Saturday, April 07, 2007

Waging Peace in All Things

For Quakers, the most topical part of this essay is probably going to be towards the end, where I'm going to try to say at least a little about the current contretemps about the discriminatory FUM personnel policy, and how Quakers, as a community, are dealing with it. For Pagans, the most interesting bits may be some thoughts about creating peace even in the face of injustice. I'll try not to ramble much, guys, but the issues are complex. Anyway, I'll start with a news story that caught my eye and got me writing this morning:

Cruising through the excerpted blogs at QuakerQuaker, I came across this account of a visit of a group of Christian GLBT activists to George Fox University--an evangelical Quaker college with a policy that, alas, discriminates against gays and lesbians. I'm impressed with the "Equality Riders," of course, but that's not what made this post resonate so strongly with me. Instead, it is the actions of the administration, faculty, and students at George Fox that stand out for me.

Pagans on the east coast of the United States may be unaware of the fact that there are such things as Quaker evangelicals, much less that numerically, they are the majority of Quakers worldwide. (They evangelize, after all!) I know that, before I became Quaker, I thought that Quakers were all members of what I now know are the liberal, unprogrammed meetings that I was familiar with.

Needless to say, there are some major differences between evangelical Friends and liberal Friends like me--starting with the fact that evangelical Quakerism is a Christian religious group, plain and simple. There is no question whatsoever that I would not be accepted for membership among evangelical Friends.

Nor is there any question that, to an outward eye, at least, evangelical Friends would seem to have more in common with evangelical Christians everywhere than with liberal Friends. As Thomas Hamm says, in The Quakers in America, "The rise of issues like abortion, homosexuality, and school prayer has moved many Evangelical Friends to identify more closely with the corresponding wing of the Republican party. Typical is one EFI Friend who described the Republicans as the party of 'Christian ideals' while the Democrats are the party of 'humanism' which is 'Satanic.'" So it is not surprising that a group like the Equality Riders would put George Fox University on the list of Christian colleges that misuse "religion to sanction the condemnation and rejection of any of God’s children." The shoe of homophobia fits--in theory, at least.

But the experience that met the young members of the Equality Riders at George Fox University was very different from the reception they had had elsewhere... for instance, at Bob Jones University, exactly one day before the visit to George Fox University. Instead of facing arrest, and crowds of angry protesters carrying signs that read, "God Hates Fags," the Equality Riders "were greeted by a cluster of faculty, administrators, student hosts and one sign that read FREE HUGS." Concerns that all this was simply prolog to a day of condescending "passive condemnations" gradually faded, as one group of people committed to peace met another.

I was so moved by Brandon Kneeful's account that I find I must post it here verbatim:

We were immediately paired or tripled with our host(s) and began a day of shared meals and deep discussions. For the first time since the ride began, the Equality Riders were formally dispersed throughout the campus. We called on our knowledge, intuition, and stories to address concerns and answer questions. Some Riders served as panelists in formal discussions, some were invited guest speakers in classes, some met with administrators and boldly addressed issues of LGBT inclusion, and some just mingled with the George Fox student body by attending pottery classes and telling their stories of faith and sexual orientation.

Often times, Riders were alone in knots of students who seemed to be drilling for answers. My first two one-on-one conversations happened in succession as one gentleman shared his ex-gay testimony and challenged my stance, followed by another gentleman who shared his story of being abused as a child, and challenged me with logic and scripture. After taking in their accounts, I began to sit with them and listen. I listened with peace and an open mind and did not attempt to defend myself. Throughout the conversations, they kept asking me (indirectly, of course) to reevaluate my position on being gay and Christian, and as the conversations ended, I walked away having heard one request: please help me find peace on this issue. I was called to George Fox University for these two men, to show them that God affirms a gay man and uses a gay man for good. I think every Rider had at least one moment like this. After six Equality Riders shared their coming out and faith stories with a class, one student shared that she saw them as incredible models of what Christians can and should be.

As the day ended, hosts and Riders gathered back into a debriefing room. I sat near a professor who, earlier in the day, cried in front of his Human Development class as he realized the struggle that LGBT Christians experience. During debriefing, we received continual thanks and blessings. One faculty member said that he has been changed by our visit; another student felt overwhelmed with love for us and privileged to have been in our company today. A consensus throughout the hosts was the intention to continually grow in understanding of this issue.


