Indiana Yearly Meeting’s Troubled Relationship With West Richmond Monthly Meeting
By Stephen W. Angell
“There is a common misperception that West Richmond is a limb that is being lopped off. That is not the spirit of the recommendation of the Indiana Yearly Meeting task force. We’re trying to help out the meetings that don’t fit.”– Doug Shoemaker, Superintendent, Indiana Yearly Meeting
In an essay in Quaker Theology #18, summarized on the cover as “Indiana Trainwrecks,” I examined the turmoil within the two yearly meetings affiliated with Friends United Meeting and whose monthly meetings are largely located within the state of Indiana, namely, Indiana and Western Yearly Meetings. (http://quaker.org/quest/QT-18-Online.pdf)
From 2007 until 2009, the prize for the most contentious yearly meeting sessions would have to have been awarded to Western Yearly Meeting, consumed by a controversy over whether to remove Phil Gulley’s recording. We won’t rehearse the details of that controversy here, but suffice it to say that the result of those contentious yearly meeting sessions was a lack of any sense of a meeting to remove Gulley’s recording, and, in 2009, a termination of the minute proposing to do just that, a minute that had twice brought forward by the Yearly Meeting Executive Committee.
Since that time, six monthly meetings have withdrawn from Western Yearly Meeting and three others are moving into a dual affiliation with an explicitly evangelical yearly meeting. Steve Pedigo resigned as co-superintendent of Western Yearly Meeting in the spring of 2011, and Marlene Pedigo continued in the superintendent role, but only until the close of Yearly Meeting sessions this July. Western Yearly Meeting sessions in 2011 were the most harmonious and had the least drama of any sessions for that yearly meeting in a long time. A search committee, seeking a full-time superintendent at a salary reduced from that the Pedigos had drawn, has settled on finalists to interview. It plans to bring forth a recommendation for a new superintendent to the Administrative Council on November 19. So, for a few months, Western Yearly Meeting has no superintendent.
For anyone who is intrigued by drama, the sessions to visit in 2011 were definitely those of Indiana Yearly Meeting. And it is to that story we now turn.
Indiana Yearly Meeting Wrestles with the Question: Can Friends Meetings be Welcoming And Affirming toward Gays?
Readers of QT #18 will know that West Richmond Monthly Meeting answered that question, after a careful and painstaking two year study period, with a clear and ringing “yes.” In June, 2008, it approved a minute on welcoming and affirming that included the following statement: “We affirm and welcome all persons whatever their race, religious affiliation, age, socio-economic status, nationality, ethnic background, gender, sexual orientation, or mental/physical ability.” They offered several examples as to what this meant, including that such persons “are welcomed and encouraged to: attend and participate fully in meetings for worship; take an active part in the life and activities of our meeting; contribute their time, talents, spiritual gifts and resources to God through our meeting; [and] apply for and serve in positions of paid, public ministry or other positions of leadership in our meeting.”
They then posted this statement on their website, http://www.westrichmondfriends.org/affirming.htm, later adding a link to Minutes by Indiana Yearly Meeting on Homosexuality, approved in 1982 and 1995 (http://www.westrichmondfriends.org/iym%20statements.htm). The 1982 minute, which determined that homosexual practices are “contrary to the intent and will of God for humankind,” is seen by many IYM members as precluding a minute affirming gays and lesbians. More details on their deliberations that led to the adoption of West Richmond’s Affirming minute, and on the first two years of controversy that followed, are available in my essay in QT #18.
After laboring with the issue of West Richmond’s Welcoming and Affirming Minute for more than two years, and running into very different interpretations of Scripture and the Yearly Meeting’s own book of Faith and Practice, (http://www.iym.org/Faith%20%20Practices%20Parts%201%2 0%202.pdf ) Yearly Meeting’s Ministry and Oversight (or, M&O) Committee in January had solicited opinions from all the monthly meetings as to next steps. Emotions were running high; but, according to Doug Shoemaker there was an “overwhelming and clear” response in opposition to West Richmond’s Welcoming & Affirming minute. It was, however, not unanimous, as at least two Meetings, Richmond’s First Friends and Englewood in Ohio, wrote in support of West Richmond and its process, if not themselves coming to exactly the same conclusion.
In April, the M&O Committee recommended to the Representative Council that a Task Force be appointed “to work to resolve the tension currently existing in Indiana Yearly Meeting” concerning West Richmond’s minute and to bring a recommendation for a way forward to the July sessions of Indiana Yearly Meeting. The Administrative Council accepted this recommendation, and appointed a Task Force consisting of the Clerk, Greg Hinshaw; the superintendent, Doug Shoemaker; and five others, weighty Friends every one. Meeting four times, the task force ran up against the same seemingly intractable conflicts of Scripture and Faith & Practice interpretation.
In the end, the Task Force identified four models for resolution of the conflict:
- “Agree to Disagree, coupled with redefining IYM to emphasize support, de-emphasize authority;”
- Make “Consistent Application of Faith & Practice;”
- Undertake “Disciplinary Action (Censure) Against West Richmond;” and
- Bring about a “Division and Possible Realignment.”
For each of these alternative courses of action, various possible benefits and liabilities were identified by the Task Force. For example, Model #4 contains these benefits, as seen by the Task Force: it is “proactive;” “damage may be minimized by decisive action;” there is “less likelihood of unhappy congregations withdrawing to become non-Friends community churches;” it would “provide a way to part as friends;” it “would result in lower chronic tensions; it “could lead to a new energy and creativity as we are freed from old constraints;” and “connections could still be possible via FWCC (or similar” Quaker umbrella organizations).
