Moral Frameworks and the Divisions of Indiana Yearly Meeting

June 29, 2012 § 19 Comments

This is a really long post. Readers who would prefer to download a pdf file can click the link.

Moral Frameworks and Quaker Divisions

I have been following the blogs of two Friends whose ministry I highly recommend. Conservative Friend Isabel Penraeth has been exploring the work of psychologist Jonathan Haidt (pronounced ‘height’) and his colleagues on moral frameworks in the context of Quaker culture—or perhaps I should say the plural: Quaker cultures—in an article in this issue of Friends Journal (“Understanding Ourselves, Respecting the Differences”) and more extensively in her excellent blog ( Isabel’s comments have been extremely thoughtful and useful, I think, in understanding our own Quaker moral differences and conflicts, and her critique of Haidt’s work is really insightful.

And Joshua Brown, pastor of West Richmond Meeting in Richmond, Indiana, has been writing (arewefriends) about the decision of Indiana Yearly Meeting to divide over his meeting’s decision to full welcome everyone into their fellowship, including gays and lesbians. He’s been asking great questions and he’s stayed centered in God’s love.

I want to bring together the conversations they have started, and apply some of Isabel’s and Haidt’s insights to the divisions in Indiana YM.

Jonathan Haidt’s work focuses on how the moral frameworks he has identified inform today’s culture wars, and, like Isabel, I want to look at how Haidt’s description of human moral decision-making applies to Friends. But I want to focus more pointedly on the issues we struggle with. I am thinking specifically of how thinking about Haidt’s approach to moral frameworks might shed light on the current divisions in Indiana Yearly Meeting, and also to FUM’s policy of not hiring homosexuals to their staff.

Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Frameworks

Here’s how Jonathan Haidt explains his work on his website (Jonathan Haidt’s faculty website at the University of Virginia)

Moral Foundations Theory was created by a group of social and cultural psychologists to understand why morality varies so much across cultures yet still shows so many similarities and recurrent themes. In brief, the theory proposes that six (or more) innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of “intuitive ethics.” Each culture then constructs virtues, narratives, and institutions on top of these foundations, thereby creating the unique moralities we see around the world, and conflicting within nations too. The foundations are:

1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]

3) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor.

4) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”

5) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

6) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions). [In his early work, Haidt used the words “Purity/Impurity to describe this framework.]

Much of our present research involves applying the theory to political “cultures” such as those of liberals and conservatives. The current American culture war, we have found, can be seen as arising from the fact that liberals try to create a morality relying primarily on the Care/Harm foundation, with additional support from the Fairness/Cheating and Liberty/Oppression foundations. Conservatives, especially religious conservatives, use all six foundations, including Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation. The culture war in the 1990s and early 2000s centered on the legitimacy of these latter three foundations. In 2009, with the rise of the Tea Party [and then the Occupy movement—comment mine], the culture war shifted away from social issues such as abortion and homosexuality, and became more about differing conceptions of fairness (equality vs. proportionality) and liberty (is government the oppressor or defender?).

Here is Isabel on how this applies to Friends:

Broadly speaking, Friends of the Liberal branch tend to hold a liberal moral viewpoint [that is, embrace Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, and Liberty/Oppression as their primary moral frameworks—comment mine] and Friends of the Evangelical and Conservative branches tend to hold conservative moral viewpoints [emphasizing Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation]. These moral viewpoints align somewhat, but not perfectly, with political viewpoints. Differing moral viewpoints are a significant source of conflict both within and between branches.

In a later post, I want to add to this discussion the work of Carol Gilligan in her landmark book In A Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, which looks at gender differences in constructing moral frameworks. But here, I want to look for a moment at what these six moral foundations mean for Friends, and specifically, how they shed light on divisions in Indiana YM, tensions surrounding FUM’s policy of not hiring homosexuals, and, in general, our struggles with homosexuality and authority.

I agree with Isabel that Evangelical and Conservative Friends tend to emphasize and favor the ‘conservative’ moral frameworks (Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation) more than Liberal Friends do.

I want to look at these three conservative moral frameworks in turn.