This incident speaks to me so powerfully in part because I have always, from the time I was very young, had a particular concern for the injustice of discrimination against gays and lesbians. I can hardly say why this issue has always carried so much force for me, but it has, more than almost any other social issue of our time. But mainly it speaks to me as a Quaker who became convinced through the peace testimony; I had what I can only describe as a conversion experience to the peace testimony (and, in time, to Quaker process as a vehicle in the world for the peace testimony) as a result of 9/11.

The peace testimony is about more than opposing war. It has to be, or it means nothing. The peace testimony is about waging peace, actively crafting peace, and, when done correctly, it is my understanding that that is precisely the point of Quaker process.

See, back in the days when I believed in something I might have described as a "rational use of force" doctrine, I believed that, though war and violence were Bad Things, human beings were stuck with them, for the forseeable future, because we were not wise enough to avoid them.

I still believe that. The difference now is that I believe there is an alternative to relying on our own wisdom alone.

To my eyes, the endlessly repeated collapse of the two towers of the World Trade Center became an icon for what human beings could now do to one another, armed with no more than human wisdom...and half a dozen box cutters. The rational, wise human response to that terrible violence would be, of course, more violence, and more, and more... Gandhi said it better: "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," and that is where I saw human wisdom taking us.

Quaker process--listening together, to one another, AND to "God" (which, as I've often said before, I have no definition for)--offers one way out of the box. If human beings can't craft peace on our own, well, hell, let's see if there's Anyone out there who might be willing to act in partnership with us to that end.

And that's exactly what Quaker process--meeting for worship for business--is intended to be, it turns out.

Now, my jury is still out on whether or not it works. Quakers are fond of looking back at the divisions and schisms that have arisen among us at various times in our history, and pointing to failures in "good Quaker process" as to blame. This may be correct, but I am not yet seasoned enough to say.

I do want to say, however, that when I look at events like those described at George Fox University, I am vastly encouraged. Here are two groups, with radically different ideas about what it means to be "Christian," and both sides with some pretty clear and clearly opposed ideas on the subject of homosexuality. For the gays and lesbians in the group, the stakes could hardly be higher--this is the right to life, dignity, and religious fellowship we're talking about here. This visit could so easily have degenerated into cloying condescension, screaming matches, and acrimony cloaked as "God's love."

But it didn't.

Instead, two groups committed to nonviolence, and one committed to Quaker process--listening together for God's Truth and each other's--met and heard one another.

George Fox University has not yet changed their policies. There has been no immediate, outward change at all. But can anyone doubt that continuing dialog of this sort _will_ eventually change hearts and minds? The consensus, "the intention to continually grow in understanding of this issue," was not empty. Change will come. And, as for me, I am powerfully convicted that no one who listens to the God of peace can avoid, over time, coming to an understanding that sexual orientation is not a moral issue--but homophobia and discrimination are.

Again, I remember--it took almost 100 years for Quakers to figure out that owning slaves was morally unacceptable. Which only put them about 100 years ahead of everyone around them.

All of this--the willingness on the part of the George Fox University community to listen deeply and honestly, and to risk learning of a need for change, and the willingness of the Equality Riders to speak softly, listen to those who question their deepest values, and risk a _lack_ of change--this risky openness to the way of peace, stands in dramatic opposition to what is happening internationally to Friends on this same issue.

Bear with me. I've been struggling to find a way to write about all this that _I_ can understand. Let me tell it as if it were a children's story. (But please, don't read into my story either condescension or sarcasm, Ladies and Gentlemen, because they are not there. I'm just trying to find the words to explain this matter to myself.)

I'll begin it the traditional way: once upon a time.

Once upon a time, there was a Quaker organization known as Friends United Meeting. Friends United Meeting (or FUM, for short) was not a liberal Quaker body. It was not a conservative or an evangelical Quaker body. It wasn't on the left, and it wasn't on the right... and its members thought that this was just right. Because they were all Quakers, and Quakers should all be able to get along.

Some of its members were pastoral meetings, who hired ministers. Some of its members were unprogrammed meetings, who did not. Some of its members worked in places all around the world, bringing food or shelter or schools where they were needed, and some of its members evangelized. And soon, there were meetings that belonged to FUM all around the world, in Africa and India, in Central America; yes, and in the United States of America, too. And everyone was very happy, because everyone was Quaker, and so everyone knew they would be able to get along. Oh, there had been problems Long, Long Ago, but those problems were over now, and everyone knew how to live happily ever after.

