Friends Church Kenya-vs-Homosexuals-Text-and-Responses-Quaker-Theology-Number-23
In This Section:
“Quakers & Homosexuality Press Statement,” from Friends Church Kenya
Background & Context: Homosexuality, Law, Religion & Violence In Africa Today, by The Editors
Responses to the FCK Statement:
Epistle to the 2012 World Conference of Friends, held in Kenya, from Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer Concerns
FRIENDS CHURCH IN KENYA REG. NO. 13113
RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS (QUAKERS)
“You are my Friends if you do what I command you”
P.O. BOX 465
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
QUAKERS AND HOMOSEXUALITY
It is common knowledge that Quakerism is early Christianity revived and therefore can never be developed in isolation from historic Christianity. Christianity is not a notion but a way and a life. Therefore, Quakerism being historic Christianity revived can never be construed to become merely subjective. It is a living inward experience of righteousness in a Quaker’s life and if one does not follow this inward experience then his or her religion is a mere delusion or he/she has deviated from the Truth. Quakers are the children of Light and must be walking in the Light.
During George Fox’s time, (the founder and father of Quakerism) in the Seventeenth Century, there was a time when some “less stable characters worked havoc by going out from the Spirit of God into their own notions”. When George Fox noticed this anomaly, he wrote a “wise letter” to Friends and cautioned them that “they might depart from the truth into their earthly wills, and so give room for the enchanter and sorcerer and the airy Spirit”. He warned that as soon as Friends “left the cross and that which was pure and eternal and let in that which was mortal to be servants to it, there, the image of God in them would come to be lost”. (Fox, Epistles No.32).
What is pure and eternal in the Spiritual journey of a Quaker especially in terms of marriage and relationships? Is it homosexuality or heterosexuality? Is it same sex marriage or opposite sex marriage?
What is Biblically pure in the eyes of God in terms of human sexuality? Homosexuality is a sin that is roundly condemned in scripture. Gen. 19:5, Lev. 18:22-23, Rom. 1:26-27, 1Cor. 6:9-11, Eph. 5:3-5, Gal. 5:19-21, 1 Tim. 1:9, 10, Jude 7.
God’s attitude toward the vile behaviour of homosexuality is clear. He prohibited and condemned homosexuality in Gen. 19:5 when He destroyed the city of Sodom. It is clear that the homosexuality of the people of Sodom carried an uncontrollable lust that defied restraint so that even when the people were blinded they still tried to fulfil their lust (Gen. 19:11). Actually God outlawed all homosexuality and bestiality as sexual perversion that should not be tolerated. All sexual perversions were worthy of death, indicating their loath sameness before God.
Homosexuals are those who have deliberately deviated from what is normal sexual practices as God intended it to be, to bad behaviour of transverstism, sex changes and other gender perversions. As Quakers and for that matter Christians, we are supposed to discern and have more knowledge than the gay people and therefore greater accountability will be required of us. We cannot and will not give ourselves over to sexual immorality. Instead, we urge those practicing this immorality to abandon this abomination and repent and change their ways so that the Lord can forgive them.
According to the Faith and Practice of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (1972) marriage is between husband and wife. Who is a husband and who is a wife? With reference to the Oxford University Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, husband means “man to whom a woman is married”, and wife means “married woman, especially in relation to her husband”.
In the Church Government of Britain Yearly Meeting (1980) the certificate of marriage is signed during the wedding “by the man (husband) and the woman (wife) with her surname used immediately prior to marriage”(907). According to this book, one of the conditions observed in preparation for marriage is the completing of form B (for man) or form C (for woman).
With reference to the book of Margaret Fell, the mother of Quakerism, by Isabel Ross-1984, PP 56 “Marriage is between man and woman who appear personally before their meetings for clarity purposes prior to their wedding.”
When George Fox married Margaret Fell he reminded Friends “how God did join man and woman together before the Fall. And man had joined in the Fall but it was God’s joining again in the restoration ……………” Journal P.506). God did not join man and man or woman and woman.
By re-branding sexual immorality to mean human rights and by confusing that of God in everyone to mean Spiritual liberty would mean departing from Quaker core values of truth and uprightness as Children of the Light into our own earthly wills. How can we abandon that which is pure and eternal and still consider ourselves to be the Light of the world and good salt of the earth? Then we are not worthy of our calling. Modernizing Christianity to meet our own selfish desires is immoral. The God of yesterday is the same today and tomorrow and His commandments have remained and will remain forever.
For this matter, Friends Church in Kenya condemns homosexuality in the strongest term possible without reservation.
By Zablon Isaac Malenge
FCK PRESIDING CLERK
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Background & Context:
Homosexuality, Law, Religion
& Violence In Africa Today
“Culture Clash”? Two Presidents on Same Sex Marriage
In much of Africa, it is not safe to be gay. It can also be unsafe even to speak positively about homosexuality. U.S. President Barack Obama recently found this out. Some Quakers found it out a year earlier. We recently found out more.
President Obama visited Africa in late June 2013. He landed first at Dakar, Senegal on the western coast of the continent. His arrival coincided with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down the “Defense of Marriage Act” or DOMA.
The DOMA decision substantially increased the legitimacy of same-sex marriage in the American polity. It also lifted the bar to same sex marriages in California, the most populous U.S. state, and the thirteenth state to legalize such unions. At least thirty percent of Americans now live in jurisdictions that recognize same-sex weddings.
The DOMA decision demanded some comments. At a news conference with Senegal’s President Macky Sall, Obama said the decision marked “a proud day for America,” and added that “When it comes to how the state treats people, how the law treats people, I believe that everybody has to be treated equally.” But according to the Associated Press report, the Senegalese leader was having none of it. Sall retorted that his country was “very tolerant,” but it is “still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality.”
Obama went on with his African tour; but the exchange in Dakar has left a significant media wake. The New York Times’s Adam Nossiter reported on June 28 a sharply different picture of what Sall called a “very tolerant” society:
In Senegal, never mind about same-sex marriage: gay men and lesbians are abused by the police, beaten and sometimes tortured, with impunity. They are threatened by mobs, mocked on the front pages of newspapers and subject to criminal prosecution for being gay. And the persecution is even more severe elsewhere in West Africa.”
Local media, Nossiter noted, were quick to praise Sall’s rebuke:
“No, We Can’t,” trumpeted Liberation.
“Macky says no to Obama,” said Walfadjri on its front page.
“Obama makes a plea for the homos, Macky says no!” said Le Pop.
“President Sall has closed the debate on homosexuality,” read a headline in L’Observateur.
And contrary to Sall’s statement, abuse of LGBT persons (or those suspected to be such) has been well-documented here. A 2010 Human Rights Watch report, “Fear for Life: Violence against Gay Men and Men Perceived as Gay in Senegal,” (HRW) detailed numerous cases of violence and other abuse, and urged corrective action:
“Men who identify as or are perceived to be gay increasingly became targets of popular vengeance and arbitrary arrests. In research conducted in 2009 and early 2010, Human Rights Watch documented a range of abuses, including police abuse and arbitrary detention, physical threat, assault, and verbal abuse by private individuals, and blackmail, extortion, and robbery. We also examined how media and religious institutions have contributed to the climate of violence . . . .
The report also details other instances of arrests and police torture of gay men and men perceived as gay as well as violence by non-state actors, and the social context and cultural climate of fear and suspicion in which these attacks take place.
We conclude with recommendations . . . . It is essential that Senegalese authorities uphold the fundamental rights of all Senegalese residents, address the impunity with which private actors attack individuals known or perceived to be gay, provide clear access to justice and redress to individuals who face homophobic violence, and promote a culture of tolerance and diversity.”
Further, The Times’s Nossiter noted, “Senegal is one of 38 African countries that criminalize ‘consensual same-sex conduct’ . . . and it is not the worst in its persecution of gay men and lesbians.”
Kenya and Gay Quakers: A Difficult Encounter
Kenya is another of the 38 African countries with laws against homosexuality, and where suspicion of being homosexual, and/or advocacy for acceptance of homosexuality can be dangerous. And it was in Kenya in April of 2012 that 800+ Quakers, gathered from around the world by the Friends World Committee for Consultation, ran smack into the culture that sustains such attitudes.
