Howard and Anna Brinton - Review

Author(s): 
Department: 

Howard and Anna Brinton: Re-Inventors of Quakerism in the Twentieth Century

by Anthony Manousos

Reviewed by Pablo Stanfield

Everyone in Intermountain, North Pacific, and Pacific Yearly Meetings should read this biography and get a better idea of our history and our position on the spectrum of Quaker faiths and practices. In these three yearly meetings, which descended from Pacific Yearly Meeting (born 1947), the faith tradition is commonly labeled Beanite. This is thanks to the flushing of world-respected Quaker ministers Joel and Hannah Bean out of Iowa Yearly Meeting, first from recorded ministry and then even from membership in 1890. The Beans were ostracized because they refused to use the desired creedal language when applying to Iowa Yearly Meeting for recognition of their new monthly meeting in San Jose, CA. The result was the founding of the College Park Association of Friends, which later became the Pacific Coast Association of Friends, and later Pacific Yearly Meeting – the first yearly meeting since New England and London in the 1600’s to establish itself independently and not as an off-shoot of another yearly meeting.

Anna Cox Brinton was a granddaughter of Joel and Hannah Bean. After reading this new biography by Anthony Manousos of Anna and her husband Howard Brinton , Western Friends might consider changing the name of our faith tradition to “Brintonite.” because of their influence.  You probably owe a debt to them and may be surprised to find that much of your Quaker tradition can be traced back to them,

Howard Brinton became a prominent 20th Century’s greatest exponent of Rufus Jones’s mystical tradition. At the same time He he was at the same time the liberal teacher of many who went out to make peace and social justice the hallmark of their Quaker religious life. Anna Brinton followed a spiritual leading to travel in the Orient, which helped initiate a broadening of the faith perspective of independent Western Friends. She also worked with AFSC and demonstrated Quaker faith in action.

The Brintons devoted their lives to making Quakerism accessible to others. It was Howard Brinton who summarized Quaker belief and practice as a set of core Testimonies – Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality (nowadays often known as SPICE) – in his Pendle Hill Pamphlet (20), “Guide to Quaker Practice.”

He and Anna were also the ones who made Pennsylvania’s Pendle Hill Center for Quaker Studies a successful and enduring institution, after the early death of the center’s first director, Henry Hodgkin. They served as directors of Pendle Hill for almost twenty years and lived there in retirement, continuing their influence until their deaths and beyond.

Howard summarized his life’s work – explaining Quaker theology – in his best-selling book, Friends for 300 Years, written in 1952. The A major purpose motivating his explanations was to stopimpede the spread of churchevangelical -based pastoral Quaker pastoral practices.

All liberal Quakers have been strongly influenced by the Brintons and it is high time we understand them. This comprehensive and engaging biography, based in part on an unpublished autobiography by Howard and referencing many other writings, greatly helps us do that.  It also has much to share with Evangelical Friends in the West.

As Anthony Manousos points out, doubts have arisen in recent years about the orthodoxies of Brintonite faith and about Howard’s interpretation of early Quaker writings. It is only fair to take a new look at the Brintons’ work and influence. This book includes three papers – by Stephen W. Angell, Douglas Gwyn and Paul Lacey – from the Brinton Symposium at Pendle Hill in 2011, which re-examined Howard Brinton’s theology and his importance in giving direction to liberal Quakerism.

If a reader has any problems with this book, it may be because the episodes do not necessarily follow in either chronological or logical subject order. The book also contains frequent editorial errors that get in the way of easy reading.

Despite those faults, I suggest you take it a little at a time and reflect on all it has to say. The story of this happy family – a real-life “dynamic duo” – will gratify you in reading and strengthen your understanding of the Religious Society of Friends today. Anthony Manousos has done us all a great service. ~~~

Howard and Anna Brinton was published by FGC, Philadelphia, 2013, and runs 266 pages. It is available from Quaker Books at www.quakerbooks.org.

Pablo Stanfield is a member of University Monthly Meeting in Seattle with a concern for appreciative eldering.