The task force foresaw these possible liabilities for model #4: it could cause “possible pain/division in some monthly meetings;” “the rupture of current relationship may be painful;” it “could result in two groups, neither large enough to be viable;” it is “complicated [there are] questions of dividing assets, control of affiliated organizations, etc.;” the decision would be accompanied by a “sense of failure (another Quaker schism!);” “Will realignment really satisfy those seeking a more pure yearly meeting?” “Each group may suffer from the absence of the other’s perspective;” and the “Process will require much energy.”
Model #4, the most radical option of the four, clearly fascinated the task force, as it generated a longer list of possible benefits and liabilities for that option, than for any other option. (Is realignment of Indiana Yearly Meeting the most radical option? One might be tempted to state that censuring West Richmond, Option #3, would be harsher until one reads further and discovers that a possible liability of that option would be that West Richmond’s strongest opponents still “would not be satisfied.” Thus, the simple abasement of West Richmond doubtless would not be enough for some, who would continue to demand that West Richmond be cast out of the Yearly Meeting.)
Eventually, “after much prayer and earnest seeking,” the task force on July 6 “reached unity to recommend Model 4 to the yearly meeting’s consideration.” Doug Shoemaker described the Task Force’s unity as “reluctant but strong.” Task force member Stephanie Crumley-Effinger, a member of West Richmond Meeting, agreed to Model #4 only with extreme reluctance, she says. The pressing reason for her and all of the other members of the Task Force to agree on Model #4 was their fear, based on close analyses of the responses of the various monthly meetings, that there might be a “chaotic shattering” of IYM. The task force offered “a fervent wish” that the Yearly Meeting might discern, through the leadings of the Holy Spirit, some other and better course, but Model #4 was the best that the Task Force had to offer.
The Task Force recommended that Monthly Meetings should study the report, reflect on IYM discussion, pray, and come together at a fall Representative Meeting to seek a decision. The report, however, was not released prior to yearly meeting. Instead, it was on the yearly meeting floor that IYM Friends for the first time heard the report from the Task Force and the conclusions that it reach. Task force member Tom Hamm believes the report caught many people by surprise.
The Yearly Meeting plenary speaker was Jan Wood, who heads Good News Associates, a Seattle-based church consultancy. She talked about the need for harmony and was quietly persuasive in her insistence that the Yearly Meeting really needed both sides. The contrast between Wood’s talks and the Task Force Report was rather jarring; Hamm noted that “there was something of a disconnect” between these two aspects of yearly meeting, and “it didn’t feel like a yearly meeting on the verge of a division.”
Deliberations at Indiana Yearly Meeting Sessions, 2011
On July 22 and 23, the Task Force Report was brought to the floor of Indiana Yearly Meeting sessions by Doug Shoemaker and Task Force member Tom Hamm. There followed an extensive discussion with comments being offered both for and against the recommended realignment of the Yearly Meeting. West Richmond’s pastor, Joshua Brown, listened carefully but did not speak during the discussion. He noted that there was a generational divide in the response (as we observed also more generally about discussions relating to same- sex issues in QT #18). Many of the older Friends were more hardline in their opposition to West Richmond’s Minute, while many of the younger Friends were asking, “What’s the big deal?” (Crumley-Effinger points out, however, that there were some Friends on both sides of the issue that don’t fit this generalization.)
A number of the speakers were pastors of Meetings. For example, Dave Phillips, the retired pastor of Wabash Friends Meeting, the Yearly Meeting’s largest Meeting, and one of the seven Task Force members, asserted the necessity of lines and boundaries. He offered the view that the sinfulness of homosexuality as testified to by IYM’s 1982 minute on the subject was a line that cannot be crossed. But others talked about the value of “sticking together to obtain a larger view of God’s truth” and observed that “divorce doesn’t do people any good.”
It was Brown’s sense that those present at Yearly Meeting were trying to “nerve ourselves up to do something we didn’t want to do.” Of course, if one really does not want to do something badly enough, perhaps that is a sign that the Holy Spirit does not want the body of Christ to take that step. Consequently, there was a middle group developing at the Yearly Meeting, a group of Friends that did not approve of West Richmond’s Welcoming and Affirming Minute but still did not want to see realignment or separation. Brown recalls that there were many at Yearly Meeting from across the theological spectrum who came up to him to say how much they valued the contributions of West Richmond Friends to the Yearly Meeting. In other words, many meetings are “welcoming but not affirming” (WBNA) of gays and lesbians, but also want West Richmond to stay in IYM. He also noted that there were others who didn’t speak to him at all and may have been avoiding him.
The size of this middle group is uncertain. Brown implies that it may be a majority when he states that “most didn’t want to cut the ties” that bound West Richmond Friends and the Yearly Meeting. However, Shoemaker, while conceding the existence of this middle group, believes that it constitutes a minority of Yearly Meeting members, quickly adding that no one in IYM would contend that the majority should necessarily rule, as a democratic process (but not always Friends business process) would dictate.
Crumley-Effinger is unsure about the size of this group, but she did change her mind about Model #4 being the only viable one. The existence of this center group, WBNA and supportive of West Richmond staying, was an important reason for her to begin advocating for Model #1 (Agree to Disagree). Thus, from the time of Yearly Meeting onward, the Task Force has a dissenter on whether Model #4 should be pursued.
One Friend brought up a practical matter, that the only way, under the Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice, for a Monthly Meeting to leave, is if that Monthly Meeting asks to leave. There is no process in Faith and Practice for compelling a Monthly Meeting to leave. What happens, he asked, if West Richmond Friends respectfully declined an invitation to leave?