But then, one day, a cold wind blew across the land. And the name of that wind was...CHANGE.

Change was disturbing. And Change was unsettling. And Change did not always come in packages that made it easy for different kinds of Quakers to know how they were meant to act together. And one day, Change came in the form of a clash of liberal values, that embraced the idea of full equality for gays and lesbians; with conservative values, that believed that homosexuality was morally wrong.

Some Quakers believed that the Bible would always tell them what was right. And the Bible, it seemed to them, said that homosexuality was bad. And they adopted a personnel policy that did not ban gays and lesbians from membership among Friends, no, but kept them from certain positions of leadership.

Some Quakers believed that the Bible was often helpful, but that it was the Inner Seed that would tell them what was right. And the Inner Seed, it seemed to them, said that homosexuality was neither good nor bad, but discrimination was unjust and needed to be ended.

Some Quakers believed that they already knew what was right, and (whether or not this was true) they were impatient with the other Quakers who did not agree with them. The issues were clear: Quakers were Christians who followed the Bible first. But wait! Other Quakers said that the Bible had never been used as a single source of authority before, and, besides, Quakers didn't have creeds. And other Quakers said, yes, Quakers in FUM did so have creeds, and if people didn't agree with their creeds, they should just go home and let the real Quakers go about their business. And other Quakers said obviously, some Quakers are homophobic and disregarding Quaker process. And still other Quakers said that the real issues here are about economically privileged, liberal meetings in North America trying to use money as a lever to push the far more numerous and generally conservative Friends in the rest of the world into line. And other Quakers said that Quakers didn't decide things by numerical counts anyway, and others said they were not sure their monthly meetings or yearly meetings could support FUM any more financially.

Some said that discussions of homosexuality were doing nothing to feed hungry or sick people, and others noticed that the hungry or sick people in places like Africa didn't seem to be very visible to the liberal Quakers of North America. Some said that the problem was that Quakers were no longer accepting of Christ, or that the problem was not paying attention to the Richmond Declaration, or that the Richmond Declaration was being used to punish Quakers who didn't agree with the majority --

--in short, all hell broke loose, and lots of Quakers became very, very unhappy. And they wondered if they could even be Friends with one another anymore.


OK. I _know_ I didn't do this issue justice, for what it's worth. I've honestly been trying very hard, but I am not a well-seasoned Friend, and I'm learning about all this painful history for the first time. So let me apologize if I've stepped on anyone's toes here--please believe and trust me when I say to you that I have no intention of hurting or making fun of anyone. Well... maybe a little bit of an intention to make fun of human nature itself, as present among Quakers as among any of the world's people. I've added a section of links to writings by wiser Friends than I am to the bottom of this post, for those who would like a better-informed rundown than I'm able to give.

But here's my point. (Just when you thought I didn't have one, right?) As burning and real an issue as confronting homophobia is--and for those Quakers on the more conservative side of this issue, it's not a red herring, guys--we liberals really and honestly do lose sleep over this one, and we're not just being cranky--it does not involve dead children in the streets.

I'm not saying this to trivialize the issue, but to put it into context. I'm not saying that there are better uses of Quaker time and spiritual energy than to address this issue.

I am saying, if Quakers, the people who are attempting to let our lives speak and to be patterns for the world of a peace testimony, cannot find a way to emulate the community of and visitors to George Fox University on this one, what kind of a peace testimony do we really have? If we cannot risk listening together to one another and to God over this, and to trusting Quaker process to help us do that, what business do we have butting in to conflicts like that between the Israelis and Palestinians, or in the streets of Bagdad or Kabul? This dispute does not involve dead children in the streets. If we cannot hear one another over our own defensiveness and righteousness here, how on earth do we expect mourning mothers and devastated fathers to put aside warfare and wage peace?

We're Quakers, dammit. If it takes 100 years, I will hate every day that I live that does not embrace full rights and recognition for gays and lesbians within the Religious Society of Friends, in all its branches. But if it takes 100 years for us to listen our way into peace, then that's how long it takes.

I can't even remember where I read it, recently, online. Someone said that "Christ is not the leader of a faction." Hey, y'all. I'm not even a Christian, and I can dig that.

Whatever else, Friends, let's wage peace. On each other, too, please.


Related Links:

A somewhat more objective, and much better informed, summary of events surrounding the controversial FUM personnel policy can be found via South Eastern Yearly Meeting, in the pdf file "A History of FUM Policy Regarding Appointment of Homosexuals."

