Northwest Update: The Expulsion Plot Thickens

Northwest Update: The Expulsion Plot Thickens

Three brief items for those following the fallout from the decision by Northwest YM to West Hills Friends in Portland for becoming a  welcoming place for LGBT persons.

west-hills-graphic
A graphic from the West Hills website.

First,  I’m advised that the question has been set for the called NWYM representative meeting on December 9-10. It comes at the  end of this excerpt from a “tentative agenda” that came to hand:

“3)Threshing Session – (Clerk is not looking for a decision to be made during this time,)

• What might be the outcomes of an overturning of the elders’ decision?
• What might be the outcomes if the elders’ decision stands?
• What might be the outcomes of not coming to a decision?

4) Reps enter into a time of discernment around the following question:
With the hope of keeping as much of our YM together as possible, what is best for the YM?” [Emphasis added.]

A couple quick thoughts: it’s hard to see a useful outcome of the threshing session.  The topic is all about the future, which means responses will all be hypothetical, and beyond  practical evaluation. Suppose the query was: what will tomorrow’s weather be? Possible answers:

Friend A: I believe it will rain.

Friend B:  I’m certain it will snow.

Friend C:  The Lord has shown me it will be windy and clear.

And the point is? This is all speculation; if it has any value, it is to elicit the speakers’ attitudes and expectations about the future. The actual answer will be clear enough — tomorrow.  

When it comes to West Hills, the main positions are pretty well laid out:

— If the expulsion is overturned (West Hills can stay), then some are clear NWYM is headed for hell in a handbasket, and they may head for the door.

— If West Hills is indeed forced out, then some others are sure the YM will be barreling toward Hades in a Prius, and they may look for an exit.

— If there’s no decision?

(This last is the only possibility that’s much interesting to me. That’s because there have been numerous times in Quaker history when yearly meetings have been in conflict, and decided to stay together and live/work them through. Taking such a path in NWYM might also provoke some attrition, but would be both novel and for many, uplifting — even Christian.)

As for the key question, there are different ways of understanding “what’s  best,” and one can hear the dug-in versions now: “It’s best to do what’s right (i. e.,  what I want).  Or, “It’s best to do what the Bible teaches (i. e.,  what I want). 

There’s also a cold-blooded institution-centered response: “If we expel West Hills, NWYM will lose X meetings with Y members, and which contribute Z-thousand dollars to NWYM. Or if we let West Hills stay, we’ll lose A meetings with B members, which contribute C-thousand dollars to NWYM. 

So, do the math: if Y + Z > B + C, then the answer is clear. (Or vice versa.)

Does this sound cynical? Well, just such hard-nosed calculating was done in careful detail in the recent struggles within North Carolina Yearly Meeting. (And it may not be finished.)

One other note: if the session actually sticks close to honest Quaker practice, the prospects for a definite Yes-or-No outcome seem dim. After all,  this special session was set by the annual session last July, because it could not agree on what to do about West Hills. And the matter was brought before that annual session because the NCYM authorities had been deadlocked over it for almost a year. 

From here, this long-running stalemate looks to be representative of the “sense” of the yearly meeting. Is opinion in NWYM any less divided now? (Or, will it rain  tomorrow?) We have some recent data in the fate of the proposed “joint statement” in which West Hills would have agreed to leave.  (This is item two in our list of three.) The proposal was labored over twice by West Hills, then taken to a Portland  Area quarterly meeting for further input.

The outcome? “Some really good discussions,” one participant says. Right. I’ll take that to mean no unity or “consensus”; what else is new? And it sounds like the joint statement proposal is rapidly fading into the mist along the Columbia River. 

And just to keep things lively in the runup to the December session comes item Number 3: a few days ago another NWYM Meeting, Camas Friends, on the Washington side of the big river, “came out” as a LGBT welcoming community. Here are some excerpts from its October 16, 2016 minute. (The full text is here.)

camas-friends-washington-copy
Camas Friends

Camas Friends Church seeks to be a welcoming and inclusive community that encourages people to better love God, love others, and love ourselves. . . . We strive to be a safe space where people of diverse perspectives and values can worship and minister together in unity and in the Quaker tradition. . . . We advocate for healthy relationships and will support them, whether between people of the same or opposite genders. Membership in our meeting is open to all people who want to join us in our Christ-centered Quaker journey and practice of group discernment.

While human sexuality is a particularly weighty topic of conversation in our religious context, we do not see our desire to equally value straight and LGBTQ identity as something that should define our meeting. It is simply one expression of what is most important to us and the culmination of our worshipful discernment process. . . .

Camas now joins West Hills in the category of meetings which have thereby committed what Northwest’s Faith & Practice calls a “shattering” infraction of its discipline. (More on this term and its fuzzy background is here.)

How does this declaration from Camas affect the plans for the December representative meeting?  (Or, will it snow tomorrow?) 

Your guess is as good as mine.

6 thoughts on “Northwest Update: The Expulsion Plot Thickens”

    1. Disturbing, maybe, but not new. Divergence and conflict have been frequent in the branches of Friends in the USA, and elsewhere.

        1. Hi Susan; yes, you understand correctly about a YM expelling an LGBT inclusive meeting. But I’m afraid you’re woefully uninformed in assuming all meetings are “inclusive.”
          In fact, Quakerism was an intentionally exclusive & exclusionary religious group for at least 200 years of its history. The bases for exclusion were many, and expulsions were plentiful, both of individuals and whole meetings. That has changed considerably in some branches since the late 1800s, but less in others, and struggles are ongoing in some.
          This blog and an associated journal, “Quaker Theology” ( http://www.quakertheology.org ) have been reporting on recent struggles for some years. I suggest your assumptions be re-examined in light of the actual history of Friends, ancient and recent. Two books that are relevant are “The Transformation of American Quakerism,” by Thomas Hamm, and “Remaking Friends,” by myself. Plus, you can browse this blog under the tag “Hard-core Quaker,” and find many earlier blog posts to begin filling in the background.

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