The issue surfaced through a background feature of the conference: the posting of epistles to the conference from various Quaker groups. But one epistle, from the US-based Friends for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & Queer Concerns (reprinted on page 61, below), kept disappearing from the collection.
More about the resulting controversy is in the responses below. Our attention was brought to this topic by an event eight months after the conference dispersed: distribution to Kenyan media of a statement by the leadership of Friends Church Kenya (FCK).
It appears that this statement, while “public,” was not meant for American eyes. Yet its condemnation of homosecxuality is so sweeping and unconditional that it seemed to us that readers elsewhere in the world ought to have access to it, and a chance to comment. So it is reprinted here, complete. Responses by several American Friends of various perspectives follow the statement.
As we have delved into the legal and cultural background, the seemingly unique quality of the FCK statement’s vehemence receded: in its social setting, it is neither unusual nor the most extreme. But this context needs some explication.
Two sources have been of particular value in filling in this context. One is a report from Amnesty International, issued very near the time of President Obama’s visit to Africa. The other is a 2009 report by a U.S.-based research group, Political Research Associates.
How Bad Does It Get for Gays In Much of Africa? Very Bad
Let us turn first to the key points of the Amnesty report, Making Love A Crime: Criminalization of Same-Sex Conduct In Sub-Saharan Africa:
The continued criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct in 38 African countries is a serious cause for concern. The existence and implementation of these laws violates a raft of international and regional human rights norms, and serves to marginalize one group of Africans based on their sexual orientation and gender identity alone.
The last decade has witnessed efforts in some sub-Saharan African countries to further criminalize LGBTI individuals by ostensibly targeting their behaviour, or to impose steeper penalties and broaden the scope of existing laws. . . .
Even in countries where anti-homosexuality laws are not routinely implemented, the existence of the laws alone provide opportunities for abuse, including blackmail and extortion, both by police and by non-state actors. Furthermore, the existence of laws that criminalize one group of people based on who they are and who they (are presumed to) have consensual sex with, sends a message to the broader population that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is acceptable, and that human rights do not apply to LGBTI people. This creates an environment in which harassment, intimidation and violence against LGBTI people can flourish, and people can perpetrate such acts with impunity. . . .
The report notes that a few tiny African island countries have eased or abolished anti-gay laws; but on the mainland, the trend is largely in the opposite direction. Further, the impact on freedom of expression is frequently very negative. This comment could have been a prophecy of the FWCC conference experience:
LGBTI people in some sub-Saharan African countries are criminalized for the expression of their sexual orientation not only in the context of their intimate relationships, but in their social lives and activities. Sometimes, the criminalization of LGBTI individuals takes the form of laws that limit their ability to communicate with others, to organize for the purpose of advocating for LGBTI rights, to dress in a manner of their choosing, to display affection for others of the same sex publicly, to write for, appear in, or possess, literature and media, and to have access to or distribute materials relating to sexual health, including HIV prevention and treatment . . . .
Whipping up anti-gay hysteria to divert public attention away from more basic issues of justice and official corruption has become a common political tactic:
Political leaders often use statements characterizing same-sex sexuality as ‘un-African’ and attacking lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and groups to drum up support amongst conservative constituencies, to attack their opponents and to distract from issues facing the country. The Presidents of Zimbabwe and Namibia, for example, have made statements linking homosexuality to corruption, paedophilia, child murder, pornography and other social ills.
For political leaders who feel vulnerable, attacking an already marginalized group such as LGBTI people can be a prelude to attacking other groups like opposition parties and the press. Political leaders sometimes express hostility towards LGBTI people in attempts to divide civil society. Fortunately, an increasing number of civil society organizations embrace and advocate for an inclusive human rights agenda, supporting the human rights of LGBTI people, such as for example the Civil Society Coalition Human Rights and Constitutional Law, the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, and ADEPHO in Cameroon.
Compared to some countries, the work of Kenya’s Human Rights Commission, founded in 1992, is a sign of progress. But this commission is unofficial; it is funded by foreign donors; and its main tools are information gathering and monitoring. To keep this in perspective, consider the testimony of one public gay activist in Kenya:
Denis Nzioka, a gay activist based in Nairobi and the then spokesperson for Gay Kenya, explained to us the incidents of harassment and violence he has experienced. Although the Kenyan media is generally less sensationalist than the Ugandan media when it comes to LGBTI issues, Denis has still faced threats and harassment because of his media exposure through his work. Denis told Amnesty International:
“One radio station, Easy FM, put my name on their website. This received thousands of comments. People blamed me for the drought, the tsunami, everything. There were some really nasty comments. Now I only go on TV or radio if necessary. I have a security plan in place. I have also been evicted a number of times. The first two times were because of neighbours harassing me. In the first place, the neighbours sent a letter saying, ‘We, the residents of the apartment block, because we know you are homosexual, and you will target our kids, are giving you three days to leave, lest we get some of the ‘boys’ to come and evict you. . . .
In general though the harassment here is sporadic when compared to Uganda – it is much more common there. Also, there is a lot of positivity here. A bus full of girls met me recently, and they giggled and said that they read my columns. I am in the media a lot.
I have been evicted three times, and attacked twice by strangers.. . . I have received countless death threats, by email, telephone and through Facebook – one of which said ‘I have been sent to kill you.’”
Kenyan newspapers often feature articles which express hostility against LGBTI people and rights, and sometimes border on advocating hatred and inciting violence against LGBTI people.
Religion As A Driving Force of Homophobia
A key section of the Amnesty report deals with the role of religion as an instrument of antigay propaganda and action. Here there are important connections to churches in the U.S.:
Discriminatory practices within certain religions and discrimination espoused in the name of religion mean that LGBTI people in some African countries often find themselves excluded, harassed and victimized from yet another angle . . . .
Some politicians, religious leaders, and other public figures frequently refer to Christianity and Islam as part of an authentic African identity that excludes the possibility of LGBTI Africans. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Amnesty International found that for some, discrimination is both justified in the name of religion, and religion itself is used as a vehicle to discriminate. Many individuals, including LGBTI individuals, find deep personal meaning and strength in their religious faith. Therefore, when religious leaders promote discriminatory attitudes towards, or the rejection of, certain populations, many members of society see this as legitimate and even a mandatory part of expressing their faith . . . .
In strongly religious communities, public condemnation of LGBTI people by religious leaders gives implicit permission to individuals to express their own homophobia in public, which they often do in violent ways. In turn, LGBTI individuals, many of whom are religious, are unable to confide in their religious leaders for fear that they will be expelled from the congregation, possibly publicly. They may also fear, from experience and from reports of the experiences of others, that their stories will be published in newspapers, that they will be reported to the police, or that they will be denounced from the pulpit as evil or demonic.
Religion is often conflated with notions of culture and tradition, and then used as a justification to condemn same-sex sexuality. The very existence of LGBTI Africans is often denied and same-sex sexuality or behaviour is largely blamed on the West. Meanwhile, the loudest and most public Western influence on this issue arguably comes from Western preachers, like [California megachurch] Pastor Rick Warren . . . .
In recent years, attitudes of some churches in the West have become more accepting of ‘out’ LGBTI parishioners and of the human right to non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, including, in some cases, with regard to marriage. Some conservatives, particularly from the USA, are therefore increasingly turning to African congregations to further their anti-LGBTI agenda.. They rely on African delegates to block the acceptance of LGBTI clergy, and present some churches’ support for human rights as cultural imperialism, forcing ‘Western homosexuality’ on African societies. Their efforts seek to further the notion that same-sex sexuality is fundamentally immoral, against religion and against culture.
American Conservative Church Groups: Fanning The Flames In Africa
This extensive American conservative influence on antigay religion in Africa deserves more attention. A very revealing resource on this is a 2009 report, Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches & Homophobia, from Political Research Associates (PRA).
U. S. conservatives have successfully recruited a significant number of prominent African religious leaders to a campaign seeking to restrict the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The flagship issue of this campaign is the ordination of LGBT clergy by mainline Protestant denominations . . . . The campaign’s consequences in the home countries of the African clergy– including Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria . . . are even more threatening to the human rights of sexual minorities than the setbacks engineered in the United States. As a direct result of this campaign, homophobia is on the rise in Africa– from increased incidents of violence to antigay legislation that carries the death penalty.