Sanctity/Degradation and Indiana Yearly Meeting

What’s at work when a Quaker community feels it can no longer sustain religious fellowship with a community that fully welcomes gays and lesbians into its communion? Jonathan Haidt would say that Indiana YM is acting on its moral concern for Sanctity, Authority, and Loyalty. How does such welcome violate a sense of Sanctity?

Here we are talking, I think, about the perceived sanctity of marriage and, more directly perhaps, the sanctity of the body (thinking here of popular images of male-male sex, because when we’re talking about ‘homosexuality’ in a religious context, we’re almost always talking about gay men and their sex). When Haidt originally developed these six moral frameworks, he called Sanctity “Purity,” and I think this get’s a little closer to the issue here. The reaction to a violation of Purity is moral revulsion and this is really the point.

The thing about Sanctity-Purity is that it is contagious. Or rather, impurity and degradation are contagious. Purity must be constantly maintained and it must be reestablished once lost. Impurity, however, sticks until you get rid of it. Eating from plates that have not been sequestered from non-kosher foods will contaminate kosher foods. Contact with a woman in her moontime will make you impure. Allowing a meeting that welcomes homosexuals to remain in your fellowship could influence other meetings and Friends to liberalize their own relationships to homosexuals. Hiring homosexuals (speaking here of FUM, which has a policy of not hiring homosexuals) could compromise the gospel work of the community. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” said Paul (2 Cor 6:14).

Now, separating from a meeting that fully welcomes homosexuals or not hiring homosexuals, in the case of FUM, violates the moral frameworks of Fairness and Care. It’s discrimination and it hurts people, which we normally feel are morally wrong. So we have competing moral frameworks here, and, for Indiana Yearly Meeting and Friends United Meeting, Sanctity/Degradation trumps Fairness/Cheating and Care/Harm. From Haidt’s point of view, these bodies are not acting immorally by deciding to be unfair and to hurt people; rather they are answering to a different set of moral imperatives than the ones Liberal Friends hold dear.

What about this Liberal point of view? For most Liberal Friends, Fairness and especially, Care, trump Sanctity-Purity. As Isabel has pointed out, Liberal Friends do hold things sacred, just different things (one of her examples is the ecological integrity of the earth). However, harming another person is just about as bad—as immoral—as an action can be. And I suspect that most conservative Evangelical Friends agree. But here they make an exception—they are willing to discriminate and to hurt. Why?

The question I have is why Indiana YM and FUM feel justified in their emphasis of Sanctity–Purity over Fairness and Care. (Note that I don’t think they’ve abandoned these moral perspectives. If they had, it wouldn’t have taken years to reach their decisions. Clearly, they also feel the conflicting claims of Fairness and Care.) I think the answer lies in the framework of Authority/Subversion.


Besides Sanctity, the Indiana divisions are also about Authority and Loyalty. On Authority: who has Authority, where does it come from, and who gets to exercise it?

For Evangelical Friends, the Authority of the Bible trumps all other forms of Authority. For many Evangelicals, in fact, I suspect that the Bible as Authority trumps all other moral frameworks, period. I suspect that this goes hand in hand with the tendency to emphasize the Authority of God—God as king, lawmaker, and judge—over His (sic) other attributes. His Authority even trumps Care/Harm because God’s judgment—His Authority—represents the ultimate Care (heaven) and the ultimate Harm—hell. If God is willing to sentence sinners to hell, then we must be willing to exercise Authority on behalf of the gospel, as well, and the harm that we do in His name is justified.

Does the Authority of Scripture and of the Father-Judge also trump even the Authority of the Holy Spirit? This is one of the core issues in the evolution of the Quaker movement to the present day. On the authority of the Holy Spirit, we have thrown over (or at least radically reinterpreted) such biblical injunctions as that of denying women speech in meeting and celebrating the outward Eucharist and outward water baptism. So we’ve been balancing the Authority of scripture against that of the Teacher for a long time, with tremendous subtlety and creativity.

