By Stephen W. Angell
As we reported in Issues #18 (Fall-Winter 2010-2011) and #19 (Spring-Summer 2011), Indiana Yearly Meeting, after anguished discussion in an all-day Representative Council Meeting on October 1, 2011, agreed on a year-long process of “Deliberative/Collaborative Reconfiguration.” The roots of this momentous decision lay in a minute, approved in June of 2008, in which West Richmond Friends Meeting found unity to “affirm and welcome all persons whatever their . . . sexual orientation.” (Sexual orientation was only one of eight categories of persons that they explicitly welcomed and affirmed, and it is the only one of those eight categories to prove controversial.) Our two previous issues traced the process by which Indiana Yearly Meeting’s Ministry and Oversight Committee sought unsuccessfully to convince West Richmond Friends to change their minute, and the coalescence of a view among many evangelical Friends in Indiana Yearly Meeting that this was not an issue where they could, in good conscience, simply agree to disagree, but that a line needed to be drawn.
Of the two issues identified in the previous paragraph (welcoming and affirming gays and lesbians, and the exercise of yearly meeting authority), the Task Force that shepherded the discussion of this issue at the yearly meeting level identified yearly meeting authority as the key one. Accordingly, the minute approved by Rep Council asked “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.” They anticipated that a “year-long process” should be sufficient to handle all the details that would be involved with this separation of Indiana Yearly Meeting into two yearly meetings.
There was another significant facet of the Reconfiguration Minute, but that one was quickly laid aside. Neighboring Friends United Meeting yearly meetings Wilmington (in Ohio, to the east of Indiana Yearly Meeting) and Western (to the west of Indiana Yearly Meeting) were invited to join this reconfiguration process. Both Wilmington and Western quickly decided not to join, and notified Indiana Yearly Meeting Friends to that effect. Western Yearly Meeting was in the midst of a leadership transition. Steve and Marlene Pedigo, as we previously reported, had relinquished their co-superintendent posts in Western Yearly Meeting in 2011. In the fall, Wanda Coffin Baker was hired as Western’s Interim Superintendent. In any case, Indiana Yearly Meeting was left to negotiate this reconfiguration process on its own.
With the approval of the Reconfiguration Minute in October, the IYM Task Force that had shaped the minute was laid down, but it was immediately evident that a new Task Force would be needed to shepherd the complicated process that would result in the separation of Indiana Yearly Meeting. The seven members of the previous task force were asked to serve again, and all agreed. At the Representative Council meeting on November 11, however, it was soon evident that the Task Force membership would need to be expanded. Of the existing membership, five favored the yearly meeting that exercised authority and only two would favor a more collaborative yearly meeting.
Many Rep Council attenders, especially from meetings that had an interest in a more collaborative approach to yearly meeting, felt that two Friends representing the latter approach would be insufficient. Some Friends raised concerns as to whether employees of the yearly meeting, such as the superintendent, should serve on the task force, but in the end the meeting decided to allow yearly meeting employees to serve on the Task Force. Clerk Greg Hinshaw proposed a minute to expand the Task Force membership from seven to ten members, with the additional three members to be drawn either from monthly meetings that sought a collaborative yearly meetings or from those monthly meetings that had hitherto refused to take sides in the yearly meeting discussions on the authority issue, and on the welcoming and affirming of gays and lesbians issue. After considerable discussion, the clerk’s proposal was approved by the Rep Council.
The new Task Force now consisted of the following members: Primarily interested in the collaborative yearly meeting approach were Stephanie Crumley-Effinger of West Richmond; Ray Ontko of Richmond First Friends; Tom Hamm and Fred Daniel of New Castle; and Cathy Harris of Spiceland. Primarily interested in a yearly meeting with a strong authority were: Greg Hinshaw, clerk and member of Bear Creek; Doug Shoemaker, superintendent and member of Portland; Dave Phillips of Wabash; Rod Dennis of Bethel; and Peggy Caldwell of Little Blue River. Provision was made for IYM Nominating Committee to nominate replacements as needed. After months of vigorous engagement with the Task Force, Crumley-Effinger has had to resign from the Task Force, as of March, 2012, on account of illness. David Brindle of Friends Memorial in Muncie will replace her on the Task Force.
Doug Shoemaker, who provided helpful insights for our articles in Quaker Theology issues #18 and #19, declined to be interviewed for this article, citing as his reason the ongoing reconfiguration process. Greg Hinshaw did offer a helpful comment on the issue of subordination of monthly meetings to the yearly meeting, and that comment shall be considered below.
