North Carolina YM: Goodbye To Doormat Quakerism?

North Carolina YM Update: Goodbye To Doormat Quakerism?

On August 1, another showdown meeting will convene for Carolina Quakers. Will it be the climactic moment of a struggle that has boiled over for nearly a year?

Maybe. But in assessing its prospects, it’s appropriate to take a reading on a factor that’s seldom named, but will be familiar to most experienced Friends. They will know that in internal Quaker conflicts, besides those on one side or the other, there is usually a sizable group which wants at all costs to avoid, cover up, or flee the conflict.

This constituency is often big enough to be decisive; and rather than having a particular theological or even ideological view, it typically has a position, or more precisely, a posture: pretty much flat on the floor.

Yes, to understand recent and current Quaker events, you have to get to know Doormat Quakerism.

doormat-quaker

In the current difficulty within North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM), there was  initially much Doormat Quakerism in evidence. When a claque of fundamentalist pastors and their supporters came roaring into the YM’s 2014 annual session, demanding a heresy hunt, a purge and a breakup,  many of their targets ran  for cover or headed for the exits.

A few years back, when a similar coup was mounted in Indiana Yearly Meeting, the Doormat Quaker faction was critical: those bent on a purge encountered hardly any real resistance, and easily carried the day. Oh, there were plenty of Friends outraged by what happened; yet they mostly spoke behind their hands, or off the record, and barely slowed it down.

But in Carolina, it hasn’t quite turned out that way, so far. After sweeping the opening round, the purgers ran into increasing resistance. Instead of folding, a few of their targeted meetings stood up and spoke back eloquently. In key committees, the push for breaking up the body ran into dogged, lonely Friends who staunchly refused to be bulldozed into a fake “consensus” enabling a purge.

A number of the targeted meetings, however, hung back. A few of their members stood bravely against the tide in exhausting, acrimonious sessions of the YM’s Representative Body. But as groups, they were long silent.

The one target meeting which yielded to the pressure, Fancy Gap Friends, left the YM. But as it did so it aimed an indictment at the many who had, its clerk wrote, enabled the insurgents’ often abusive behavior by passive silence in the face of abusive actions.

“We believe that even those in NCYM with whom we align theologically have failed to confront the institution’s illness and are complicit as well. We apologize if this seems harsh but we believe we must speak truth to power . . . .”

Then, at the June Representative session, the purgers may have overplayed their hand: when the YM Personnel Committee selected Emily Albert, a young woman Friend for a Religious Education staff slot, purge supporters besieged her with abusive phone calls and other behind-the-scenes pressure. They denounced her religious views (staunchly Christian, but not Christian enough for them) and where she went to school (the Quaker Guilford College, where she excelled in Quaker and religious studies).
Obviously, she was totally UN-qualified to work for a Quaker body in the same state where she went to a Quaker school. <Sarcasm alert.>

Just hours before her appointment was to be presented to the Representative body, Albert gave in and backed out. And who could blame her? If she had wanted a war, she would have gone down to Fort Bragg and joined the Army. (That would have been cleaner, plus the Army would have given her an enlistment bonus and a rifle to defend herself with.)

signs-of-a-doormat

The disclosure of these shameful strong-arm maneuvers turned many stomachs. Combined with the months of hounding in committees; the repeated (if repeatedly empty) threats by the purge spokesmen that their meetings were ready to bolt the YM en masse unless they got what they wanted right now, the call from the Fancy Gap survivors seemed at last to take hold.

Since the end of June, there have been at least three statements issued and circulated denouncing the purgers’ behavior.

The first was drafted by Max Carter, the just-retired Director of the Friends Center at Guilford College, and Frank Massey, a pastor from  near Greensboro:

“. .. we are concerned by those instances of what must honestly be called “bullying.” We have watched with growing concern and pain as people we love have been privately and publicly bullied, harassed, and discouraged for honestly held differences of opinion.  This has occurred in congregations, in our representative gatherings, in committee work, in phone calls and e-mails, and in individual conversations.  It has resulted in distress, retreat from work for the Yearly Meeting, and in extreme cases in hospitalization for stress and anxiety.
It must stop. “

spiritual-abuse
“It must stop.” “This behavior is hurtful to some and a hindrance to all, is unbecoming and not consistent with our Quaker Christian expression of love.” “The calls for division and expulsion contradict our understanding of Quaker belief and practice, . . . .” “We stand resolute against any bullying activity and defend those who are subject to said offenses.””