(It should be noted that IYM, in the past two years, had asked its Fort Wayne Meeting, then dually affiliated with IYM and Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting, to “abide by IYM’s Faith and Practice,” noting several “areas where there would be significant, possibly even incompatible, differences between IYM and OVYM.” There was, however, also some dissension within the Fort Wayne Monthly Meeting, unlike West Richmond. When Fort Wayne Friends responded that they would keep their OVYM affiliation and essentially refused IYM’s request, IYM “laid down” Fort Wayne Friends Meeting, a roundabout way of stating that they were cutting ties with a Friends Meeting that would continue to exist under another yearly meeting structure. Thus, there is a process in the Faith & Practice for laying down a meeting, but it seems unlikely to some that IYM would apply this same language to West Richmond, should a separation take place. Furthermore, there are some in IYM who gravely doubt that the “laying down” process was properly applied even to Fort Wayne Friends, pointing out that there is no authorization in IYM Faith & Practice for laying down a meeting as a disciplinary action.)
After two days of discussion, the Clerk, Greg Hinshaw, called for a period of silence and prayer as he sought to formulate a minute regarding any unity that the Holy Spirit was giving to Indiana Yearly Meeting at this time. Hinshaw did not discern any unity within the Yearly Meeting as to an immediate separation or realignment.
When Hinshaw first asked for approval for a minute, the body gave its approval, albeit with 12 to 14 Friends, many from West Richmond or First Friends, asking to be recorded as standing aside. Crumley-Effinger recalls that the minute, as initially drafted, was very confusing and that the Friends standing aside were not asked why they were doing so. When she raised her concern with the Clerk, he asked her to share her observation about the confusing nature of the minute with the body, and she did so.
As a result, the minute was drafted in such a way as to make clear that the Representative Council was not bound to Model #4, and its task was described in more open-ended terms as seeking “a way forward.” The following minute was approved (the final wording was formulated by Tom Hamm): “The Indiana Yearly Meeting calls on monthly meetings to study the report and recommendations of the Task Force, reflect on the discussion at yearly meeting, and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. At a called meeting of the Representative Council in the fall, we will seek a way forward.”
Other 2011 Midwestern Yearly Meetings and Same-Sex Issues
In July and August, Indiana Yearly Meeting would not be the only Midwestern Yearly Meeting to confront same-sex issues. Two yearly meetings that convened very shortly after the Indiana Yearly Meeting sessions were among these. After a short discussion during sessions, Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting (formerly, Indiana Yearly Meeting, Hicksite), meeting July 27-31, approved a minute that OVYM “Friends have been led by the Light of the Living Christ to understand that God’s love extends with equality to all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” affirming “the full humanity of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender persons,” committing to “their equal status within the Religious Society of Friends and the wider world,” and celebrating “their covenant relationships, including marriages under the care of our constituent meetings, as just as sacred, just as valid, and the cause for just as much joy as those of any other persons.”
(http://www.quaker.org/ovym/Documents/2011SexualityGenderID.pdf) This was the culmination of decades of consideration by OVYM of issues related to same-sex relationships, including invitations by the Yearly Meeting to monthly meetings to weigh in with their views. But when OVYM finally reached unity on this minute, the unity was strong.
But while OVYM reached a sense of the meeting on these charged issues, another nearby Yearly Meeting continued to struggle mightily without coming to any unified statements of clarity on same-sex issues. This was Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative), which gathered in Barnesville, Ohio on Eighth Month 8-14. In 2010, the body was presented with “The Salem Statement,” which would insert into the Ohio Book of Discipline language specifying a definition of marriage as between, and only between, one man and one woman. (See http://www.ohioyearlymeeting.org/OYM_minutes_2010_web. pdf , page 54) This proposal was widely discussed over the next twelve months. In its 2011 sessions this summer, after much labor, the Yearly Meeting minuted that
“Friends of various perspectives are equally committed to the Lord, and we recognize that we need additional enlightenment, understanding of the underlying issues, and an openness to learning more in whatever way presents itself. The question was raised how further dialogue might take place so we can be drawn into unity. We ask the Friends Center Committee to consider planning one or more events during the coming year. . . If we are faithful it is worth the exercise. We have struggled with questions about human sexuality for years, and we hope that waiting and listening to God, laying down our own agendas, will open a way for us to be rightly guided. We want to approach the Lord in worship with these deep concerns and hear His word for the way forward. Real Truth spoken lovingly comes with strength to bear it.”
Continuing Discussions of the Way Forward for Indiana Yearly Meeting
A called Representative Council Meeting for Indiana Yearly Meeting has been scheduled for October 1 at Friends’ Memorial Church in Muncie. Hinshaw, in his role as Presiding Clerk, sent out a detailed letter on August 17 to the monthly meetings. Expressing his conviction that “this meeting of the Representative Council is one of the most important meetings for Indiana Yearly Meeting in many years,” he reiterated for Friends the detailed instructions for choosing Representatives to be found in Faith & Practice. Hinshaw requested that meetings “note that Faith and Practice discourages but does not prohibit the pastor from serving as a meeting’s representative.” Joshua Brown thinks that this may be a laudable attempt to discourage “pastoral grandstanding” at this very important meeting.
A very full discussion has been occurring in the social media, on Indiana Yearly Meeting’s Facebook page. (The IYM page is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/68164373831/; however, one must scroll down to posts in early August to find the most extensive discussion of the West Richmond issue.) Michael Sherman, pastor at Raysville and one of the moderators of the Indiana Yearly Meeting Facebook page, quoted from a book gifted by IYM to its pastors on the subject of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: “I may not agree with you or you with me. Yet I can remain in relationship with you. I don’t have to detach from you, reject you, avoid you, or criticize you to validate myself. I can be myself apart from you.” If this is the essence of an emotionally healthy relationship between pastors and their congregation, why should it not also be the essence of the relationship of monthly meetings with each other in the Yearly Meeting context?