In this campaign, the U.S. conservatives have engineered a paradoxical role reversal:
For decades in Africa, U.S. mainline Protestant churches joined struggles– opposed by the U.S. Right– to topple racist colonial regimes in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa, and to empower oppressed people of all sorts. But one of the main organizations promoting homophobia in both Africa and the United States over the last decade is the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), a well-funded neoconservative think tank that opposed the African liberation struggles. In Africa, IRD and other U.S. conservatives present mainline denominations’ commitments to human rights as imperialistic attempts to manipulate Africans into accepting homosexuality– which they characterize as a purely western phenomenon. For IRD, this campaign is part of a long-term, deliberate, and successful strategy to weaken and split U.S. mainline denominations, block their powerful progressive social witness promoting social and economic justice, and promote political and social conservatism in the United States. Using African leaders as a wedge in U.S. conflicts is only its latest and perhaps most effective tactic.
The IRD aims most of its efforts at large denominations such as Methodists and Episcopalians/Anglicans; but the impact of its widespread propaganda and that of its allies in ratcheting up the fever of homophobia in Africa is evident in the Friends Church Kenya statement, which repeats the meme that homosexuality is “worthy of death,” and couches its condemnation “in the strongest term possible without reservation.”
The PRA report minces no words about the hazards of this international campaign:
News coverage of the marriage equality and ordination conflicts in the United States not only glosses over U.S. religious conservatives’ cross-continental organizing but also underreports the growing persecution of LGBT people in African countries whose churches are players in the U.S. church conflicts.
As they have cultivated African political and religious leaders, conservatives ranging from megachurch minister Rick Warren to Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively have used their broad access to push for antigay politics in Africa. Christian Right activists use rhetoric about “family values” to foment homophobia in Africa with disastrous consequences, such as the currently pending national antigay legislation in Uganda that would persecute and even issue the death penalty to homosexuals. . . .
While homophobia in Africa is fomented largely for U.S. domestic purposes, by depicting advances in the United States as evidence of a worldwide neocolonial homosexual threat, U.S. conservatives have engendered an insidious, inverse relationship between LGBT rights in the United States and in Africa. Scott Lively and other evangelicals portray victories for equality in the United States as evidence of the encroaching gay conspiracy, exciting bigotry and violence among their African audiences. In this respect, Africans have become a kind of “collateral damage” of the U.S. culture wars. The globalization of the U.S. culture wars requires that human rights advocates reconsider their responsibility and role in respect to Africa, as well as the actions required to overcome the opponents of LGBT equality at home. (Emphasis in original.)
In Summary: Learn and Speak Out
Given this ongoing, highly organized, lavishly-financed campaign, the PRA report includes some forthright recommendations for U.S. readers:
Progressives should expose these groups’ full agenda both in the United States and in Africa, thereby facilitating more effective human rights organizing on both continents. African Christians and political leaders will be able to make better-informed decisions about the alliances they make in the United States. The right-wing ecumenism of IRD-sponsored renewal movements cries out for more robust ecumenical work among U.S. church-based human rights activists and their allies.
A similar sentiment underlies our publication of the FCK statement and several responses. We believe it is important for such statements to be addressed directly.
APPENDIX: Laws In Kenya & Senegal
For reference, we include here a summary of the laws criminalizing homosexuality in both Kenya and Senegal, as listed in the Amnesty International report, along with the laws from other African countries:
Kenyan laws relating to homosexuality:
Cap. 63 Penal Code 396 (Sections amended by Act No. 5 of 2003)
“Section 162. Any person who –
(a) has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature; or
(b) has carnal knowledge of an animal; or
(c) permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years: Provided that, in the case of an offence under paragraph (a), the offender shall be liable to imprisonment for twenty-one years if –
(i) the offence was committed without the consent of the person who was carnally known; or
(ii) the offence was committed with that person’s consent but the consent was obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of some kind, or by fear of bodily harm, or by means of false representations as to the nature of the act.”
“Section 163. Any person who attempts to commit any of the offences specified in section 162 is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for seven years, with or without corporal punishment.”
“165. Any male person who, whether in public or private commits any act of gross indecency with another male person, or procures another male person to commit any act of gross indecency with him, or attempts to procure the commission of any such act by any male person with himself or with another male person, whether in public or private, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for five years, with or without corporal punishment.”
Penal Code of 1965411 Article 319 (3): [Translated from French]:
(“Without prejudice to the more serious penalties provided for in the preceding paragraphs or by articles 320 and 321 of this Code, whoever will have committed an improper or unnatural act with a person of the same sex will be punished by imprisonment of between one and five years and by a fine of 100,000 to 1,500,000 francs. If the act was committed with a person below the age of 21, the maximum penalty will always be applied.”)
Amnesty International, Making Love A Crime: Criminalization of Same Sex Conduct in Sub-Saharan Africa. http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AFR01/001/2013/en
Full report also at:
Associated Press, “President Barack Obama clashes with Senegalese President Macky Sall over gay rights,” June 27, 2013.
Human Rights Watch, “Fear for Life: Violence against Gay Men and Men Perceived as Gay in Senegal,”
Full Report: http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2010/11/30/fear-life-0
Adam Nossiter, “Senegal Cheers Its President for Standing Up to Obama on Same-Sex Marriage,”
New York Times, June 28, 2013
Political Research Associates, Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches, & Homophobia, 2009.
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A Letter to Zablon Malenge:
P.O. Box 3811
Durham NC 27701 USA
May 29, 2013
Zablon Malenge, Clerk
Friends Church Kenya
P.O. Box 465
Dear Zablon Malenge,
The enclosed press statement dated December 12, 2012 recently came to my attention. I have concerns and questions about both the language in the text regarding homosexuals, and the views of the Bible and Quaker religion that it exhibits. I wonder if you can please help me understand this better by replying to a few questions:
1. What was the occasion for issuing this public statement? What were the objectives of doing so?
2. What is the practical meaning of your statement that, “God’s attitude toward the vile behaviour of homosexuality is clear. He prohibited and condemned homosexuality in Gen. 19:5 when He destroyed the city of Sodom. . . . Actually God outlawed all homosexuality and bestiality as sexual perversion that should not be tolerated. All sexual perversions were worthy of death, indicating their loath sameness before God.”
I am particularly interested to know what your statement means for both Quaker groups and for public laws in secular societies. Does FCK recommend or approve of laws that call for execution or long imprisonment for homosexuals? Can you please explain these practical implications of the FCK statement?
Further, was this statement approved by the governing body of Friends Church Kenya? If so, when and where did that occur?
3. Your release also states that “In the Church Government of Britain Yearly Meeting (1980) the certificate of marriage is signed during the wedding “by the man (husband) and the woman (wife) with her surname used immediately prior to marriage (907).” The statement also references the 1972 Faith & Practice of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
Is FCK aware that in 2009 this same Britain Yearly Meeting changed its position and formally expressed support for same sex marriages, and is petitioning the British government to make them legal? Is FCK further aware that the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith & Practice edition of 2002 now permits same sex marriages as well? What response does FCK have to these revised positions by Britain Yearly Meeting and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting?
4. Several other Yearly Meetings in North America have also approved homosexuality and same sex marriage. Can you please explain what FCK’s message is to these groups of Quakers?
5. The statement concludes with the declaration, in bold italicized print, that “For this matter, Friends Church in Kenya condemns homosexuality in the strongest term possible without reservation.” Are there any clarifications or supplementary statements to this one that we ought also to read? Can you make any such statements available?
Thank you for your prompt response to this inquiry. Feel free to use the email address above for a faster transmission of your reply.
In the Spirit of Quaker Truth-Seeking,
Chuck Fager, Editor
[NOTE: No reply to this letter had been received when this issue went to press in mid-July 2013.]
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A response to the Friends Church Kenya proclamation on sexual orientation.
