FRIENDS JOURNAL FORUM February, 2008

Is this ad appropriate?

     I'm writing as a long-time FRIENDS JOURNAL subscriber, and I enjoy and appreciate it very much. I was, however, stunned by the advertisement which you ran on page 55 of the November 2007 issue. The viewpoint promoted feels like propaganda, very political, and certainly doesn't represent what I understand to be the views of the majority of Friends.
I hope you will reconsider placing such advertisements in your fine magazine in future issues. I'm not opposed to discussion and am open to other viewpoints, but the space given to this extreme point of view, via a paid ad, doesn't seem appropriate.

Diane Proctor
Baltimore, Md.

An objection to an ad

     I am writing this letter out of concern for the publishing of the paid, full-page ad, from a non-Quaker, pro-life group, Consistent Life. This ad appeared in different forms in October, November, and December. Facts and descriptions related to abortion can be presented back and forth by groups on each side of this issue. I am old enough to remember when abortions were illegal, and the gross descriptions given in the November issue are similar to what was taking place with most abortions in the times before abortions were legal. Abortions took place in unsanitary conditions, back rooms, etc. At least since the passage of Roe v. Wade, women do have a choice, and can be seen in hospitals and by certified physicians.
I have no objection to the JOURNAL accepting articles, letters, Forum discussions on the topic of abortion. I do object to the JOURNAL accepting paid ads, from Consistent Life, whose membership, listed at their site, are all pro-life groups, most of which are non-Quaker.
I have spoken with FRIENDS JOURNAL's publisher and executive editor and the senior editor. I know that they looked very carefully at this ad and affiliated groups. I would hope that in the future they will not accept paid ads from non-Quaker organizations who use biased statements and grotesque descriptions to forward their agenda.

Nancy Gideon Clark
Baltimore, Md.

We need compassion

     I was appalled to see the full-page ad by the groups opposed to abortion (FJ Nov. 2007, p. 55). We need open and loving listening to each other, not entirely one-sided positions. Worse, some of the background material that is referenced in the ad is junk science as any good researcher will notice. For example, in the piece by Thomas Strahan on the feminization of poverty, trends in poverty rates for female-headed households and in repeat abortion rates are presented. But we cannot infer causation from correlation. And there is a major selection effect of women who have repeat abortions. To minimize both the first and repeat abortion rates. we need much more available contraception (e.g., in school clinics) and emergency contraception. We need compassion with each other on the matter of abortion, not propaganda from one side or the other. Friends Committee on Unity with Nature (now Quaker EarthCare Witness) spent three years laboring to produce a pamphlet on abortion, and I recommend it to Friends ("Toward taking away the occasion of abortion"; available at <www.quakerearthcare.org>).

Stan Becker
Baltimore, Md.

FWWPT web page Editor's Note: The article by Thomas Strahan to which Stan Becker refers can be found at http://www.fnsa.org/v1n3/strahan.html. A response is in the last letter below.

FRIENDS JOURNAL FORUM March, 2008

How far to take "Thou shalt not kill"?

     My wife and I have the good fortune of living in a Quaker-sponsored continuing care retirement community, Stapeley in Germantown, in that historic part of Philadelphia. One of our best friends here shares her FRIENDS JOURNAL with us. In the December 2007 issue, on page 41, there is a full page ad by "Consistent Life," which describes itself as "an international network for peace, justice, and life."

     Intellectual consistency has been characterized variously, but my favorite is: "Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." Consistency is also considered desirable in most situations dealing with general rules of argument and debate.
However, the human condition itself represents various and endless inconsistencies, many of which we protect and even treasure for human life.    

     Taken literally, "thou shalt not kill" reduces us to searching for food which does not require the taking of animal or plant life. Police work and other life-protecting positions require extreme measures to minimize killing and protect life.

     The ad on page 41 seems to ignore these "facts of life." Taken literally, it seems to say "If we believe that human life is precious (or even sacred), then we must oppose abortion, wars, police actions, etc., which result in the taking of human life." How do we deal with "mad" killers shooting innocent people, or nations committing acts of war on other nations? Or, even religious groups -- remember the Branch Davidians tragedy in Texas in 1993?

     Absolute consistency, like any other absolute, usually turns out to be a double-edged sword in judging human behavior. It starts out well-intentioned and useful for analyzing human behavioral situations but soon produces consequences worse than the behavior it intends to improve. Our great U.S. philosopher John Dewey had it right when he said, "Let us admit the case of the conservative: if we once start thinking no one can guarantee where we shall come out, except that many objects, ends, and institutions are doomed, every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril and no one can wholly predict what will emerge in its place."

     On the matter of abortion, I recall my sainted mother and her friends discussing their preference for a doctor. The deciding factor was summed up in their question: "Does he save the mother or the baby?"

     All things considered, the rules of logic and political debate are used to prove conflicting conclusions and political elections. Such semantic antics require semantic hygiene.

Leo Molinaro
Philadelphia, Pa.

FRIENDS JOURNAL FORUM April, 2008

Let's not suppress dissenting views

     Given recent letters of protest to the Forum (FJ Feb.), I want to express my own support to FRIENDS JOURNAL for running the paid advertisement from Consistent Life/Friends Witness for a Pro-life Peace Testimony.

