Quaker Theology #28 - Spring-Summer 2016




North Carolina & Northwest Yearly Meeting Updates:
Ambushed, Sandbagged,
and Kicked Down The Road

Chuck Fager

I

Have you seen moments like this in detective films, or in stories? When Sherlock, or whoever the sleuth is, hunches forward and shouts: “Good God, Watson! How could I be such a FOOL??” (Usually it means things are about to get very interesting.)

I had that kind of a moment Saturdayྭmorning, November 7, 2015.

It happened at Rocky River Friends Meeting, near Siler City NC. at the Fall Representative Body session of North Carolina Yearly Meeting-FUM.

I wasn’t expecting it. Maybe it was because the day began with a sermon full of cliches about peace (“God’s peace”); then the singing of a hymn full of more cliches about God’s peace like a river.

And maybe I’d believed my own reporting, for earlier issues of this journal: thinking that, with nine of the meetings which had called loudest for a purge of “progressive” (i.e., LGBT-friendly) meetings having now left the yearly meeting when they couldn’t pull it off, that we’d . . .

Crossed that river. Turned the corner. Were over the hump.  Through the worst of it.

Then a sheet was being passed out, which only some very select few had seen before. It was from the NCYM Executive Committee. (Maybe this should have put me on my guard.)

On one side was a collection of cherry-picked hard-orthodox quotes from the NCYM Faith and Practice. Okay, no biggie; we’ve seen all this many times.

Then we turned the sheet over. And some new text was just below the middle of the page:

I read it twice, as the light dawned, more like the movie cliche of a glass of ice water in the face: but more like water from the poisoned Flint River in Michigan.
Here’s the key text:

Past years and particularly the events of the last fourteen months have made it increasingly clear that positions and actions adopted by a very few meetings are serving to create much of the discord and unrest that we experience in North Carolina Yearly Meeting. These continued statements, positions and actions are threatening the very existence of North Carolina Yearly Meeting as we know it today. With that in mind, the Executive Committee would recommend we consider recreating the process existent in the 1967 edition of the Faith and Practice:

“The Yearly Meeting has power to decide all questions of administration, to counsel, admonish, or discipline its subordinate Meetings, to institute measures and provide means for the promotion of the truth and righteousness, and to inaugurate and carry on departments of religious and philanthropic work.” (Faith and Practice, 1967 Ed., p.83, Jurisdiction)

We recognize that the Task Group has been charged with bringing its recommendation to the Representative Body and that this work is ongoing. However, we also recognize the increasing frustration regarding the perceived inaction of the Yearly Meeting. At the direction of the Representative Body, the reinsertion of the recommended statement could be temporary or could even potentially fulfill the task with which the Task Group was charged.

Wait – a section that was deleted from the F&P 48 years ago was to be magically reinserted on the spot?

Yeah. That would, among other things, get around the clear policy statement in the F&P that:

“Such changes should be made cautiously and with an ample opportunity for prayerful deliberation.” (P. 105, 2012 ed.)

The F&P goes on to detail an elaborate, five-step process for considering proposed changes, which would take close to a year even for a non-controversial matter.

But not that Saturday. The “discussion” only lasted half an hour or so. It certainly made hash of the F&P itself and that ever-romantic phrase, “Quaker process”; when the Clerk asked for approval, the shouts were loud, and the several vocal dissents were disregarded. A voice vote.

Done.

Soon I staggered out and headed home, pondering that the meeting I attend, and a few others, had suddenly had the targets hung on our backs again, maybe bigger than ever. Besides the damning text in the handout-now-policy about being “the very few” who were “threatening the very existence” of the whole, we were verbally referred to, more than once, as the few “stumbling blocks,” the main obstacles between NCYM and “peace and stability.”

(Oh. Is THAT what the sermon and hymn were about?)

Well, maybe I’m an old fool. But the morning’s Flint River ice water splash had cleaned my glasses, and I was pretty sure I could now read the handwriting on the wall.

There were protestations before we left that no one planned to kick out any meetings. While some no doubt spoke those words sincerely, this Friend found such assurances considerably less than convincing.

Here’s one reason: I spent nine months doing research in top Quaker archives about the evolution of books of Discipline and the practices they embodied. And a key phrase in the old ones was

“The Yearly Meeting has power to . . . discipline its subordinate Meetings.”

