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A Liberal Quaker at Liberty

Liberty University, that is. The author:

grew up in the tiny college town of Oberlin, Ohio, a crunchy liberal enclave plopped down improbably in the middle of the Lake Erie Rust Belt. My parents are Quakers, a rather free-spirited sect of Christianity who members (called Friends) spend a lot of time talking about peace and working for social justice. But despite the our affiliation, our house was practically religion-free. We never read the Bible or said grace over our meals, and our attendance at Quaker services was spotty - though we did visit a small Baptist church once a year to sing Christmas carols. (To be clear: this is the kind of Baptist church where the pastor swaps out the gendered language in the carols, like in "Lo! How a Rose E'er Blooming" when "men of old have sung" becomes "as those of old have sung.)

When high school came around, I left home to attend a boarding school in the Philadelphia suburbs. It happened to be a Quaker school, but going there was hardly a religious decision. In fact, during high school, I wasn't sure what I thought about my parents' religion, or about religion in general. I liked learning about the Quaker moral tenets - simplicity, peace, integrity, and equality - but when the subject of God came up, I always found myself lagging behind. Quakers talk about God as an "inner light," and while I understood that position intellectually, I couldn't bring myself to think that there was a divine being who existed independent of the human mind, who guided our decisions and heard our prayers. To put it in Quaker terms, my inner light flickered a light, like the overhead fluorescent at Motel 6, and sometimes, it burnt out altogether. The closest I came to consistent faith was during my senior year religion class, when we learned about the Central and South American liberation theology movements and I became briefly convinced that God was a left-wing superhero who led the global struggle against imperialism and corporate greed. Sort of a celestial Michael Moore.

He takes a semester off from Brown to attend Liberty, Jerry Falwell's university. When I picked it up in the bookstore, I was worried that it just be a trainwreck of cultural conflict, but flipping through it was clear the train stayed on the tracks. In fact, it's easily the best "outside looking in" book I've read on this wing of evangelical Christianity. Kevin Roose, the author, carries off a complex challenge of being an undercover journalist in an alien culture, managing to explain his encounters and his response sympathetically.

It's hard reading sometimes, dealing with homophobia, young-earth Creationism, the challenges of dating when you're not quite who you say you are, the Quiverfull movement, occasional racism, and a lot of stories that don't come up in the Quaker meeting he grew up in. I don't want to spoil the story, so I'll leave you with that intro. (He doesn't spend that much time discussing Quakerism, but it comes up in the background regularly.)

For a lot more, explore The Unlikely Disciple.


Interesting that he doesn't say that he's a Quaker; merely that his parents were Quakers.

That's an excellent point, though he makes fairly frequent reference to himself as Quaker elsewhere in the book, and later mentions of Quakerism are generally more positive.

I thought this made a good teaser, though...

I have this book sitting on my shelf waiting for me to finish it. I read that intro to a Friend, and she goes "yeah yeah Bible, now who wants more Native American stories?!" to describe both how she was raised and how she suspects he was.