     This ad is contrary to my own views, and I hope Friends' sympathies will remain largely pro-choice. However, I am acquainted with Friends whose objection to abortion is sincere, deeply considered, and comes from their best effort to be faithful to the Light. I trust that the same is true for the Friends behind the placement of this ad, and I hope those of us who disagree will listen for any bits of Truth we can glean from their message, as we would (hopefully) attend to someone disagreeing with us in meeting for worship for business.

 

     A number of months ago there was some kerfuffle because FRIENDS JOURNAL declined to run a paid advertisement from a Friend whose message would likely have disturbed or annoyed many Friends, and which might have misled those unfamiliar with Quakerism. I am glad that this time the JOURNAL elected instead not to avoid the inevitable complaints, but to sell advertising space to those who are ready to make a witness that many of us will dislike.

     I imagine there have always been pressures among Friends to keep silent about any opinions that could cause discord or disagreement in our community. In my own lifetime, I have seen a value rise up that individuals have a right not to be troubled or pained by the words of others, and that the very claim that "what they say upsets me" is argument enough for others to be removed from our agendas. I am convinced that such expectations of outward personal "safety" are dangerous to us as truth-seeking communities. The most powerful ministry I have heard among Friends has emerged not when we were avoiding controversy, but at times when we struggled to find our way through deep, even painful differences. And I know that I have been forced to greater depths by the ways that rightly-ordered Friends process forces me to hear rather than silence or outvote the one who I believe is wrong.

Chel Avery
Goshen, Pa.

No unity on abortion

     I am puzzled by the letters from Baltimore (Forum, Feb.) objecting to our advertisements in three previous issues of FRIENDS JOURNAL. The concerns of the writers seem to fall into these categories: the ad is "from a non-Quaker" group, it is "very political" and "extreme," and it "doesn't represent . . . the view of the majority of Friends."

     Firstly it doesn't appear that FRIENDS JOURNAL has a policy banning ads from non-Quaker groups, nor should it. In fact, the members of the nascent group, Friends Witness for a Pro-life Peace Testimony (FWPPT), endorsed the Consistent Life mission statement and these ads prior to their publication, and the ads indicate this Quaker connection.

     Secondly since abortion is not an issue on the table in the current political campaign, I don't see how it is very political at the moment. Who's talking about abortion these days? Even those few candidates who are nominally pro-life on abortion are not bringing the issue to the public forum in this election. And I find the use of the word "extreme" in a Quaker publication to be extreme in itself In a Quaker context, "extreme" views on abortion would be those advocating violence against abortion providers or abortion advocates, not those talking about peace and nonviolence, as we do in the ads.

     And the "majority of Friends" argument is wrong on two levels. Primarily, Quakers separate ourselves in principle and practice from all use of majority rule. And secondly the writer forgot to modify "Friends" with a plain-speaking adjective, such as "unprogrammed" or "nonpastoral" or some other word that would indicate that they were talking only about the kind of Friends who go to certain meetings. In fact, the majority of Friends around the world do oppose abortion. I know that Baltimore Yearly Meeting is considering disaffiliating itself from Friends United Meeting over the issue of gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender employment discrimination (a move I wish New York Yearly Meeting would also consider for the same reason), but at this time, these writers are still affiliated with a majority of Friends who are pro-life, not pro-choice, and truth-telling has to admit that.

     Lastly, I have taken a quick look at the pamphlet that Stan Becker recommended from Quaker Earthcare Witness, and I must say that I am quite impressed with it. Near the beginning, it says, "Historically Friends have not had unity on the matter of abortion." I agree. Please join me in prayerfully seeking such unity.

Ken Maher
Rochester, N.Y.

A response from the ad's author

     I'm the person who wrote the rough drafts of the ads objected to by letter-writers in the February issue, the ads co-sponsored by Consistent Life and Friends Witness for a Pro-life Peace Testimony. If credentialing is needed, I've been a member of Penn Valley (Mo.) Meeting since 1972 at age 14 and graduated from Earlham College with a major in Peace and Conflict Studies. Several Friends participated in refining the drafts.

     It's in the nature of one-page documents to offer one viewpoint and be oversimplified. This would be inappropriate if discussion were then precluded. But they were explicitly intended to instead spark discussion and reflection.

     On a substantive point, to answer Stan Becker: If Tom Strahan said the evidence linking abortion practice to the feminization of poverty were conclusive, then of course that would be junk science. Strahan carefully says otherwise; knowing that correlation is not causation, he only provides evidence and possible explanations. Considering repeat abortions is valid for society-wide impact, since in the U.S. they are currently almost half of abortions done.
I echo Stan's recommendation of the Quaker Earthcare pamphlet, along with a responding essay to it at <www.prolifequakers.org>. I invite all Friends who would like to explore issues to peruse that website, and I invite Friends to send in comments or discussion or extra documents that can be published there, on all sides of the issue to <clerk @ prolifequakers.org>.

Rachel MacNair
Kansas City, Mo.

Other comments are welcome; please send to clerk @ prolifequakers . org [remove spaces]