Much unhappy Quaker history, purges and schisms galore, has come from that idea in action; enough to fill my two books on it, and many more. That phrase has been used oppressively so many times it’s beyond easy counting. Which is why, in many yearly meetings, it was finally deleted: Friends thought we could and should do better.

II

There was yet another shoe to drop in NCYM-FUM, but it didn’t hit the floor until late in January, 2016. In the summer of 2015, a Task Force had been formed to bring a proposal for “The Way Forward” in the body. (The text is online here:  http://bit.ly/1OMQiet ) Two items in it deserve close attention:

First, it revived for the fourth time the divisive demand that no meeting have “dual affiliation.” As we have reported before (in Quaker Theology #26 and #27), only one meeting, New Garden, fits this description, having joined the new Piedmont Friends Yearly Meeting which was formed last March. When New Garden joined (and still as of this writing), there was no prohibition against such an action in NCYM’s Faith & Practice. Several other meetings are affiliated with the new YM’s parent body, Piedmont Friends Fellowship (PFF), but not part of its new yearly meeting segment.

Three times in the past two years an effort was made to force out New Garden on this basis; in the first try, all the others connected to PFF were also targets of the attempted sweep. But all three efforts failed. Yet now, here it came again; the walking dead of “Quaker process.”

In addition, the original Task Force proposal also had a long section (Step Three) on what it called “Integrity. This likewise deserves detailed review:

Monthly Meetings shall reaffirm Friends’ Historic testimony for Integrity:
a. In morality and the Christian Family: complete continence before marriage, complete fidelity in marriage, one man and one woman, for life.
b. In honesty in personal word and deed: in business, government, and relations with other nations.
c. In our stewardship over the wonderful world which God has entrusted to us: to protect the air and water from pollution as worthy stewards of God.
d. In never consciously doing anything that injures other people or injures one’s self unless it is necessary to help others. This includes complete abstinence from alcohol and harmful drugs.
We urge each Meeting in North Carolina Yearly Meeting to teach this in creative ways to all members and attenders. We urge each Meeting to encourage in every way possible the living out of these testimonies in everyday life. We urge each Meeting on Ministry and Counsel to take very seriously its role of providing spiritual leadership and spiritual nourishment to the members and attenders of the meeting.”
Approved by NCYM in session 8th month, 11th day, 1990
Please explain any difficulty the monthly meeting has with this request.

The original “Way Forward” plan ended with a barely veiled ultimatum:

“Monthly Meetings that do not respond affirmatively to [the] steps . . . of The Plan may remain a member of NCYM for a period of time up to one year, with representation at Represen-tative Body meetings and 2016 Annual Sessions and members will continue to serve on committees. This time period will allow the newly created committee comprised of the Superintendent, Presiding Clerk, Executive Committee Clerk and Ministry & Counsel Clerk to assist the monthly meeting in determining its future and/or allow the monthly meeting to reconsider the responses to [the] steps . . . .

In the three months lead time for local meeting feedback, the Task Force heard from many (but not all) the local meetings. And some of what they heard agreed with their “Way Forward”; but a good deal did not.

Several meetings, as of our press time, did not respond to the proposal at all. Several others dissented. And at least one meeting, Jamestown, submitted a “response,” dated 11/1/2015, that was a formal brushoff:

“Jamestown Friends Meeting does not feel called at this time to respond in detail to the queries set forth by the Task Force following NCYM-FUM annual sessions held Ninth Month 2015. We feel that after months of belaboring these issues, it is more important for us to move forward by focusing our resources on heeding Christ’s call to ministry: to feed the hungry, give a cup of clean water, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, etc. . . .

We do believe there is great value in Friends process as laid out in our Faith and Practice. We do not feel that further energy spent answering these queries in written form at this time moves this process forward in any helpful ways.

We will welcome continued fellowship with Friends/friends of many persuasions and theological perspectives, knowing that we do not have all the answers and that God works through all people who seek to know God and God's ways as taught, in word and deed, by Jesus. We pray for continuing love and divine guidance for as all, as way opens.” (Emphasis added.)

