Friends General Conference

Nurturing faith and Quaker practice

FULL: The Crimes of Quakerism, 1650-2000

Workshop Number: 
Eric Moon
Who may register?: 
Open to All (adult & high school)
Experiential Activities: 
part time-attenders welcome
half gathering attenders welcome
First half (Monday-Wednesday)
Second half (Wednesday/Thursday-Friday)

Quaker history viewed--with alarm--through the eyes of magistrates, gentry, Attorneys General, State's Counsels. Ride along with the CSI Church-State Crimes Unit as we investigate blasphemy,  terrorist plots, loyalty oaths, Bay Colony v. Dyer, COs, war tax refusers, receiving stolen property (slaves), and civil disobedience.

Workshop Description

Quaker history "viewed with alarm" through the anxious eyes of magistrates and gentry, Attorneys General and State’s Counsels.  Ride along with the “CSI Church-State Crimes Unit,” as we investigate blasphemy, church tithes, terrorist plots, loyalty oaths, Bay Colony v. Dyer, et al., Rex v. Penn and Mead, C.O.s and other treason in wartime(s), war tax refusers, receiving stolen property (slaves), civil disobedience as witness. Quakerism -- this ongoing criminal enterprise, this continuing threat to law, order, and homeland security -- must be stopped!  With citizen awareness, we can bring these lawbreakers down…

No, seriously...through conversations with prisoners (around Alternatives to Violence prison workshops) and with the public (AFSC presentations on prisons and punishment), I have outgrown any romanticizing of crime, prisons, or prisoners.  As an amateur Quaker historian, I have found it striking at how many different times in our history Quakers have found ourselves in trouble with the law.  What does this say about the functions of laws and about ourselves?  About the larger cultures in which we try to do our Quakerism ?

If you are one of those folks who insist that Friends in prison weren't "real criminals," that they were "just misunderstood," well, I have come to think they were very well understood, and it is the Quakerism of our time -- avoiding conflicts, risks, confrontations -- that has changed.  That said, over decades I have also outgrown any romanticizing of civil disobedience -- particularly the media-centric modern style.  Gathering attenders who are US citizens, what are our responsibilities in and to history's largest military empire ?  What in the Quaker message and worldview has been most "dangerous" to lawmakers ?

 We will read (PDFs downloadable from DropBox) from primary sources: English and US statutes, legislative oratory, court transcripts and opinions, prisoners’ journals, and advices and queries (re changing Quaker attitudes toward courts and governments).   Reading and roleplaying, we will each morning focus on one or more historic cases, examing what a wider culture's perceptions of and  attitudes toward its Quakers reveal about the culture itself.  Cases will include James Nayler and Mary Dyer, William Penn and William Mead, Isaac Hopper and Thomas Garrett challenging Fugitive Slave legislation, conscientious objection (legal and illegal), and other Quaker witnesses for peace.

The content of this workshop is head-centered, but I predict there are lessons of the heart in this material, as well.


Leader Experience

I have led and co-led a number of workshops over the years, at my home Meeting, at Ben Lomond Quaker Center, and at Gatherings.  In my paid work with AFSC, my program work involved talks with churches and school/college classes.