Three accounts by a seasoned Friend from New England Yearly Meeting appear at Will Taber's Growing Together in the Light. The first, is simply a personal expression of the heavy heart he brought away from te recent, and painfully contentious, meeting of the General Board of FUM: "Back From Africa With a Broken Heart," which, despite its brevity, elicited 27 comments from readers. That was followed by Ron Bryan's Observations, originally left as a comment in its own right, but posted by Taber in order to allow the points--points in some tension with his own, as I read the posts--to be considered more deeply. That post, too, generated many comments, most thoughtful, some a bit fiery. And finally, Will Taber responded to that post with another of his own, "Reflections on the Conversation Thus Far."

Perhaps the most reflective and thorough account of the General Board meeting in Kenya was posted by Lisa Stewart, of Palm Beach Monthly Meeting. I think it does a good job putting the issues into a broader context than is sometimes done, and I've found it a very helpful document to read. Again, this is a pdf file.

For those seeking additional information, the Richmond Declaration, alluded to in a number of the documents linked above, can be found online at the Friends United Meeting website. A strongly critical summary of some of the reasons why some Friends find the Richmond Declaration to be objectionable can be found at Chuck Fager's remarks at Quaker.org. As I do not have a very deep grasp of these issues myself, I can only apologize if the choice of these links distorts the positions Friends hold at the moment; I've included them mainly for those who, like myself, have little background knowledge in this area, but feel the need for more.

14 comments:

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Brava, Cat. You speak my mind at nearly every point in this posting -- so much so, that I will confess I was strongly considering writing something similar to my own journal, just before I came across this posting in yours.

Yes, the practice of peace has been very much forgotten by many of the folks involved in the liberal-versus-evangelical issue, including a fair number of Quaker bloggers. For peace requires transcending the temptation to "oppose" or "stop" the "other side", and requires that one practice endless loving truthful patience and have a genuine willingness to be wronged again and again.

And yes, the fact that so much energy is being spent on just plain bickering over this issue, when there are far more dangerous issues pleading for attention -- global extinction of species, anyone? -- is a dreadful indictment of the present state of Quaker religiosity.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

As, I think, the positive series of events at George Fox University is a wonderful endorsement of it--at least in potential, and perhaps beyond that?

Actually, I think that it's especially hard to blog in that spirit of peace. I have, on occasion, felt snubbed by Quakers online, but never in person. I think that there's something about Quaker spirit that translates poorly at a distance, but most of us get better at remembering to be tender when we can meet one another's eyes...

Or perhaps I'm an optimist; maybe that's a positive side effect of being a relatively unseasoned Friend still?

Thanks for the kind words.

Zach A said...

I must say I disagree with both Marshall and Cat on this.

First of all, and most strongly, I think you both underestimate the urgency of the issue.

It does involve life and death. I'm not sure how often it's "in the streets," but I doubt the location matters. I am baffled that Cat seems to not be aware of this, as someone who has been concerned for the plight of LGBT people for a long time. LGBT youth commit suicide much more frequently, and not a day passes when someone is physically beaten or even killed. And that's just the US.

And if you want an indication of what it's like to suffer under a homophobic religious culture not too far from evangelical Quakerism, please read this pamphlet (pre-release draft, shh) some friends and I are putting together containing anonymous reflections by LGBT and questioning students at Gordon College. One writes that "I am everything that God abhors." Think about that.

So this is not just about equal opportunity employment at an obscure religious organization. All of these forms of discrimination are connected, and all of them must end. That's why it is important to keep this issue on the agenda, even if it's not at the very top, whether or not others trivialize this as mere "bickering."

Which brings us to the FUM issue. To my knowledge, liberal Friends are a making serious attempts to come to clearness with FUM Friends via intervisitation, as I mentioned last summer. All well and good, and I hope it continues and bears fruit. And we should remember that this can and should continue regardless of whether the dual-affiliated YMs leave or not. In that sense we fully agree.

But staying a part of FUM is a different question. And the hiring policy itself isn't the main reason I think we should consider leaving and cooperating at a little greater distance. The more fundamental reason to consider this is that it's doubtful whether their religion, as reaffirmed via the Richmond Declaration, has a place for continuing revelation. If not, this would seem to undercut most of the point of intervisitation. I will defer to people who have actually intervisited with FUM, but to me it seem you can't very well labor together in the Quaker way with people who don't believe in it -- who aren't willing to enter into the process believing their beliefs (i.e. the Bible's) might be mistaken.

