11 June 2017

Gülen's Compound: A Backcountry Exile... Conveniently Located

I must confess it was kind of exciting to sit in my car outside the gate of Gülen's compound in the Poconos. I was passing through and PA-33 actually facilitated my route. Coming out of southern New Jersey, I was working my way up to I-80. I pulled off in Saylorsburg and my wife turned to me and asked "Are you looking for that Turk?"
I couldn't suppress my grin. It's not a question I get asked every day.

Entering town I had two objectives. One, find the compound and take a look. Two, talk to a few locals and find out what people knew.
Both were accomplished. Interestingly the locals I talked to seemed to know very little about any of it. They knew there was 'something' going on 'up there' but beyond that they remain in the dark. I'm sure there are exceptions. I only spoke with some folks at the filling station. No one seemed to have any idea that their neighbour was a source of international intrigue and tension.
The gateway to the compound itself was largely unremarkable though very out of place. It's certainly a mini-fortress. You're not getting in there. You feel the security and I'm sure I was photographed and my license plate taken down. It's not marked but the Turkish-language parking signs confirmed my momentary doubt.
Saylorsburg is off the beaten path but near enough to the highways and airports that it's functional. I was reminded of Joseph Bonaparte who after being driven from Spain eventually settled near Bordentown NJ. At the time it was fairly rural and yet he was near enough to New York and Philadelphia to 'get the news', meet with people and make a move if necessary. He of course did eventually go back to Europe.
Will the 76 year old Gülen return to Turkey? It seems unlikely unless something happens to Erdogan. One wonders what will happen to his little empire when he's gone? I tell you what though... when driving through Saylorsburg Pan-Turkism and Turco-Central Asian politics are about the last thing on your mind. Saylorsburg feels like the kind of place I live... quiet but kind of rough, more populated than my area but still within the orbit of Appalachia, even though it's only a short distance from the Lehigh Valley and the great cities of the Eastern Seaboard. In some ways his choice of location seems counter-intuitive, even foolish. But on the other hand... it's perfect.
Many rural areas have present-day 'mysteries'. One thinks of strange gated mansions in the woods, hidden airstrips and cultic compounds. People whisper about them from time to time but eventually people just get used to their presence and move on with their lives. We have such things in my area too... but a Turkish exile running a financial empire with CIA, paramilitary and terrorist connections? Saylorsburg has us beat on that score.
I still say it's easier to be invisible in an urban area but for some activities you need a rural location. If the pretty well attested stories are true about paramilitary training going on at Gülen's compound, then a rural location (and one used to hearing gunshots) is required. If Saylorsburg is like my area, sometimes it sounds like there's a war going on. We get campers up from the cities who invade our peace and quiet by firing off a few hundred rounds on a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon. It's annoying at times but no one thinks much of it.


  1. I wanted to leave a comment on your latest Moravian piece:

    They are truly fascinating, and even the secular academic guild of historians loves them in some way (e.g. Wheeler, Sensbach, Merritt), though sometimes for the wrong reasons (especially Fogleman). Zeisberger is really a hero, but by his time, most Moravians were hopelessly mired in Anglocization. Zinzendorf was a strange, somewhat perverse, but deeply corrupting influence, despite the fact he did good as well as evil. But after he died, and the communitarian system collapsed at Bethlehem, let alone the nightmarish, sodomitical, situation with his son at Herrnhag, the Moravians just wanted to conform. Zeisberger, and Heckwelder, along with their missionary compatriots, kept the fires burning, but people back East wanted to get on with their lives.

    It's actually pathetic to watch. Spangenberg was the last real champion of Bethlehem, but he was no center of gravity to replace Zinzendorf. After the first generation passed, Ettwein railed against the youth gravitating into the American orbit. They wanted nothing to do with being strange, German, foreigners. They snuck out to go to militia musters, and practice drilling. Moravian Christianity lost its vigor, and could only make weak appeals to tradition.

