Early report on NEYM and FUM

Lisa G and the Young Friends briefing us on NEYM and FUM history

Anyone who saw this year’s New England Yearly Meeting sessions schedule (PDF) might have assumed, as I did, that yesterday’s 7 pm meeting for business session on “Our relationship to Friends United Meeting might have produced something newsworthy.

It was a great session, but it wasn’t actually a business meeting; no action was even considered, and it wasn’t even led by the clerks.

Instead, for the first half hour, Lisa G (yes, of Lisa G fame) gave a wonderful whirlwind tour of the relevant Quaker history, using the Young Friends as her “slideshow.” Photo to come. Aside from conflating the New England Wilburites with the (virtually non-existent in New England) Hicksites, it was very well done. After that we broke into small groups of about 15, and talked for about 40 minutes. There was a general consensus of hurt and concern, but beyond that there were a wide range of views expressed in my group, and I’m sure most groups. For the rest of the time, we reconvened and gave mini reports from our smaller groups. The balance of sentiment was probably slightly on the side of staying, though still pretty mixed.

For what it was, it was wonderful, just the kind of thing we need to better sort through this controversy.

But I have misgivings. As I said, it wasn’t actually a business meeting. And there appears to be no time on the agenda when we will intentionally consider it. I say “intentionally” because it cannot fail to arise, which means it will probably come up in a less controlled and thoughtful fashion, quite likely during consideration of the budget tonight. Which is the worst possible time, because it frames the issue around money rather than the real issues.

Unless I’m missing something, this seems like a huge oversight by the planning committee and/or clerks, perhaps with a dose of good old-fashion Quaker conflict avoidance assisting. I may say so at the “Open Meeting to Hear Concerns” later today.

UPDATE (Tuesday morning): It still seems like an oversight in terms of planning, but it also seems like now that we’re here there’s a real attempt at dealing with the issue. Apparently, as I understand it, a special, open meeting of the Ministry & Counsel Working Group on the FUM Personnel Policy was planned at the last minute for for those who were concerned about this, at the same time as the general “Open Meeting to Hear Concerns”. It seems to have been poorly advertised, however, because only 20 people showed up. We didn’t reach any unity, but we agreed to meet again last night at 9 and today at 12:30.

Then at 7 last night, at the business meeting devoted to finances, it erupted just as I expected, with one Friend upset that the “powers that be” seemed to be trying to keep it off the floor of the business meeting. The clerk (Christopher McCandless) at that point emphasized that these working group meetings were going on, and that he hoped the threshing could happen there and that they would return with a minute, and asked Friends to go to these meetings.

Now that’s some real publicity — and this time over 80 people showed up. We didn’t actually get going until 9:30 pm, and went until almost 11.

I won’t attempt to recount all that was said at the meeting, but I’ll tell you what I said at the end:

That this has dragged on for 5 years, and it’s past time that we did something decisive to reflect our disapproval of this discriminatory policy. But it’s clear that this yearly meeting does not yet have unity about leaving or defunding FUM, and that we won’t find unity in the next few days either. Accepting this (unfortunate) reality, we should therefore put our energy into figuring out what other kinds of meaningful action we can take in the meantime.

Some Friends had already suggested we minute at the YM level our support of same-sex marriage, something we haven’t done yet (and which Philadelphia did last year). After I spoke, two Friends seemed to feel the same way, one suggesting we might more extensively send traveling ministers to FUM yearly meetings carrying our concern, since they haven’t responded to letters from the clerk.

I feel sure enough that this is the direction we’re going in that I don’t think I’ll attend the 12:30 meeting, though I’ll report on this blog any significant news I hear in conversation.

10 Responses to “Early report on NEYM and FUM”

  1. 1 greg Aug 7th, 2007

    zach- thanks for this! i have been quite concerned since hearing of SE yearly meeting’s disengagement with FUM about how the process would run at our sessions. i will do my best to hold you all in the light- may you drown in it! (just to mix all kinds of metaphors and allusions…). i look forward to hearing about what challenges there are, and what is finally able to be done.

    will you be in the boston area from sept 17-22?

  2. 2 Micah Bales Aug 8th, 2007


    Thank you for this report.