Draft Descriptions of Two New Yearly Meetings
One deeply emotional issue that the Task Force had to confront at the outset is, which of the new yearly meetings would get the privilege of naming itself “Indiana Yearly Meeting.” The Task Force’s answer was that both of the new yearly meetings could call themselves that name, and that they would do so with a suffix that, on either side, has yet to be determined. Joshua Brown, pastor of West Richmond Meeting, reports his own feeling that “any suffix would lead to further and continued ill-feeling. As one commentator on my blog said, ‘no matter what we do, the names will be interpreted as Indiana Yearly Meeting (Right) and Indiana Yearly Meeting (Wrong).’” (Brown, 7 Mar. 2012)
After several weeks of intensive work, the Task Force issued draft descriptions for two new bodies and invited comment on their work. We will include these draft descriptions in their entirety in an appendix to this article, so what follows here is only a brief summary. The collaborative yearly meeting was called “Yearly Meeting A:” “We are a Christian association of monthly meetings that are distinctly Quaker, who unite together to work and witness in the name of Christ. We embrace the Bible as inspired recording of God’s interaction with people who seek to know their Creator, and of God’s increasingly detailed revelation through time of God’s identity, character, and intentions for humanity.” Practical considerations, such as the need for strong ties between local meetings and for “exciting programs for youth and young adults,” found a prominent place in their self-description. They accept “that of God in every person,” and also “the importance of asking questions and wrestling with differing interpretations of scripture and of Faith and Practice.” “Christ’s presence and lordship in individuals and faith communities is expressed and noted in a consistent witness of lived integrity, simplicity, equality of persons, nonviolence and active pursuit of peace, and ‘watching over one another for good.’” A key statement was their desire for “avoidance of creeds, particularly when used as purity tests, and to use instead penetrating spiritual questions to challenge all to greater devotion to Christ.” They close with a statement of those wider Friends bodies with whom they wish to stay in relationship – the first mentioned is Friends United Meeting.
The other yearly meeting, Indiana Yearly Meeting B, “will be a group of Christ-centered Friends who value the authority of Scripture and mutual accountability, embracing the current Faith & Practice and organizational structure of IYM.” They embrace certain historical documents including extracts from George Fox’s 1671 Letter to the Governor of Barbados, and the 1887 Richmond Declaration of Faith, as “accurate reflections of our doctrines as Christians and as Friends.” “We believe in the concept of subordination . . . of monthly and quarterly meetings to the yearly meeting.” Claiming that this subordination is prescribed in IYM’s current Faith and Practice, they state that this “is not a hierarchy but a means of common protection. This common protection ensures that no individual, small group or local meeting takes positions or makes statements that are contrary to or offensive to the collective discernment and leading of the yearly meeting at-large. This common protection also ensures that those in unity with us are protected from unfriendly influences that might seek to disrupt the unity and fellowship of their local meetings.” This is a key issue for Yearly Meeting B and shall be considered in more detail below.
A list of IYM “core values” as approved by a 1997 committee are attached to their statement. One of the core values, #6, asserts that “there are absolutes in family and sexual behavior,” including “abstinence outside of marriage,” which is to be “understood as a monogamous relationship between one man and one woman.” The core values list was part of a 1997 report from a Committee appointed by Western Yearly Meeting and Indiana Yearly Meeting Friends that met with Earlham College. According to Tom Hamm, the yearly meetings and Earlham prepared core values lists to help both sides better understand each other. In its 1997 sessions, IYM approved this “core values” statement, but only as a basis for discussions with Earlham College, not to supersede existing “Faith and Practice.” The Yearly Meeting’s published minutes do not include this level of detail, however, stating only that the report of the Joint Committee “was approved by yearly meeting.” (Hamm, 8 March 2012; IYM 1997, 20-21) This “core values” list largely lay dormant for more than a decade before some again brought it into the discussion while the yearly meeting’s response to West Richmond’s minute was being considered.
Both yearly meetings outline their methods of evangelism. Indiana Yearly Meeting A defines evangelism as “directing people into listening and obedient friendship with Christ, based on Jesus’ simple method ‘follow me.’” It is not, however, to be understood as “getting people to agree with doctrinal statements and to undergo induction ceremonies.” Indiana Yearly Meeting B states that “as Christians, we recognize our duty to carry the Gospel message into the whole world,” affirming “a duty to cooperate with other evangelical organizations.”
Some aspects of one draft’s contents have no counterpart in the other draft. For example, there is nothing in the IYM B draft to match the proposed organization affiliations and spiritual queries in the IYM A draft.
Both IYM A and IYM B appeal to the third chapter of Robert Barclay’s 1678 Apology for a Christian Divinity to support their proposed methods of Scriptural interpretation. IYM A “acknowledges the analogy of Robert Barclay, that Scripture itself is not the Living Water, but rather the fountain which delivers the Living Water.” This is actually not an accurate statement of Barclay’s view, which is that the Scriptures “are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners.” He does affirm Scriptures as “a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit.”
Barclay 2002, 62) IYM B quotes the following passage from the same chapter of the Apology: “Whatever doctrine is contrary to their [the Scripture’s] testimony may be properly rejected as false. We are very willing for all of our own doctrines and practices to be tried by them. We have never refused to honor them as the judge and test for any disputes we have had on matters of doctrine. We are even willing to allow this to be stated as a positive maxim: Anything which anyone may do while claiming to be led by the Spirit, which is contrary to the Scriptures, may be considered a delusion of the devil.” This, too, differs in a few details from Barclay’s original text. The most significant emendation is that Barclay does not actually say that Scriptures are “judge and test for any disputes we have had on matters of doctrine;” rather, Barclay asserted them to be judge and test “in all controversies with our adversaries.” (Barclay 2002, 77-78) So, do Friends today have any adversaries?
