Not Acting Their Age In Wichita — YAF Conference 2010

So.  The registration info for the 2010 Young adult Friends (YAF) Conference in Wichita is now online.  As a preliminary, there’s a two-page statements of “expectations” and rules. The complete text is below. But some particular items deserve special attention, and I wonder what others think of them.

I won’t be shy about my reactions. Some sections are no big problem, e.g.:

<< Our minds and hearts will be entirely open to God’s work . . .>>
Okay; a boilerplate bromide, but sure, whatever.

<< We will show love and support in ways that are comfortable to those around us. >>
Of course. Live & let live; do unto others . . . .

But a lot of the rest of it is problematic. Very problematic.

If this were a group of minors, high-schoolers, sure. In such situations, and I’ve been there often, you definitely need specific rules, with enforcement; you have to steer clear of the liability hazards. And those responsible need to keep the lid on. Got it.

But these folks are all allegedly “adults,” as old as 35. And while the statement says << these guidelines don’t come from a place of legalism >> I’m sorry: a dress code (!?) that specifically forbids speedos sounds legalistic to me. It’s also hardly “balanced,” when it makes no mention of crosses, or WWJD tees.

christ-no wine

And what is this? << We will not let sexuality disrupt, distract or divide us. >>

Oh, yeah? I am reliably informed that at the 2008 conference this meant that all discussion of LGBTQ issues was “off the table,” period. Well, that’s sure distracting to me, not to mention divisive. I mean oppressive. And legalistic as hell (Oops, my bad: << We will use respectful language, avoiding profanity. )>>
Fager: FAIL. (Do I get three strikes?)

Jesus-WTF

And for the next one, the italics are in the original:
<< We will abstain from sexual activity, including within committed relationships. >>

In public, sure. Even us liberal Quakes are pretty hard-core about that.

But behind closed doors, between committed adult partners?

Forgive me, but what is up with that?

And just how is this ban to be monitored and enforced? I gather that last time, the committed couples were broken up for the nonce. However the monitoring is to be done this time, they’re not kidding, because the statement makes clear that << If you are unable to function within the specific guidelines in italics below, you will be asked to leave the conference . . . >>

Jesus-No-Sex

Boundaries are one thing; we all deal with those. But a no-sex-and-no-speedos list for adults — disclaimers aside, that is way over the legalistic top for me.

And there’s more: << We will speak to each other in a way that glorifies God. >>

Am I the only one that sees the unacknowledged theological bias and baggage bulging from practically every syllable of this?

Ditto for << We will remember that our actions . . . reflect on us as young people, as Friends, and as members of the Body of Christ.>>

Hmmmm. That sentence jangles when I look back to read that << Our goal is that this conference will be a welcoming place for all Friends. >> (Bold in the original.)

I’ll skip the wisecracks about those who can’t live without their tank tops (thee knows who thee are.) But what of the Friends who don’t consider themselves part of “the body of Christ”? And what about those who are dubious or definitely apart from the “God” part?

How welcome are they supposed to feel? Or where do the theists fit in who are not sure whether they can “glorify” a God that has the checkered past of the One who messed with Job, allowed the Holocaust(s), and so many other seeming missteps?

Frankly, it seems obvious to me that large swathes of important discourse among Friends today, and significant segments of the Quaker constituency, are definitely and deliberately being LEFT OUT — no, forced out, made invisible, and suppressed by this model. (Do I have to smile when I say that?)

Yeah, overall the whole thing leaves me feeling a little queasy, and grateful that I’m too old to qualify for the event.

Instead, I think I’ll just stay home, and wrestle with God some (I’m especially miffed about that Haiti and Chile business if you really wanna know, and I may use more than a little profanity when we get to the part about the dead babies in the rubble). Then I’ll chat openly and affirmatively with my non-Christian and non-theist Friends; God doesn’t mind them, so why should I?

I’m also keen to talk about how US Christians, evangelicals especially, can help to bust up the plans for a kill-the-gays law in Uganda — but of course, in a non-distracting, non-disruptive, and non-divisive way. Well; that should be easy enough, right?. Somewhere along the line I might have some committed sex (okay, okay, in private); and since in late May it should be plenty warm, maybe I’ll even bare my chest a bit to chill out.

Perhaps I’ll also sit a spell on the porch, in this state of deshabille, and re-read Chapter One of my book, “Without Apology,” which describes another cross-branch Quaker conference in Wichita, in 1977, when many of us struggled to open things up, especially for those Friends who were non-heterosexual, and those who questioned conventional Christianity. Then, as I said, we labored to open things up; what I see here looks more like agreeing to close things down.