Presumably, West Richmond Meeting experienced a gathered meeting for business in worship when they approved the gay-welcoming minute that started the current divisions in Indiana YM. They felt led by Christ to understand Scripture in a new way in the same way that earlier Friends felt led when they eschewed water baptism. I suspect that Indiana YM just doesn’t believe that West Richmond was really gathered in the spirit of Christ, believing instead, essentially, that the meeting was deluded. Now, from the evangelical perspective, I think, when a Quaker meeting is deluded into thinking they are following the spirit of Christ when they really aren’t, then they are perforce probably following the Father of Lies. To which the proper response is separation—“Get behind me, Satan!”

Though subject, of course, to widely varying interpretations, the Bible is in many ways a more solid foundation for corporate moral decision-making than the vague, shifting, more relativistic foundation for Liberal Quaker corporate moral decision-making. In fact, just what is the Liberal foundation? The Spirit, vaguely defined? Or—God forbid—consensus? One can see the appeal of a scripturally based foundation for moral Authority.


Then there’s Loyalty. Loyalty is about identity and boundaries, who’s in and who’s out, who we are—and who we aren’t. Much of the pain experienced in Indiana comes down to a sense of betrayal, I suspect. At least, that’s the impression I get from reading Joshua’s blog. I’m not sure whether this applies to Indiana’s divisions, but among Friends generally, I think, the Liberal and Evangelical branches define Loyalty quite differently. For Evangelical Friends, the primary Loyalty is inextricably tied to the primary Authority: one owes loyalty to Christ and to the gospel as you understand it—that is, to the Bible, or, in practical fact, to your interpretation of the Bible. For Liberal Friends, Loyalty tends to be committed to each other, to the fellowship, to community. As Isabel puts it in Understanding Ourselves, Respecting the Differences, Evangelical friends identify as Christians first and Quakers second; Conservative Friends identify as Quakers and then Christians; Liberal Friends identify as just Quakers.

Many Friends in Indiana YM, I suspect, feel betrayed by West Richmond. West Richmond, I suspect, feels betrayed by the Yearly Meeting. Gay and lesbian Friends probably feel betrayed by the conservative Indiana Friends who can no longer conscience fellowship with them out of a sense of Sanctity–Purity, and by FUM, which actively discriminates against them. These Betrayals are forms of Harm, which is the flipside of Care. So these frameworks overlap. Betrayal is a form of Harm, a betrayal of Care.


All these frameworks are more clearly understood in terms of their negative. We condemn harm, cheating, oppression, betrayal, subversion, and degradation.  We elevate care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity in reaction to these wrongs. We differ in how we define these things and in the relative weight we give them in our moral perspectives. But the initial moral impulse is usually a negative reaction to harm, cheating, impurity, etc.

I join Isabel in inviting Friends to recognize that the Friends whom they might condemn for some of these wrongs are actually focusing on different wrongs and elevating different virtues. There’s room for self-examination on both sides.

For Evangelical Friends, I think the basic questions are: Do the Authority of (one’s interpretation of) Scripture and the concern for Purity really trump Care? If so, why? And, especially, since the exercise of Authority founded on Scripture always involves choice in interpretation and emphasis, how does one balance the Authority of judgment and the fear of Contamination one finds in Scripture against Christ’s commandment of love and his preference for consorting with the unclean?

For Liberal Friends, perhaps the questions are: Do Care/Harm (and Fairness and Freedom) trump every other moral consideration? If so, why? How do Liberal Friends invest and exercise Authority, Loyalty, and Sanctity? And just what is the Liberal foundation for corporate decision-making?


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§ 19 Responses to Moral Frameworks and the Divisions of Indiana Yearly Meeting

  • Bill Samuel says:

    The different values need to be held in tension, and it needs to be recognized that none of the values truly captures the Spirit of Christ, which is beyond these conceptions. I certainly see that in the dualist/panentheist distinction Bill is making. That probably is one of the engines of division, but neither of those perspectives in and of itself is the Truth. Each may embrace elements of the Truth, but may move away from other elements of Truth.

    Doctrines and values, as they have been expressed in various terms in this dialogue, do have some value, but it is also vital to recognize their limitations. At their best, they illuminate some aspects of Truth, but we must recognize that no human conception actually captures Truth.