One much-talked-about contribution, online and offline, has been an observation from Doug Bennett, who on June 30 of this year retired from his job as President of Earlham. Bennett noted the Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative) consideration of same-sex issues, as reported by blogger Micah Bales. (http://lambswar.blogspot.com/2011/08/seeking-gods-word-t ogether-ohio-yearly.html ) Bennett seems to have in mind the various qualities on display in the minute excerpted above, that Yearly Meeting’s agreement that all on both sides of the issue “are equally committed to the Lord,” the openness to continued learning with the hope that more learning will draw them together into unity, the laying down of their own agendas in order to embrace what the Holy Spirit might have to say to the gathering, and so forth. Bennett asked, “Could IYM have the same collective courage?”As this is written, Bennett’s Facebook posting has so far generated more than 70 comments, including far-ranging, and sometimes quite sharp and pointed, discussions on what the Scriptures and our own human experiences have shown us about same-sex relationships. Sherman has written that his “eyes well[ed] up with tears” as he read some of these sharp exchanges. Can we find the same worshipful space with God, the true center to which we are led by the Holy Spirit, while we commune with each other on Facebook?
Heidi Kratzer Hisrich has written, “What do we WANT Indiana Yearly Meeting to be? What is it that we BELIEVE should be holding us together? This is a question I’ve been wrestling with a lot lately. Is it the Quaker testimonies and Quaker process as a distinct manifestation of Christianity? Or is it whatever our current version of Faith and Practice states? Is it what the majority of people believe to be scriptural truth? Or is it something else entirely? As the discussions on this page have shown, the questions that we’re wrestling with go beyond any one specific issue to the heart of what it is that defines us as a body.”
In the turmoil that has afflicted both Indiana and Western Yearly Meetings over the past few years, the need to be more intentional in working out how our Quaker identity unites us has been at the root of much of it. What is it that the Holy Spirit is bringing us together to be and to do?
Could Indiana Yearly Meeting Friends Agree to Disagree?
Since the Yearly Meeting sessions of 2011 (less than a month previous to this writing), West Richmond has already held two called Meetings for Worship for Business to discuss the way forward. Some West Richmond members have wondered whether this is the time to withdraw from the yearly meeting, to spare other monthly meetings the pain that would inevitably accompany the decision whether to join West Richmond in a new realigned yearly meeting. So far, however, West Richmond has not chosen that option, but in Brown’s words, has opted to “hang tight.”
The Task Force continues to meet to “prepare the space” (as Crumley-Effinger has observed) for a Holy Spirit-filled and directed Representative Council Meeting on October 1. At one of these Task Force Meetings, Friends present wondered whether the severity of the division within the Yearly Meeting was unprecedented. On the contrary, Crumley-Effinger noted that Indiana Yearly Meeting has weathered serious disagreements before, including an occasion in 1920 when one part of the Yearly Meeting put another part of the Yearly Meeting on trial for heresy! (Earlham faculty were charged with holding unsound views of Scripture and for their support of Darwin’s theories of evolution, but were found not guilty.) Another member of the Task Force added that a small group of Friends did subsequently split off from IYM to form Central Yearly Meeting, in response to this concern about unsound beliefs of some members. (http://www.centralyearlymeetingoffriends.org/ )
Joshua Brown would like to urge a renewed consideration of the Task Force’s Model #1, that of Agreeing to Disagree. The Task Force devoted little space to fleshing out that option in its report, giving as its benefits that it is “a way of preserving unity;” it would “provide opportunity for united like- minded caucuses within a diverse yearly meeting;” and it “would formalize our current practice.” Its liabilities, according to the Task Force is that it “does not respect the conscience of many;” it “would likely result in some choosing to withdraw;” and it has a “dismal likelihood of being embraced.”
Some argue that in fact Model #1 was presented in a misleading and confusing way on the Yearly Meeting floor. What was presented there as Model #1 embraced two distinct ideas: one, agreeing to disagree, and, two, a change in IYM’s structure to a less hierarchical, more support-driven organization. So, it is complicated. The latter half would be a far greater change for IYM than the former half, but, one IYM Friend argues, making IYM less hierarchical “might be necessary to both save the YM, and to have a YM at the end of this that is indeed worth saving.” At any rate, IYM members inclined to advocate Model #1 at this point are in agreement that it deserves much more careful presentation and thought than it was given during Yearly Meeting sessions.
Brown wonders whether a fuller development would map out a course of action that Monthly Meetings in Indiana Yearly Meeting could live with. “One way to do this would be to create a written covenant which focuses on action, and not on our differences of belief and interpretation. Could we try to say what we will and will not do on this issue, and give God some time to help us rediscover our spiritual unity?”
Brown appeals to Scriptural passages such as Genesis 31, where Biblical personages (in that case, Jacob and Laban) addressed disagreements over land and other issues by setting out a border marker and calling on God to witness to their agreement.
A covenant might include such elements as a desire to be faithful to Jesus Christ’s teachings, deep respect for the integrity of Scriptures, a desire to remain in fellowship, and a respect for each other’s Christian faith even when we disagree. It would include agreements on polity issues, such as continued financial support for the Yearly meeting and committee service.
A key item in Brown’s list is this very carefully worded statement: “Whenever a meeting departs significantly from IYM practice, on this or any other issue, the meeting will include a fair and unprejudiced statement of what IYM believes, including full text of any relevant IYM minute, policy statement or section of Faith and Practice, so that anyone can clearly see where the difference lies.” This is West Richmond’s current practice in regard to its Welcoming and Affirming minute, and its current practice has so far been unacceptable to some of the more evangelically oriented meetings within IYM. It remains to be seen whether any of the latter meetings will change their minds.
Indiana Friends need to do something else prior to their October 1 Representative Council, Brown believes, and that is to “count the cost of division in Indiana Yearly Meeting.” IYM is already not in the healthiest financial or spiritual position. According to the 2011 Statistical Report, it has only 2,951 members. This represents a steep decline from the 20,585 members it had a century ago (1912 figures), and from the 4,065 members it had a decade ago. Brown estimates that an attempt to force out the more liberal meetings might deprive IYM of a further 13% of its membership, which would occasion a substantial increase in the per member assessment of monthly meetings, or substantial cuts in program budgets, or both. In addition, there would be significant losses in Friends available for committee service, and in numbers of recorded ministers. Can IYM truly afford this realignment?