Another rebuff came from Spring Meeting, with special reference to the Proposal on “Integrity”:

Step 3. “Integrity.” Response: We are not in unity to express any affirmation in words, choosing instead to do so in deed. We are also unclear as to what standard of integrity is being referred to by the Yearly Meeting. If the level of integrity expected is that demonstrated during the Representative Body of 11/7/15, when members violated Faith and Practice by proceeding with a change to that document without following proper procedure, and thus violating the very guide to which they seek to enforce others to conform, then the bar for integrity has been set very low indeed.

The long “Way Forward” proposal on “Integrity,” noted above, which banned any use of alcohol or tobacco, clearly drew fire from others, by no means all from the more “progressive” meetings.

The impact of these dissents showed when the Task Force issued a revised proposal on January 27, 2016. It was substantially shortened and watered down at several points. (The text is here:
http://afriendlyletter.com/AFL-archives/Way-Forward-Revised-NCYM-3-5-16.pdf )

First the good news about the changes: The original section on “Integrity” was now remarkably brief and general: its ban on alcohol and any kind of non-victorian sexuality has been dumped.

Someone, or more likely many someones, blessed be they, evidently managed to get across to the drafters that in 2016, even evangelicals drink their share of beer and booze, and have plenty of sex before and outside of marriage. (After all, it wasn’t a bunch of northeastern liberals who wrote all those country music songs about cheating and drinking. Or who turned them into hits.) So while there are real problems in all these areas, that old-style finger-wagging just wasn’t going to fly.

What the Task Force came up with instead was pretty sensible, even humble:

NCYM Faith and Practice provides direction for how we should strive to lead lives of integrity, peacefulness, equality, and service to others.

“Direction” – not the same thing as commandment. And note that NCYM’s current F&P does not say a single word about, or against homosexuality. (Just like Jesus didn’t.) For that matter, it doesn’t even forbid same sex marriage. (No, really, it doesn't!)

(F&P text online:
http://issuu.com/ncym/docs/faith___practice_compiled?e=0/6926027 )

Maybe NCYM can yet learn to “strive” to live in that live-and-let-live spirit. After all, no less than five times it says that F&P is not to be used as a creed.

Also pretty reasonable is the reworked mandate for meetings to pay “Askings” (the Yearly Meeting head tax). After all, this is no more than membership dues; if a meeting is going to be in the club, then dues need to be paid.

Less welcome but somewhat hopeful in the Revised version is a long section on “Restoring Gospel Order.” This appeared to be an effort to put a stop to efforts through the YM to purge dissenters, such as NCYM has been through over the past eighteen months.

Instead it attempts to adapt the advice in Matthew 18 from individual grievances to those of groups. Let’s look it over:

[Revised Way Forward] “If a Meeting of North Carolina Yearly Meeting has a concern about any other Meeting within the Yearly Meeting, the concerned meeting will attempt to schedule and have a face-to-face meeting with the offending congregation (incorporating a few representatives from each meeting). This is in keeping with Matthew 18 and its guidance to first have a private meeting. It would be important that the Yearly Meeting/ Representative Body not entertain any concern or complaint against a monthly meeting until it has been established that an attempt has been made for a face-to-face meeting between the disputing meetings.”

So instead of a few pastors busing in supporters at yearly meeting, as happened in 2014, and then demanding that all meetings and individuals who had any ties that they disliked “immediately resign” from NCYM, their meetings would first need to agree that they had some kind of grievance against another meeting, and then go knock on the other meeting’s door and set up a meeting to talk it over.
Sounds reasonable. Certainly getting this kind of purge effort out of YM sessions would be an improvement.

But there are some BIG “buts” that bubbled right up. First, what kind of “grievances” would qualify to trigger such actions? For instance, the fact that Meeting A includes people with views of the Bible that differ from some of those in Meeting B? Or that Meeting C is not prepared to welcome LGBT folks, but Meeting D is?

Or what?
Second, how about evidence? Will it be enough for a delegation to show up from Meeting A and say, “We hear that y’all have folks here who have ideas about the Bible that we don’t like.” What if Meeting B doesn’t take a Bible opinion census (as many don’t) and can’t (or is not moved to) chart the range of views? Will this procedure then authorize some kind of external doctrinal examination?