    To me, a major problem is the human tendency, expressed in various ways in all the branches and “sides” in Quakerism, to develop some human understandings and then treat them as Truth. The term early Friends used which describes this is manmade religion. IMHO, we need to recognize the radicalness of Christ’s contention that He is the Truth. That’s very hard for us humans to wrap our minds around, and of course it is in fact more important that we wrap our hearts around it. That statement of Jesus implicitly denies that any doctrine or human construction of a value (or written word, even scripture) is Truth. If we acknowledge that, we will be more humble, and humility goes a long way in the effort to preserve unity. If I cease insisting that I am right, and recognize that only God is right, I can still have strong convictions without bashing them over the heads of those who see things a little differently.

    I left Friends because I felt called to be centered in Jesus Christ. It was liberal Friends I left – the only English-speaking established meetings in my area are liberal – but Evangelical churches which are written word centered would also frustrate this call.

  • Emily says:

    In a very insightful discussion of divisions in Canadian meetings, Faith, friends and fragmentation : essays on nineteenth century Quakerism in Canada (Canadian Friends Historical Association, 1995), David Holden pointed out that the divisions in Canadian meetings always involved cultural–usually economic–divisions more than faith issues, which were in effect acting as surrogates for the cultural issues. (Another important element was the perceived size of the meeting.) I have spoken with various liberal friends recently who explained potential opposition to gay marriage in very different ways, all cultural. One had been housing a political refugee from West Africa, where gay marriage is still frowned on. Several gay men had come unto him very strongly. He assumed their rather crass openness represented gay culture, and he wanted no part of it, in any way. Another was from an Orthodox Jew, who knew many in her community for whom this was such a hot button issue that raising it at this time she feared could be potentially be used as an excuse to oppose all liberal reforms as decadent. Another friend had no problem with the gay relationship, but was unsure of the effects on children.
    Each of these persons had very strong concerns with human rights, though of different individuals. Each felt loyalties to different cultures. Dismissing such concerns without listening means that you’re ignoring the human rights concerns of the other, which can be read as very hypocritical. Changes come slowly.

  • seekerquaker says:

    One of the phrases that comes to mind is “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell” I see that this is the “moral compass(?)” of many Friends. Don’t Ask the important questions of what one understands and believes in since either it is obvious in “Conservative” or “Evangelical” tradition what you are supposed to believe in or in General Conference and “independent” Friends what the individual “believes in” has no relevance to the Meeting. Don’t Tell what you believe in since that is either obviously “required” or is not welcome as it might be telling someone else what to believe in.

    The kingdom (sic) of God is here and now and we need to ask what “kingdom” do we experimentally know as it comes to each of us and then tell each other the “truth” as we see it. If we DO ask and DO tell AND then truly listen to each other we should experimentally know what the kingdom requires.

    Hedges says this, Haidt says this.. What does Christ say? nd what can you say?

    • Patricia Dallmann says:

      Well, Seekerquaker, since you asked…I’ll give you an answer: my book The Word Within: Essays on Prophetic Quaker Faith contains some of what I can say.

  • Susan Furry says:

    This is all extremely helpful. Thank you.

    However, one sentence needs factual correction. “Hiring homosexuals (speaking here of FUM, which has a policy of not hiring homosexuals) could compromise the gospel work of the community.” FUM does NOT have a policy of not hiring homosexuals.

    When the minute on which the current personnel policy was adopted, (almost twenty-five years ago), it changed the previous unwritten policy of not hiring homosexuals. Instead, it accepted hiring of people of homosexual orientation, as long as they lived by FUM’s general rule of chastity except within marriage, defined as one man with one woman. Originally written for the Quaker Volunteer Witness program, the policy was later applied to all employees. I have been told by a former FUM General Secretary that in fact more than one homosexual person has worked for FUM under this policy.