    I pray that Friends will remain together in patience, waiting upon God’s Spirit which has the power to unite us in the bond of peace and love.

    Micah Bales

  3. 3 Timothy Travis Aug 9th, 2007

    Thanks, Micah–in the jargon, you speak my mind. But I am compelled to elaborate…

    None of this is very post Quaker but perhaps you know me well enough to understand what I mean when I say I think it is evidence based. Translate this stuff as appropriate in the low and loving spirit it is sent…

    For you may be sure that separation neither restores any to love the Truth, neither gathers any to God, but rather scattereth and driveth away some that was gathered in love to Truth by the painful and faithful labourers that was truly sent of the Lord.

    William Dewsbury to Edward Nightingale
    Quoted in Braithewaite’s “Second Period” p 477

    Question: But if I do not presently see that service in a thing that the rest of my brethren [sic] agree in? In this case what is my duty, and theirs?

    Answer. It is thy duty to wait upon God in silence and in patience, and as thou abide in the simplicity of Truth thou wilt receive an understanding with the rest of they brethren [sic] about the thing doubted. And it is their duty, whilst thou behavest thyself in meekness, to bear with thee, and carry themselves tenderly and lovingly towards thee.

    “True Spiritual Liberty,” William Penn, 1681
    (condensed by Lewis Benson), Tract Association of Friends

    “And now, as I write this, after years of reflection and observation of the effect of promulgating opinions and doctrines not essential in themselves, especially on the mission of Christ in that prepared body, I am confirmed in the belief that it tends to unprofitable discussion and controversy, and often to alienation of love for one another…Had love of God abounded in the heart, it would have been seen that obedience to Him in all things was the plan of salvation ordained by Him from the foundation of the world, and we should then have remained a united people of great influence in gathering the nations to the peaceable kingdom of Him who was ushered into the world with the anthem, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will to men!”

    Rachel Hicks
    (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1880), p 39

    Oh, yes, and when we go out in traffic we should all hold hands and stick together…

    I am praying for you all…

    Timothy Travis
    Bridge City Friends Meeting
    North Pacific Yearly Meeting

  4. 4 Frederick Aug 11th, 2007

    Hi Zach,

    Well, as a fellow participant in the NEYM sessions, and in some of the threshing, I can verify that it certainly was a tough meeting. Unlike you, I do think that NEYM has been “reflecting our disapproval” of this very discriminatory policy, in our minutes and our personal communications. I think other YMs do take such statements seriously.

    The discrimination comes from a culture-war place. Quakers in Indiana hear a lot of Focus on the Family, and much worse, and their allegiances are largely to that right-wing political culture. My own tactic in acting on this is to try to pull them closer to my (our) culture so that they’ll have enough Quaker identity to want to listen to reason and/or to the spirit, and thus be convinced of the truth we’re trying to get across to them.

    In your comment over on Quaker Pagan Reflections you trace their stance back to an anti-LBGTQ Bible. I prefer to try to overturn their assumptions, or pull props out from under their arguments, or whatnot, by arguing in their terms, and say that actually, the New Testament is pro-LBGTQ and the translators were homophobic. Perhaps you’ve read Will Taber’s argument for this stance at Growing Together in the Light.

    Anyway, we’re still in a painful place. I guess I don’t see five years as very long in the grand scheme of things: progress in big institutions is slow, and the board members actually did agree to discuss it, which is progress.

    My sister’s got it easy… she stayed where I started, over with the UU’s. Oh, well.

    Best to you,

  5. 5 Zach Aug 15th, 2007

    Hi Frederick!
    Glad you stopped by. Perhaps I was being too pessimistic about what NEYM has done so far; I guess I just get impatient with mere minutes and statements, e.g. minutes disapproving of militarism. I suppose in this context minutes and statements are a bit more meaningful though.

    And yet, there haven’t been any responses from Christopher’s letters directly to the FUM YMs. And though there’s also been some intervisitation, my understanding is that only two Friends plus elders have done it so far.

    So I basically was just feeling that if we’re going to stay, we need to step it up, i.e. get more serious about sending droves of traveling Friends to Africa and the Midwest. (Though I think the choice to focus on getting our act together within NEYM first is a good one.)

