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Cat on NEYM: Footnote on the FUM Personnel Policy

Skip this entry, please, if you've heard all you care to for the next hundred years on the FUM personnel policy. Or read it if you'd like a somewhat simplified and subjective primer on the issue. It is intended as a companion piece, a sidebar and footnote to my first set of reflections on NEYM.

Here's a mini briefer for Pagan readers and Quakers who may not be familiar with this controversy: Friends United Meeting, or FUM, is a large assembly of Quakers. It includes meetings like mine, which historically united both liberal Quakers who might or might not describe themselves as Christians and more traditional, Christ-centered Quakers. FUM also includes meetings that are wholly Christ-centered, and its mission is explicitly Evangelical. Inquiring minds might want to know why I am myself quite passionately dedicated to remaining in relationship with FUM. If you do, stay tuned: the question of "what's a nice Pagan girl like you doing in a hotbed of Christianity like this?" deserves attention I'll give it later. Suffice it to say, though, FUM is a very large tent, and it is doing some exciting and humanizing work in the world, especially in Africa, where the majority of the world's Quakers live.

And practice, typically, a very enthusiastic and not especially liberal Christianity.

The FUM personnel policy includes a proviso which refuses to hire gays or lesbians who are not celibate (or heterosexuals who engage in sexual relationships outside of marriage). It breaks the hearts of willing, loving and sincerley Christian gay and lesbian Quakers on a regular basis.

It also reflects a step forward for a worldwide organization that--at least in theory--practices unity, not mere majority rule in policy setting, in that it does explicitly recognize the rights of gays and lesbians to live free from violence and discrimination (assuming they are celibate).

It is a terribly flawed document, but it is what we have currently, and it will only be possible to change it by changing the culture of hundreds of thousands of people around the world--a worthy goal, it seems to me, when we are speaking of human rights. We cannot change the policy without changing hearts--and changing hearts will take a very, very long time.

So many Quakers who are strong advocates of equality for gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgendered and queer people are very, very uncomfortable with contributing to this organization. I consider myself a strong--or at least passionate and committed--advocate also, but I do not share this view; I see many reasons to remain a supporter of Friends United Meeting, not the least of which is that, unlike many liberal Quaker bodies, FUM seems to me to promote realistic, practical, and human-sized interventions in troubled parts of the world. I see their work as the best kind of "good news"--what Eden Grace calls FUM's ministry of"cross-cultural exchange," combined with real respect for the spiritual autonomy of the people it serves.

In my view, despite its Evangelist mission, FUM is not imperialistic or colonial. It also seems to me to be practical and real in ways that I am convinced more liberal Friends' often symbolic actions may not be. Not that we can't have both, or support both! We can.

I happen to be very glad that, in NEYM, dually-affiliated as we are, we do.

Hope that's not clear as mud... Wiser Quakers, feel free to clarify what I have left murky or made mistakes in reporting.


Yewtree said…
Very difficult situation. Myself, I feel so strongly on this issue that I find it difficult to be in a sangha / spiritual community with people who do not fully embrace equality for glbtq people. So I admire your patience.

I left Christianity when I was 15 over this issue and the claim of Christians that Christianity is the only path to the Divine. My recent faith blip was caused by the heterosexism of duotheism, and the doctrinal rigidity of hard polytheism (the first excluding glbtq people, and the second excluding pantheists etc).

The main reason that Orthodoxy was not for me is that 90% of them see same-sex relationships as sinful. Not to mention the fact that you have to renounce heresy, which to me is frankly bizarre, as I'm all about values not beliefs.

I embraced Unitarianism because it affirms the validity of all faiths and is inclusive and welcoming of of glbtq people, and Pagans, etc. So I can be Pagan and Unitarian at the same time.
I have become quite clearly aware that, as a Pagan and Quaker, I'm asking the many, many orthodox Quakers in the world to see me as a sister within their fellowship--to sit with me in worship and accept me even if my practices and beliefs fly in the face of everything they believe is right.