    The definition of marriage is a matter of intense controversy among Friends at present, and may in fact discourage many (not just gay) Friends from working for FUM. However at the time the policy was adopted it was a big step for many on the conservative side of the question, since they accepted for the first time the possibility of employing people of homosexual orientation in ministry for FUM. I was a member of the General Board at that time and remember it vividly; I united with the minute with great pain and in tears, because although it excluded some of my beloved Friends, I could feel the Spirit moving in the group to soften attitudes on all sides.. If you want to know more, please read the original minute, which follows:

    Board minute 88 GB 52 :
    (a) We affirm the civil rights of all people to secular employment, housing, education and health care without regard to their sexual orientation. In particular, we condemn violence, whether verbal or physical, against homosexuals, and call for their full protection under the civil rights laws.
    (b) We reaffirm our traditional testimonies of peace, simplicity, truth speaking, gender and racial equality, personal integrity, fidelity, chastity and community. We recognize that there is diversity among us on issues of sexuality. For the purpose of our corporate life together, we affirm our traditional testimony that sexual intercourse should be confined to the bonds of marriage, which we understand to be between one man and one woman.
    (c) The lifestyle of volunteers under appointment to Quaker Volunteer Witness, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be in accordance with these testimonies.

    • Thanks, Susan, for the clarification. I knew that, actually, at one time, anyway. I had forgotten when I wrote my post.

      • Carol says:

        Thank you for posting 88 GB 52 here, Susan. In February 2011, the General Board of FUM minuted that it was no longer in unity on the personnel policy laid out in that minute, but acknowledged that Friends’ practice holds that absent the unity to change, what is in place stays in place.

        I understand that that might seem inconsequential to many, but I, too, experienced the Spirit moving through the group when we found that tiny place of agreement on which to stand together. It happened when one Friend said, quietly, in response to another, “We wouldn’t want you to go against your conscience.” And we all realized we felt that way toward one another.

        It was a moment of such deep unity that it brings tears to my eyes to remember it even now.

        (I don’t know where it fits in the Haidt / Hedges controversy.)

  • I think this is really nicely done and helpful. Thanks for exploring this issue in such depth. I look forward to thy further articles.

    The writes: “The reaction to a violation of Purity is moral revulsion and this is really the point.”

    Friends would do well to remember this is a reaction that cuts both ways. Those of the liberal moral viewpoint will feel moral revulsion when someone expresses anti-gay sentiments, and I have seen it, that person will be contaminated. It becomes easy, even morally important, to dismiss anything a “homophobe” says on any subject ever. They are sinful. They are impure. Until they correct their immoral opinion, they must be shunned and condemned. This is not the language used, but this is the function. (As one can see in Chris Hedges’ review of Haidt’s book (, even suggesting the “other” side has their own moral viewpoint that is internally valid and self-consistent is cause for denigration and dismissal, much less Haidt’s desire to reduce the polarization our national rhetoric by trying to help the political left understand the right. Moderates and centrists, which is what Haidt describes himself as (now), are colluding with the enemy by not condemning them. Chris Hedges’ review is what it looks like when someone from the left chooses division and vilification over unity.)

    Back to Indiana Yearly Meeting, I think there is some embarassment on both sides by the affiliation. I read a Stephen Angell article [Quaker Theology, Issue 20, Volume 11, Number One, The Impending Split in Indiana Yearly Meeting, where he seemed to perceive Evangelical Friends as wanting to be able to keep a good reputation among their fellow evangelicals. Likewise, someone who felt strongly that the conservative viewpoint [seeing homosexuality as a sin] is immoral would find it difficult to admit to others that “their” yearly meeting is not as welcoming [Caring] as he or she is, and in the case of West Richmond, an entire congregation feels unity about that. These outside pressures add to the conundrum: who will violate their principles and yield? Who will say, okay, we’d rather stay united as Friends than hold to our moral values? Neither side.