However, despite these discrepancies from the original Barclay, there is a more interesting and broader point to be made that both Yearly Meeting A and Yearly Meeting B find inspiration from parts of the same chapter of Barclay’s Apology, but neither attempts to wrestle seriously with the chapter as a whole. Some of the difficulties of contemporary Friends issue from this lamentable tendency to pick and choose among the writings of early Friends, rather than to wrestle in intellectual and theological seriousness, say, with a whole chapter of Barclay. (His Apology is available for free from Earlham School of Religion’s Digital Quaker Collection, and the third chapter is really not all that long. Go and read!)
Monthly Meeting Subordination to the Yearly Meeting
On the key issue of monthly meeting subordination to the yearly meeting, Clerk Greg Hinshaw offers the following insights: “I think one of the critical elements in this discussion is in the difference in how Liberal-Progressive Friends and Orthodox- Evangelical Friends view their yearly meetings and the ‘authority’ of those yearly meetings. I didn’t do an exhaustive study, but I found the term ‘subordination’ in reference to the relationship between local meetings and the yearly meeting in the 1806 Baltimore discipline. You are probably aware that there is Indiana case law that upholds this concept among Indiana Quakers. As such, there are many Friends who believe that the yearly meeting should be a ‘bonding agent’ over its local meetings. This is, I think, a very foreign concept to many Liberal-Progressive Friends. As such, yearly meeting leadership has been faced with being admonished by some conservatives for failing to take enough action in the West Richmond situation and admonished and maligned by others for being too authoritarian!” (Hinshaw, 9 March 2012)
Subordination is a complex issue, and one that I have examined previously in these pages. To recapitulate briefly my conclusions after consulting the extant IYM disciplines from 1839 to the present, the nineteenth-century disciplines had a strong statement of subordination, whereby monthly meetings are accountable to quarterly meetings, and then to yearly meetings, and “if the yearly meeting be at any time dissatisfied with the proceedings of any inferior meeting . . . such meeting or meetings ought, with readiness and meekness . . . correct or expunge any of their minutes according to the direction of the superior meeting.”
Strong statements of subordination could be found in nineteenth-century Hicksite meetings as well. This language was revised twice, in 1900 and in 1986. When a discipline revision committee of the 1980s sought to clarify unclear language in the discipline by stating explicitly that monthly meetings were subordinate bodies to the yearly meeting, they encountered sustained criticism, led by Friends from Spiceland Monthly Meeting who argued that monthly meetings should be seen as coordinate or equal bodies to the yearly meeting. Others, including yearly meeting lawyers, argued that the word “subordinate” should stay in the book of discipline. The result, I argue, “was an obvious compromise, a hybrid of synodal and congregationalist approaches, of a kind common in books of discipline across the Quaker spectrum by the late twentieth century.” (Angell 2010-2011, 8-11)
This is how subordination has been described in IYM Books of Discipline since 1986: “Subordination as used in this FAITH AND PRACTICE does not describe a hierarchy but rather a means, under divine leadership, of common protection between Indiana Yearly Meeting and its Quarterly Meetings and Monthly Meetings. It is a relationship among Friends ‘submitting themselves to one another in the fear of God.’ (Ephesians 5:21). In the spirit of Christ who ‘humbled himself and became obedient unto death’ each member, each Monthly Meeting, each Quarterly Meeting, and the Yearly Meeting submits to each other in the love of Christ. Subordination is the assurance that no Monthly Meeting is alone autonomous or independent. Thus Monthly Meetings recognize the legitimate role of the Yearly Meeting in speaking and acting for the combined membership Likewise the Yearly Meeting recognizes the freedom of Monthly Meetings and the validity of their prophetic voices. Each needs the other in order to be strong and vital, and both need the mediation of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” (Indiana Yearly Meeting 2002, 98-99)
Yearly Meeting B thus emphasizes the description of subordination as “a means . . . of common protection.” Yearly Meeting A prefers “to be mutually accountable to one another rather than expect subordination to organizational authority.” This image of mutual accountability is strongly rooted in the concept of mutual submission that runs through much of the above exposition. West Richmond Meeting appreciated the affirmation of the “validity of . . . prophetic voices” of monthly meetings that is also included. In short, this section of the Discipline is quite complicated, and one effect of separation would be to allow each new yearly meeting to emphasize the part of this section that it likes.
The complications of this section may suggest more than one possible interpretation, even when attempting to grapple with this section of the discipline as a whole. Many Friends in IYM, including Hinshaw, see the most important lesson to be drawn from this section is its strong continuity with Orthodox views of subordination as passed down from such nineteenth-century Friends’ disciplines as the 1834 IYM discipline and the 1806 Baltimore Yearly Meeting discipline. Tom Hamm reminds us that “Wilmington, Western and Indiana yearly meetings are in the Orthodox tradition, which sees the yearly meeting as ultimate authority, with responsibility to maintain certain standards and safeguard Friends against dangerous ideas.” (Hamm, Dec. 2011) In this view, any action performed by an IYM monthly meeting that is of great concern to many other yearly meeting Friends calls essential Quaker principles into question, and when a responsible body of the yearly meeting asks the erring monthly meeting to correct its mistake, it should promptly do so.