D. Pablo Stanfield
It was no surprise to me that the Friends Church Kenya has responded to Britain Yearly Meeting’s advocacy of same-sex marriage by publishing a refutation of liberal theology. It has been in the works ever since the 6th World Conference of Friends in Kenya last year. That conference was unique in many ways:
● it was the first to represent the actual racial and cultural distribution of the diverse world-wide Religious Society of Friends [>50% of the faces were non-Euro-white; many attendees were not middle class or college educated];
● it was the first to make a corporate decision [the Kabarak Declaration on Eco-Justice, q.v.] since the second Conference founded the Friends World Committee for Consultation in 1937
● it was the first to involve modern technologies of communication at all, and so on.
One of the subjects that was widely discussed at that Conference was the cluster of questions about gay/lesbian rights, the place of sexual difference in Quaker family morals and the theology of same-sex marriage. The issues were not named as such at the time, of course; they were referred to as “What happened to the Epistle from FLGBTQC?”
This letter of greeting from the North American liberal Friends “ community of radical inclusiveness” Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Queer Concerns (see page 61, below) was taken down several times from its place posted among other letters of greeting from Quaker groups around the globe. Each time it was put back up and one of the Conference organizers even announced that taking it down was an act of discriminatory violence. As much as anything that pronouncement provoked argument.
The controversy was handled fairly well – all things considered – by discussions in all morning “home groups”, which were set up for worship, exchange of viewpoints and learning about differences, as well as networking and support. Some groups took significant time, others only a little, but almost everyone heard at least two sides on the happening, generally summarized as:
(1) That Friends of all kinds were welcome at the World Conference and no one could unilaterally exclude a group, especially when large numbers of Yearly Meetings had felt led to accept same-sex commitment as God’s will.
(2) Or that God has clearly prohibited illicit sexual relations, including homosexuality, and that they were illegal as well and brought opprobrium on Kenyan Friends.
As you can see, those incompatible stands leave little ground for discussion and attempts to find compromise, let alone reconciliation. In fact Friends from both positions included many more nuanced reactions and some groups had long and deep exchanges about all the ramifications of the removal of the epistle. To non-Africans one of the more surprising viewpoints was that of some Kenyans, who were willing to accept the presence of lesbian and gay Friends and even to tolerate (on some level) other Yearly Meetings’ decision about same-sex relations, but who believed that having a publicly accessible document like it on the campus, which is owned by the former dictator of Kenya Daniel arap Moi, exposed the whole Conference to being shut down by the government. I have no idea how valid this concern was, but enough people expressed it that it gives an interesting insight into the national culture, similar in many ways to those of the other former British colonies it borders: especially Uganda and Tanzania.
East Africa Yearly Meeting and its many daughters [there are now 18 Quaker bodies in Kenya] are the largest Quaker population in the world today and the largest in percentage of the population in the areas where they exist, primarily the western provinces. These bodies make up a significant portion of the Friends United Meeting, and have moved in a little over a century of experience from missions to their own Yearly Meeting, then explosive growth, power struggles and fragmentation into many, in a yet undocumented series of crises at the end of the 20th Century.
Friends Church Kenya [FCK] is a relatively new umbrella association that exists to recover some of the former unity of the separated brethren, to respond to a State requirement for a denominational polity, and to offer some coordination to the yearly meetings’ many cooperative activities. Although FCK has no hierarchical power, it can and does speak when all the yearly meetings’ officials are in unity, as in response to past election violence.
Stating religious positions from the top is a significant difference from Friends in North America, where most Quaker officials can speak for their yearly meeting only if the body has minuted a position in its meeting for worship for business. The difference appears to me to be because most eastern African yearly meetings are quite patriarchal – despite a recent attempt to raise the consciousness of the men, empower the women, and flatten the hierarchy in more traditionally Quaker ways.
Although there are many women pastors and most of them are highly respected and actively managing yearly meeting ministries, most yearly meeting executives are male pastors, and they are empowered to make theological decisions for the yearly meeting. The yearly meeting superintendent, clerk and recording clerk (who holds a semi-staff position that makes him the spokesman of the yearly meeting much of the year) hold a level of control amazing to Friends from Europe and North America. Although there is autonomy for local churches and women’s groups and equality compared to the culture, the leaders’ ability to fix policy, especially around such things as doctrine, amazes liberal Friends and even many English-speaking pastoral Friends.
This policymaking is not done in a tyrannical way: the leaders can speak with authority because a consensus does exist. It exists because they already have almost a creed of orthodox Christian beliefs, centered in the Richmond Declaration of Faith of 1887, which is not to be questioned, examined, updated or adapted. Anyone with differing interpretations of Quaker Christianity is free to leave quietly for any other denomination of their choosing. In addition, the separation of laity and clerics is maintained by church membership classes, requirements for training for ministry and traditional power circles.
There are many cultural and historical reasons for this situation. Patriarchy is alive in Kenyan popular culture today, even among Friends, who educate their girls. Further, respect for elders, authority and structure are key elements in the Kenyan social psyche. I am sure there are young radicals who debate many elements of freedom in Kenyan life, but I would be surprised if they were Quakers. In a church (as 99% of Kenyan Quakers are) where praise hymns trance the group, long hours of preaching define religion, and salvation by obedience to the set teachings of Jesus, as fixed in the Richmond Declaration, is the goal, there is no time or energy for theological diversity.
I will not say that Kenyan Quakers are stuck – those I met have a deep faith and are moved to great acts of charity and relief among their poorer neighbors (most Kenyan Quakers are lower middle class and rural poor themselves). They are living witnesses to their beliefs and contrast with the even more revivalist charismatic Christians, the “modern atheist consumer”, or traditional animist cultures around them. They do not sense any call (that I could see) to be tearing down the pillars of the World, except its greed, drugs and libertinage. And all homosexuality is libertinage, by their standards.
Victorian ideals of morality are part of the mission culture of most African Christians’ mindset. Sex cannot be for pleasure, only for procreation; it is a part of life outside of religious review. Individualism, especially of the extreme, self-centered type represented by Anglo-North American society, is seen as unrelentingly selfish and unspiritual. Africans are occupied with differentiating themselves from the “White” world; an important example is the almost unanimously believed African myth that homosexuality is a white-persons’ disease that does not affect their people – an illusion without (of course) any credible corroboration. The right-wing driven anti-gay political view that has infected most Christians in Africa is considered a righteous stand by many Quakers there, who are as shamed as other denominations by their European and North American branches that are so tied up in debating or affirming this heathenish practice. The concept of ontology – that one might be BORN attracted to the same sex is seen simply as foolishness, since God does not create mistakes. They wonder why leaders in our part of Quakerdom don’t just stand up and say, “It’s wrong. Repent and Jesus will make you straight.” That leaders who have attempted to draw such a line here are now in full retreat is a detail they are unaware of and that might not impress them. Talk of rights and scientific or socio-psychological issues that matter in the Occident are not relevant to most FCK leaders.
I last talked with my friend Zablon Malenge, executive of FCK, the day before the Conference ended and we covered many concerns that had arisen among Kenyans who were seeing the diversity of Quaker theology first-hand for the first time. I foresaw that issue statements like the one reprinted here would be produced, and doctrine about homosexuality appeared to head the list. We did not talk about details, because I was wrestling in my mind with the concept of trying to educate him, to use our 20 years’ acquaintance and mutual respect to slow down the process, to help him at least comprehend that they could not and should not make a universal doctrinal pronouncement, and to give my testimony: God uses me, a gay man, as a minister of divine blessing and Spirit; any attempt to exclude me has to be a limit on God’s grace and power. I was not led to come out then and I believe it would have made no difference.
We unprogrammed Friends should look at this statement as an attempt to re-assert African independence from the mother denominations in the corrupt, over-developed nations. It is also a necessary stance for them in the face of any questioning that may have been raised by last year’s Conference: any Africans who actually engaged in full listening with queer Quakers and respected them, or any who were moved to investigate, to learn about not only gay rights but real lesbians and gay men as three-dimensional people (many spiritually centered and mature, some as Christian and orthodox as they) had to be returned to the center path. Friends Church Kenya also had to act to retain the respect of the leaders of other denominations. The statement is speaking to other Africans, not to us.