And third, what do they mean by “reconciliation” at this point? If Meeting D welcomes LGBT folks and Meeting C doesn’t like that, does that dislike ipso facto make the welcoming group”guilty” of being “an offending meeting”? (Especially since, as we already noted, Faith & Practice says nothing on that subject, except that its provisions are not to be uised as a creed?)

Does “reconciliation” mean that Meeting D is expected to say, in effect: “Oh, you’re right! LGBT is a pack of abominations; we’ll kick them all out right away.”

But what if the Meetings simply recognize they have different views about the matter–which one is then in the “wrong”? Which is the “offending meeting”? Who is to be put on trial, and for what?

Anyway, if the initial meeting doesn’t produce “reconciliation,” then the issue between the meetings goes to the YM’s Ministry & Counsel; and from there, to the YM itself, for a review, according to the Revision, “potentially culminating in a minute of disownment” from NCYM. (The same questions about “offenses,” and “reconciliation” apply here.)

And if such disputes end up back on the YM floor, where expulsions could, after the November 2015 coup, could be made by shouted voice votes–then NCYM would be swimming in waters as deep and toxic as Michigan’s Flint River; i.e., back where they started.

All these questions were in the air when the Representative Body gathered on March 5, 2016 to consider the Task Force report.


III

March 5 & A “Blockbuster” Report:
“Streaming Quakerism” Is Coming to Carolina

I wonder if the Guinness Book of World Records has a category for “The Quaker Faith & Practice That Has Been Reaffirmed The Most Number of Times.”

If it did, North Carolina YM-FUM would be a top contender for it.

At NCYM-FUM’s Representative Body session on March 5, the F&P was reaffirmed twice, or three times – or, well, I kind of lost count. And that even after the Clerk told the group that they really didn’t need to do so again, because they’d already done it (several more times) over the preceding year. Or two.

Even so, Friends were making sure.

Though it turns out that not all “reaffirmations” are created equal. And the one on the table March 5 was quite different from its predecessors. And some thought, maybe not in a good way.

The most recent one, first sent out to all Monthly Meetings late last summer by the Task Force, read like this:

All Monthly Meetings SHALL approve or reaffirm NCYM Faith & Practice which DIRECTS us to the Holy Bible and includes documents prepared with much care and prayerful guidance, such as the Richmond Declaration of Faith, which PRESENTS our CORE SPIRITUAL BELIEFS in a CLEAR, concise manner.
Affirmation of Faith & Practice as our guide does not establish a creed.
Please explain any difficulty the monthly meeting has with this request. (Emphasis added. The full text of this report is here: http://bit.ly/1OMQiet )

But in the meantime, it seems that not a few meetings did express some “difficulty” with this formulation. So it was tweaked and retweaked and the March 5 printed version (a third edition, tweaked again after the January revision) looked like this:

“Monthly Meetings of NCYM shall ENDEAVOR to follow the most recent revision of Faith and Practice that further SPELLS OUT our faith and AIDS US as we put our faith into practice. Furthermore, our Representative Body deals with and approves issues we should also ENDEAVOR to follow.” (Emphasis added. Full text of the March 5 report here:  http://bit.ly/1Q5leCZ )

Stay with me now, for a brief lexicographic detour:

The first version “Directs us,” i.e., commanded;

This third iteration urges us to “Endeavor,” i.e., (per Webster’s), to try, attempt; strive; aspire to; etc.

The first version said that F&P “presents our core spiritual beliefs.”

This third says it “spells out our faith and aids us . . .”

“To spell out”; among numerous definitions, this one seems to fit best: “to discern or find, as if by reading or study;

And then, it “aids us,” i.e., helps, assists, supports.

To be sure, one can always quibble over words; but it seems clear that the third, March 5 version is much milder and less directive than the first or second.

So in fact, while this statement was approved (or, um, affirmed/reaffirmed, whatever), the March 5 version did leave some Friends present unsatisfied. That’s because they wanted the earlier, authoritative version. Indeed, they wanted an even more authoritative, directive declaration, and a set of decisions based on that authority from the March 5 session, like what was set forth in the original.

How do we know that? Because representatives from two meetings rose late in the day to announce that their meetings would be leaving NCYM shortly, because the “disciplinary judgments” (i.e., a purge of liberal meetings) they wanted from the session had not come about.