However, there is another way to interpret the complicated section from the discipline quoted above. To some IYM Friends, it seems clear, both from the IYM minutes at the time of the approval of this language and from the book of Discipline itself, that the intention of this complicated language was to perpetuate the concept of submission of the monthly meeting to the yearly meeting, but in a carefully circumscribed form. IYM’s 1985 minutes provided that the yearly meeting may intervene in a monthly meeting’s affairs to uphold essential principles, such as the Quaker testimony of inward sacraments, but not in the case of purely social concerns, such as a Friends meeting not sufficiently attending to the peace testimony. (Angell 2010-2011, 11) So, is West Richmond’s welcoming and affirming minute really a violation of essential Quaker principles, or might it be merely an example of a purely social concern? Under this set of principles, if it is the former, West Richmond should subordinate itself and change the minute; if it is the latter, however, the minute does not fall under the type of monthly meeting affairs that require subordination. Undoubtedly, IYM Friends would differ as to how this principle would apply to West Richmond’s minute.
In the Book of Discipline itself, there are four examples given as to when the yearly meeting may intervene in the monthly meeting’s affairs: a clear and substantial violation of “Faith and Practice;” a serious division in the monthly meeting; inappropriate transfer of Friends’ property; or an indication that a monthly meeting may withdraw from the yearly meeting. (Indiana Yearly Meeting 2002, 99) None of these examples would be clearly applicable to West Richmond.
Hinshaw did not elaborate how Indiana case law applies to the yearly meeting concept of subordination, but Tom Hamm thinks that he may be referring to a 1982 case that involved Hinkle Creek Meeting, then a part of Western Yearly Meeting. According to Hamm’s summary, “Hinkle Creek hired a Baptist pastor who packed key committees with supporters and then tried to take the congregation out of Western Yearly Meeting. The yearly meeting intervened, at the request of part of the membership, and took the case all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court. The court ruled, among other things, that Western’s Faith and Practice gave the yearly meeting the right to intervene thus.” (Hamm, 9 March 2012) The effort of the pastor, H. Clyde Thralls, to institute outward sacraments was a part of this controversy. (Hamm, 9 Mar. 2012; see also Fager 1982) This event clearly would fall under the existing strictures of subordination, as laid forth in IYM’s “Faith and Practice.” For many IYM Friends, however, since West Richmond was not seeking to leave the yearly meeting, the application of this case law to West Richmond’s action in approving a welcoming and affirming minute is not entirely clear.
Reactions to the Process
It is fair to say that the drafters of the descriptions of two new yearly meetings will garner quite a large amount of commentary from the members and monthly meetings in the current Indiana Yearly Meeting. The present author has been sampling opinion rather unscientifically, and I find a great deal of disquiet about both of these draft descriptions, among all manner of monthly meetings. The significant overlap in membership between the Task Force that proposed the Reconfiguration minute and that charged with implementing it has aroused distrust among some in the yearly meeting, due to anger directed at the original Task Force members who proposed a solution to the yearly meeting’s problems that many IYM Friends still do not accept.
An intense reaction among some has been aroused by the doctrine-and-authority-heavy draft description of Indiana Yearly Meeting B. Tom Hamm states that the reaction that the Task Force has received to the Indiana Yearly Meeting B draft has been largely approving, although one exception is a provocative query by Wayne Cox , which he also posted on the IYM Facebook page, asking what the Yearly Meeting would do if the First Day School teacher taught that women cannot be ministers because Scripture (i.e., I Cor. 14:34-35) states that women should keep silence in churches. Cox’s query on the Facebook page precipitated a lengthy comment thread. (IYM Facebook page, Feb. 15 at 7:31 AM; March 3 at 12:42 PM.)
Among the unofficial opinion that I’ve been sampling on IYM B, however, the degree to which authority is emphasized over and over again leads even some meetings that have not had consideration of any formal affirmation of gays and lesbians to wonder if yearly meeting B would be poking around in their affairs. To monthly meetings throughout our history, such a prospect has always seemed quite alarming and frightening. Historically, one of the reasons that so many Friends ended up in the Philadelphia Hicksite Yearly Meeting (about two-thirds) rather than the Philadelphia Orthodox Yearly Meeting (about one-thirds), was the tendency of the latter toward inquisitorial process. A prominent feature of the 1827 yearly meeting session, at which the separation occurred, was an initiative by the Orthodox to set up a visiting committee to visit all monthly meetings in order to initiate a “purge” and root out all “unsoundness.” (Ingle 1998, 185) Monthly meetings thus affiliated with Hicksites in order to preserve their freedom from inquisition, and not so much for deep theological reasons. Could history be repeating itself here?
