Why is North Carolina Yearly Meeting like Flint Michigan?
Because those in control have switched from living water to something out of the Flint River: it’s toxic, corrosive and uncontrolled.
This is the starting point for thinking about the revised proposal for the “Way Forward” issued late in January, and due for initial consideration at a NCYM-FUM Representative Body session on March 5.
We’ll get to the proposal and its specific points in a bit. The toxic water flood comes first.
It happened, as some may remember on November 15, at the previous Representative session. The details of that disaster are here. To recap:
- A secretly-drafted proposal to rewrite the NCYM Faith & Practice was unveiled at the session without any notice or preparation
- The body was allowed only a brief debate. Then,
- It was “Adopted” (i.e., rammed through) on a shouted voice vote.
The rewrite was a complete reversal of the form of governance embodied in the last forty-seven years and half a dozen editions of the NCYM Faith & Practice. The instant reversal would give the YM complete power over local meetings. The claim was that such supremacy was formerly in the book, but was left out in 1967 by some mistake; then left out again half a dozen more times, by, um, mistake.
This idea doesn’t even pass the lame-joke laugh test. But the engineers of this coup persuaded or harried an exhausted Clerk into going along with the shameful plan.
The rush to a decision ignored objections from several meetings, and calls for slower, more careful discussion, referral to local meeting review, and a deliberative process — like that already spelled out by Faith & Practice for proposed changes in its text.
And the rushed voice vote, something that might happen in North Carolina’s veto-proof one-party dominated legislature, made a hash and a mockery of anything like authentic Quaker process.
This look back is necessary because the “Way Forward” proposal will now flow into a yearly meeting process that was thereby polluted, turned as toxic and corrosive as anything from the Flint River.
Let this be stated plainly: without a process that is cleaned up, made honest and trustworthy again, deliberations on the “Way Forward:” will lack integrity (which BTW is one of the “Way Forward” plan’s favorite words). Pick your metaphor: the dice will be loaded; the deck stacked; the fight will be fixed.
We will no doubt be told otherwise. Just as those unfortunates in Flint were assured repeatedly that the river water was just fine, just fine, don’t bother about the off color or the smell, trust us, it’s just fine.
It wasn’t fine there, and it’s not fine here. I am one, and not alone, who won’t be drinking from that tainted fountain, not without a fundamental cleanup.
What would such a cleanup look like? It would look like the Bible:
–Ephesians 5: “Bear one another’s burdens”: it would face up to the fact of religious diversity among NCYM meetings and learn to live with it;
— and Matthew 13: Jesus’ story of the Wheat and the Tares: the remaining purgers would stop trying to find a way to “weed out” those of us who they think have incorrect religious ideas; and
— Acts 15; to make decisions as “It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord” — with ONE accord, reached by patient Quaker process, not steamrolled over honest dissent and considered opposition. More concretely, that phony rewrite of Faith & Practice has to go. If someone has an actual proposal to change it, that it be considered “by the book,” following the careful, deliberative process prescribed there. And any other substantive decision making be done by the time-honored Quaker process which learns to overcome differences, not override them.
Now, as to the REVISED “Way Forward” proposal, the full text is here. It differs substantially from the original, presented at the NCYM annual session last summer. (The earlier “Way Forward” text is here.) And more about its origins is here.
First the good news about the changes: The original section on “Integrity” was an ill-considered grab-bag of ideas, many of which were outdated to the point of being laughable. And thankfully, its ban on alcohol and any kind of non-victorian sexuality has been dumped.
Someone, or someones, blessed be they, evidently managed to get across to the drafters that in 2016, even evangelicals drink their share of beer and booze, and have plenty of sex before and outside of marriage. (I mean after all, it wasn’t a bunch of northeastern liberals who wrote all those country music songs about cheating and drinking. Or who turned them into hits.) So while there are real problems in all these areas, that old-style finger-wagging just wasn’t going to fly.
What the Task Force came up with instead is pretty sensible:
NCYM Faith and Practice provides direction for how we should strive to lead lives of integrity, peacefulness, equality, and service to others.
“Direction”; not the same thing as commandment. And note that NCYM’s current F&P DOES NOT SAY a single word about, or against homosexuality. (Just like Jesus didn’t.) For that matter, it doesn’t even forbid same sex marriage. (No, really, it doesn’t!)
(You can read all that right here in the F&P text. Or rather, you can read how it’s NOT there, because it isn’t in it.) Maybe NCYM can yet learn to “strive” to live in that live-and-let-live spirit. What you CAN read there is the five times it says that F&P is NOT to be used as a creed.
Also pretty reasonable is the mandate for meetings to pay Askings. To me this is no more than membership dues; if we’re going to be in the club, then dues need to be paid. No argument — though that doesn’t rule out haggling over specific amounts.
Less welcome but somewhat hopeful in the Revised version is a long section on “Restoring Gospel Order.” This appears to attempt to put a stop to efforts through the YM to purge dissenters, such as NCYM has been through over the past eighteen months.
Instead it attempts to adapt the advice in Matthew 18 from individual grievances to those of groups. Let’s look it over:
[Revised Way Forward] “If a Meeting of North Carolina Yearly Meeting has a concern about any other Meeting within the Yearly Meeting, the concerned meeting will attempt to schedule and have a face-to-face meeting with the offending congregation (incorporating a few representatives from each meeting). This is in keeping with Matthew 18 and its guidance to first have a private meeting. It would be important that the Yearly Meeting/Representative Body not entertain any concern or complaint against a monthly meeting until it has been established that an attempt has been made for a face-to-face meeting between the disputing meetings.”