Shoemaker, who admits that personally he thinks that realignment is the only realistic prospect going forward, agrees with Brown that there will certainly be financial consequences from this course of action. He says now, however, that it should not be a financial decision.
Two of the potential liabilities of the realignment model by the Task Force do seem to put financial realities front and center, as the task force noted that realignment could result in two groups, neither large enough to be viable, and that questions of dividing assets present significant complications.
And Shoemaker has been very frank in the recent past about the financial problems that IYM faces imminently, realignment or no realignment. In his report to IYM in 2010, he observed,
“I believe that we can probably maintain our current yearly meeting programming and staff for a few years, but the way we are structured now is not financially sustainable for the long term. We have worked hard to keep our spending and assessments down, but unless membership increases, we are faced with the prospect of significantly raising assessments or making staff cuts in the not-so-distant future. Our current assessment level may already be at or past a tipping point where the cost of being a part of the yearly meeting exceeds the value received from belonging. I’m not trying to paint a bleak picture, but I want to realistically observe that in the near future, something’s got to give.” (http://www.iym.org/IYM%202010%20Highlights.pdf )
Surely, a realignment, a separation, will make all of these problems much, much worse. Any decision by IYM either to stay together or to separate cannot be entirely finance-driven, but IYM Friends, in reaching decisions on such matters, will have to take these sobering financial realities into serious account.
Shoemaker sees a proactive realignment as the best way to separate, which he regards as inevitable, while preserving friendships. He notes the nine monthly meetings that have withdrawn from or changed their relationship with Western Yearly Meeting in the past year, and wants a planned, rather than unplanned and chaotic, separation, should separation be inevitable. Of the “agree to disagree” option, he believes that the only way the Yearly Meeting could approve that is if the opposition to it “would have mentally checked out during the decision-making process, and soon enough afterwards, they would physically check out.”
Brown is less sanguine that a friendly, planned separation or realignment is possible. Brown does not conclude his analysis of the costs of separation with financial realities, but with a reckoning of emotional and spiritual costs as well. Brown, who, as we noted in QT#18, is the editor of a new edition of Allen Jay’s Autobiography, a place where Jay reflected sadly and profoundly on the spirit of schism as it affected nineteenth- century Friends, is well posted on his Quaker history. Thus Brown observes,
“Friends have been talking about an ‘amicable division,’ which may or may not be possible. Our track record on this has not been good during the last 200 years. There will almost certainly be bitterness, blame and recrimination on both sides, which will take at least a generation to heal. Meanwhile, Friends outside IYM will be encouraged to take sides in the dispute, meaning that everyone else will suffer, too.
“The spiritual cost of a division is probably beyond calculation. Friends on both sides have expressed that we need the balance provided by those other Friends, and this is certainly true. Becoming more narrow through division will mean that we will be spiritually poorer.
“Although everyone would welcome a decrease in fights and tensions, it is by no means clear that a division would accomplish this. Divisiveness is a habit, and many denominations which have started splitting have never recovered. Once we give in to the spirit of division, it’s hard to give it up.
“Friends on all sides have stated their desire to follow Jesus Christ as savior and to follow his teachings. We share a common Faith and Practice, a common interest in missions, a common way of doing business. We agree on so many things. Rather than unprofitably dividing, can’t we find a way to stay together?”
Crumley-Effinger says of her monthly meeting that “If West Richmond is not in Indiana Yearly Meeting, we’ll be OK. But I don’t know what will happen with the Yearly Meeting if the purifying and crusading spirit goes on.”
Again a Midwestern yearly meeting associated with Friends United Meeting finds itself at a crossroads. Your author’s crystal ball is cloudy, as he sorts through these momentous developments. One rather clear-cut development at 2011 yearly meeting sessions was the admission into Indiana Yearly Meeting of two monthly meetings, Westfield and Hinkle Creek, that had seceded in the previous year from Western Yearly Meeting. Some IYM Friends had wished that the admission process for these two monthly meetings would have been more deliberative, but in fact, the two meetings were admitted with dispatch. Are some in IYM angling for more of the conservative meetings who have withdrawn from Western Yearly Meeting to join IYM?
Thus rendering the Yearly Meeting geographical demarcation lines more elastic causes me to wonder whether the two FUM yearly meetings in Indiana may eventually differentiate somewhat along ideological lines, with Indiana Yearly Meeting emphasizing its evangelical and holiness identity to a greater extent, and Western Yearly Meeting becoming a haven for those meetings more inclined toward a liberal identity. I have not heard any Richmond-area Friend (or other IYM Friend, for that matter) indicate any interest in being part of Western Yearly Meeting, but aside from higher fuel costs and expanding one’s carbon footprint, there might be a certain logic to the differentiation of the two yearly meetings along vaguely ideological lines.
But all of that is speculation about events that may be far off, and certainly not urgent at the moment. The more pressing question is one that has beset Friends for the past 200 years, the nature of Quaker unity, the highly prized ideal bequeathed to us by our founders 350 years ago, an idea that has often proved elusive in the latter half of our existence as a religious society.