It would be lovely if – as a number of evangelical Friends expressed after long days’ wrestling with our tiresome liberal ideas – the Religious Society of Friends Wesleyan salvation churches and its more traditional branches meetings could separate and ignore each other; or do as we are often urged, especially by liberals: just celebrate our differences, recognizing that we have a deep underlying unity in history and commitment to serving God, and let differing groups go on without comment. Unfortunately for dreamy idealists, the Conference also reminded us that what other Friends do not only reflects on us, it affects this whole Web-linked world instantly and in ways that we cannot ignore.
Just as it would have been impossible for John Woolman not to visit slave-holding Friends and labor with them, Friends who do believe in new or continuous revelation, who don’t automatically accept traditional interpretations of the Bible as final answers for all of life’s questions, will have to labor with this proclamation. African Friends have here let us know how they feel about living with our stands. We cannot forget that only 31 years ago the first same-sex wedding was held in a Friends meeting and it provoked concern and even alarm as well as about 30 years of controversy. Many of the sources cited by FCK in support of its uncompromising pronunciamiento are from long superseded editions of more liberal books of Faith and Practice, used without irony or understanding how and why we have moved. Those were meant as descriptions of Friends practice, not permanent prescription – “for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth Life.”
Kenyan Friends need to know that the position they have identified is identical to that of many older Quakers in liberal meetings not that long ago. Yet many of these Friends came, through prayer, study, personal experience with sexual minority Friends, and – yes! – revelation, to discover that love of all God’s children demands a different response. Some learned that what they thought the Bible said was not so. (See K. Renato Lings’s book, newly released in English, Love Lost In Translation: Homosexuality and the Bible.) Others learned that Queer Quakers are not some aliens “out there” threatening the integrity of Friends; they are among those most active in living as testimonies of integrity within the tradition.
Even Yearly Meetings in Evangelical Friends Church International have had to re-think their absolutism on this, the one sin listed in many books of discipline. Northwest YM of Friends Church is in the middle of several years of a learning and discernment process. The one interest group at the World Conference that looked deeply and openly at the issue was led by an evangelical Quaker from Rocky Mountain YM. FCK leaders’ refusal to listen to these Friends will not pass tacitly.
It cannot be let go quietly. Other African nations have been world leaders in attempting a hard-line against sexual minorities. The Anglican Communion world-wide has almost split under west Africans’ insistence. The death penalty is again being activated for gays in Uganda and a similar proposal is spoken of in Kenya. Zimbabwe’s Mugabe is the latest to join their camp.
Is this really what Kenyan Friends want? Nigerian and Ghanaian queers are requesting asylum in Europe. A number of us American Quakers questioned going to Kenya last year, when homosexuality was “merely” an arrest-worthy offense there. It had not occurred to organizers that this might cause some Friends problems. What happens when Kenyan Friends present their weight and their stands to FUM?
Friends, when these policies, dispassionately made in the dim light of an 1887 creedal statement or by misinterpretation of 3000 year-old cult rules, lead to death threats – for the letter killeth – against members of your own meetings, will you be willing to re-examine and reconsider this Kakamega Condemnation of December 12, 2012?
~ D. Pablo Stanfield
Pablo Stanfield is a member of University MM in Seattle, WA, in North Pacific YM, (unaffiliated liberal). He has a recognized ministry for religious education for peace and travels under a concern for good eldering. He recently retired from a career as an intercultural communications specialist, mediator, trainer and translator.
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Response by Cindy S. Perry
“I am deeply hurt” the woman told us one morning at Worship. She paused, choking back tears. Nearly 900 Quakers from all over the world were assembled that morning in Worship at Kabarak University in Kenya for the World Conference of Friends in April of 2012.
“I am deeply hurt” she went on to explain, “that someone has defaced and removed an epistle from gay and lesbian Quakers, a letter wishing us a fruitful and worshipful World Conference.”
The assembly fell quiet. “We shall replace the epistle, print another copy, and we shall respect the good wishes of all Quakers, all people,” she said.
The next day the epistle was reprinted. But the day after that, the epistle was again torn down. “We shall replace the epistle; we can make as many copies as necessary to bring good wishes of all Friends to the World Conference,” the woman said.
In the days I spent at the World Conference, I too was deeply saddened and hurt by the intolerance shown by many Kenyan Quakers. And now, the public press release from the Presiding Clerk of Friends Church Kenya brings back the sting of that hurt over a full year later.
American Friends, amid our own diversity, have long been supportive of the growth and independence of Kenyan Quakers and their yearly meetings. This support has been particularly strong through the United Society of Friends Women (USFW) and their support of clinics, missions and schools in Turkana, Lugulu and Samburu. It has taken many concrete forms, and I have proudly joined with it and wholeheartedly supported this work. Given this history, I anticipated a reciprocity of welcome among Kenyan Friends in their country. Although we received a warm welcome, I was disappointed on this particular issue. Perhaps I was naïve.
At the world conference, the Kenyans hastened to tell us that Kenyan law forbids same-sex relationships, as though that justified the acts of bigotry. But that explanation brought no consolation. Once, American laws forbade interracial marriage, stripped Native Americans of their rights and gave a legal voice to the cruelties of slavery.
Much of that oppression has since been overcome here: interracial marriages, for instance, are now legal in all the U.S. many other human rights are protected by law. The acceptance of same-sex marriage is also advancing, although tragically it is still illegal in my state of North Carolina.
Further, among American Quakers, many monthly and yearly meetings have recognized the equality of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and affirmed their right to marry. For some, this recognition has been in place for more than twenty years. Similar recognition has been achieved among Friends in Canada and Great Britain as well.
I realize that such recognition is not universal. In fact, it is still controversial in my own yearly meeting. Yet perhaps naively, when I went to what was described as a world Quaker conference last year, I expected the range of Quaker witness on this matter at least to be respected by our hosts. It was not. I was disappointed, to say the least, on this issue, and shared the dismay at the repeated violation of the visible evidence of it there.
The FCK press statement is also very disturbing. It borders on urging Kenyan Friends to put themselves explicitly in the company of those who do violence to gays and lesbians, while claiming justification by law and religion.
Such a statement brings echoes of some of the worst episodes in the history of both my country, and of our shared Christian religion. I hope and pray that in time Kenya’s Quaker leaders will come to reconsider and work to overcome such attitudes. It would seem that Friends would be better served in working together in light of the Peace Testimony rather than intimating violence against our fellow human beings.
“Equality was the earliest Quaker social testimony…it means equality of respect and the resulting absence of all words and behavior based on class, racial or social distinctions.” says Howard Brinton in Friends for 350 Years.(p. 159).
The equality of which Brinton writes is the very reason that Friends stood at the forefront of the anti-slavery movement in the United States well before our Civil War, and that many later worked for the Civil Rights Movement and our Civil Rights laws. It is why many Americans and Europeans, and many Quakers there, now support full equality for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
Judging one another is not our task here on earth. Judging is God’s purview and privilege. We cannot presume to know God’s mind on issues over which we pretend to have dominion.
Our task on earth is to extend God’s unconditional love for us, for all our fellow humans, to use Jesus’ example of tolerance, kindness and love as we approach one another at work, in community and in Meeting.
I appeal to Quaker leaders in Kenya to re-examine the position set forth in the press release. And as you do so, to please respect those of us who see God’s love in the widest realm. Please respect our brothers and sisters regardless of orientation, so we can make the words of the Lord’s Prayer ring true, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Cindy S. Perry is an attorney in civil practice. A lifelong Friend, she is a member of Spring Monthly Meeting of North Carolina Yearly Meeting – Friends United Meeting. She was a delegate from her yearly meeting to the FWCC conference.
The views expressed are those of the author.
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Response to Friend Zablon Malenge’s
press release of 12 December, 2012
By Rich Liversidge,
Member, Sandy Spring, Maryland Monthly Meeting,
Religious Society of Friends
I am responding to the views of Friend Zablon Malenge expressed in his press release of 12 December, 2012 about homosexuality, Quakers and the Bible. My response is as an individual Friend, not as a representative of any Quaker body. However, it has been seasoned by my experiences within Baltimore Yearly Meeting, Friends United Meeting, and the Couple Enrichment Program of Friends General Conference (FGC). Involvement with each of these has enlarged my understanding of God’s love for us all and His call to treat others with tenderness.