But the draft description for yearly meeting A also comes in for some harsh criticism. Tom Hamm says that the responses that the Task Force has received on the Indiana Yearly Meeting A draft is “all over the map,” with some surprises. Its description of itself as avoiding creeds has drawn interest, but not all Indiana Yearly Meeting Friends feel that it follows through consistently on that intention. In the yearly meeting A’s descriptions of normative views on God, Christ, Scripture, and other matters, it seems to some that an implicit creed is being shaped. What is most attractive about yearly meeting A is the perception of it as a bottom-up organization. Is there a way for articulation of theological views belonging to the body to emerge in a more organic way? One proposal is that Yearly Meeting A’s proposal be changed so that it has scripture notations just as Yearly Meeting B’s proposal does, and there have been subsequent efforts at a new Yearly Meeting A draft that would meet these concerns.
Thus, some monthly meetings find themselves in the uncomfortable position of not being able to affirm, or discern a future, in either of the yearly meetings that has been outlined thus far. One to make a public expression is Raysville Friends Church. Its pastor, Michael Sherman, issued the following statement on behalf of his meeting: “Upon examining the two articulated future yearly meeting options for monthly meeting consideration, Raysville Friends Church cannot align itself with either stated future yearly meeting. Neither option articulates a future which stands upon its own two feet. Both are reliant upon the other to provide standing and stability. Each identifies itself as ‘not the other’ thus allowing their anger and frustration with the realities of this particular argument to shape and direct its future. While this particular argument is the precipit[ant] for division, it cannot be allowed to be the story or lens from which our call and future relationship with God through Christ Jesus is seen. Security must be an outpouring of communal relationship with God and not develop as a consequence of not being another group. The consequence of a future written together out of the co-dependence of the other will result in two crippled bodies. We hope to see futures based upon hope and a vision for growth and vitality, options giving life. We don’t want to have to make the choice of the lesser of two anticipated evils.” (Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends Discussion Page, Facebook, Feb. 27 at 9 AM)
The kinds of observations as made by Sherman are typical of the middle group that was in evidence in the 2011 Yearly Meeting sessions. This middle group did not agree with West Richmond’s welcoming and affirming minute, but it also did not want to let disagreement over that minute disrupt the IYM fellowship. As Brown states, “These folks don’t see themselves as either evangelical/holiness Quakers or as liberal unprogrammed Friends. They are used to seeing themselves as being firmly in the middle – as Christian Quakers in the pastoral tradition, but open to a good deal of friendly discussion from many points of view and deeply committed to Jesus’ great commandment to love God and serve their neighbors throughout the world.” (Brown, Dec. 2011; see also Angell 2011, 6; Sitler, Oct. 2011) Many in this middle group can be taken to constitute a “silent majority” within IYM. (Brown, 7 Mar. 2012)
Hinshaw’s distinction between IYM’s “Progressive- Liberal” Friends, on the one hand, and “Orthodox-Evangelical” Friends, on the other hand, may not fully capture this reality. Hinshaw does imply that the “yearly meeting leadership” itself is a group caught in the middle, “admonished by some conservatives for failing to take enough action in the West Richmond situation and admonished and maligned by others for being too authoritarian!” (Hinshaw, 9 Mar. 2012)
Implicit in the Raysville Friends’ statement is a lack of convincement that division of the current Indiana Yearly Meeting is really the best way forward for the yearly meeting. There are Friends throughout the yearly meeting who feel that a yearly meeting that remains a big tent is the best for everyone. Admittedly, given the advanced state of the discernment of this question, reversing the huge momentum on behalf of separation will be very difficult to reverse, but still, of course, the final arrangements for that have not been made, so some may discern a slight possibility there. Pam Ferguson, co-pastor at Winchester Meeting, another meeting undergoing great struggles over how to move forward in the prospect of an impending separation, posted on the Facebook Page some 1948 advice from Ermin Perisho: “Observation teaches us that our deepest wounds come from those who are the nearest to us.” Friends must be able “to bury the sting of sharply pointed differences” so that the end result can be one “that all can follow.” Of Friends’ voteless decision-making, Perisho observed that “finding God’s will together is of much greater importance than speed.” (Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends Discussion Page, Facebook, Mar. 7 at 7:50 AM)
Some are proposing a different approach toward reconfiguration, one that has been labeled informally as “Yearly Meeting C.” The most detailed development of such a proposal has been conceived of by Jay Janney, a member of Richmond First Friends Meeting (but who speaks only for himself, not for his meeting). Jay Janney is a professor of management at the University of Dayton, and thus has considerable expertise in a field relevant to setting up new organizations, religious ones in this instance. Janney finds the Task Force’s first draft to be “an expected mess . . . the result of a perfect storm: a team hastily assembled to solve a problem characterized by a lack of unity as to what the problem is and given an artificial time frame to solve some problem.” If two new yearly meetings are to be set up, Janney proposes that they should be “voluntary associations.” In other words, membership in both should be for a specified time period, after which monthly meetings be permitted to shift affiliation (Janney suggests a five-year term). All points on the outline for each new yearly meeting should have a clear counterpart on the proposal for the other yearly meeting. For Yearly Meeting A, if it is really to be creedless, individual monthly meetings should be able to adopt any mission statement they wish to, but not be able to ask other monthly meetings to change theirs, nor ask any monthly meeting to leave. Janney attempts to put flesh on what a “bottom- up” yearly meeting would really look like. (Janney 2012)
Along similar lines, Brown has heard some Friends suggest that all meetings be allowed to “sit on the sidelines” for several years, without being forced to choose an affiliation and without penalty for not making a choice, while the more highly-motivated meetings “duke it out over plans A and B.”