I'm open to being convinced otherwise, but now that's how I see it.

Warm regards,
Zach / The Seed Lifting Up

Heather Madrone said...

Wonderful post, Cat. I was troubled to read of the difficulties faced by folks in FUM and heartened to read of the Equality Riders' visit to George Fox University.

I am sometimes a little disturbed by the amount of energy that gay right absorbs when we are facing the erosion of human rights on so many other fronts. I think that it might be better to put some of that energy into economic rights, women's rights, poverty reduction, labor organization, civil rights, the eradication of child slavery around the world, prison reform, etc., etc., etc.

Then I remember how so many civil rights workers told women to just wait their turns in the late 60s and early 70s. Wait until black men have equality and the war is over, and then maybe the men will sign up to help women secure equal rights. And I remember that the great struggle for freedom and justice needs to limp along on all fronts, that none of us are truly free if any person is not free.

It's a struggle for me to avoid falling into the trap of polarization, into a scarcity model that says that one group's rights come at the expense of some other group.

The Quaker process of laboring with those with whom you disagree is at once very powerful and very difficult. It's not surprising that Quakers fall down on the job sometimes; it's amazing that Friends have been able to stick with it as long as they have in many cases.

When we allow ourselves to get polarized, we need to slow down, back off, dust off our fannies, and reach out our hands again.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Hi, Zach,
You bring up a point that I honestly had considered speaking about directly in my original post, but decided not to--that of the urgency of the issue of affirming GLBT Quakers.

I agree that the question is urgent. And I believe that at least one of my childhood friends would be alive today if it were not for the homophobic culture we both grew up in... so, yes, there is indeed a body count here, both in terms of suicide and hate crime. I do hope that my post did not come across as trivializing toward the essential human rights issue here; that was far from my intent. I have often said that I believe that this issue is for modern Friends what slavery was for Friends in John Woolman's time--it is _the_ human rights issue of our day. (And, as a resident of Massachusetts, I note with some sadness that the parallels between racism and homophobia extend even to applying a 1913 anti-miscegenation law to block access to same-sex marriages for non-residents of my state. How painful it is that this law, of all the laws on the books, should be used to limit the rights of yet another class of people!)

However, vital as the issue truly is, it does not produce the numbers of violent deaths that wars throughout the world do. Now, I'm not saying that means that it is less important... I'm saying that the deaths from violence in nations and cities at war as so frequent, so bloody, and so traumatizing to whole peoples as to create what would seem to be an unbridgeable chasm of suffering in the way of any hope of reconciliation. I am not saying this because I believe we should back-burner gay rights, in this country or any other, or because I consider any one death more terrible a loss than another.

I am pointing this out simply because there are conflicts in the world that are happening over so much bloody and humanly unforgiveable cruelty that a rational person might understandably despair of every seeing peace come out of peoples so damaged and torn by war. And yet, Quakers have the chutzpa to say that peace _is_ possible; reconciliation _is_ possible.

I remember hearing a news account recently of a neighborhood in Iraq where, until recently, Sunnis and Shiites lived amicably together, even amid civil war. Until the day came when a truckload of armed men arrived, targeted the empty lot where a dozen children of the neighborhood were playing soccer, and massacred them all, and then drove away.

The families went mad. Sunnis and Shiites who had known one another all their lives took up whatever weapons they could find, and began killing the "other side" indiscriminately. The pain and rage of so much death and so much loss overwhelmed whatever had held this community together in peace for so long, and they butchered each other as callously as the armed men had murdered their children moments before.

These, these are the people Quakers say can--must--reconcile and live in peace. Well, how can any human being do that? In reason, how can a human being who has seen their wife, their daughter, their husband, or their son, murdered before their eyes be expected to do anything but kill and kill and kill again forever? But Quakers do say it, and believe in it, and want to trust in it--that there is a Spirit of Peace that can help us move beyond ourselves beyond all expectation, and find a path to mercy.

My point is that, if we Quakers expect Sunni and Shia to listen to the Spirit of Peace and one another amid such terror and chaos, then we really need to practice that peace among ourselves, and not succumb to the verbal violence that makes us deaf to one another. Again, I ask, if Quakers can't find a path to peace and reconcilation among ourselves, how can we possibly "be patterns" to anyone?