The least I can do is return the favor, and when someone holds a belief--a prejudice, as seems entirely clear to me--that is at odds with what I believe is right, be as willing to sit with them in loving fellowship as they are with me.

Together we can pray to be led to a communal (corporate, in 17th century Quakerese) understanding of the deeper will of God, which will guide us both to more wisdom than either of us will manage together.

The legend among Friends is that it works--and the famous example is that of John Woolman, who merely started a process of reflection among Friends to end slavery among us; the process took over seventy years to come to fruition.

Which only put the Quakers 100 years ahead of secular society.

It's done not through debate, not through boycott, but through loving waiting for the will of the divine to be made clear to all of us.

So I needed to be willing to love and honor my sister, when one of our Cuban Friends stood and told us, with shaking voice and genuine love in her face, that she fears for us as a mother fears for a child, because she sees those of us in NEYM who affirm that homosexuality is not in any way inherently sinful are in danger of death--spiritual death. And the out gay and lesbian Friends she met and sat with this week are in danger of death, true spiritual death, and she really, really minded for them.

Which is so different from hating someone because they are gay. It is, I am sure down to my bones, also simply wrong; I know that no loving god could ever condemn someone for being glbtq. But there's a huge difference between sitting with someone who genuinely feels love and concern and someone who simply claims to feel these things as a rhetorical flourish. It was hard for my Cuban friend to speak to us in meeting; the least I can do is remain in loving fellowship with her, to honor her courage and her real concern.

And it is my belief that in that fellowship, if we listen long enough and hard enough, she will hear what you and I have heard, Yvonne--that the divine does not, cannot, reject someone because of the way they are made. I believe that this loving fellowship, if we can but keep it, and keep listening together for the unfolding will of Spirit, will change all of us, and that (among other things) that will accomplish far more on behalf not just of glbtq folks in this country, but in places like Cuba, like Africa, where they must live closeted and hidden right now in order to be present in spiritual community.

The cost of this is humility. I must allow myself to become changed. I know that I am far more open to scriptural revelation, and I feel that I risk my welcome in the Pagan community, dear to me for half my life, in being as open as I am. But I have to be as present and open to ongoing revelation as I ask my sister to be, or I'm not doing it right. I have to be willing to sit with the pain of the ways I am convinced we Friends are in error, grave error, and wait patiently for the wisdom that Spirit will send us in fellowship.

And this, to my mind, is the difference between Quakers and most other churches, whether Christian or not. Quakers labor together to be changed by Spirit, not just individually, but in our collective understandings. We do not vote or even seek secular consensus among ourselves when we do business... if we do it right, it really is meeting for worship for business.

We often do it wrong, I fear.

But the times we really listen for God's guidance are so powerful that there is great hope that we will change, not just policies, but hearts and souls along with understandings. To me, this is the root of the peace testimony, and I am trying to be faithful to it, because I love it so much.
Anonymous said…
Once again you and Peter have really nailed it down for me (Those Friends speak my mind?") in your last three posts and this comment. I can only imagine the pain our brothers and sisters of different sexualities must feel at the nature and length of what has to be a process, and I can only hope that they will see an end that they will feel was worth the struggle. I will be referring such a brother to these posts in the hope that it will help foster the needed (to our sorrow) patience and love.

In His Love,
Nate Swift
John said…
I attend a GLBT welcoming and affirming FUM meeting (Englewood Friends Meeting) in Ohio. I know that this isn’t the norm for most FUM meetings but I am glad that my meeting celebrates “that of God in everyone.”

I am unsure of how much longer we will be part of FUM (there are concerns among Friends) but for now our goal is to try to change FUM from the inside out. We know it may take some time but for now we feel the Light leading us to stay and to work for change.

Thanks for posting this!

Unknown said…
Thank you for your patience and openness, and for this thought-provoking post.