    Also, I would like to add, after worshipping with Evangelical Friends here in Denver for a year now, the Bible is truly their Authority, as the Word of God. The caricature is of Christians reading the Bible already “knowing” what it says. I haven’t met those Christians among Evangelical Friends here. They *experience* the Bible as an Authority. They turn to it daily. They study it carefully. They engage one another over different passages, different interpretations, different meanings. They share how its guidance has altered their lives. The Bible is not just a way to confirm what they already believe, as many seem to perceive. They tend to agree on interpretation around some hot-button issues, yes, and they do find their moral intuitions confirmed there, but there are still many other challenging things in life and in the Bible to wrestle with. They experience it as a way to conform a life to what the Lord whats for a person, what he wants for a particular faith community, what he wants for his People. Anyone who does not understand what a vital document it is for them does not understand what it means to place the Authority of God’s will as revealed by the Bible at the pinnacle of one’s moral system. It is not an intellectual exercise. It is considered a pivotal part of a life lived faithfully and deeply. The pastor, retiring, Chuck Orwiler helpfully describes that when one says one “believes” in the Bible, one is saying one “relies on” the Bible, and when one says I “believe” in Christ, one is saying I “rely on” Christ.

    • Patricia Dallmann says:

      I stated that Hedges review was “scathing,” not that he “added a meaningful critique of Haidt.” I have read only excerpts from Haidt. But what I read was enough to help me see Hedges’s reason for vehement disagreement with his ideas.

      Hedges states in the review: “It [Haidt’s book] puts forth an argument that obliterates the possibility of the moral life.” Hedges does not dismiss Haidt because of a chauvanistic refusal to entertain another’s moral viewpoint but because Haidt does not see moral life as possible. “The take-home message of the book is ancient,” writes Haidt, “that we are all self-righteous hypocrites.” Oh, really? All of us? If all are hypocrites and apparently can’t be otherwise, how does one view Jesus’ admonition “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

      If as Haidt writes, “moral reasoning is a skill we humans evolved to further our social agendas–to justify our own actions and to defend the teams we belong to,” then George Fox was mistaken. For Fox, moral reasoning, moral probity, and moral strength originated with and was put to the service of God. It was not social agendas, justifying his own actions, or defending the Quaker team that he cared for; he cared for Truth. Though I haven’t read Haidt’s book – nor do I intend to – I doubt if there’s any mention of the Truth, the Truth that makes us free from cultural constrictions that Haidt seems to believe is all there is to morality.

      In my first post, this reference to the review was a minor point. The main point that I made was that Quaker faith propounds a teleological understanding that allows us to resolve disagreement by coming into a knowledge of and obedience to God.

      • Just for the record, I liked the major point of thy first post 🙂

      • “Hedges states in the review: “It [Haidt’s book] puts forth an argument that obliterates the possibility of the moral life.” Hedges does not dismiss Haidt because of a chauvanistic refusal to entertain another’s moral viewpoint but because Haidt does not see moral life as possible”

        How can I convince thee that what Hedges writes here is just not true? Since thee isn’t planning on reading the book, thee will never form an accurate opinion, nor understand my dismay at Hedges’ folly.

        I wish thee could trust me when I say Hedges has not accurately characterized Haidt’s work. He just hasn’t, and though it is perhaps unfair of me to speculate as to why, it is more unfair of Hedges to have done such a disservice to truth.

        Haidt’s own response to Hedges is here:

        Frankly I am shocked, embarrassed and feel a little sick about it. From my perspective, such a disservice to truth (as accuracy) is immoral, particularly as so many people trust his judgment, and seem ready to adopt his opinion as their own without reading Haidt to truly understand how insane Hedges’ response and critique is. Hedges is so intelligent it is hard to believe he could so bizarrely misread the book and Haidt’s work. So I try to excuse him by saying his emotions got the better of him, expressing his righteous anger at the injustices in the world that opposing moral viewpoints support, which is how I read the review.

        If thee feels a need to form an opinion about Haidt’s work, please read it for thyself. Don’t take Hedges’ word for it. He has really badly erred here.

    • I have another blog that I’ve been neglecting for quite a while that’s focused on the Bible. It’s titled Biblemonster, and one of the reasons I chose that title is that the Bible is a monster: it’s powerful, unpredictable, and dangerous. Take it even a little bit seriously and it will mess with you. It will teach you the truth of its own proverb: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. If you really open to it, you WILL BE CHANGED.

