[saymaListserv] Further AFSC/RSOF Discussion

Michael Shell BrightCrow at InfoAve.Net
Wed May 3 14:26:57 JEST 2000


I sent the following reply to Larry Ingle earlier this week as a private
e-mail, because I wanted an opportunity to extend the Friendly conversation
with him without having one eye peeled/ear tuned to the public audience.
He has encouraged me to share the message with the rest of the SAYMA
listserv, and I'll welcome his sharing further responses too, if he wishes.

What is important to me here is that process of seeking what we both (all)
hold in common as concerns and aspirations, rather than getting stuck in

Thanks again, Larry, for helping me along those lines.


<><><><><><>Forwarded Message<><><><><><>

Dear Larry,

Thank you for your reply to my essay on AFSC and RSOF.  It helps me very
much to see how much our concerns regarding Quaker social ministry overlap.

You write:

>>More and more, I am coming to a position that regards social and economic
class as the most important single thing about most modern "liberal"
Friends, and I am struggling with this issue all the time.

>>Someone once said that a "liberal is one who sympathizes with the hurts
of other people; a radical is one who knows from experience what hurting
is."  This definition speaks to me and my criticisms of AFSC, as well as
the Society of Friends.  The reality of social and economic class is
something that we have not struggled with nearly enough, especially given
our earliest history as a people, in the 1650s.  I don't know yet where it
is all leading, but I anxiously await the outcome.<<

This speaks to my own unease about liberalism in general and Quaker
liberalism in particular.  In the past two decades I've seen very clearly
how ubiquitous is the imbalance created and maintained by economic/class
privilege versus marginalization/ disenfranchisement.  Douglas Gwyn's book,
THE COVENANT CRUCIFIED: Quakers and the Rise of Capitalism [Wallingford,
Penn.: Pendle Hill Publications, 1995], was pivotal in this regard, in
showing me how central to the first Quakers was the principle of
manifesting God's Kingdom concretely in their everyday economic and
political life.  I always feel unfinished when Friends or others who are
genuine in their social concerns nonetheless fail to look more deeply into
the dynamics of this underlying imbalance.

The irony is that while you have legitimate disappointment re AFSC where
your accurate perceptions see "liberalism" instead of "populism," my
different focus has been (primarily through NCRC) on precisely the programs
which do confront the socio-economic issues in the most concrete,
person-to-person way.  I don't write this to "change your mind," because I
trust your perceptions from your perspective, simply to mention my
different experience.

My continued patience with and commitment to AFSC arises, I guess, from my
knowing particular people, particular programs, who/which do reach deeper
into the "concrete realities of those on the receiving end," and from my
profound delight in finding that, yes, there actually are some people in
AFSC (and elsewhere) who see beyond liberalism to socio-economic
realities--and who do real work in the fields along side of the people they

Again, thank you for helping me to hear you more clearly.  Perhaps we can
explore this puzzle of AFSC more at Yearly Meeting.

In Christ,

P.S.  I don't add any modifier to the word "Spirit" (other than the capital
letter) because, as a monotheist, I believe there is only one Spirit.

My beliefs are Christ-centered yet very unorthodox when compared with
conventional Christianity.  Furthermore, I am wary of words and titles,
especially those which attempt to label aspects of the Divine's real
Presence and work in our lives.  I am also wary of inadvertently turning
away people who are uncomfortable with Christian language.  That always
presents me with a challenge when I want to witness to the measure of the
Light which I have been given, without seeming to exclude others from that


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