In the current form, this question highlights that Indiana Yearly Meeting has its “pro-purity” and its “pro-tolerance” advocates, just as does its Western counterpart (QT#18), although the issues at prominence in each yearly meeting have been different. Still, one side insists on the enforcement of boundaries for Quaker identity, based in this case on the IYM statements of 1982 and 1995. The other side is questioning these particular boundaries, and could also cite scriptural support – e.g., Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another burdens, for in that you fulfill the law of Christ”; and Colossians 3:13: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
These admonitions translate into calls for a more bottom-up approach toward decision making in the yearly meeting. Its approach would involve more of and an honoring of the role as a prophetic voice that monthly meetings can play toward the yearly meeting as a whole. On all sides in IYM, there have been voices emphasizing the degree to which the Holy Spirit can work through patient Quaker process pursued by Friends of goodwill. Will IYM Friends take the time in order for the Holy Spirit to be heard clearly?
Phrased in this manner, these oft-warring tendencies in modern Quakerism seem quite complementary – each has good, probing questions and considerable strengths to bring to the common endeavor of building up the Kingdom of God. As the Apostle Paul wrote in great hope, God has so arranged the body of Christ, “that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.” (I Cor. 12:24-26). In other words, Paul tells us that the body of Christ retains – yes, it even honors and cherishes – its limbs. Perhaps, in spite of those forecasting doom, the members of Indiana Yearly Meeting will yet discover how much they all really need one another.
Indiana Yearly Meeting Executive Committee. Minutes, June 7, 2010; Oct. 4, 2010.
Indiana Yearly Meeting Minute on Homosexuality Approved August 1982. http://www.westrichmondfriends.org/iym%20statements.htm
Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends Facebook Page discussions.
Interviews with Joshua Brown and Doug Shoemaker, August 18, 2011; Stephanie Crumley-Effinger, August 19, 2011; e-mail communication with Tom Hamm, Aug. 24, 2011; and conversations and e-mail exchanges with various other members of Indiana and Western Yearly Meeting.
Task Force Report, July 2011. Indiana Yearly Meeting.
West Richmond Meeting. “We Are Welcoming and Affirming!” Аpproved June 15, 2008. http://www.westrichmondfriends.org/affirming.htm
Lopping off a Limb: Update – October 5, 2011
When I discussed Quaker Theology’s preview edition, which went online at the end of August, with both insiders and outsiders in Indiana Yearly Meeting, Iwas invariably told that information in the article was previously unknown to the reader. One IYM Friend suggested that two items of information in the article were especially important. One was the actual minute approved at Yearly Meeting. The IYM Clerk, Greg Hinshaw, had not sent out that minute with his mailing in mid-August, and many IYM Friends did not know what their yearly meeting, in sessions, had approved. The second, this Friend suggested, was that one of the Task Force members, Stephanie Crumley-Effinger, now dissented from the report brought to Yearly Meeting sessions. The Task Force had striven very hard to present itself has united, and now it turned out to have a dissenter.
The Task Force continued work, and by mid-September, it reached a renewed unity. All seven members of the Task Force signed a letter, dated September 15, stating that “we will gather on October 1 as a group of Friends of Jesus, seeking God’s leading for the way forward for our yearly meeting, through listening carefully to one another and listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” All seven of these Friends now recommended a new model, which they called Model #5. (In other words, Task Force unity had been restored.) This Model was considerably more fleshed out than its four predecessors. It identified issues that divided IYM Friends, including “significant differences in how Friends regard, interpret, and use Scripture; differences in whether the yearly meeting is a denominational authority with responsibility to guard and uphold a commonly held Faith and Practice, or a cooperative affiliation of meetings with considerable autonomy and freedom; significantly differing worldviews; and Friends who differ in such ways frequently, but usually unintentionally, offending and wounding one another.” Observing “similar dynamics at work in Western and Wilmington Yearly Meetings,” along with such practical issues present in all three yearly meetings such as “increasing costs and declining membership,” the Task Force offered a Model #5, which they called “Deliberative/Collaborative Reconfiguration.” They recommended that “on October 1, Friends of Indiana Yearly Meeting commit ourselves to a year-long process of seeking a future that honors each other’s consciences and understandings of scriptural guidance, and that is life-giving for all of our monthly meetings.”
They proposed dividing IYM along lines of desired exercise of Yearly Meeting authority. “We ask Friends to discern whether they want to be part of a yearly meeting that, as our current Faith and Practice provides, has the power to set bounds and exercise authority over subordinate monthly meetings; or whether they wish to be part of a yearly meeting that is a collaborative association, with monthly meetings maintaining considerable autonomy and allowing great freedom in matters of doctrine.” (Actually, IYM Faith and Practice has both subordinationist and associational provisions in it, so is open to much more richness in interpretation than the Task Force portrayed here; see our QT #18.)
On the floor of Representative Council, Tom Hamm stated that one criticism that had been made of Model #4 was that it was a way of dismissing West Richmond through the backdoor. Model #5, he said, would make clear that such would not be the purpose of the Yearly Meeting’s action.
They also proposed to invite “Western and Wilmington Yearly Meetings to join in this process of discernment, with the potential for reconfiguring our three yearly meetings into two bodies per the above-delineated kinds of yearly meetings.” To be clear, Western and Wilmington Yearly Meetings had not asked to take part in such a discernment process. But, if the Representative Council was to approve Model #5, IYM would ask their two sister yearly meetings if they wished to join in the discernment process. We will append the entire text of Model #5 at the conclusion of this update.
Usually, when members of the Religious Society of Friends are asked to undertake big decisions, there is a period of seasoning for such proposals, so that everyone can pray about them, and, at the very least, understand their full import. There would be no such period of seasoning for Model #5. Instead, IYM Friends would be asked to make a decision on Model #5 a mere fifteen days after the Task Force unveiled it. Some IYM Friends showed up at the Representative Council in Muncie on October 1 knowing nothing about Model #5, thinking that they would be asked to make a decision only on one of the first four Models.