This was followed by an even more forceful letter signed by the Clerk of the Personnel Committee, and the YM Superintendent:

“In doing [its] job, the Personnel Committee is disheartened and disturbed by what appear to be roadblocks to our efforts. If individuals have concerns about a person being suggested for a position within the Yearly Meeting, that concern should come to the attention of the Personnel Committee, not directly to the candidate, not to leaders in our Yearly Meeting not on the Personnel Committee and not in participation [in] a negative campaign against the candidate.
We are concerned about rumors, innuendo, gossip and bullying not only concerning prospective personnel, but among the larger body of Friends in the Yearly Meeting. This behavior is hurtful to some and a hindrance to all, is unbecoming and not consistent with our Quaker Christian expression of love.
We ask that this letter of concern be read in the next meeting of each Yearly Meeting committee or organization, and that we all seek to follow the commandment of loving one another in a Christ-like manner. We pray that Friends cease to participate in rumors, innuendo, gossip and bullying, and take a clear stand against such activity if it occurs in your presence.”

And from Jamestown Meeting, one of the groups that had hitherto been silent, came a particularly plain-spoken declaration:

“We are deeply troubled by the aggressive actions of some Meetings and individuals to excommunicate from the Yearly Meeting those Meetings and members who do not subscribe to their theological perspectives.  We recognize there is diversity of  belief and  practice within the Yearly Meeting but we acknowledge this as a positive which adds to the life and strength of our collective witness as a Yearly Meeting. The calls for division and expulsion contradict our understanding of Quaker belief and practice, including the time-tested Quaker process of  considering changes and reaching decisions.”

Joining the chorus was Spring Meeting:

“Spring Friends Meeting supports the concerns expressed regarding the ongoing bullying within the NCYM.  Our congregation stands by the anti-bullying letter that was written by Max Carter, Frank Massey, and Bill Rogers, as well as, the letter from the NCYM Personnel Committee. We stand resolute against any bullying activity and defend those who are subject to said offenses.”
Doormat-anti

 The August 1 Representative Body session will be the crucible for these forthright anti-Doormat declarations. Can members of these and like-minded Meetings back them up with direct, assertive statements and firm resistance to the purge and plunder plans? 

“Purge & plunder” may offend some, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration. A late June letter from the purge-oriented Holly Spring Meeting called for NCYM to hire (and pay for) a lawyer who would divide up its assets and property with the dissidents. Can they push this idea through?

We’ll take a closer look at this and related ideas in another post.

5 thoughts on “North Carolina YM: Goodbye To Doormat Quakerism?”

  1. There are many Friends within NCYM who feel they have been pushed into this rigid stance by the liberal-left standing Friends. The standards we were taught by our grand-parents and parents have found themselves diluted and even washed away by the ever-aggressive “love everything/anything’s OK/Bible out of school/abortion=personal freedom/gay rights=love thy neighbor/trans gender acceptance, etc”. It seems to us they must believe there are NO ABSOLUTES anymore… The only exception to this might be the liberal’s belief that our more conservative values, which fly in their faces, are an absolute wrong way to live. We believe you, Chuck (and friends) are free to believe and worship however you feel is right for you. Our problem is… we find ourselves in an association with you, and our beliefs are very different in the “core values”. It seems these two sides can’t see themselves functioning together in an effective way. This whole controversy has been a sad thing for all involved. May I say, Chuck… you are certainly talented at word-smithing your stance on this situation. But, may I say… for those of us on this side of the issue, you come off as bullying our meetings/viewpoints with the way you choose to express yourself in your blogs. I know one thing…. there are good people on both sides of this conflict. I am saddened at the point we seem to have found ourselves. May God have mercy on us as individuals and as Friends meetings. Thanks for hearing my thoughts.