    Unlike the Quakers, the Moravians had theological content that required conversion, and some Indians really did convert. It's wonderful. And they show the complexities of life change and cultural abandonment in the light of Christ. There was a general call to reject the life of a warrior-hunter, not only because of renouncing violence, but also because being away from the community was dangerous. It also didn't help that farming was generally considered, by most North East Indians, to be women's work, though that was changing. The Moravians are an interesting window on an approach to missions that is neither leave them as they are, nor a cultural imperialism, but following Christ makes certain demands upon life, which shapes the way we function in society.

    Living near Bethlehem, the Moravians are a reminder, even in their weird, strange, and perverse moments, that I'm not a lunatic to see in the Gospel a call to follow the Lamb. Thanks.


  2. Why does Fogleman like them for the wrong reasons?
    Never been a big fan of Zinzendorf. I always felt like he was both a godsend and a negative influence. I'm not familiar with his son. That sounds pretty bad.

    I caught the Zeisberger bug because I live near his endeavours on the other side of the state. I was just in Bethlehem on the same trip to NJ. We stopped in Bethlehem for a few hours in the afternoon on our way east.

    Bethlehem is neat but a little sad. They've rather lost their way haven't they? After reading Zeisberger works for several years it was neat to visit Bethlehem again. I hadn't been there since 2002.

  3. I was in Princeton NJ a couple of days later and I was walked around looking at the graves of Witherspoon et al., I thought of Bethlehem... not so far away and yet miles apart spiritually. It was interesting.

    I tell you what was another profound juxtaposition. We were in Bethlehem in the afternoon and just a few hours later we were crossing the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. I was thinking about the Moravians, Tim Keller and many other things. Trying to keep it all straight was a bit overwhelming.

  4. Fogleman wrote a book called "Jesus is Female" arguing that Moravian piety involved a Christology that relativized genders, fixating on Christ's side-wound as a kind of womb. It was this subversive piety and gender ideology that made other Germans in the Colonies hate and despise them. The book has a wealth of research, but has been roundly criticized by scholars for misinterpreting the data to make the argument. It's true that there were some strange aspects to Moravian piety, involving the side-wound and obsession over the torture/blood aspect of the atonement (i.e. there are hymns that refer to Christians as maggots or "corpse-bees" that make their home in the wounds of the dead Christ). These were fragments of a Medieval piety, fused with some of the more mystical strains of German theology, that Zinzendorf picked up. As their prince and bishop (Jablonski, a relative of Commenius, and last Unitas Fratrum bishop ordained him), Zinzendorf really left a huge imprint on the theology and liturgy of the Moravians, who basically ceased to have any relation to the Unitas Fratrum (especially the peasant piety of Chelcicky and Gregory). They also viewed the Holy Spirit as a "Mother", which was a part of an understanding of the Trinity as Divine Family. Even in the 1770s, Zeisberger still held to this belief, if you read his mission diaries.

    Bethlehem was a typical German-American town by the end of the Revolution, fully embracing the push to Americanize/Anglocize. When Bethlehem Iron Works started up, bringing its first cadre of immigrant industrial workers, the town elders agreed to the arrangement, but insisted that the workers stay on the south-side of the town (which is the origin of the radical difference between the north/moravian and south sides of town). It's pretty disgusting how pathetic they became, another bourgeois, well-heeled, denomination. And if you look at the Moravian church today, it shares its pulpit with the Episcopalians and the PCUSA, if that tells you anything.

    Yes, I suppose the difference between Zeisberger, Witherspoon, and Keller is pretty staggering. They'd probably all dislike each other, though for different reasons I'm sure. I always think'd be funny to see Puritans reincarnated to see their offspring. I'm not talking about New Englanders per se, I mean the current crop of Calvinists. The way some hipster Reformed posture themselves, they'd think they were surrounded by sodomites.

    1. I've done some research on Zeisberger and his missionary sense which I hope one day to make publishable. If/when I ever do, I'll send it to you.

  5. Gulen has been in the news quite a bit as of late. From plots to kidnap him and ship him back to Turkey to Erdogan seeking the arrest of CIA agents connected to the coup.