Spiritual discernment is a Quaker process with deep roots. Proposition 2 of Robert Barclay’s Theological Theses states “it is only through the testimony of the Spirit that the true knowledge of God has been, is, and can be revealed.”In Proposition 3, he states “the scriptures are only a declaration of the source, and not the source itself, they are not to be considered the principal foundation of all truth and knowledge.” He cites Rom 8.14 to confirm that “the Spirit is the primary and principal rule of faith.”(Barclay’s Apology ed. Dean Freiday, pp. 4-5)
For Friends, this radical vision of spiritual discernment takes us first to explore the guidance God provides from the Light we have within ourselves. Then we take the witness we have discerned to our community to see if it is shared by others. Finally, we test it against scripture. This multi-level discernment produces a living, growing faith that changes our lives. For this to work successfully, we must bring an open heart and listen for God’s direction at each step.
Friends believe each of us has a spark of God’s Light within us, but our individual measures of Light vary. No one person has the full measure of the Light. Donald Thomas, a long-time member of Ngong Road Unprogrammed Meeting in Nairobi, advises that for early Friends “The ultimate authority… was always the light of Christ within… Although Friends used the Bible as a source of wisdom and inspiration, they did not view it as the ultimate authority”. This is from his pamphlet “Quaker Origins, Worship and Identity” (Kaimosi Friends Press), p.11.
Individual discernment comes first. Starting in the mid-1980s, I was a member of first one then a second monthly meeting in Baltimore Yearly Meeting where support of same-gender marriage was considered and, after long seasoning, was approved. I participated in and supported these decisions. For the last 25 years, my wife and I have led marriage education programs among Friends in the U.S. through the FGC Couple Enrichment Program. We also train other couples to lead couple enrichment programs. Often, our work has included participant and trainee couples who are same gender couples. What we have found in this ministry to couples is that couple issues, aspirations and conflicts do not differ materially between straight and LGBT Friends. The emotions, commitment and faith are comparable.
During my 15-year involvement with FUM, I have participated in some important deliberations about our range of views on LGBT and related matters and what to do about the conflicts that were produced by differences within the FUM membership. We continue to seek God’s way forward. Not surprisingly, there are some strongly-held, honest differences among us. In recent years, however, it seems to me that FUM has begun to find ways to proceed despite these continuing differences. I find that very hopeful for FUM and its constituent yearly meetings.
In Friend Malenge’s press release, I find an excessive reliance on a particular reading of scripture, and an absence of a personal discernment based on knowledge about LGBT Friends in his community. Where Friend Malenge sees homosexuality as inherently sinful, I see God’s wondrous hand in creating diversity. I believe God has created a continuum of natural sexual preference, while he seems to see homosexuality as a choice that, from God’s point of view, is a bad choice. My view stems from knowing a number of gay, lesbian and transgender Friends. I am convinced, based on hearing of their experiences growing up, that there is a biological basis for their sexual preferences. And I see God’s hand in that diversity, not Satan’s work or a random penalty traced back to Adams’ Fall. I recall seeing a bumper sticker, recently, on a Quaker’s car saying: “I’m straight but I’m not narrow”. That’s my personal discernment.
A Quaker precept is that when we become aware of God’s will, we will all unite with it. That’s how testing individual discernment works in community. There are some areas where Friend Malenge and I can unite. For example, he sees Quakerism as “early Christianity revived”, and I agree. The early practice of our faith enabled us, as individuals, to deal directly with our God. We did not need intermediaries, such as pastors and other spokespersons.
Many in the world, including some Friends, are violently opposed to homosexuality. I have heard this kind of contempt occasionally among East African Friends, among others. That troubles me especially when it occurs in our “peace church”. For example, I was present at an FUM General Board meeting in Kenya in 2007 when a Ugandan Friend, during prayer, said that gays and those who support them are deserving of death (probably citing Rom 1:32). Do we really believe killing gays and their supporters – like me– would please God? I believe Christ Jesus came to save us all (Luke 2, John 3, Hebrews 2, 1 Timothy, etc.). There must be better ways to understand Paul’s intent.
The Bible may be understood in several ways; there is no single way to interpret the passages, so we must use our own judgment. I have a different view of what is described in many of the passages Friend Malenge cites. Often, it is not homosexuality. For example,
• Genesis 19 and Jude 7 describe the reasons for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. To me, this is not because of homosexuality. The passages condemn male rape of strangers to humiliate them. Rape is a crime of violence. It may also be that God’s wrath was due to the selfishness of the men of the town (Isaiah 1 and Ezekiel 16), and for not giving hospitality to strangers. It may even be the forbidden practice of having sex with angels (Jude’s “different flesh”). That was an issue then, but is not so much now.
• Leviticus 18 addresses primarily incest taboos. But some of those kinds of incest were practiced by Abraham, Jacob, Moses and King David. Do we focus on just one forbidden activity (v. 22) and ignore the 16 others? Or do we object just to David and Absalom, who came after Leviticus, and give Abraham, Jacob and Moses a pass? What about the love of David for Jonathan? Do we apply verse 22 to everyone but David? Different interpretations also are possible for 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy, Ephesians 5 and Galatians 5.
Friend Malenge claims to speak for Friends Church Kenya on this matter. I believe any organization is on shaky ground when it builds on a foundation of scapegoating people different from them. I hope that all members of FCK do not consider Quakers who differ from Friend Malenge’s view as “others”. Each needs to experience his/her personal discernment process. Friends agree when a sense of unity emerges among us. We do not have unity on this matter. I suppose God is not finished with us on this.
I embrace hope and a growth of the Spirit within me. I have experienced how LGBT Quakers add richness and resources to our spiritual lives. Several states here in the U.S., including my own state of Maryland, have made such relationships legal. Of course, individual churches or congregations may opt out of marrying gays or lesbians, as is their right. But under civil law the practice is permitted. I am thankful that my own Monthly Meeting does, also.
To me, this acceptance does not seem contrary to God’s will. I do not believe we are excluded from God’s grace by supporting and accepting LGBT Friends. Nor do I believe homosexuality is inherently evil. I know this experientially to be true and just, and have tested that successfully within my faith community and against my reading and understanding of the writings of early Friends and scripture.
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What Do Quakers Consider Sin? What Does God?
Richmond, Indiana First Friends Meeting
In the United States, “marriage equality” has been the phrase at the center of the recent controversy about sexual orientation. Should same sex couples be allowed to marry, or should marriage be limited to opposite sex couples? In this political debate, “equality” and “freedom” have been the central terms.
For those seeking to follow God’s will, however, the religious terms of the issue are quite different. For us, there is no escaping the question of sin. We may all be equal in God’s eyes, and may all be free to choose our life’s path, but what path does God want us to follow? Which way lies sin, and which way lies righteousness?
Governments may come to allow same-sex marriage on an equal footing with opposite-sex marriage, but then governments allow many forms of sinful behavior from adultery to gambling. The test in the political sphere is not whether some behavior is sinful but whether it will demonstrably cause harm to others. So long as we believe there is no harm to others, we believe individuals ought to be equally free to pursue the path they please.
But for those who choose to submit to God’s will, the path that pleases them will be the path that is pleasing to God. And so, even as marriage equality triumphs in state after state, and even as public opinion polls show increasing majorities for allowing same sex marriage, religious denominations continue to be locked in a cold stalemate about what God wills with regard to acceptable sexual relationships.
Lutherans are divided. Presbyterians are divided. Methodists are divided. Even with their autocratic governance, Roman Catholics are divided. And so forth down the line of U.S. denominations. With a few exceptions, the question of sinfulness of same-sex sexual acts is a contentious one within Christian religious denominations.
As a general rule, the more inclined a denomination is to see the Bible as the only and complete authoritative word of God, the more likely it is to view homosexuality as a sin. Thus, Evangelicals and Pentecostals are strongly inclined to view homosexuality as sinful, pointing to six to ten Bible verses they believe specifically excoriate homosexuality.