When Representative Council met on October 1, at Friends Memorial Church in Muncie, it deliberated for more than 6-1/2 hours on these matters. Doug Shoemaker gave his view that Option #1 would not work, and reiterated the Task Force views that there were vast differences in ways of interpretation of Scripture, vast differences in worldview, and vast differences in the view of Yearly Meeting authority. Shoemaker stated these views are not held lightly. The Task Force had been accused of trying to divide IYM, he stated, but the truth of the matter is that the division already exists. Thus, he asked, how do we move forward in light of the fact that these serious divisions already exist in IYM?
There was no clear answer given to the question of when the year-long process of dividing IYM would start, should the Rep Council approve Model #5. Did the clock start ticking at yearly meeting sessions in July, or would it start with the hoped-for approval of Model #5 in October? In Josh Brown’s view, “the Holiness churches are clearly impatient” to have this division over and done with.
In Michael Sherman’s view, the October 1 Representative Council was convened with the Task Force, including the Clerk, seeking to have Model #5 ratified. Those Friends who wished to advocate for other models were told that only Model #5 was under consideration. Sherman stated that the problem with the process was that IYM leadership did not prepare enough room for God to work within the Representative Council Meeting.
Crumley-Effinger, however, says that she was pleased by the worshipful nature of the Representative Council meeting. And, indeed, the first two hours of the proceedings included numerous hymns, one suspects, in an attempt to get Indiana Friends in a worshipful mood.
According to Josh Brown’s count, 25 IYM Friends spoke in opposition to Model #5, and only 21 spoke in favor of it. The clerk of West Richmond Meeting, Rich Sinex, pointed out that the common way that the dispute within the Yearly Meeting was portrayed, as some Friends being for Scripture and others against it, was not accurate, and it did not represent reality. All Friends valued Scripture. A Friend from Englewood Meeting used Matthew 23:8 (“you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students”) to argue against division. Joe Kelly from the Friends in Christ in Michigan was mystified as to the grounds on which a division could take place; his meeting favored Model #1, Agree to Disagree.
Friends from West Richmond, First Friends (Richmond), Anderson, Newcastle, Friends Memorial in Muncie, Englewood and Friends in Christ all spoke in opposition to Model #5. Most of these meetings have at least two of the following three things in common: They come from small cities (Englewood is a suburb of Dayton); they have strong historical ties with Earlham or ESR; or they are located in places that have college or university communities. By way of contrast, most of the holiness and evangelical meetings are quite rural, located in very small towns.
As for those who spoke in favor, a Friend from Farmland stated that IYM Friends had lived with division for at least 30 years, and the cost of disunity is too high to continue. “People are worn out and don’t trust each other.” A former clerk of IYM said that the culture of her monthly meeting was different from that of West Richmond, and separation would be the best thing. Despite the Clerk’s prior admonitions against prepared statements, a mere four statements in favor of Model #5 in the afternoon occupied more than one hour of the Rep Council’s time. Repeatedly, proponents of Model #5 stated that “some issues are deal breakers;” for some, it was West Richmond’s permission for gays and lesbians to assume leadership in the Meeting. A pastor from Upland offered his view that the IYM membership was declining because the Yearly Meeting was not taking a high enough view of Scripture.
Toward the end of the session, after a period of prayer, Hinshaw, the IYM clerk, stated that it was his sense of the meeting that Model #5 was approved. This precipitated an hour-long procedural wrangle. At least ten Friends, mostly from the host church, Friends Memorial Church in Muncie, stood, with the request that their names be recorded in opposition to the minute. They also refused to stand aside. Hinshaw cited IYM Faith and Practice to bolster his view that the approval of the minute would be valid, despite some Friends taking such a strong stand against it. Not all Friends were happy with this construction of the Friends’ business process.
The reaction of West Richmond Friends was complex. When I interviewed Josh Brown three days later, he admitted that he was still “in shock” about the weekend’s proceedings. But no West Richmond Friend stood aside from the final minute. Why? West Richmond representative Sue Axtell explains that while most West Richmond Friends would have preferred the “agree to disagree” option, “as we listened we realized that those who need to exist in an environment of similar theological beliefs and a structured authoritarian YM would be so unhappy unless Model 4 or 5 passed that none of us stood aside or claimed to be not ‘united’ with the final minute. That’s the nuts and bolts of it.”
Hinshaw himself called Model #5 the “best of the worst” options. You can find many Friends in Indiana who would essentially echo this viewpoint. The “Deliberative/Collaborative Reconfiguration” of Model #5 is terrible, they might say, but there was no better option.
Margaret Fraser noted that “the decision to separate was . . . not without deep grief. The proposal to sing ‘Blest Be the Tie that Binds’ did not sit well with those who were feeling ties torn apart, and was quietly dropped. While it may prove to be the best decision in the circumstances, the ties are not simply ‘fellowship’ but deep ties of history, generational connection and, above all, identity. Grief is appropriate.”
One striking aspect of the deliberation was how little deliberation there was on the issues regarding the place of gays and lesbians in our Friends Meetings that had precipitated this latest division in IYM. Clerk Hinshaw discouraged any discussion of homosexuality on the floor of the Rep Council. Certainly, the issues of the authority of Yearly Meeting and Scripture were very weighty in and of themselves, so the Yearly Meeting had much to deal with, without a discussion of homosexuality.
Doug Bennett, the recently-retired President of Earlham College, asked on the IYM Facebook page, “Was there any discussion of how Friends should view homosexuality? Or does this remain, among us, the topic about which we will not speak? I believe God cares a great deal more about whether we treat one another in love and respect than whether we sustain organizations in which we find comfort. Can we minister to one another on this question?” But, for the most part, this question was left for another day.
As for how the process of Deliberative and Collaborative Reconfiguration will work, there are far more questions at this point than there are answers. At the close of the Rep Council sessions, Hinshaw emphasized two points. First, monthly meetings will not be assigned to a yearly meeting, but they will have to choose. Second, some provision would have to be made for continuing fellowship with one another. Presumably, he meant that there would be no shunning. He was stating that friendships ought to continue across yearly meeting lines.