Among the conservative evangelical Indiana Friends that have been the most vocal advocates of a reconfiguration of the yearly meeting, it is fair to say that there is a good deal of impatience with the messiness of the process that is unfolding, and a desire that the troublesome meetings of the liberal persuasion leave promptly with the minimum of disruption from what they view as the real Indiana Yearly Meeting. The most concrete expression of their impatience came in a December 4, 2011, minute from the Tri-County Quarterly Meeting of IYM. The minute contains some misperceptions of the process that we shall shortly identify, but it reads as follows:
“The assembled members of Tri-County Quarterly Meeting understand the multiple forms of dissent that have impacted Indiana Yearly Meeting over the last few years. We understand that the level of dissent is so great that a number of monthly meetings feel as though they cannot remain a part of Indiana Yearly Meeting and must separate. We do not wish to leverage any monthly meeting to remain that wishes to depart and wish departing meetings well as they seek the will of God in their work.
“We also feel, however, that the framing of the reconfiguration of Indiana Yearly Meeting is improperly handled when it lays down the yearly meeting in truth or in image. We wish success to monthly meetings that wish to depart Indiana Yearly Meeting. However, we similarly believe as though further action to diminish Indiana Yearly Meeting penalizes monthly meetings who have not fallen out of order with Faith and Practice.
“Both current and past generations of all monthly meetings dedicated their efforts to Indiana Yearly Meeting, not to the divergent perspectives of today. Laying down and divesting Indiana Yearly Meeting to accomplish the release of dissenting monthly meetings does a disservice to our Quaker ancestors. It ignores the intent of the labors, donations, and bequeathments of those ancestors for the sake of present-day ecclesiastical politics.
“Faith and Practice is not only intended to grant authority to Indiana Yearly Meeting as a way to hold member meetings accountable, but also to form a covenant where the duty of the protection and care of member meetings is placed in a central body. Even in times of separation such as this, it is inappropriate to compel Indiana Yearly Meeting to use its authority against all member meetings indiscriminately through dissolution. Doing so violates the covenant of protection and care, does a disservice to our past, and reduces the desire to work with any yearly meeting body in the future.
“Therefore, the assembled members of Tri-County Quarterly Meeting wish to assert that, while we assent to the departure of our fellow monthly meetings, we stand behind our Indiana Yearly Meeting. We hope that our brothers and sisters in Christ will join us in that same spirit.
“In Christ, Paul Hubbard, Quarterly Meeting Clerk: Jacob Isaacs, Hinkle Creek Friends”
Some IYM Friends have noted a large amount of misinformation in this letter. It is not true that the reconfiguration process was started because some meetings want to leave IYM. Instead, it was the conscience of Friends who could not agree to disagree with West Richmond’s Welcoming and Affirming Minute that were the driving force behind the whole separation process. Other IYM Friends favoring a strong yearly meeting authority reframe this issue slightly, to state that liberal Friends are being asked to leave and form their own group, and that they are being asked to leave, because most IYM churches want them to go. That also does not accord with the spirit of the minutes that the yearly meeting has approved; these minutes have formally stated that any monthly meeting will have the opportunity to affiliate with either of the new yearly meetings, and that no one will be forced out. But now some liberal IYM Friends are feeling that there are many who would like to force them out anyway, despite the more spiritually open minutes that IYM has approved.
Nor, of course, is there any clarity about which group among IYM’s meetings truly inherits IYM’s faith and tradition. It would probably be most accurate to say that all parties in this dispute have a valid claim to some part of IYM’s faith and tradition, and none can validly claim all of it. Furthermore, it is ironic that a Friend from Hinkle Creek Meeting should be a signer of this letter, inasmuch as Hinkle Creek withdrew from Western Yearly Meeting and was only accepted as an IYM meeting at the 2011 sessions, so its claim to the storied traditions of IYM is tenuous at best. And, as Hamm observes about the 1982 court case involving Hinkle Creek, “some found it ironic that [Western Yearly Meeting] spent $50,000 [in legal fees] to keep Hinkle Creek in the yearly meeting, only to have it depart.” (Hamm, 9 March 2012)
Finally, the reconfiguration task force is in no position to ignore its charge to bring about a genuine reconfiguration of IYM meetings. Thus, it cannot simply set off meetings that it deems to have less of a claim to the IYM inheritance. That said, this letter still stands as an emphatic witness to the desire of some Friends in IYM to have this reconfiguration completed in the least possible time with the minimum disruption, at least to their own meetings.
Where do Indiana Friends go from here?