The two meetings, Cedar Square and Mount Carmel, include over 400 members, and contribute about $40,000 to the NCYM annual budget. Their departure will hurt.

Moreover, there were distinct rumblings from a couple of other meetings that sentiment there was running in the same direction, though no actual announcement was made.

This writer also knew a purge was still being sought because a NCYM insider recently acknowledged the fact. Even though the loudest purge advocates had already pulled out of the YM, a total of fourteen meetings by March 5, there were unspecified others who had “indicated” they would likely join the exodus unless liberal meetings were “disciplined” according to “core beliefs”; which amounts to being expelled.

So the Task Group (they changed their name from “Task Force,” explained their clerk, because “we have no FORCE of any kind”) was trying to steer NCYM like a small boat across a passage beset by sharp cross-currents and deadly shoals and reefs. As one member said, “we tried to write this in ways that would not split things.” By Saturday’s end their work had seen only limited success.

“Reaffirming” the F&P, especially in the revised manner was easy, yet unsatisfactory to some. And another Task Group proposal which had stayed the same in the revision –  a ban on “Dual affiliation” – quickly ran aground.

The ban was (as we've said) aimed at one meeting, New Garden, the YM’s largest and arguably its most liberal. A year ago New Garden joined the newly-formed “Piedmont Friends Yearly Meeting,” a liberal body much more of a loose a network than the traditional FUM-style of top-down, corporate model structure; at this point Piedmont doesn’t even have a Treasurer. As New Garden explained its action in a letter to the Task Force:

For us, the Monthly Meeting is central, but we do not wish to be insular. While some New Gardeners have found meaningful relationships and connections to service opportunities through NCYM-FUM, for others, Friends General Conference is a better fit. In affiliating with Friends General Conference through Piedmont Friends Fellowship and Yearly Meeting, New Garden Friends were recognizing that fact. We did not seek to part ways with NCYM-FUM.

(Full text of this letter is here:
http://quakertheology.org/New-Garden-Response-The-Plan-10-2015-1.pdf )

New Garden also pointed out (again) that there was no ban on such dual affiliation in the F&P (& still isn’t). None of the other liberal meetings has joined the new Piedmont YM, but at least three are part of its founding Piedmont Friends Fellowship, which is even looser. These and several other meetings made clear on Saturday they were very strongly opposed to banning a meeting from taking New Garden’s course, as a way of following the local group’s leading.

The proposed ban, in short, hit a wall. The Task Group clerk said it would be sent back for more work.

There were two other Task Group proposals, which can be dealt with briefly:

One was headed “Integrity,” which we have noted was originally quite long, detailed, and restrictive in terms of personal conduct, from sex to smoking and drinking alcohol. The clerk said this section had received the most feedback of any; and to judge from the revision, “pushback” would seem to be a more accurate term.

The original (which can be read above) was copied from a minute adopted by the YM in 1990, and it ran to 178 words, with five subsections. The March 5 revision had been slimmed down by 87 per cent, to an aphoristic 22 words, to wit:

NCYM Faith and Practice provides direction for how we should STRIVE to lead lives of integrity, peacefulness, equality, and service to others. (Emphasis added.)

(Lexicography again: “Strive”: see “endeavor,” above.)

Finally, the Task Group offered a reworked version of its plan to steer disputes over doctrine and social issues away from the yearly meeting floor, called “Restoring Gospel Order.”

Response from the liberal meetings was guarded, but they seemed willing to negotiate: for instance, there were suggestions for adding mandates that formal mediation be included in this new process.

But several more hardline meetings wanted nothing to do with the plan. They insisted the Yearly Meeting should indeed handle such matters, mainly by purging “unrepentant” offenders. And such “disciplinary decisions” should be based on “core beliefs,” that is, a view that certain doctrinal passages in F&P have a creedal effect (despite the document's several statements that it is NOT to be a creed) – supplemented by additional rules, such as a ban on welcoming or marrying those in same sex relationships, which F&P does not contain.

In sum, the “Restoring Gospel Order” effort was also a no-go. It too went back on the drawing board.