If FUM were to change its personnel policy immediately, how many lives would be healed? Some, I belive, and that is important. But if Quakers in FUM were to listen deeply into the Spirit of Peace, we might change more than a personnel policy. Homophobia itself might be dissolved... Poverty in places far away from so many of us might become visible, and as urgent as the integrity of the gay and lesbian members of our more liberal meetings (rightly) are to us liberals in North America.

I live in hope, that there really is a Spirit that "delights to do no evil," and that that Spirit can lead the way to something even greater than righting any single injustice.

And I think that is _my_ peace testimony.

I guess my prayer is that I become able to practice it and live by it. I know that I don't feel able to scorn those who are struggling, within any of the branches of Friends, to do this--and I think one reason to stay connected to FUM is that I can continue to learn from a greater diversity of Friends how to perservere in this practice. Yeah, lots of Friends kind of suck at it... but so do I. That's why we call it practice, right? We keep on trying until we get it right?

If nothing else, the bond between liberal and more conservative Friends within FUM affords us all ample chances for practicing peace...

Laurie Kruczek said...

Hello Friend Cat. I was also encouraged by what I heard happened at GFU with the "Equality Riders." It would be amazing to see gays/lesbians accepted into EFI not as "sinners" who are welcome to attend a service, but need to "ungay" themselves to be "true Christians," but as actual Gay Christians.

I know that not all evangelical Friends are ready for such a change within their church mindset. It is too much for some to separate true Quaker ideals from the other denominations of evangelicals they would like to emulate. I, myself, was absolutely shocked this Easter weekend, when attending my first EFI church service (at the main George Fox University church), to see copies of a free evangelical newspaper that openly demonized gay/lesbian people available to church goers. If a church body is truly Christian, or truly Quaker, how does one peacefully love thy neighbor in that environment? Astounding! One step forward and two steps back!

The recent anti-gay protests in Portland, an hour from where I live, have also stirred me up. There is a war going on, and rather than protest that, conservative Christians are out protesting gay rights. Peace is the only answer, and I see no peace in hating your brothers and sisters. I wrote a poem about these issues on my blog http://lifeforcevibrations.blogspot.com/ if you want to check it out.

Thanks for blogging about this. You have a great head on your shoulders.

Laurie Kruczek

Marshall Massey said...

Friend Zach, I don't think the problem is that I underestimate the urgency of the gay-rights issue. I do know what’s at stake there. I wonder, though, whether you fully grasp the urgency and gravity of the global-extinction-of-species issue.

On another point, FUM's theological position leaves a big place for continuing revelation. But like the first Friends, they don't believe God gives new revelations that reverse or annul His old ones.

Johan Maurer said...

Again I feel heartened by the courtesy and goodwill in this post and the comments that followed. This seems to be a pattern in the Quaker blogging world, and a wonderful witness at a time when flaming, and how to deal with it, has become a big controversy in the larger online world.

Nobody from FUM-only yearly meetings appears to have commented. Although I was in FUM for a long time, I'm now in Evangelical Friends (capital E), but I'm still a member of the FUM field staff, so maybe I'll fly the FUM flag for a few moments.

Only two points about FUM this time:

1) I believe that most FUM Friends are open to continuing revelation, which we understand in two ways--first, that our understanding of the Bible is continually refreshed by the Holy Spirit, and, second, that we expect (and our business meetings rely on) the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Some still see the Bible as a rule book to be decoded and applied mechanically to all situations, but in my experience, more see it as our family history as people of God--far more important for keeping us oriented Godwards than telling us exactly what to do. We're generally NOT open to continuing revelation if it means accepting leadings that seem contrary to what is in the Bible.

2) If FUM were to change the personnel policy immediately, the result would be the immediate end of FUM. Period. FUM as a central body is a creature of its member yearly meetings, who approved the policy. (I've written elsewhere about this at great length, so I won't repeat all that here.) It was approved in good order. Given the truly irreconcilable differences of people in the room, it seemed miraculous at the time that it was approved at all. No central authority imposed this policy on anyone, so lobbying a central body is not going to bring about change, although it can signal to the member yearly meetings that there is discontent (as if they didn't already know!).

Despite the inspiring courtesy I mentioned at the beginning, I still see very little discussion about FUM that cherishes it and its purposes, believes it should succeed in its mission, and yearns to heal it from within. The cumulative effect that I get from reading many, many pages of commentary on FUM in the Quaker blogging community is that it is a problem to be fixed, that it has an inadequate concept of continuing revelation, and so on.