If all goes as currently planned, monthly meetings will have to make a choice sometime in the fall, as to whether to affiliate with Yearly Meeting A, Yearly Meeting B, or seek some other alternative outside either projected Indiana Yearly Meeting. Many knowledgeable observers are predicting that this will be a very difficult process for many of IYM’s 64 monthly meetings. Brown notes that “many monthly meetings in IYM have a long history of not being involved with ANY yearly meeting activities — they don’t send reps to YM sessions, they don’t send in their assessment, their pastors don’t show up at short course, they are pretty much out of the game.” He guesses that 15 to 25 meetings “are effectively uninvolved in the yearly meeting as it stands,” and these meetings have not yet “weighed in.”
There is necessarily an unfinished nature to an essay such as this, because it describes a process that is still ongoing. As soon as the Task Force released its draft descriptions of the two yearly meetings, it began to examine the legal ramifications of a separation in IYM, which will include such issues as how to handle the affiliate institutions such as Friends’ Fellowship Community, and the matter that is not small at all as to what will happen with the IYM endowment, which is currently in the neighborhood of five million dollars. It is possible that some of this endowment may be eaten up in legal fees related to the reconfiguration process. Tom Hamm notes that most of the endowment funds are designated to such purposes as graveyard care and missions. Accordingly, whichever yearly meeting becomes the recipient of them presumably would act only as a trustee for them.
Brown notes that “there have been several calls to have the yearly meeting itself legally laid down, with the financial assets assigned to a trust or devolved to organizations like FUM and ACFIA, while the monthly meetings decide how they want to organize or affiliate. Behind all of this, in my view, is a deep- fought battle over who the ‘real’ descendants of Indiana Yearly Meeting will be. It’s very similar to a nasty court fight over a will.”
Robust discussions of a wide variety of issues related to the impending separation continue to be discussed on the “Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends Discussion” Facebook page. If you would like to see the variety of discussions ongoing, and you are a Facebook member, you would be welcome to sample some of the contributions on that page. One of the most vigorous contributors to that page is Doug Bennett, member of Richmond First Friends and recently retired President of Earlham. Bennett has contributed numerous long, learned posts on such topics as the plight of LGBT teens; the nature of sin; and the nature of schism. He sometimes draws unusual connections, and thus, for example, he had a long post of how midrashic and Biblical views of redheads (of which he is one) are and are not similar to such views of persons involved in same-sex relationships. It is one of Bennett’s particular concerns that the reality that provoked the latest phase of conflict within IYM, i.e., the affirming and welcoming of gays and lesbians to Friends’ meetings, not be lost within the considerable and important discussion of organizational relationships and yearly meeting authority that now has to take place. Not all IYM Friends are happy with, or even comfortable with, the range of sharing that continues for now on the IYM Facebook page, but that Facebook page is continuing, at least for the present. (As of March 7, a Bulletin Board Facebook Page for IYM Friends who wish not to be subjected to controversial discussions will allow them to view event announcements without having to be subjected to that which they object.)
Unless the discomfiture of some Friends with the fast pace of the current reconfiguration process succeeds in slowing it down, a prospect that looks unlikely at present, there will be important, even decisive, events taking place soon. At the April 14th Rep Council, revised drafts of the proposals for yearly meetings A and B will be brought forward. At the Yearly Meeting sessions in July, there will be time provided for the Task Force to answer any questions. By the beginning of September, monthly meetings will face a deadline as to declare whether they will join yearly meeting A or yearly meeting B. Task Force member Ray Ontko reports that no determination has been made yet, by the Task Force or others, as to what will happen with those monthly meetings which are unable to make a decision. Ontko states, “At this point, we’re exploring different ways to handle these cases.” (Ontko, 14 March 2012) Task force members will be available to visit with those unable or unwilling to make a decision to help bring them to clarity and consensus.
Pam Ferguson has recently posted a moving online essay on “The Problem of Community,” in which she reflects on the difficulty of the current situation within IYM. She writes, “My faith community is . . . in the midst of a great loss, a loss that has turned life upside down for many of us. My faith community decided that we have a problem and the only solution is to quit being a community, to quit working together, to quit worshipping together, and to end a 191 year relationship as a Yearly Meeting and fellowship of Friends. . . This problem changes my faith community for everyone. People who have never or rarely been to a Yearly Meeting session, who’ve never served on a Yearly Meeting committee, or who don’t know Friends down the road, are now spending incredible amounts of time and energy talking about which side is right and which new yearly meeting we should choose. The split really suggests that we don’t love enough, that we don’t forgive enough, that we aren’t willing to go to the hard and difficult work to be in community, to work through the chaos, to find a place of purpose and peace and unity.” (Ferguson 2 March 2012) Her essay is well worth reading in its entirety.
Many well-placed Friends, including IYM clerk Greg Hinshaw and superintendent Doug Shoemaker, have expressed fervent hopes for an amicable parting of the ways, preserving strong ties of fellowship between members of the two yearly meetings, as IYM Friends pursue their differing visions. While an amicable parting of the ways is still possible, others have growing doubts as to whether that will be the case, given, among other things, a strong possibility that some meetings may be stalemated between members of Yearly Meeting A and Yearly Meeting B and find it difficult or impossible to come to a sense of the meeting by the fall deadline. As always, Quaker Theology will continue its coverage of these important events.