Along with all this back and forth there was one more difficult matter: strong objections were raised to the body’s action of November 7, reinserting a “rediscovered” section of F&P which had been absent from the publication for nearly 50 years, by what amounted to a voice vote. (Full text of this “rediscovered” text is above.) This maneuver, critics said, with considerable warmth, made a hash of “Quaker process,” replacing it with what one critic called “Baptist politicking,” which had robbed NCYM of moral authority and integrity.

As one representative said, “You’re telling us to follow F&P, but you’ve violated that same document to do it. Where’s the ‘integrity’ in that?”

Nevertheless, the YM Clerk stuck by his decision that the “lost” section,” which gave the YM authority over all “subordinate meetings,” was properly accepted. But in the March 5 session, there were no attempts to repeat the “voice vote” procedure.

The upshot of the session is that come June, when the Representative body gathers again, meeting representatives will be confronted with yet another episode in this long-running NCYM-FUM soap opera/reality show/zombie apocalypse.

Or will they? How many will want to still put up with it?

Now let us a step back: what appears to be underway in NCYM-FUM is more than doctrinal squabbling; it reveals a process of increasingly radical decentralization, much of which seems inescapable. I think it could be better compared to the rise of the internet and its “distributed systems” of access.

Here’s what I mean: some may remember when computers were huge devices, which filled large climate-controlled rooms, could only be operated by specially-trained technicians, and cost a fortune. If one had computer work to do in those days, one bought an expensive time-share on the machine, and got in line to turn in one’s data for processing.

But that was another century, another millennium; it’s almost all gone. Now, we have smart phones which can do much of that computing (and lots more those dinosaur models couldn’t) and fit in the palms of our hands; tens of millions of us can afford them, plus tablets and laptops, which we operate on our own (after a bit of training by a knowledgeable teenager).

This is true of both hard-core evangelicals, and the mushiest liberals alike.

Likewise we all surf an internet which includes giants like Google and Amazon, but has no headquarters, no president or pope; no center. (“In those days, there was no [internet] king in [online] Israel” – with apologies to the Book of Judges.)

Now look back at NCYM-FUM. One thing many of the 14 meetings which have left are finding is that, with the organizational equivalent of a good laptop, they don’t really need a yearly meeting. If they have enough active members (and it does not require hundreds), they can do most of what a YM structure used to do, for themselves, or contract with others to do it.

If such a church wants a pastor, they raise enough money for the paychecks and hire one; who needs a blessing from a YM committee that could be under the thumb of an unfriendly faction?

Will the pastor or other staff need pensions? Insurance? Many companies stand ready to set them up for the group, without annoying doctrinal tests.

Sending their kids to summer camp? There are various ones you can rent or join with.

How about Bible study? At least 57 varieties are out there, in all media formats.

Keeping up with social issues? Hundreds of groups stand ready to help out, from right to left and in between.

And if they want to do things with other like-minded folk, look around, check Facebook; you can find them, network, and do it, without signing any creeds (unless you want to).

As they become more aware of this, more meetings, of various outlooks, are asking themselves: “Why do we put up with all this hassle from NCYM? What does it give us that we want, need, and can’t get elsewhere?”

The answer is, less and less. This even applies in religious terms: one’s church body is meant, as the NCYM “Vision Statement” says, to “serve God’s purpose, and go as God’s people into the world to love, reconcile, and transform through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

But when the gatherings of the body degenerate into protracted hassles over politics disguised as doctrine; and when the proceedings increasingly appear to many to present a stacked deck, the aura of sanctity soon dissolves. Then what we begin hearing is a modernized remix of the ancient cry of the aggrieved Israelites in 2 Chronicles 10:16, who were fed up with top-down oppression: “What share do we have in this body? To your tents (or meetings), Friends! We can do better looking after ourselves.”

As this realization sinks in, my sense is that some more meetings will not wait around to be expelled by some committee (or to stay “unequally yoked” with what they regard as pagan liberals), but rather simply wander off, to find what they need in resources readily available in more compact, portable and affordable forms, minus an old, expensive, difficult and irrelevant intermediary structure.

Put another way, what is the future for a yearly meeting, when it looks increasingly like a Blockbuster Video store?

Remember them? When movies were all on VHS tapes (you kids can look it up), Blockbuster flourished and we stood in line to search out our favorites at its 9000 stores (and when they didn’t have our favorite, we were out of luck).