    As for the Bible issue and my comment on Quaker Pagan (which I’ve clarified recently), honestly, I think the “argue on Biblical terms” approach is a dead end. At least, it is if we mean debating the individual “clobber passages,” because I don’t think those debates are all winnable. Some are, but not Romans, and Romans by itself is enough. (I just commented on Will’s post why.)

    The only approach I think can be successful is to win people away from the Bible-first framework entirely. (Of course, it’s true that you can partially do this arguing from the Bible itself, as early Friends did.)

  6. 6 greg Aug 16th, 2007

    i think there’s an important role for ‘argue on biblical terms’ approach which neither fredrick nor zach have made explicit, and that is for people within our meetings struggling directly with institutional societal violence, internalized homophobia, and dominant biblical interpretations. although it was always easy for me to critique the bible’s hideous injustices based on language, religion, gender, heritage etc, it was unbelievably easy to accept oppressive readings of passages (possibly) addressing homophobia, *even* though i *already* did not accept the bible as literal complete spiritual truth. i thank god for these ‘alternative’ (

  7. 7 greg Aug 16th, 2007

    though more logical and factually based) readings, and am still often delighted by them.

    however, i share with zach a deep concern for passing on the bible’s intolerances. i will comment as much on will’s blog, but its just too close to the classic ‘first they came for….’ i do not unite with condemnation of male prostitution (!!in church!), and i hope we don’t get caught in the battle to lose the war (pardon the violent phraseology). oppression is wrong, god is in everyone. whether or not we argue that within biblical terms or outside of them is another question.

  8. 8 Zach Aug 16th, 2007

    Greg, I’m not exactly sure what you mean re oppressive/literal/alternative readings. Can you give an example?

  9. 9 greg Aug 16th, 2007

    well, for example, romans.
    oppressive reading: ‘homosexuality is unnatural despite widespread occurance throughout the animal kingdom. these people sinned by having unnatural passions for persons of hte same gender, therefore other people with passions for the same gender are sinners and unnatural.’

    alternative reading: ‘follow your natural passions.’

    a humorous example of a literal reading was offered by a teacher of mine in highschool, regarding the classic leviticus ‘a man should not lie with a man as a man lies with a woman, it is an abombination’ or however it goes. my teacher pointed out that this could perhaps be read as ‘a man should not have vaginal sex with a man’ :)

    i got kicked off the computer for a while, and i was reflecting, and i want to go deeper about what was/was not important to me as a spiritually struggling young queer person. only the really radical alternative readings (for example, above) spoke to my condition. the liberal polemics usually were profoundly dissatisfying, such as ‘oh no, that’s about prostitutes’ or ‘leviticus is only for jews’. so yes, i think our message needs to be something like follow the prompting of truth and love in all things, even against the dead letter of scripture.

    the single most helpful argument for me was: ‘as clearly stated in john 1:14, the bible is not the word of god, jesus christ is the word of god.’ as i said, even though i already did not accept the bible as the word of god (thanks universal upbringing), but my own desire to hold myself deeply accountable to my spiritual life led me to search for how to intentionally shape all aspects of my life. quakers are loud about some things, but not at all about accountability to broadly-defined positive spiritual sexuality, and i didn’t want to give myself the ‘easy’ way out (reinforced by internalized homophobia). re-discovering the way scripture at its base supports continuing revelation allowed me to take the leap of faith to trust that i was living in the light, yes, directly against many biblical passages.

    there’s two problems here for NEYM, first the ‘don’t think of an elephant’ problem. the more we say ‘homosexulity isn’t wrong!’(as zach has pointed out before, we aren’t even close to saying ‘non-normative sexuality isn’t wrong!’), the more we make everyone think ‘is homosexuality wrong?’ we need to say and model what open, spiritual, sexual life is, not what it isn’t.

    second, the us vs them. my first emotional response to zach and fredrick’s discussion was about the leftist folly of focusing on all the strategizing and leaving hte people somewhere else. whoever may or may not be convinced by will’s arguments, i was very glad to read them- for many reasons. what i think will be most ‘effective’ is encourage people to reflect and minister on issues surrounding positive sexualities however they can whereever they are; the message may be for someone we don’t expect.

  1. 1 Carrying the Society as long as you can at The Seed Lifting Up Pingback on Aug 26th, 2007
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