As a kid growing up in holiness-influenced Indiana Quakerism, Max Carter was taught to avoid a long list of sins, including soft drinks—“which led to hard drinks!“—and dancing—“a vertical expression of a horizontal desire!”
When I was teaching at Guilford College, looking the way I do–I wear a straw hat, I don’t have collars, I wear gray and all that–people ask me about my upbringing: “Were you born Quaker? Have you always been a Quaker?” And it’s a complicated story.
Growing Up Quaker in Indiana
My name is Max Carter and I live in Greensboro, North Carolina, where I recently retired from teaching at Guilford College. I’m a member of New Garden Friends Meeting which is jointly part of Friends General Conference and Friends United Meeting.
I was born into a Quaker family, 11 generations. I was born into a Quaker community, Quakers had settled that part of Indiana in the 1840s. But the Quakerism I was born into in 1948 was an assimilated Quakerism that after the Civil War had taken on more and more Protestant trappings.
My “Plain Quaker” Ancestors
My great-great grandparents on my mothers side—Robert and Elizabeth Johnson—were plain Friends living in New London, Indiana. My great-great grandparents on my father’s side were Fleming and Rachel Johnson (inbred!) who were also from New London, Indiana. They were all plain Friends. The photographs we have of them show them even in the early 1900s in broad brim hats, bonnets, plain clothes. Both of them attended the New London Meetinghouse, which is a plain, divided meetinghouse after the Civil war: still women on one side, men on the other because of the business meeting structure, with a partition down the middle. Silent meetings. Old, plain Quaker culture.
My great-great-grandparents were ministers in that meeting, adhered to that old, plain Quakerism.
The Influence of Holiness Revivals
Post-Civil War the revivals came through. By 1865 there was a Quaker meeting in Indiana that had already adopted pastoral worship. By the 1870s the revivals were so widespread that many Quakers were beginning to adopt more Protestant traditions of prepared sermons and music and hymns and alter calls. Many people were being converted in these revivals were coming into the Religious Society of Friends from outside the culture.
New London held firm. My great-great-grandparents resisted this enthusiastic religion of the revivalists, but one night the caretaker of the meetinghouse (who was a revivalist in sympathies) “inadvertently” left the basement door unlocked and the revival preacher came in and held a rip-roaring revival in the old Quaker meetinghouse. Many people in the community were converted. The only church in the community was the old Quaker meeting and so they came into membership there and within a decade, it was a programmed, pastoral Quaker meeting and my great-great-grandparents were pastors essentially in that meeting.
Assimilation into the Protestant Mainstream
It happened rapidly, this assimilation into the Protestant mainstream. By the time I was born, you still had Quakers in my meeting (they were called churches by that time) who remembered the old style of Quakerism. Their grandparents were plain and still used the plain speech. They didn’t anymore, but they remembered that style of Quakers and revered their ancestors. But more and more influence came from the revivals, from the Holiness movement, and from a type of Christianity that emphasized a personal relationship with Jesus: a personal conversion, an alter call experience. There were enough similarities to early Quakerism—his devout and holy life, the possibility of perfection—that it was readily accepted by many Friends.