But Blockbuster went bust more than five years ago. Nine thousand stores– “Poof!” There was nothing wrong with the company; except that the world changed. Movies are still here, now being streamed to and watched on those same phones and tablets and other non-tape gadgets, and with a much greater selection at our media-besotted fingertips.

So: are we entering the age of “streaming Quakerism”?

Looking past all the hassle in NCYM-FUM over who believes what about the Bible, Jesus and marriage, can it be that what’s going on beneath the surface is the miniaturization of yearly meetings? A shift that makes ever more of what local meetings need available piecemeal from outside, through their various networks, electronic and otherwise, drastically diminishing the need for central offices, paid staff, and supervisory functions?

And in this changed setting, maybe the YM of the future does look more like the new Piedmont Yearly Meeting: a loose association, where autonomous members work and worship freely with others, helping set up events for fellowship, learning and worship, when and how the members want to do that.

I’m not saying that “streaming Quakerism” will herald some golden age; the devil will find lots of ways to do his dirty work within it.

But change happens; a mere decade ago, Blockbuster was king; now it’s gone.

Which reminds me of one other item of business from the March 5 meeting, not a decision but of some importance: the Personnel Committee announced the launch of its search process for a new CEO for NCYM. Currently called a Superintendent, they decided to rename the post as General Secretary. (Asked why, the committee clerk indicated it was a step toward re-branding the post – and it’s a change that doesn’t cost any extra money.)

When I heard this announcement, I got a queasy feeling. Such job searches in NCYM have long been one more arena for factional/doctrinal power struggles, and have produced a number of incumbents determined to preserve the outdated and burdensome structure that pays their salary. And we’ve had enough of that.

But more, I felt sorry for the successful applicant: for him or her, it’s most like being chosen as captain of the Titanic.

Or rather, more to scale: as the manager of a Blockbuster Store, circa 2010.
Come on in, Friend. (But keep thy resume handy.)

IV

Northwest Yearly Meeting: Leaders Kick The LGBT Expulsion Can Down the Road

Sources in Northwest Yearly Meeting confirmed on Friday Jan. 21, 2016 that the YM Administrative Council [AC] is deadlocked on a decision on the appeals calling for reinstatement of West Hills Friends [WHF], expelled last summer for being an LGBT inclusive church.  

In light of the impasse, they will put off a final date for the expulsion to become effective until after the next yearly meeting sessions, set for July 24-29, 2016.
Here is the message that was sent out:

“Regretfully, we are not able to come to unity to overturn or affirm the elders’ decision to release West Hills. Therefore, we’ve postponed the effective date of West Hills’ release at least until yearly meeting sessions.   
At that time, the Board of Elders will report to the Yearly Meeting its summary of the state of the church, allowing time for prayerful consideration of issues raised by the report and by any attached judgments or interpretations offered by the Board of Elders.”

One source added that–
This message does not say what next steps will be once the Board of Elders have reported to Yearly Meeting in July. Till then, WHF is still a part of NWYM. We have more questions than answers at this point but we will keep you posted!

The AC also said:

“We affirm the elders’ determination that West Hills is a strong, healthy, growing community of Christian Friends.
We also find, with the elders, that as a yearly meeting, we are not in unity over our statement on human sexuality in the Faith and Practice. We remain united in our commitment to understanding the Scriptures and letting them convict and guide us. We remain united in our belief that God speaks to and leads God’s people. We remain united in our desire to minister the gospel in love to all people. We continue to find our identity in Jesus Christ, who has called us to be one people together.”

It’s been eight months since the expulsion decision was announced in July. Appeals were due by mid-August.

The basis for the action is because the YM Elders determined that West Hills welcoming stance constituted aninfraction of Discipline that was of a “shattering” character. However, what makes an infraction  “shattering” has not been defined.

As we reported in mid-August (See QT #27), eight meetings had filed formal appeals asking that the expulsion be rescinded. In addition, an informal letter supporting the appeals gathered 230 individual signatures.

(The texts of all eight supporting letters, as well as texts of several letters supporting the expulsion were linked and analyzedin a blog post of mid-November, 2015 here:  http://wp.me/p5FGIu-1eq.)