Quakers in the United States are divided exactly on these lines. FGC and other liberal Friends are more inclined to welcome gays, lesbians and transgendered people, and to affirm committed same-sex relationships. Evangelical Friends are much more inclined to decry homosexuality as sinful, and same-sex unions (even if legal) as illegitimate. Many Conservative Friends (viewing the Bible as important, but not the final word) are tending toward a welcoming and affirming stance. FUM Friends are divided about the matter roughly in terms of whether they accept any spiritual authority beyond the Bible.
With such a tense and explosive argument ongoing in the United States among Christians, we need no additional fuel for the controversy. But with so many Quakers in East Africa, a strong statement from the Friends Church Kenya (purporting to speak for all Kenyan Friends) decrying homosexuality as “a sin that is roundly condemned in scripture” compels the attention of Quakers everywhere.
The argument of the Kenyan statement rests entirely upon eight Bible verses, two in the Hebrew Testament, and six in the New Testament Letters, five of these in letters attributed to Paul. Three of these texts—Ephesians 5:3-5, Galatians 5:19-21, and Jude 1:7—are simple exhortations to avoid “sexual immorality.” They add nothing to an understanding of whether homosexuality should be considered sinful sexual immorality.
The best reading of the other five (Genesis 19:5, Leviticus 18:22-23, Romans 1:26-27, 1Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:9,10) is by no mean simple or straightforward. There are questions of translation, for example, and questions of cultural and historical context. It is unclear whether some of them even are concerned with homosexuality, as we understand that term today. (And let us remember, that word was coined in the late 19th century to demarcate something deviant.) The passages are worth study and discussion, and a great deal has been written about them. But by no means does it suffice to simply list the passages to declare the matter clearly settled. There are many Biblically observant Christians (I am one) who do not see these passages as telling us anything substantial about God’s will with regard to same sex sexual orientation or behavior.
Ask yourself this: would you accept a listing of Biblical passages speaking approvingly of slavery as settling the question of God’s will with regard to slavery? Remember, there are dozens. How about a list of Bible passages urging women to be silent and subservient? Again there are many.
I have no knowledge of why Kenyan Friends undertook to write this recent statement, but every church statement declaring homosexuality as sinful has a story about how it came to be written. Generally, that story has more to do with political currents than spiritual leadings. In the United States, references to homosexuality were extremely rare in denominational teachings until a few decades ago.
In 1963, a group of British Friends wrote “Toward a Quaker View of Sex,” a remarkable, wise and broad-reaching pamphlet that affirmed loving, homosexual relationships. It met with sharp antagonism especially among evangelical Friends. That was a surprising, isolated controversy until the 1970s when more evangelical yearly meetings in the United States began making statements declaring homosexuality a sin – statements that resemble the recent statement from Friends Church Kenya.
In Indiana Yearly Meeting, for example, an FUM yearly meeting that has recently come to schism over the issue, the authoritative statement was not adopted until 1982. It declares “Indiana Yearly Meeting believes homosexual practices to be contrary to the intent and will of God for humankind. We believe the Holy Spirit and Scriptures witness to this.” It then lists five Bible verses: four of those enumerated by Kenyan Friends and one additional verse from Leviticus (adding Leviticus 18:22-23). Though reference is made to the Holy Spirit, no support is tendered for the ‘homosexuality is a sin’ view than the list of five Bible verses.
What animated that 1982 Minute? Let us come back to the political terrain for a moment.
In the United States, we can usefully date the beginning of advocacy among gays and lesbians for full and equal recognition as human beings to June 28, 1969, when homosexuals in Greenwich Village (New York City) resisted police raids against them in what have come to be called the Stonewall Riots, named after a gay bar frequently raided by police. Before then, homosexuals had submitted to social stigma and legal persecution. After Stonewall, gays and lesbians increasingly insisted on an end to such policies and practices. Efforts to end discrimination of gays and lesbians blossomed across the U.S.
The rise of a gay rights movement quickly triggered a political backlash. In 1977, less than a decade after Stonewall, entertainer Anita Bryant began a campaign to overturn a new anti-discrimination employment law in Dade County Florida. She made that cause national in creating a group called Save Our Children. That same year, James Dobson founded Focus on the Family. (Friends may remember an episode in the summer of 1977 when conflict over homosexuality erupted at an international conference of Quakers held in Wichita, Kansas, almost destroying the event.) Harvey Milk, a gay activist and member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was assassinated in 1978. Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979, declaring a war on homosexuals. And three years later, Indiana Yearly Meeting felt prompted to declare homosexuality a sin.
Indiana Yearly Meeting’s 1982 Minute came about, I understand, because the pastor of West Elkton (Ohio) Friends testified at a child custody hearing on behalf of a woman, a meeting attender, who had divorced her husband and had settled into a relationship with a lesbian partner. Some members of the meeting complained to the Yearly Meeting office; some in leadership across the yearly meeting mobilized in opposition. And so the Yearly Meeting came to discuss homosexuality and to minute its view. Thus arose a statement now seen as fundamental enough to shatter the Yearly Meeting when some Friends raise questions about what the Bible, read as best we can, really says is sin in these matters.
When IYM wrote that 1982 minute, whose water was it carrying? Today, whose water is being carried by the statement of Friends Church Kenya? Likely there are political currents buffeting the Friends Church in Kenya – just as in the U.S. in recent decades.
I would not have us turn our attention away from the Bible. Rather, I would have us take care to see what God is saying to us through the Bible, not just grab snippets (treacherous-to-translate-snippets) to decide the matter settled.
I would not have us abandon the religious discernment of what is sin in favor of engagement with the political realm’s search for equality and freedom. But I would have us listen together deeply and tenderly for God’s will in all matters of sexuality, not jut the sexuality of those who may seem unlike us.
I would have us remember that, in the Gospels, Jesus says not one word about homosexuality. Over and over he gathers in love those who others—especially political and religious authorities—would scorn.
In our times, Jesus will continue to speak to us, quietly but persistently, leading us to shed our prejudices, even those of very long standing. Authoritative statements, however firm or forceful, will not create a bulwark against God’s love.
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Response by Mary Heathman
Denver, Colorado First Friends Church
It is with deep respect that I write a response to Quakers and Homosexuality, by Zablong Isaac Malenge. Kenyan Friends are to be commended for this work which was done in the context of their country’s laws and the volatility of the issue among their citizenry.
In a Pew survey six years ago, 96 percent of Kenyans believed that homosexuality should not be accepted (Kohut, Wike, & Horowitz, 2007). Just over a year ago, 100 people led by religious leaders rose up against a meeting of homosexuals, and “threatened to mobilise the community to cane the gays if they organized such” an “illegal, ungodly and unacceptable” seminar (Nyassy, 2012).
Kenyan Friends considered the issues and drew up their document in a volatile context. I believe they are to be congratulated for their efforts.
Also praiseworthy is Malenge’s high view of scripture as authoritative in its counsel. I applaud the exploration and application of biblical principles—it is the approach of sincere seekers of Truth. I also appreciate the context of the paper—firmly rooted in George Fox’s writings. Malenge opened his paper with an engaging description of early Quakerism as “Christianity revived.”
Notwithstanding my respect for Malenge’s work, his commitment to Scripture, and courage in the face of controversy, I do find myself at odds with his perspective. I will make some observations and comments on a few of his points.
Malenge begins well – setting the context of his remarks squarely within the topic of sexuality in general when he says Friends must be: “Biblically pure in the eyes of God in terms of human sexuality.” But then in the very next sentence he brings the reader back to homosexuality as the focus. In this, I believe that Malenge missed the chance to speak from the whole counsel of Scripture. How much more powerful the Kenyan statement could be if it was put in the context of sexuality in general, rather than specific to homosexuality. Homosexual behavior is only one way in which human sexuality is broken. Targeting homosexual sin separately from sexual sin in general is a mistake in my opinion. In I Timothy 1 and I Corinthians 6, we see homosexual behavior listed neither first nor last (positions often used to emphasize the importance of an issue) in Paul’s list of vices—it is simply just another sin on the list.
