker pantheist would not know of the growing movement of Quaker Pagans, a phenomenon large enough to gain the attention of large Christian publications.

In the end, her statement sounds like a disclaimer. I may be a pantheist, it says, but I’m not too different. I shouldn’t scare or unnerve you. I’m not like those margin-walkers trying to co-exist in two different traditions, or taking my reverence for the universe into the realm of actually celebrating its existence by “dancing around a tree”. I’m safe, I’m one of you.

I don’t say that to mock or belittle Ms. Russell, only to acknowledge how those statements sound to actual Pagans who have been known to dance around the odd tree, or find a sense of true reverence outside a Christian-founded institution. Indeed, Russell, and her message, are important. She is making pantheism safe for those made nervous by the Pagans, in a very real sense she is preparing her community for a post-Christian society.

The Washington Post reports on a Quaker who, with the help of the ACLU, is suing the U.S. Government for not providing a way to note conscientious objector status when fulfilling the requirement to register with the Selective Service System.

“The United States, which has an all-volunteer military, has not had a draft since 1973. But the Selective Service System collects information from men ages 18 to 25 in case Congress reinstates conscription into the armed forces. [Tobin] Jacobrown, of Indianola, Wash., said he has not filled out his Selective Service forms, as required by law, because they do not have a space for him to indicate his status as a conscientious objector. As a Quaker, he said, he cannot sign the forms without such a provision. Although Quakers do not have a specific creed, pacifism is a long-standing belief.”

The ACLU points out that adding a line to state a desired CO status would be “easy as pie”, and that Selective Service forms up till 1980 provided a way to record conscientious objector claims. It is currently against the law for any male to refuse to participate in the Selective Service process (and those who do are denied government benefits). It should be interesting to see how this plays out, suing the government into doing anything, no matter how easy it may be for them to accomplish, is a slow and difficult process. As for Tobin Jacobrown, he is already well-positioned to avoid military service in the event of a draft. The Quakers (aka the Religious Society of Friends), with their Peace Testimony and long history of active resistance to military service, are usually given CO status when brought before their local Selective Service board. The contentious issue here, and why I think the government will fight making this “easy” change, is how adding this line might assist members of other religious groups who embrace some form of pacifism, like certain Catholics or various Pagan individuals.

Currently, if you want to get CO status for ethical or religious reasons (CO status isn’t granted for political reasons) you have to appear at a Selective Service board hearing, and you are expected to prove a long-standing commitment to non-participation or resistance to war in all forms. Many religious groups, in anticipation of a new draft, have instructions and forms to prepare in the event that a draft is called and you must prove your CO status. Gathering the proper documentation can be difficult, and division over the issue within religious communities have been used against aspiring objectors. Recent court cases have moved things further into the direction of individual (rather than institutional) matters of conscience that don’t require proof of “rigorous study”, but that doesn’t mean the process is a cake-walk. Allowing teens to indicate a CO claim on the Selective Service form would establish a definable paper-trail of anti-militaristic intent, and could bolster CO cases if a new draft should ever be called. At this time, would-be COs who write objector statements on their Selective Service forms create no paper-trail as the forms are destroyed after the information is recorded.

“Other Quakers, he said, write that they are conscientious objectors on the forms, even though the information is not collected by the government and the documents are discarded. The objectors keep copies of the forms to prove that they raised the issue when they registered.”

For modern Paganism, which encompasses many different religions and traditions, and many different attitudes towards military service, being able to make the government record your individual beliefs regarding service is important. Otherwise a pacifist Pagan could be confronted with the fact that many Pagans serve in the military and that our communities have been very active in having Pagan soldiers acknowledged and honored. As we move away from top-down hierarchical religious institutions, getting to acknowledge that a single religion (or interconnected group of religions) can encompass both pacifists and warriors (and various shades in-between) is an important step, a step that may be taken by Mr. Jacobrown and the ACLU.

Modern Reformation magazine profiles the growing movement of Quaker Pagans, and interviews Cat Chapin-Bishop of the Quaker Pagan Reflections blog.

“In the last decade, this dual faith has sprung up around the country, including Quaker-pagan gatherings, seminars, an extensive presence on the Internet, and even explicitly Quaker-pagan congregations. There may be only several hundred Quaker pagans, but among American Quakers, their presence can be distinctly felt.”

The article also speaks to Pagan-turned-Christian Carl McColman, and Stasa Morgan-Appel of the Musings of a Quaker Witch blog. The tone of religion journalist Matthew Streib seems to be intrigued but cautious, noting that the dwindling number of Quakers could receive an infusion of new blood from curious Pagans, but that the tradition (specifically the Friends General Conference) risks losing its focus on Christ (and thus its Christian identity).

“[Cat Chapin-Bishop] says many pagans find Quakerism attractive because it allows them to appear more mainstream. Still, she worries that if their commitment doesn’t deepen, that could weaken Quaker beliefs. “I see the pagan world waking up and saying, `Wow, there’s Quakers, and maybe we could be Quakers and pagans — cool!'” she said. ‘If it stays on that superficial level, that’s not good news, and threatens Quakerism with real dilution. But if there are some leadings and people … take in the wisdom that people have to teach us, then it’s a wonderful thing for both pagans and the Society of Friends.'”

Could the more liberal strains of Quakerism slowly evolve into a post-Christian faith? It isn’t an unheard-of event. Unitarian-Universalism, once two distinct liberal Christian traditions, has embraced a post-Christian identity and now happily includes a number of theological points of view (including Paganism) within its ranks. Whether these theological shifts are ultimately healthy is a topic that is still being debated, though even conservative Quakers are hesitant to take an action that would make Pagans feel unwelcome.

“Christ is not the sort of person who would drive people away — I don’t know that it’s our job to stop it … Our job is to seek to know the will of the living Christ and to obey it the best we can. When we humans try to fix one another, we just make things much, much worse.”

Whether its fate is to remains essentially Christian, or evolve into something else, the Religious Society of Friends will most likely avoid hostile cries of heresy and fights over blasphemy that would be greeted if this trend manifested in a more mainstream Christian church. Instead, the Quakers will most likely do what they have always done, listen in silence, and wait for the “leading of the spirit”.