There had since been rumors that the Administrative Council was not able to agree on a decision about the appeals; that much is confirmed in the AC statement.   

We have information that vigorous debate has been ongoing on NWYM listservs, with statements supporting the expulsion predominating there.
  
However, the supporters of rescinding the expulsion include many younger adult members. This brings to mind the comments by Stephen Angell, Professor of Quaker Studies at Earlham School of Religion, who wrote an extensively-researched article about Northwest and its issues in Quaker Theology #27. In an online interview about the article in November 2015, he said:

What I point out in the article is that “shattering” cuts both ways. In NWYM, Young adult Friends are not going to tolerate a yearly meeting, or monthly meetings, that does not allow for the possibility of welcoming and affirming LGBT Friends. And these young adults are the future of NWYM. The yearly meeting needs to stop worrying about “shattering,” because whatever stand is taken on these issues (and avoidance of taking a stand is also seen as a stand), some Friends are going to leave. It needs to figure out how to live with its present and future diversity in regard to LGBT issues.  (The interview is here: http://wp.me/p5FGIu-13x )

So. With this January 2016 announcement, Northwest’s leaders kicked the LGBT expulsion can down the road. Sessions next summer should be memorable.

Moreover, within a day of Steve Angell’s interview being posted, “shattering” in NWYM became a reality, but from a different direction. Anthem Friends in Hayden Lake, Idaho, announced its departure from Northwest YM.

Anthem was the YM’s largest church: it has 13 staff and 800-plus members.
Here’s the November 2015 email that announced the action. Anthem staff confirmed the missive’s authenticity.


NWYM Friends,

On behalf of the elders at Anthem Friends Church (formerly Hayden Lake Friends Church) we wanted to notify each of you of our intention to withdraw from the NWYM. We know this will come as a shock to many, however, maybe some of you knew this was coming. This was a very difficult decision for us to make that involved months of conversation and prayer. We came to full consensus at an Anthem Friends family meeting a few weeks ago and immediately notified the NWYM elders. We know that many will jump to conclusions with regards to why we have made this decision. Many will probably assume this has to do with the homosexuality issue. We want to clarify for everybody that this is not a homosexuality issue for us, this is an authority of scripture/interpretation of scripture/orthodoxy issue for us. We have come to find over the years that Anthem Friends (formerly Hayden Lake Friends Church) see things very differently than the NWYM. Instead of being a group that sticks around and continues to be frustrated or have the leadership of the YM frustrated with us, we honestly believe the Lord has used all that has shaken down over the last few years to show us that we don’t fit. In some regards we do wish that the group that has challenged the NWYM’s F&P over the past 5 years would have made this decision years ago. Instead of them trying to change F&P and challenge the convictions of many in the YM, we believe there would have been more integrity in them acknowledging that they saw things differently and would have chosen to leave on their own. This is the crossroads we have come to.

Many of you know that Anthem Friends Church (formerly Hayden Lake Friends Church) has never been extremely devoted to Quaker practices and principles. Over the past 50 years of our Church’s existence we have followed Quaker practices very loosely. We do not feel inclined to give our lives to Quakerism ...we want to be about Jesus. We do not mean this negatively but we just don’t feel a conviction to uphold Quaker principles as much as we do to uphold the Word of God and to make much of Jesus.

We also wanted to share with those on this group that the many things that have been written about our Church or in reference to our Church in blog posts and on social media pages have been so disheartening to watch. We truly wish that many of you would have talked directly to us before making such outrageous assumptions. We love so many of you in the NWYM and have counted it an honor to serve alongside of you. Many of you were so welcoming to my wife and I as we entered into ministry through the NWYM with zero relationships in this denomination to begin with. I am so thankful to so many of you that went above and beyond to love on us, make time for us and create a space at the table for us.

God Bless you all. We will continue to lift the NWYM up in prayer as you move forward through this difficult season.

Grace

From Anthem’s “Statement of Faith”:

We believe the Scriptures in the Old and New Testaments are completely without error and are the supreme and final authority of God in faith and life.
John 1:1; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Peter 3:15

We believe the Scriptures cannot be changed or compromised by cultural, political or personal interpretations that may become popular.
Matthew 5:18

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