Update – March 14, 2012
At its March 10 meeting, the IYM Task Force gave serious consideration to the option of creating two new yearly meetings by preserving the current Indiana Yearly Meeting and “setting off” a new yearly meeting. In part, this was a response to the feedback solicited to the IYM A & B proposals.
Ray Ontko, Task Force member, says that no final decision on maintaining the existing Indiana Yearly Meeting and setting off a new yearly meeting has been made by the Task Force, but this likely will be an option discussed at the April 14 Representative Council Meeting.
Ontko, a member of Richmond First Friends, had authored a proposed minute for his meeting (with the assistance of Doug Bennett, another member of First Friends) that had proposed a different approach to the task of setting up two yearly meetings. The minute proposed by Ontko and Bennett, and approved by First Friends, called for abolishing the existing yearly meeting altogether, and creating two entirely new yearly meetings.
The reason for the First Friends’ minute was the issue of fairness. If one of the two yearly meetings, Yearly Meeting A or Yearly Meeting B, was to inherit the existing yearly meeting, it might be tempted to claim that it was the true yearly meeting, and that the other yearly meeting was a lesser departure from the true way. By abolishing the old yearly meeting and creating two new ones, each yearly meeting would be placed on an equal footing and neither could claim a superiority over the other.
However, the feedback received by the Task Force was largely negative on the process proposed by First Friends. “Much feedback has been received from individuals and monthly meetings clearly indicating there is a strong leading to not dismantle IYM, and many affirm its denominational authority.” (Indiana Yearly Meeting Facebook Page, 14 March 2012)
What Ontko and his companions on the Task Force realized was that there was another standard in play, which he calls the standard of efficiency. Simply put, it takes more expense and time of all concerned to abolish one yearly meeting, and to start two new ones, than to simply preserve the existing yearly meeting and to start just one yearly meeting. In addition, the existing Indiana Yearly Meeting has some value to someone, and it would be a shame just to discard something that has value. There may also be something like a time factor. If the Task Force adheres to the one-year timeline set forth for its activities in the reconfiguration meeting, only having to set up one yearly meeting (and not to abolish any) will save the Task Force members some time. So, while Ontko came to this discussion from a differing perspective, he is listening carefully to his fellow Task Force members and others in IYM, to see where the Spirit might lead.
When shown this paragraph (which was based on our previous conversation), Ontko wanted to strengthen and extend the thought: “It’s not just an efficiency argument, and not just for the Task Force members. Dismantling the existing yearly meeting would take considerable effort by all the committees of the yearly meeting, and would require significant legal expense. There is a question of whether doing so is good stewardship of time and resources of the meeting.
“There is also the question of value. In my opinion, the yearly meeting is ‘worth’ more as a whole than it is as two parts. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It would be better to preserve this value in one yearly meeting and recognize this as a new yearly meeting is set off.
“Beyond the question of efficiency and value is whether dismantling the yearly meeting honors the nearly 200 years that Friends have devoted to building Indiana Yearly Meeting. What has been built by many over many years in the name of Christ should perhaps not be divided.”
Frankly, when the prior chief advocate of abolishing the yearly meeting on grounds of fairness issues this strong an endorsement on behalf of preserving the old yearly meeting and setting off a new one, the latter course sounds like a done deal, not just a strong possibility.
Tom Hamm sees setting off a new yearly meeting as “not . . . inconsistent with the process agreed on earlier. I have always thought that maintaining IYM and setting off a new yearly meeting or association was a possibility.”
Ontko emphasizes that it has not been decided which yearly meeting would keep the existing IYM structure – it could be either Yearly Meeting A or Yearly Meeting B.
However, since Yearly Meeting B seems to constitute the majority of IYM members, at least at the present, many observers, including the author of this present piece, would expect that it would inherit the current yearly meeting machinery, should the “setting off” option be pursued. Joshua Brown said that, while he didn’t know anything about the current Task Force deliberations, he is “not surprised” by the news that they would be seriously considering the “setting off” option. According to Brown, “it’s really going back to the old idea that the ‘real’ IYM are the conservative/evangelical/holiness Friends, and that the liberals are being shown the door” — in other words, the sentiment implicit in Tri-County Quarterly Meeting’s December minute, from which we quoted earlier.
In addition, Task Force work on other reconfiguration fronts continued unabated: “Sub-committees were appointed to refine the descriptions of two resulting groups (IYM “A” and IYM “B”) that will result from reconfiguration. Future refining of these descriptions will be done by the meetings that eventually will make up these bodies. It is hoped that in early April these refined descriptions will be distributed along with guidelines for a process to assist monthly meetings in discerning the kind of yearly meeting with which they desire to be affiliated.
“Plans are being made to include a presentation from the task force at yearly meeting in July with break-out sessions providing Friends the opportunity for collaboration and clarification.
“The task force is keenly aware that reconfiguration has far-reaching ramifications, including future relationships with affiliate bodies and our own Ministerial Excellence Initiative. These concerns are clearly on the radar of the task force, and will be given appropriate attention as the probable shape of the reconfiguration outcome continues to emerge.” (Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends Discussion Facebook Page, 14 March 2012).
Stay tuned for further IYM developments.
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