ESR authors to discuss books covering decade of discord within yearly meetings

The Earlham School of Religion will have a community discussion on Thursday, Nov. 11, featuring the authors of The Separation Generation, a new trilogy of books chronicling a tumultuous time in recent Quaker polity.

The free event begins at 4 p.m. via Zoom and features co-authors Stephen Angell, Leatherock professor of Quaker studies at ESR; Jade Souza, an ESR student; and Chuck Fager, a retired peace activist and journalist.

The Separation Generation includes three volumes — Indiana Trainwreck, Murder at Quaker Lake, and Shattered by the Light — and are the only to chronicle the stories of five yearly Quaker meetings. Four of them underwent separation into two or more new meetings, or allowed Friends churches within their yearly meeting to go independent; a fifth yearly meeting, 320 years old, shut down completely. Between the years of 2009 and 2018, discord over the authority of scripture, church governance, and debate over welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ members, was a common thread in these conflicts.

Indiana Trainwreck reports on the formal separation of the Indiana Yearly Meeting in 2013 and numerous departures of Friends churches from the Western Yearly Meeting. The book focuses on the fallout related to a 2008 statement adopted by the West Richmond (Indiana) Friends Meeting affirming the presence and participation of LGBTQ persons in all aspects of its fellowship.

In the trilogy’s second and third volumes, similar dramatic departures are accounted for from the North Carolina, Northwest and Wilmington (Ohio) yearly meetings that affected the heartland of pastoral Quakerism.

 “It has been an honor working alongside Jade Souza and Chuck Fager in documenting the biggest wave of division among Quakers in more than a century,” Angell said. “We tell a complicated story, one in which Quaker process was often tragically misused to achieve results favoring those advocating division, but one that may also mark creative new beginnings for several yearly meetings more clearly aligned along theological and spiritual lines.

“Quakers, and others concerned with the turmoil afflicting religious denominations throughout the United States, will need to read these books and reckon with both the manifest perils and possible eventual promise of these signal developments.”

“We tell a complicated story, one in which Quaker process was often tragically misused to achieve results favoring those advocating division, but one that may also mark creative new beginnings for several yearly meetings more clearly aligned along theological and spiritual lines. — Stephen Angell, Leatherock professor of Quaker studies

This event is the first time that all three authors will appear together since the publication of the trilogy in 2020 and 2021. The authors will focus their remarks on the separation of the Northwest Yearly Meeting, a regional grouping of Quaker churches in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and the creation of a new yearly meeting for those meetings which are LGBTQ friendly.

“Jade and Steve and I put a lot of work on this project. In too many cases, such conflicts are hushed up and covered up. But we need to face the facts,” Fager said. “For instance, there was a pattern of cheating by many yearly meeting officers in these situations, that remains a problem for today’s Quakers to face up to and fix. The integrity of authentic Quaker process is one of the Society of Friends’ most precious possessions.

“As our colleague Jade put it, ‘Often we don’t want these stories out there because we see ourselves as patterns and examples, but I believe we are only as sick as our secrets.’” 

A question-and-answer session will follow.

All three books will be sold at the event. Books can also be purchased on Amazon.

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