In speaking of the evil of homosexual sin and inferring that it is worse than other sexual sin, Malenge skates out onto some thin ice biblically. We do find in the cited scriptures the clear condemnation of homosexual behavior. However, taking the study one level deeper with a word study on “abomination” or “detestable,” we find a distressingly long list of other behaviors that are described in the same words. In Prov 6:16-19, for example, we read that “haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers” are all “abominations” before the Lord. It appears that ALL sin is detestable to God. Calling out homosexual behavior without acknowledging that ALL sin is detestable to God weakens Malenge’s argument.
When “Paul told the Corinthians not to associate with sexually immoral people, he warned them that God’s kingdom would not be inherited by the sexually immoral and gave three examples of such immorality:. adultery, and two aspects of homosexuality”(Emig, 2003). In Paul’s exhortations, homosexuality is not singled out, but placed in context with heterosexual sin.
When Malenge states that “homosexuality is a sin that is roundly condemned in scripture” he has missed a critical distinction that must be made in discussing the Bible and homosexuality.
Homosexuality (sexual attraction toward one’s own gender) is not condemned by scripture; rather it is homosexual acts that are sanctioned. As is so for any sort of sin, it is not the feelings or the existence of temptation that constitutes sin, but the offending behavior itself.
On another note, I believe that while making a case for the sinfulness of homosexuality, Malenge missed an opportunity to witness to the good news of the gospel. For example, note how Greek professor, Elodie Ballantine Emig (2003) names the sin, but points the reader to the good news:
The application of I Cor 6:9 that seems most obvious to me is that we must take more seriously the no-brainers of the faith. For this passage to flow, as it should, we, too, must consider the behaviors on the list as vices. Certain lifestyles are wrong, and I do think Paul was speaking of lifestyles. Lives that are best characterized by covetousness, or adultery, or thievery, or homosexuality . . . . do not describe who we were meant to be, who we really are in Christ, and so must be put behind us. When such things become no-brainers for us again, we will be in a better position to focus on Paul’s real point—who we are in Christ is so vastly superior to who we used to be that we should never look back with longing, but ahead, through the cross, to the joy set before us (Emig, 2003).
The life of Jesus is also a model for us — he came not to do away with the law but to fulfill it. Jesus came to mercifully forgive us sinners and lead us out of sin. Jesus was uncompromising in never approving of sin, but incredibly gracious in offering eternal life (John 4 & John 8).
Malenge’s final paragraph includes a strong challenge to the Church to be “worthy of our calling, to not modernize Christianity to meet our own selfish desires (immoral to do so).” But then his final sentence reverts back to focus on homosexuality. If he wants to express the full intent of scripture, then this sentence should be rewritten to read. “ . . . condemns all sexual sin in the strongest terms possible without reservation, including homosexual sin.”
As I stated in the introduction to this paper, there are good points to commend about his statement. The difficulties I find, however, are such that they threaten to drown out, or water down, the very points he is trying to make. Christ followers must always state the whole gospel – that is where the power is – the good news, the universality of sin (and the universal need for a savior, no matter what the need), the forgiveness of sin (for all who call on His name), the grace that carries and sustains us all, and our universal need to help one another in our pursuit of the Lord. We need each other in order to grow in holiness. Malenge’s statement as it is written will not only fail to bring us together in this way, but is likely to feed the polarization over homosexuality—both in the Kenyan culture and in the Church too.
However, there is in the statement enough honest and sincere effort (to address the issues according to the spirit of truth and love) to give me hope. I believe that Kenyan Friends have a chance to do this differently than some of the rest of us have thus far. They may be able to avoid the polarization in their society that has all but derailed us in our own. With continued light on the subject; with continued pursuit of ever more precise and generous application of both truth and grace; with God’s guidance and direction to a dedicated pursuit of His standards of sexuality, I believe the Kenyans can get it right and may lead the rest of us in the way forward—standing for God’s standards for sexuality and for loving people well.
Emig, E. B, (2003). 1 Corinthian, 6:9. Web: http://www.wheregraceabounds.org/resources/i-corinthians-6.shtml
Kohut, A., Wike, R., & Horowitz, J. M., (2007). Pew global attitudes survey, p 35. Web: http://pewglobal.org/files/pdf/258.pdf
Nyassy, D., (Feb. 2012). Kenya: Gays flee as irate residents storm Likoni Seminar, Daily Nation, reprinted in allAfrica.com, 23 February 2012. Web: http://allafrica.com/stories/201202240097.html
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Response by Geoffrey Kaiser, Santa Rosa, California
Quakerism is only one of many religious groups that have purported to be “primitive Christianity Revived”. In Pennsylvania the Amish, and Mennonites, make the same claim. They are not alone. The list of churches that have claimed to be primitive Christianity revived seems to include most denominations at one time or another. Anyone who has spent an afternoon with Mormon missionaries has been treated to their claim they too have revived the true church of Christ. A unique and bizarre story. Indeed, according to the Mormons, just about all of the early Quakers are now Mormons thanks to their missionary work among the dead.
The early Church married same gendered couples. This is a fact. An excellent history of this fact is documented by John Boswell, a Yale University professor. His book, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century is real, factual history. It includes an account of Saints Serge and Bacchus who married in the church, and whose faces are in mosaics above the arches at St. Marks Cathedral in Venice. Boswell also gives the text of the marriage vows and prayers for homosexual couples, including the prayer “….and may your love be like that of Sts. Serge & Bacchus.”
Robert Barclay in his Apology tells us that the main purpose of Faith is revelation, always has been, always should remain so. He also tells us that the Bible is NOT an adequate foundation for our faith and practice, and while our leadings may not differ with the scriptures, we should NOT test our leadings against the scriptures. After all, the primitive Christians didn’t have or need the New Testament. The Bible is NOT necessary for us to have in order to walk with God. We learn that from what is often called “the Old Testament”. As our early Friends pointed out Moses, Elisha, etc., etc., had no Bible. Indeed there are a great many non-Christians who, according to the early Quakers, are members of the True Church of Christ.
Many Friends who call themselves “Orthodox”, “modernized” their theology back in the 1800s to a new form of Evangelical Wesleyan-ism. When they did, they dumped much of what made Quakerism distinct, including the Bible-based doctrine of the Inward Light. These Friends also liked to call themselves “progressive” because they discarded traditional Barclay-ian Quakerism. Traditionalist Yearly meetings retained the belief that the Light (God) is indeed the same as it was when the first people walked the face of this earth: available to all, to teach and lead. This is the Gospel, the same Gospel which has not changed since the beginning of time. It is the Good News. Always has been, always will be. This same Light will be available after the Bible perishes, the churches and our civilization all fall.
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting meetings have been overseeing gay marriages for over a generation (about 30 years) now. All but one of the traditionalist, non-pastoral yearly meetings in North America allow gay marriages, as does London Yearly meeting. I am one of the Friends who married in this way under the care of a meeting in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. We are celebrating our 40th anniversary this year. There were over 200 people at our marriage celebration who signed our certificate. They included the clerks of New England, Baltimore and other Yearly Meetings. Most attenders were good Quakers.
Early Friends had a number of titles they liked for themselves, one of which was “Publishers of Truth.” It seems to me that the 17 yearly meetings in East Africa would do well to check their facts more closely before publishing falsehoods and calling them “truth.”
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Epistle to the FWCC World Conference from FLGBTQC
February 27, 2012
Dear Friends attending the World Conference of Friends 2012,
We send you love and support from Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC). FLGBTQC is a faith community within the Religious Society of Friends in North America that affirms that of God in all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
We share Friends’ conviction that there is that of God within each person and uplift the focus of the World Conference of Friends on truth telling, education, and doing God’s work.
Within Friends for LGBTQ Concerns, we are learning that radical inclusion and radical love bring further light to Quaker testimony. We are called to share what we have come to know experientially: that we are all children of God, that loving same sex relationships come from the same divine source as heterosexual relationships, and that gifts of ministry are distributed without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. We stand in a place of solidarity both with Friends
everywhere and with our brothers and sisters who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. We are called to speak out against discrimination or persecution on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation wherever it may occur.
We will hold you in prayer as you engage in God’s work of speaking your truth and listening for the truth in the words spoken by others.
Kody Hersh and Wendy Sanford, co-clerks
Friends for LGBTQ Concerns