I wish I could say reading and reflecting on these “community expectations” for adult Friends in 2010 made me proud of those who put them together; but I can’t. To speak plainly, they appall me.

How bad is it? This bad: it makes me want to go buy a speedo.

bare-midriff-jesus

Here’s the whole text, FYI:

2010 Young Adult Friends Gathering in Wichita
Bearing Witness to the Word Among Us: Witness, Testimony, and Transformation
Expectations for Community

As Friends we come from a tradition that has long emphasized that our entire lives are changed by our encounter with God. We now have different expectations as to what the out-ward signs of a changed life are, and this reality becomes evident when we are suddenly living together in close proximity with strangers from other branches of Friends. How can we create a safer space where young adult Friends can focus on worshipping the living God and learning from each other? How do we remove distractions to this experience? Our goal is that this conference will be a welcoming place for all Friends.

We’ll need clear boundaries, self-discipline, and accountability to each other. At the 2008 Young Adult Friends Conference in Richmond, Indiana, Friends followed a brief list of guidelines which are the basis for what we expect of each other at this gathering. We want to be sure that Friends understand that these guidelines don’t come from a place of legalism, but are meant to build a healthy community at the conference. The underlying goal of each guideline is shown below to clarify this.

Some young adult Friends may find these unusually restrictive, while others will wonder why we even have to spell them out. All of us will probably be taken a little out of our comfort zones during the conference, but that’s also part of building an inclusive and respectful gathering.

All of these commitments are in harmony with Friends’ traditional understanding of holy living and respect for others. Remember that there will be a Pastoral Care Team available for you to talk to about any concerns you have.

We do have to hold each other accountable. If you are unable to function within the specific guidelines in italics below, you will be asked to leave the conference at your own expense.
See next page for expectations for community>

Expectations for Community:
Our minds and hearts will be entirely open to God’s work within us.
We will abstain from alcohol and other intoxicants, wherever we are, for the duration of our time together.
We will not let sexuality disrupt, distract or divide us.
We will abstain from sexual activity, including within committed relationships.
We will dress modestly. This means not wearing tank tops, sleeveless or low cut dresses or tops, midriffs showing, skirts or shorts above mid thigh, bikinis, speedos, or bare chests.
We will speak to each other in a way that glorifies God.
We will use respectful language, avoiding profanity.
We will show love and support in ways that are comfortable to those around us.
We will avoid showing physical affection without asking. Every person has different levels of com- fort about touch.
We will be grateful and respectful of our hosts.
We will abide by the guidelines of Friends University.
We will remember that our actions towards Friends University, University Friends Meeting, and the people of Wichita reflect on us as young people, as Friends, and as members of the Body of Christ.

11 thoughts on “Not Acting Their Age In Wichita — YAF Conference 2010”

  1. I’m not part of the planning and don’t know the backstory, but really Chuck, how can foregoing speedos for four days be a hardship?

    Different cultures have different things that get under their craw. To avoid them for a few days in order to have a cross-Quaker conversation that wouldn’t happen otherwise seems like a small concession. Is getting upset about dress silly? Maybe. But so is boycotting events because one can’t be gracious enough to respect the foibles of those who also want to attend. The FGC kids will get plenty of chances to push the boundaries of nakedness and public sexuality a few weeks later at Gathering.

    I assume the no-sex guideline is partly a way to dodge the same-sex question for four days. This is simply a compromise to get everyone to the table. I’m also over the age line, but I’d be willing to do that for a few days for a chance at a conference like this (said as straight white male w/all the civil & religious privileges of married status).

    I went to Great Plains Yearly Meeting a few years ago (they’re a co-sponsor of this) and was touched by how they found ways to compromise around the serious issues which divided them. It would have been easy for any one of them to don their righteous mantle, demand purity and leave–some meetings and individuals apparently did. But there was a core than genuinely wanted to come together into this yearly meeting community. Some of the compromises were incredibly silly. They didn’t really make logical sense. No one was entirely happy. But by insisting on some things and conceding on others they were able to show they were able to work together. I saw love in that room–real love, that kind of noble christian love that’s always talked about but too rarely in evidence.

    ps: I think I can speak for Friends across the theological spectrum when I say I hope you don’t post any pictures of you wearing speedos at Bowling Green this year. But then maybe you could have a fundraiser: FGC Friends have to donate a set amount of dollars or you will spend the week walking around campus in a tank top, speedos and flip-flops.

    Chuckfager replies: Yeah, there’s always compromises to be made. But there are also barriers and lines. I’ve walked out of some gatherings rather than continue giving passive-approval-by-presence of stuff that was just too much, while hundreds of others lapped it up. And like the Good Book says, (Ecclesiastes 3:5), there’s a “time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together.” The YAFs have made their call about it, and it’s their event. Still makes me queasy; looks more like a time to cast away those stones.