So instead of a few pastors busing in supporters at yearly meeting, as happened in 2014, and then demanding that all meetings and individuals who had any ties that they disliked had to “immediately resign” from NCYM, their meetings would first need to agree that they had some kind of grievance against another meeting, and then go knock on their door and set up a meeting to talk it over.
Sounds reasonable. Certainly getting this kind of purge efforts out of YM sessions would be an improvement.
But there are some BIG “buts” that bubble right up. First, what kind of “grievances” would qualify to trigger such actions? The fact that Meeting A includes people with views of the Bible that differ from some of those in Meeting B? That Meeting C is not prepared to welcome LGBT folks, but Meeting D is?
Second, how about evidence? Will it be enough for a delegation to show up from Meeting A and say, “We hear that y’all have folks who have ideas about the Bible that we don’t like.” What if Meeting B doesn’t take a Bible opinion census (as many don’t) and can’t accurately chart the range of views? Will this procedure then authorize some kind of external doctrinal examination?
And third, what do they mean by “reconciliation” at this point? If Meeting D welcomes LGBT folks and Meeting C doesn’t like that, does that dislike ipso facto make the welcoming group “guilty” of being “an offending meeting”? (Especially since, as we already noted, Faith & Practice says nothing on that subject?)
Does “reconciliation” mean that Meeting D is expected to say, in effect: “Oh, you’re right! LGBT is a pack of abominations; we’ll kick them all out right away.”
But what if the Meetings simply recognize they have different views about the matter– which one is then in the “wrong”? Which is the “offending meeting”? Who is to be put on trial, and for what?
Anyway, if the initial meeting doesn’t produce “reconciliation,” then the issue between the meetings goes to the YM’s Ministry & Counsel; and from there, to the YM itself, for a review, according to the Revision, “potentially culminating in a minute of disownment” from NCYM. (The same questions about “offenses,” and “reconciliation” apply here.)
And if they can’t be answered there, then the dispute ends up back on the YM floor, where expulsions are likely by shouted voice votes–and we’re swimming in the Flint River cesspool. Back where we started.
In short, there’s one step forward in this Revised draft, and a whole bunch of steps back. Getting such challenges off the YM floor initially is good. But after that, questions of identifying “actionable offenses,” and setting standards for proof, fairness and appeals will rip the lids off a whole pantry full of cans of worms.
So this proposal might be an interesting opener for broader discussion, but just a beginning. If the YM wants to set concrete standards of conduct (e.g., don’t steal YM money; don’t sexually abuse or harass others, especially children; respect your fiduciary duties), there are likely numerous specific infractions that could be agreed on.
But those who think they could now achieve a purge of meetings which have non-fundamentalist views about the Bible, social issues and other matters by tacking on these preliminary steps, will likely run into some stiff opposition, as they have before, pushing the purge idea from the YM floor.
For that matter, it makes me smile to imagine a delegation knocking at the door of the Meeting I attend, coming to tell us we don’t meet their meeting’s standards for some doctrinal or biblical or social issue matter.
Have those who contemplate such visits not considered that our Meeting might have its own bill of particulars to share as well?
Here’s a tip: Go back and read the meeting letters that were produced in response to the initial purge efforts in 2014: there are several very eloquent, biblically-sound, intellectually solid statements there. So any such delegation to our place would be received peaceably, but they better expect to get an earful, as well as deliver one.
So of course, this is where an altered Faith and Practice that makes the YM supreme over Meetings comes in. And this is also where the toxic Flint River water of shouted voice voting floods and corrodes the process. Expulsions and disownments baptized in such swill will not “hold water.”
And this isn’t the worst. The Revised“Way Forward” document once more attempts to paint a target right on the backs of an entire NCYM meeting, its largest. It does so by declaring:
“No Monthly Meeting in NCYM shall have dual membership in another Yearly Meeting.”
Only one Meeting, New Garden, has such status. It joined the brand-new Piedmont Friends Yearly Meeting almost a year ago, when it was created. And there was, and is, no ban on such dual affiliation in the existing Faith & Practice, so New Garden violated no rule in doing so.
Nevertheless, three times in the past year, efforts to ban dual membership, aimed directly at New Garden, have been attempted in NCYM.
Each one failed. Now, some diehards are evidently figuring that the fourth time will be the charm.
They could well be right: with the Flint River water sloshing around — it could be no problem to flush away the opposition, hose the change through, and hang New Garden out to dry.
Mission finally accomplished.
An action like that would be both flagrantly un-Quakerly and (for some meetings, this next should be more important, judging by the American flags that have long occupied honored places near their pulpits) Un-American. It would be an ex-post facto law, which is expressly forbidden by the U.S. Constitution, Article One (Section 9, Clauses 3 & 10). Hear the Word of The Lord.
No court in the USA could do that and get away with it. But the Task Force evidently thinks NCYM-FUM wants to. And under the new regime, maybe they’re guessing right. But it will be quite a spectacle when they line up with flagpoles in hand, to baptize old glory in that foul Flint River water too.
Such an effort would also have very destructive, and quite predictable consequences elsewhere within NCYM. While some evidently won’t rest until New Garden is banished, that meeting also has many supporters. It is more than plausible that a purge aimed at those Friends would end up taking with it many more. The cost to NCYM in morale, members and money would likely be substantial.
To do this in a body which just chopped its budget in half would be a folly that boggles the mind. YM officials who retain a rational grasp on the group’s plight know this would be a calamity; worse, an avoidable one.
It’s an invitation not just to drink that poisoned Flint River water, but to jump right in.
And go down the drain with it.