3) I accept that there is a crisis among people, especially young people, with minority sexual identities. Some of that may be caused by the accumulated evil of years of homophobia, but I'm intuitively convinced that the oversexualization of our society plays a role as well. The relentless beat of sex in popular culture, with almost no strong voice for developmentally appropriate, spiritually-centered sex education either inside or outside the church, leaves young people of all orientations in situations at least a bit analogous to those vulnerable to food disorders. When African Friends engage with the FUM personnel policy, part of their context is the perception, not entirely incorrect, that North Americans are incapable of putting sex in some proportionate relationship with the rest of life.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

John, thank you for your comments. I think that you are right, and that there is relatively little discussion in the Quaker blogosphere of FUM "that cherishes it and its purposes, believes it should succeed in its mission, and yearns to heal it from within."

As a new and relatively unseasoned Friend, whose only affiliation with FUM is through a dual-affiliated Yearly Meeting that I am only now beginning to know myself, I'm not myself in any position to add that commentary--but I would genuinely like to see it added. I know that Friends I respect very deeply, like Jan Hoffman and Will Taber, see FUM as having a lot to offer, and so I am quite willing to believe it to be so. But, other than a superficial knowledge of FUM projects like the Friends' School in Ramallah, I have little detailed understanding of FUM's work and spiritual life.

I would _love_ to see some here--or a link to some that you might write yourself elsewhere?

You say of the personnel policy that "FUM as a central body is a creature of its member yearly meetings, who approved the policy. (I've written elsewhere about this at great length, so I won't repeat all that here.)"

Would you be willing to provide a link, so that others who, like me, are not familiar with this chapter of the history can read your words?

Finally, you seem to be saying either that the crisis among gays and lesbians in this country is a product of an oversexualized culture...OR that the perception among African Friends may be that, given the difficulties Americans have staying spiritually centered about sexuality, the voices of American Friends on homosexuality are discounted, seen as mere byproducts of an unhealthy culture.

If you're making the former point, I cannot agree; I see no reason to believe that the pain caused by discrimination and ostracization towards gays and lesbians is related to the sexual culture they (and we) live in at all. If the latter point, it does point to a need for Friends in this country to begin to think and talk reflectively about what a spiritually-centered sexual life might be... something that I have not experienced many Friends being willing or ready to try just yet.

Thanks for your comments. It was very nice hearing a voice I otherwise might not!

Johan Maurer said...

I laughed when I re-read my comment: typical Johan, can't keep to two points! (Well, I'd promised two points about FUM, and the third point wasn't directly about FUM. Still ....)

Concerning sex and culture: I'm proposing that when a culture seems to place an enormous weight on sexuality (with great emphasis on the gratifications involved--that's the implicit promise in much advertising, and in newspaper columns about sex, and in numerous magazines on display at my hairdresser's), without integration into spiritual realities or the rest of life in general, it cannot be surprising that sexuality would become a source of great anxiety for some, and perhaps even more for those whose longings don't seem to fit into the popular models. I'm not qualified to tease out all the threads involved--including the dimensions of affluence, addiction, the unintended cultural empowerment of predatory adults, and so on. Maybe others can contribute on these points.

Some African Friends have said to me that it is a sign of the decadence of affluence that we spend so much time engaged with sexual gratification (one said "consumer sex") when life demands a considerably different focus from most people in the world. I don't want to inflate this critique out of proportion--it's not as if East African cultures have the last word on a healthy integration of sexuality and spirituality--but I see their point.

In any case, I think you say that you'd agree with me about "a need for Friends in this country to begin to think and talk reflectively about what a spiritually-centered sexual life might be... something that I have not experienced many Friends being willing or ready to try just yet." I would love to see this, but wonder what prior steps of trust-building would be required, and whether Friends are ready to be honest about the influences of militant individualism on the one hand and coercive fundamentalism, on the other, on our conversations. What I truly yearn for among Friends is a larger movement of spiritual renewal, even revival, within which conversations about sexuality would be centered in a wider context of spiritual intimacy, spiritual hospitality, healing, and boundaries. (Many Friends are beginning to talk about the crucial themes of intimacy and hospitality, but without including the themes of healing and boundaries, I quickly get a sense of unreality and "notions.")