    As for the rest — I thought wearing a speedo was usually done in the singular? And if I thought anybody at Bowling Green would give a hoot, or a buck, I’d go for the speedo/flip-flops/tank top getup in a minute, to raise money for Haitian relief and antiwar work. (Actually, for the sake of truth, I believe I have traipsed around a few gatherings in flip-flops; hasn’t earned a dime for any cause yet . . . .)

  2. I personally am encouraged by the information found on the gathering’s website. Although I am unable to attend (due to being in another country), personally I feel those guidelines allow the purpose of the conference to be given focus!

    I remember WGYF had some similar type of guidelines and I thought they were great for creating healthy community.

    Again, just my insights, from the viewpoint of a YAF who wishes she could be at this conference!

  3. Chuck,

    I very much sympathise with your stance on this. It does sound as though there is a bias in evidence which goes against the ethos of liberal Friends. I see it as an all too typical and depressing trend, as Friends of a particular theological viewpoint seek to impose that on the rest of us, and to exclude those who hold a differing one. There seems little respect for diversity, or for the primacy of experience over dogma.

    The “guidelines” seem unnecessarily presumptive, proscriptive and doctrinaire, and are not reflective of the practice of Friends gatherings, in my own experience. Reading them, if they did not contain the word Friends, then it would be hard to recognise them as referring to a Friend’s gathering, and not to a conservative, evangelical denomination. It causes me some concern, even distress, to see American Friends going down this road.

  4. I’d like to hope the planners of YAF gatherings don’t intend to discourage married Friends and those with children from attending. Only a handful of married couples went to the WGYF. The ones I know said they felt excluded by the lack of housing as couples and other recognition of spouse and parenting relationships, but they thought this was mostly unintentional. Not all YAF events have this problem. When we helped start the Western Young Friends New Years Gatherings about 33 years ago, there were couples and parents of little kids involved in the planning. The organizers have always been mostly YAFs, but parents with children, teens [with adult sponsors] and OAFs are welcome to attend and share in the responsibilities.

    Also some descriptive language in the current conference invitation sounds to me more exclusively Christian than inclusive of diverse theologies. Again this may not be the intention of the planners, but a side effect of trying to reach out to more evangelical and Christocentric Friends. I have found the teens and young adults I have worked with recently through my YM and FGC to be generally accepting of, and sometimes quite interested in knowing more about, Friends who are culturally or theologically non-Christian.

  5. BTW — Sandy and I were YAFs [but almost 35 with a toddler] at the Conference of Friends in the Americas in Wichita in 1977. As teen program coordinators, we served on the Conference Committee. It was an interesting introduction to how Quaker process worked under stress. We remember reporters waiting outside committee meetings hoping for something exciting to have happened. Donald Moon was an outstanding clerk, though I expect many other experienced Friends would have risen to the occasion equally well if called.

  6. I gave a pretty lengthy reply to an email my pops, the above mentioned blog author, sent me about these YAF conferences. Or, AYF as we FGC folk call ourselves. My main point was asking exactly why we (liberal Friends) keep attending these conferences. I, personally, don’t see anything being accomplished other than alienation and a whole lot of compromises, both of which seem to be on our (again, liberal Friends) side of the group. Having attended two YouthQuakes, and enjoying both of them as a sort of cultural vacation, I can tell you that my side were the ones rising to the religious/spiritual challenges. Not the other way around.

    If AYFers, and any other branch of us FGC Quakes keep finding a valuable reason to attend these conferences, I suggest we grow a pair (spiritually, of course) and Quaker-Up! How about WE start setting some guidelines, huh? I say we stop rolling over and demand that sexuality issues be discussed openly. And if they have a problem with that, well, sucks for them. Doesn’t it? And what about non-theism? Or… some third hot-button issue. Lord knows we FGC Quakes can’t STOP talking about these things. Why do we have to be quiet when in the presence of outsiders? I never said a word when all the hell talk got brought up in front of me. I say it’s time for a little bit of the old vice-a-versa.

    “Quaker-Up!” It’ll catch on, just you wait.

  7. I went to the last one of these in Indiana at Earlham and to be honest, I don’t think I could go again. So much legalism and blah blah blah. I felt like I had to put everything about my FGC-quakerism in the closet for the sake of Christian Friends. How weak is your faith if a guy in a skirt is going to cause you a crisis? I was also told that If I had dressed how I wanted to dress they prob would have rejected me. So yeah… it’s a freaking joke. Granted I met SOME nice people there, but I also was witness to some people who have a selective focus on dress that drowns out their focus on God. I never felt more proud to be and FGC quaker as I was there.