      On the other hand, if you treat it cavalierly, if you assume you know what it says and behave or believe accordingly, you will deny the truth, both in its words and in yourself, and you will not be free; you will be a slave to your own unconscious, which never goes well. Think of the classic sci-fi movie, Forbidden Planet.

      On the third hand, treat it dismissively, as many Liberal Friends do, and you amputate your roots. You will end up spiritually bereft, without a full vocabulary with which to speak your truth, with a handful of words, like “vocal ministry” and “testimony” and “witness”, that have lost their context, and therefore their semantics. Gradually, you will lose the meaning of your own primary texts because you do not recognize their alllusions, you will be deaf to the echoes of the ur-text behind them. Your tradition will get thinner and thinner, until it no longer will float your corporate life and—then what?

      As for “relies on”, the word “believe” does not appear very often in Christian scripture all by itself. It almost always is “believe in”: that is, trust in, rely on. “He that believeth in me shall have everlasting life”, for instance. Belief in Christian scripture is not the abstract noun that we use today, that has in fact become the virtual definition of religion itself. In Scripture, belief is always at least a noun made of a verb, an action-noun. But much more importantly, it almost always is actually not a noun at all, but a verb—something one DOES, not something one has.

      And belief is not about ideas, about religious ideology, what Friends have called “notions”. Rather belief is about trust, commitment; it’s about relationship, not thought.

      Well, enough ranting. Thanks to all for this stimulating conversation.


  • Betsy says:

    Personally, I don’t have a problem with homosexual relationships, and the Meeting I associate with doesn’t either. For me, it’s like a person who is born left handed.

    But here’s another challenge for ethics/morality. What does a Meeting do with a person who insists on espousing non-Quaker values, and then gets mad when the Meeting doesn’t change to adopt his views? What do we do with a person who says the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act should both be repealed, that the EPA and Dept. of Education should be dissolved? What do we do with a person who admits to membership in white supremecist organizations?

    Yes, this person was repeatedly addressed gently to re-examine his orientations, he was asked repeatedly why he chose to attend a Quaker Meetings, as well as why he’d get angry at us for being Quakers! After 5 years and his admission to belonging to racist/neo-cecessionist groups and having close personal associations with people in those groups, he was finally confronted so soundly, he no longer attends. But after those 5 years, the Meeting had lost members because the feeling of the Meeting was (and remains) “anything goes.”

    Another member of this same Meeting calls himself a peace activist, but he is “violent” towards members of the Meeting with his bizarre accusations and verbal abuse! Instead of meeting with this person to try to help him behave in a more Quakerly fashion, even by Liberal Quaker standards, those who stand up to him, who refuse to be bullied by him, are the ones who are essentially “shunned.”

    I do think Meetings need to have an attention to morality and ethics. Putting up with the rants of a neo-nazi ;is not exactly what I’d call “tolerance.” While the ranter has a civic right to freedom of expression, does he have a right to attack members of a Meeting for rejecting his orientation? We have to “draw the line” somewhere. Tolerating bullying or verbal abuse of one member toward another is not acceptable in my opinion.

    • Having been close to a meeting that had to finally disown a member who had abused just about everybody in the meeting, and after visiting a couple of troubled meetings on behalf of a yearly meeting’s committee for ministry and counsel, I have came away with two things. First, all these meetings agreed that they had waited too long to act decisively, and that a culture of silence had kept them from realizing how serious the problem was because Friends weren’t talking amongst each other about the problem—more specifically, about the problem person.

      Second, I feel that, once you have lost just one person from meeting because someone’s behavior is driving them away, you might as well have lost the person causing the problem. Put another way, the first person who stays away from meeting in such a situation should send a signal for the meeting to act in some way: at the very least, the proper committee or a group of concerned Friends should meet to discuss what to do, and they should be resolved to actually DO SOMETHING. The process, I feel, should be based in the ancient tradition of gospel order that Friends have adopted from Matthew 18, a simple three-step process of internal discipline in love. So we Friends even have a tradition to fall back on here.