    1. Good to hear from you, Tom Allen. I’m not sure about how liberal Friends in NCYM “pushed” others into a rigid stance, tho. A look into the YM’s history will show that there has been diversity on doctrine and practice for a long time. Some of the issues have evolved, but the condition is really not new at all. And if a handful of meetings find the current association too much to bear (rather than just claiming to, which no longer fools anyone), the current Faith & Practice provides for a painless and peaceful exit, with departing meetings keeping their buildings, land & bank accounts. And I’ll give them my blessing, if anyone wants it.

      I’ve been reading and listening (along with many others) to threats (promises?) that the more fundamentalist meetings were ready/about to/on the brink of/any minute now leaving the YM for a year now. But meantime several formal and informal deadlines have passed like Harold Camping’s doomsday predictions. Who among those “promise-makers” is serious, I wonder, about anything but seizing a big chunk of the YM’s funds and sticking Quaker Lake in their back pocket??

      These “we’re leaving” declarations have no credibility with me, and why should they? Hot air and bullying bluster. “Let your Yea Be Yea.”

      If my writing is troublesome, no one is obliged to read it, and I would suggest that part of the difficulty is that it contains chapter and verse about some of the many false and slanderous statements that have been directed at liberal Friends. I personally have been called a minion of the Anti-Christ, and the meeting I attend has been accused more than once of nurturing mass murderer clones of Jim Jones & David Koresh. That is not a rumor; I was there and took notes. (Show me where I have made comparable statements about any named individuals?)

      And I did not invent one word of the letters cited in the present post denouncing the bullying and abusive behavior the YM and many Friends have been subjected to in the past year: the quotes are 100 % accurate and the full text of each is posted as well for checking. If those are difficult to read, the problem is with the reader and the truth. “As they sow so shall they reap.”

      There is an alternative course, hopeless as it might be to mention it: give up this idea of a purge; learn to live and let live, as in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares; bear one another’s burdens; leave the judgment to God.

      You might ponder that; it’s entirely biblical. In the meantime, tho, as these recent letters show, there is pushback to the purge effort, and I hope it succeeds.
      Thanks for writing in.

  2. This awakening among the meetings that Fancy Gap Friends aligned themselves is long overdue. I cannot speak as the clerk of the meeting but I can speak for myself. Our dozing theological kin didn’t stir as we were being abused and when we resigned to get away from being battered by NCYM (FUM) thugs, we never heard a sound from those meetings. There has never been a word of support or encouragement for our meeting since our letter of resignation went to the clerk of NCYM (FUM).

    Fortunately, FGFM was clear about getting out before more damage could be done. As a result we are enjoying abundant peace of mind as we pursue a strong presence in the area around us. We are in the midst of a self-assessment effort this month to look at our growth in 2014 and 2015. We are also looking at our own strengths and growing edges going into the next year. We feel free and unfettered by dysfunction and brutality that plagued us in NCYM (FUM) and are at liberty to follow Christ in the effort to build a peaceable kingdom in the lives we touch.

    1. I understand your feelings, Ken. If I had a real Quaker Doormat, I’d send it to you as a souvenir. But one dissent: I spoke up for you if no one else did; there’s been at least one other voice crying in the wilderness.

  3. Thank you for naming the spade a spade, Chuck. Now you know why for Quakers my intro to conflict resolution course is called “Getting Past Nice”. Silence in the face of cruelty is not nice; it’s complicity.
    . Far too often the fundamentalists and judgemental evanglicalist wings of the Quaker movement have scolded and censured other Friends, forgetting the dictum “Judge not lest you also be judged… Judgement is mine says the Lord.” They are the ones who are not following good Gospel order in dealing with disagreements and giving Christianity a bad reputation.
    . There is a movement among liberal Quakers (related also to doormatism) of “Anything Goes” — whatever you want is Quakerism. Neither that nor the fundamentalists represent the core of Quakerism. I have rarely seen this faction bully, but it is important for us all to dialog, to share our truth and to work out these problems in love, not with verbal swords.

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