It won’t be easy for monthly meetings to choose, as there is considerable diversity within monthly meetings, not just the yearly meeting. Several IYM pastors have shared with me their unease over the impossible situation that IYM dysfunction has dumped into their laps. It will take all their considerable skills, plus a full and ample reliance upon the Holy Spirit, to guide individual meetings into appropriate responses. West Richmond’s Sue Axtell says that she’s “sad for the meetings caught in the middle that will have to make some decisions from a ‘forced’ place.”
Invitations will now be issued to Western and Wilmington Yearly Meetings to join the process. They may accept, or they may decline; no one knows at this point. Several of the institutions associated with Indiana Yearly Meeting (including White’s Institute, Quaker Haven camp, and Quaker Hill Conference Center) already have independent incorporation, so they will not likely be affected too much by the process of separation. However, the Friends Fellowship retirement community in Richmond is owned by Indiana Yearly Meeting, so there will have to be found some way to resolve that issue.
Josh Brown points out that the question of affiliation with Friends United Meeting also will need a resolution. Will only one, or both, yearly meetings continue in affiliation with Friends United Meeting? If both yearly meetings continue in affiliation with Friends United Meeting, will they attempt to take their fights to FUM forums? Would a new center-right yearly meeting seek an affiliation with Evangelical Friends Church International? Would a new center-left yearly meeting seek an affiliation with Friends General Conference?
How will Friends be moved to continue their financial contributions to Indiana Yearly Meeting in the year-long interim period, when they are unsure as to what they are contributing to, anymore? IYM already is in difficult financial straits, as our main article makes clear. This will undoubtedly make it worse.
Not all Friends separations have been accomplished with wild emotion. The violent separation between Hicksites and Orthodox in Ohio Yearly Meeting in 1828 was followed by a separation accomplished far more calmly between Gurneyites and Wilburites in Ohio in 1855. But most seem to have had rather far- reaching results. As to what will be the result of this latest contemplated separation, we will just have to see. So stay tuned.
Appendix: Model #5 Deliberative/Collaborative Reconfiguration
- We recommend that, on October 1, Friends of Indiana Yearly Meeting commit ourselves to a year-long process of seeking a future that honors each other’s consciences and understandings of scriptural guidance, and that is life-giving for all of our monthly meetings. This process would include (but not be limited to) the following elements:
- The West Richmond Welcoming Minute is, in our opinion, but a symptom of deeper disagreements in the yearly meeting. One of these is the question of the yearly meeting’s authority over its monthly meetings. We ask Friends to discern whether they want to be part of a yearly meeting that, as our current Faith and Practice provides, has the power to set bounds and exercise authority over subordinate monthly meetings; or whether they wish to be part of a yearly meeting that is a collaborative association, with monthly meetings maintaining considerable autonomy and allowing great freedom in matters of doctrine.
A Monthly Meeting may choose to opt-out of the early phase of this process, and wait until the reconfiguration is underway before deciding the yearly meeting with which to affiliate. Depending on the outcome of the reconfiguration discussion, the yearly meeting of its preference may be largely the one in which it is currently located.
- Inviting Western and Wilmington Yearly Meetings to join in this process of discernment, with the potential for reconfiguring our three yearly meetings into two bodies per the above delineated kinds of yearly meetings.
- A process for appointing a task force, representing the variety of perspectives and interests in Indiana Yearly Meeting, to carry out this discernment work, both within our yearly meeting and, potentially, with parallel bodies of either or both of the other two
- yearly meetings. It would include, but not be limited to the following responsibilities:
- Maintaining valued relationships, both as the process unfolds and as yearly meetings are reconfigured
- Clarifying a way to go about such a reconfiguration, including how to proceed if Western and Wilmington decline the invitation to join in this process
- Determining how to share our responsibilities for and connections with Friends United Meeting, Whites, Friends Fellowship Community, and Quaker Haven Camp
- Identifying and addressing legal implications, such as meetinghouse ownership
We offer this recommendation in the full knowledge that Friends have many sad feelings about Quaker separations in the past, and wishing to avoid the hostility and alienation that has rocked the Quaker community at such times (forms of which sometimes re-emerge these days when we experience our differences.) We have come to recognize that factors which enabled Indiana Yearly Meeting to succeed as “a big tent” 50 and more years ago are no longer present. With more convinced Friends (a good thing!) we have fewer family ties across meetings. Styles of worship vary widely from one congregation to another. Some of us identify closely with the wider Religious Society of Friends and sister peace churches, while others of us find our kindred spirits within the wider evangelical movement. Quarterly meetings have diminished and are much less effective in connecting Friends from different meetings.
We trust that there can be a healthy self-differentiation and movement into new forms of relationships that free each Meeting to be faithful to, and supported in, the leadings that they have. We seek for Friends to bless one another in our differing journeys, affirming that we all are following Jesus’ call to the kingdom of God. Thus we encourage Friends to look to the model of three of our long-ago spiritual forebears from the Hebrew Scriptures: Ruth, Orpah, and Naomi (see attachment #3). These women had come to a moment when, through no fault of their own, their way of life was no longer sustainable, and they had to make a momentous decision about how to proceed. At first, all three set out to seek a new life in Ruth’s native land of Judah, but then Orpah took Ruth’s advice and decided to stay in Moab and return to her family home. The three women wept, kissed one another, and parted with love and respect, wishing each other a good future in their differing journeys. May we do as well, if Friends feel led to accept the recommendation of Model 5, and all thrive in faithfulness in the land to which they are called.
Your Friends in Christ,
Peggy Caldwell, Stephanie Crumley-Effinger,
Rod Dennis, Tom Hamm, Greg Hinshaw,
Dave Phillips, and Doug Shoemaker