I find the discussion around the personnel policy very difficult, because I can't choose sides. I was present at the marriage of two women under the care of my Quaker Meeting, and was (and am) convinced that this was a true and richly blessed marriage, although it couldn't be legalized. I share the concern for the policy's exclusion of married glb Friends. I also see something to celebrate in FUM's definition of right sexual behavior as taking place in a covenanted relationship. I find it a refreshing contrast to Qr gatherings where I have heard youth programs described as good, safe places for experimenting with sex and drugs , and been warned solemnly by older Friends that abstaining from such experimentation is usually a sign of severe neurosis.

It seems to me that there are two ways to damage people's sexuality. One is to condemn sex and the body. The other is to commercialize both. I think often liberals point out the dangers of repression and conservatives point out the dangers of consumer sex, and they're both right, and they don';t listen to each other. I long for a faith community that could recognize both dangers and seek a path that preserves some ind of integrity of body and soul. The reason for this longing is largely selfish--I hope such a community could help me make sense of my own choices. But I also think this might help to heal a very painful split among Friends.
Hi, Joanna,
Thank you for your thoughtful comment; I really appreciated your words. It feels like you've really worked at becoming clear on the nature of ethical sexuality, and I can feel it in your words.

Like you, I find a lot to be grateful for in the sober and clear-eyed approach to sexuality I find among Friends. (I'm saddened and a little shocked at the exceptions you've heard of, also.)

There may be nuances and exceptions here... but it does seem to me that covenanted relationships--those married in Spirit and not just in law--are probably the safest and sanest setting for most human sexual behavior. (I'm still working through the nuances in my own mind, so I don't want to be sweeping in my statements.)

But as a woman in a really blessed marriage, I can see clearly the ways that that kind of relationship leads to the kind of honesty and openness and integrity that healthy sexuality demands.

I think one of the things that fills me with such a passionate commitment to the recognition of same sex marriage and of the spiritually healthy status that same gender relationships can have is my having known intimately so many deeply devoted gay couples. It seems to me that that kind of spiritual union and love is so precious that it is a kind of blasphemy in us to judge it and deny it, because of something as inessential as gender.

There's a lot about sex and spirit I have yet to figure out. But that I have seen holy and blessed spiritual unions among same gender couples seems clear as dawn to me. And I just need to honor that, perhaps because, having been given the great gift of such a relationship myself, I feel a debt of gratitude.
kevin roberts said…
You know, it wasn't half an hour ago that I was reading the 1995 minutes of Ohio Yearly Meeting, where we disowned 83 members for taking a same-sex union under the care of their meeting. There was precious little laboring on either side.

It's a hard, hard subject around here, because there isn't unity at all. After almost 15 years, we're bringing it up again, unofficially, to talk about.

I think what FUM is doing in keeping the conversation going is what has to happen. I don't know what the outcome will be, but if you don't labor together over issues in which you don't perceive unity, it's a sure thing you won't find it.
Bright Crow said…
Friend Cat,

You speak my mind on this matter.

Thank you,
Michael Bright Crow
Anonymous said…
Cat--and everyone who has contributed here--I keep reading and re-reading this page.

It is touching a place deeper in me than I have words for right now.

Thank you.
Anonymous said…
I agree with Joanna's critique.

Both digressions from both a healthy and a covenant approach to all things, including sexuality, commerce, entertainment, etc., speak to me of ministry tainted by cultural context.

Neither speaks to me prophetically.

Thanks to everyone who has remained open and gentle in their sharing here--especially since neither Peter nor I are home right now, or able to moderate this forum easily, I'm appreciating the way that the readers of this blog approach one another with kindness.

Many of the things said here mean a lot to me. But, Kevin, when you write, "It's a hard, hard subject around here, because there isn't unity at all. After almost 15 years, we're bringing it up again, unofficially, to talk about," my heart goes out to you and to Ohio Yearly Meeting.

I know you know how hard we are laboring with one another in New England. I trust you know that I mean this humbly, and in real love and concern when I say that I will hold you in prayer.

May your fellowship be strong, and your discernment clear. And may you and all of us be led where God intends for us to go.

Blessed be.

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