  8. Thanks Chuck, what little of my mind left–you got.
    It is being made abundantly clear in this who is on the in crowd, and on the out( I’ll always be on the out, as if I had a choice), profoundly unquakerly. I will tell you on thing for sure as an old fag who has always stayed out with the kids, this document was not produced by any quaker kids I have ever even heard of, so, what freaked out old fool wrote the thing. Martin?
    Please before you are offended by any of this please remember, I know in detail who has tried to oppress me and exploit me. One does pay attention.
    I just wish I could afford to get there and well, subvert the paradigm of the somebody who is standing in the shadows of all this garbage.
    Love Ben

  9. Chuck,
    As always I appreciate your candor and the deep concern you have for Quakerism, but I do think there may have been a better vehicle for expressing your concerns about the YAF Gathering. I think your approach is pretty typical of the way our generation has tried to deal with conflict and differences which has been unhealthy for the Society of Friends and for us as individuals. We really never learned to talk to one another about our differences, only to talk at one another, or worse to anyone else who would listen. What if, in this case for example rather than blogging about your concerns about the Conference, you had contacted the Planning Committee directly and shared with them your concerns about some of the policy? Maybe it might have caused them to re-think some things, or maybe understanding where they are coming from (without jumping to conclusions) might have helped you see things in a different light.
    You know I don’t care what people wear, it doesn’t make any difference to me, but obviously it does to somebody somewhere and the planning committee was trying to be respectful of that. And if that’s a big enough deal to keep people away, then their hearts and minds may not be in the right spirit and place to be there.
    At our Yearly Meeting a couple of years ago one of the speakers told a story about a possum walking around in circles and then explained that he was following his inner light. I found that offensive. It’s ok to be clear about what you believe, but not in a way that’s demeaning or disrespectful of others. As a Christocentric Quaker, I have the same reaction to some of the things you’ve done here. But I would have had the same reaction if the pictures had been of Mohammed or the Buddha, it would still be treating someone’s heartfelt beliefs with disrespect.
    But beyond all that, look at what’s been happening here. People are coming together from across all branches of Quakerism and getting to know one another and even if they can’t agree on everything, they are learning how to treat one another with love and respect. something our generation was either unwilling or unable to do. And they won’t get it all right, but at least they have the courage and the concern to make the effort. And yes it will mean some compromise, some give and take, and a willingness on everyone’s part to come out of their corner with their gloves off and move streadliy towards the center. Maybe we all need to follow their example.
    Tony Lowe

  10. Yay Chuck! I especially love the “cartoons” – one picture being worth a thousand words….one may note especially how the male body has been continuously privileged in Judaeo-Christianity (you don’t see Mary hanging around with her breasts exposed, now, do you?), and no, a weekend in Wichita with guys keeping their shirts on, &/or refraining from private, consensual sex, is not going to change this, any more than a weekend of publicly bare-breasted women, with or without suckling infants, would do much more than get those women arrested…with all due respect to the makers of the Wichita/Richmond/wherever rules, I have to be glad, with Chuck & others, that I’m too old to have been invited to this gathering; but I’ll continue to hope and pray that additional inter-Quaker events will be more welcoming to young Friends who are struggling with linked questions of sexuality, self-expression, and faithfulness to their particular leadings.

    Patricia– Thanks for the props about the “cartoons”; you’re right, they can put a message concisely and vividly. You’re also absolutely correct about the privileging of the male body in J-C religion. Tho I think I’ve seen a few medieval or Renaissance paintings of Mary with a breast visible as she nurses (or is about to) the baby Jesus. (Is it PC to admit that??)

    Anyway, I’m still hoping the Wichita YAF planners will think again about their list of rules; inter-branch gatherings among Friends are basically a good idea, if sometimes tricky to bring off. And as far as their agenda goes, I was hoping they could talk about something like cross-branch cooperation in efforts to oppose the proposed kill-the-gays laws in Uganda. That’s a live topic, and one where some of the wiser US evangelical leaders have been speaking up against the proposals, even while maintaining their disapproval of homosexuality as a sin. I’ll settle for that; and seems to me it would build some cross-branch confidence if they could collaborate about that, each group in its own way, but with some coordination.

    Then there’s the generally non-sexual issue of, you know, war and militarism and stuff. It’s one of my pet peeves, as you may remember. The YAF publicity I’ve seen has had a lot to say about doughnuts and volleyball and not fasting from food; but if there was any mention of talking about keeping up the Quaker concern about ending war, I guess I’ve missed it so far . . . .

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