      As for your violent activist, we Friends do have a tendency sometimes to misidentify the victim in such situations. Maybe that is because we are super-sensitive to being victimizers ourselves, so we pay more attention to people whom we fear we might be victimizing—in this case, the victimizer. In addition, we have a tradition of trying to embrace the perpetrator as well as the victim as children of God. But I feel the dynamics you are describing are dysfunctional. From the days when we over-eldered our members, we have now over-compensated and become allergic to discipline as part of our faith and, in practice, we have almost no culture of eldership to which we could turn in situations like this.

      Ultimately, the meeting has a primary responsibility to protect the community’s worship and its fellowship. When someone threatens either one, it’s time to do something. And we do have a valuable, viable tradition of eldership to use when members or attenders threaten the worship and the fellowship of our community.

  • Patricia Dallmann says:

    In the early ’80s, moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre wrote After Virtue in which he diagnosed the primary problem besetting modern moral discourse. Absent a teleological idea that human life has a “proper end and a character,” ethics is ungrounded and indeterminate. Deprived of teleology, conflicts around differing cultural values will be unresolvable.

    Barclay identified Quaker teleological understanding in his first proposition: “Seeing the height of all happiness is placed in the true knowledge of God, the true and right understanding of this foundation and ground of knowledge is that which is most necessary to be known and believed in the first place.”

    Here is a link to a review by Chris Hedges of Haidt’s book. His review is scathing. I admire Hedges as someone whose moral compass is working.

    • Thanks, Patricia, for your comment and the link to Hedges’s review. I know Haidt’s work through some articles and hearing him give a presentation, and the review revealed aspects I didn’t know about.

      I worked on this post for quiet a while before I got to the commandment of love. At that point, I considered starting over and being more concise, but I left what I had written stand. You have written a comment that is really what I was trying for. Thanks.


      • Wow. I have my disagreements with Haidt’s work, and I have always read Hedges with interest in the past, but Hedges has badly mischaracterized Haidt’s work, his personal character and his intentions in this critique. I have read dozens of Haidt’s articles, both scholarly and popular, and two of his books. Hedges has let his feelings override his rational consideration of the book and turned it into a venomous character assassination.

        Hedges is detracting from Haidt’s character when the matter at hand is actually of differing opinion and just the *description* of a differing viewpoint. Hedges mischaracterizes Haidt’s *description* of the conservative moral viewpoint as approval and agreement, which it is clear if one reads his works he does not approve and is not in agreement with. Hedges is critiquing Haidt’s work as a passionate and partisan holder of the liberal moral viewpoint, and his take-no-prisoners approach to differing moral viewpoints (that they are immoral) would make compromise and discussion, um, immoral. Hedges would in fact cast the entire world that doesn’t agree with modern Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic left as immoral, what Haidt was trying to “fix” within the social science. I can’t agree with thee, Patricia, that Hedges has added a meaningful critique of Haidt.

  • Tom Smith says:

    Do Care/Harm (and Fairness and Freedom) trump every other moral consideration? If so, why?

    What is the greatest commandment? Love God. Love neighbor. That’s it. Neighbor also includes “enemy.”

    “Beyond consensus” “Unity of the community/Meeting”

    This is way “over simplified” but summarizes much of the “authority” of the Gospel, etc.

  • billclenbill says:

    Christ’s commandment of love points in two directions: Love God with all your being and love your neighbor with all your being. Some of the division in Friends is in the way this command is understood.

    Liberal Friends tend to conflate God and neighbor and see one command of love, moving toward a panentheism that identifies God as being in and of the neighbor. Conservative Friends see two distinct commands because they see creation in dualist terms, with God distinct from neighbor. Loving God is just as imperative as loving my neighbor, but they are expressed in different ways.

    A dualist understanding of God and creation would tend to give loyalty, authority and sanctity a greater place. A panentheist understanding would tend to emphasize care, fairness and liberty.

    I would suggest that the dualist/panentheist tension is one of the engines of division among Friends.

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You are currently reading Moral Frameworks and the Divisions of Indiana Yearly Meeting at Through the Flaming Sword.