Appeal! Groundswell in Northwest Over A Welcoming Meeting’s Ouster

Appeal! Groundswell in Northwest Over A Welcoming Meeting’s Ouster

We reported on July 25 about the abrupt expulsion of West Hills Friends Meeting in Portland, Oregon by Northwest Yearly Meeting.

West Hills has been welcoming to LGBTQ folks for several years. Northwest YM (NWYM), an evangelical body, does not approve, though dissent about the official stance has been growing year by year.

Northwest’s Faith & Practice permits appeals of the expulsion, not only by West Hills itself, but by other local meetings. The period for filing appeals expires tonight at midnight, August 23, 2015. The appeals will be considered by NWYM’s Administrative Council, which has the final say.

WHF-Expelled-Appeal

The council will have a full packet when it takes up its task. The news of West Hills’ sudden expulsion (officially called a “release”) sent shock waves across the NWYM constituency, and evoked a swift, and increasingly massive, response, especially among younger adult Friends.

Within a few days, a website was up: “NWYM Unity”, as a vehicle for protest and support for meetings considering appeals. although NWYM officials made clear that only appeals from Meetings would be “officially” considered, they also said that appeals from individuals  would go into the stack and be read.

With that encouragement, a group “appeal” letter (more like an online petition) was drafted and posted. As of August 22, it had garnered 216 signers. After a review of the names, a knowledgeable NWYM Friend advised me that included among them were Friends from many of the more conservative, officially non-welcoming meetings, and a large percentage of younger Friends.

In addition, there were five formal appeals posted there, from local meetings. (More meetings may file appeals, without posting them online.)

Not among them, though, was an appeal from West Hills Friends. Informal feedback suggests that many members there are both tired of the struggle, and perhaps ready to see if the advocacy of others can make a difference.

Taking the number of signers to the group appeal, plus the declared meetings, adds up to a significant, indeed unprecedented outcry. And while the appeals are shot through with the elaborate, often cloying politeness typical of NWYM rhetoric (“Northwestspeak”), they also make some very pointed criticisms of the expulsion and the Board of Elders who did it.

The basis for the action was a provision in NWYM’s Discipline designating certain infractions, or kinds of “non-compliance” with the Discipline as “shattering” in character. This term, however, seems to apply only being openly welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ folks. The group appeal raises this early on:

“Due to the vague nature about what constitutes “shattering,” it raises the question, “Shattering for whom?” The implication in this case is that it is shattering to Northwest Yearly Meeting as a whole. If the Yearly Meeting as a whole is in danger of being “shattered,” then the entire Yearly Meeting should be involved in the restoration process.”

The appeal from Reedwood Friends sharply challenged the entire idea:

“One of our concerns is that the concept of “shattering” is not defined in Faith and Practice, nor is the process of determining whether a given instance of noncompliance is “shattering.” In our reading of past minutes, we have been unable to determine whether or when this important point of language was minuted or, indeed, brought to the floor of the meeting before its inclusion in Faith and Practice.”

More plainly, the implication here is that the “shattering” language was slipped into the Discipline in some underhanded way, likely to pave the way for West Hills’ expulsion. 

The appeal from Hillsboro Meeting pursued this procedural objection further:

“Hillsboro Friends Church challenges the interpretation of Faith and Practice that gives the Board of Elders the power to “release” a church from Northwest Yearly Meeting. Removing a church in its entirety from all active involvement in Northwest Yearly Meeting is a dramatic precedent which risks permanent ramifications of potentially mammoth proportions. Such a decision is not expressly given to the Board of Elders, and, due to the weight of such a decision, should not be interpreted through implication. . . .”

And it asserted that the impact of the decision, and the shady way it was made, was widely destructive:

“When dealing with disciplinary actions involving individuals or regarding a crisis within a local meeting, confidentiality makes sense. However, when dealing with conflict and disagreement that has arisen between whole churches and that is likely to affect the whole of the Yearly Meeting, confidentiality can serve as a hindrance, leading to speculation and accusations that spread through a wildfire of whispers and rumors and leave us with an onslaught of unanswerable questions that only serve to fuel the fire further.

The lack of transparency in this process has contributed greatly to the “shattering” experience for all and has created a growing mistrust not only of leadership but of each other—meeting to meeting, individual to individual. West Hills Friends Church was open and public with their lengthy discernment process and subsequent conclusion. Because of this, absolute confidentiality was not warranted, and we believe a different outcome was entirely possible had this process between the elders and West Hills been more open. . . .”

“[T]he ‘shattering’ experience for all . . . .” This is a freighted statement. The involvement of so many younger Friends among these voices should give the NWYM rulers pause. Everywhere across the American religious landscape today, churches are watching the so-called Millennial generation disappear from their houses of worship. As one recent major research report noted,

“While fewer Americans identified as Christian than did so seven years ago, those who consider themselves evangelical held steady. Yet even here, the make-up of this segment is older, and the largest exodus from faith came from Millennials – young people born after 1980.” (Emphasis added.)

Thus in this struggle Northwest Yearly Meeting faces another constituency beyond West Hills Friends Meeting: it gets to look into its own future. Major survey research confirms what they, and most other conscious religious leaders also know: 

“Nearly 6-in-10 (58%) Americans agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues. Seven-in-ten (70%) Millennials believe that religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues. . . .

Among Americans who left their childhood religion and are now religiously unaffiliated, about one-quarter say negative teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people was a somewhat important (14%) or very important (10%) factor in their decision to disaffiliate. Among Millennials who no longer identify with their childhood religion, nearly one-third say that negative teachings about, or treatment of, gay and lesbian people was either a somewhat important (17%) or very important (14%) factor in their disaffiliation from religion.”
 
There was plenty of similar talk in the Facebook traffic among Younger Friends in NWYM after the West Hills expulsion was announced — grief and anger both over the decision itself, and how it was done. 

What will the NWYM leadership do with this outpouring? For the most part, the appeals are almost touchingly idealistic. From Camas Meeting came this cri de couer: 

 
“Camas Friends, like most churches in the Northwest Yearly Meeting, has members who hold diverse views on a number of issues. However, we strive to love everyone in our community regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. Our meeting has not found consensus concerning the human sexuality section of the Faith and Practice, just as the churches of NWYM have not found consensus concerning these issues. We have, though, found consensus that we can love each other, despite our differences. We are also in agreement that we want to remain in fellowship with West Hills and with all the churches that make up our Yearly Meeting. . . .”
 
My own sense is that Northwest YM does not face schism if it can’t come to a constructive resection of this matter. Instead, if  it sticks with the dubious “shattering” mechanism and confirms West Hills’ expulsion, it faces the drip-drip of attrition, as members and attenders, especially younger ones, vote with their feet, the way so many others have done.

Some will insist that doesn’t matter.  I don’t believe that, and I’m not sure they do either.
 
A final note: it’s not yet clear when the appeals will be acted on.

One thought on “Appeal! Groundswell in Northwest Over A Welcoming Meeting’s Ouster”

  1. We are praying that the NWYM will find a “third way.” This is a way to go beyond following what some perceive to be the letter of the law: i.e. “Faith and Practice,” to an inclusive “way.” I see much precedent for this “way” in Quaker history, as Friends gave each other time to listen to God’s voice within. As Friends allowed Friends to carry on odious practices until the Spirit changed hearts.

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