Most of what I've written about FUM recently appears in or is connected to Will Taber's "Back from Africa with a broken heart" post and comments, and my follow-ups, "The unbearable lightness of being Quaker" and "FUM and symbolic politics." The comments in that last item include some specifics about the FUM personnel policy. I summarized "realignment" here.

cubbie said...

this post gave me so much hope. thank you.

Zach A said...

Cat,
Thank you for your inspiring words about peace.

Marshall, I realize I might not fully understand the crisis of species extinction, but to me, climate change seems by far the most urgent thing. (I realize there is considerable overlap between the two.) Which is why I said LGBT issues should be very definitely on our agenda, but not necessarily "at the top".

Johan,

(1) I think you and Marshall have missed my point, and are getting distracted by semantics. Not being open to leadings that seem contrary to the Christian Bible is precisely the crucial difference I'm talking about -- precisely what makes the religion of core FUM Friends and liberal Friends so different as to call into question any strong shared identity (like affiliation).

If Orthodox Friends would like to continue to use the term "continuing revelation" to describe their position, I think it's an odd use of the term, but I doubt it's productive to fight over words. In any case, it remains true that, officially, FUM Quakerism effectively (if not in official phrasing) does not place the discernment of the leadings of spirit as the first spiritual authority, but as the second, under the authority of the Bible. In this sense it seems rather like Protestantism with extra emphasis on the Spirit, not entirely unlike Pentecostalism.

And that's fine -- I hope we continue to have a relationship, and to support each other's projects, and to keep exploring together what these funny old characters we both care about mean for us.

But these are two very, very different approaches to the spiritual life, and I continue to ask that liberal Friends consider the wisdom of remaining part of an organization whose basic beliefs we do not unite with.

(2) And that basic difference I think is the root of things. Johan, I've seen you decry the lack of appreciative words towards FUM by liberal Friends, but given such a basic difference, can you really expect liberal Friends to "want FUM to succeed in its mission"? I have a lot of admiration for what FUM does, I really do, and think you put liberal Friends to shame in outreach and humanitarianism, and perhaps also in resisting the pull of individualism.

But I struggle to find within myself a reason to care about its success much more than I care about the success of any other religious group that I do not unite with, like the NAE or the UUA. We are cousins by history, and hopefully always friendly ones, but as I see it, in the end we are not co-religionists. In this context it does, as you suggest, make little sense for liberal Friends to want to stay and try to pressure FUM into dropping the policy -- but it makes a little more sense to consider leaving.

As I indicated before, I'm not completely convinced of my own position, but it's the way I see things right now, and I think it is important to speak plainly with each other as we try to find the way forward here.

With warm regards,
Zach A / The Seed Lifting Up

David M. said...

Johan writes about the FUM folks:
Some still see the Bible as a rule book to be decoded and applied mechanically to all situations, but in my experience, more see it as our family history as people of God

Well if it's a rule book we're in trouble because, particularly in the opening chapters, it's full of rules about dietary restrictions, ritual cleanliness, and animal sacrifice that most people would consider, well, quaint. That one sentence in Leviticus, that everyone gets their knickers in a knot over, is followed a couple of sentences later by a prohibition against approaching the altar with torn clothing. Altar? Hello, we're
Quakers!

I think a lot of it is family history all right, sort of like that crazy aunt who comes to Thanksgiving and gets up five times during dinner to wash her hands, and mumbles about how "dirty" everything is. The great thing about continuing revelation is that we don't have to sieze onto random snatches of that old book and use it to butress our personal revulsions.

I'm revolted by things too. My family has a not-very-well-concealed history of racial intolerance. I find it hard to accept their deeply held convictions in this matter, because I think they are wrong.

As far as the African Friends, I would think that being on the wrong end of this kind of attitude would give them a bit of tolerance for those who are despised, rejected, and acquainted with grief. What little I know about the treatment of sexual minorities in Africa shows that this may not be true.

I'd like to see and understand the FUM viewpoint, but at the moment I just see another example of spiritual self-deception.

Yvonne said...

Hi Cat

A very inspiring post. As someone who feels passionately about the inclusion of LGBT people in religion (it was one of the reasons I became a Pagan), it is wonderful to hear about a situation where a meaningful dialogue could happen. I also think Pagans could learn a lot from the peace process you describe (sounds a bit like the Reclaiming consensus process, from what little I know of both processes).

Posted this to the Pagan Portal under interfaith and sexuality. I hope you will be joining the editorial team soon :)

Share it