Orlando & Friends: A Quaker Prophet Speaks
Fierce controversies over the presence and affirmation of LGBT persons have dogged many Quaker Yearly Meetings in the past decades. In some groups, the debate has been resolved; but in others it continues to rage.
As discussed in an earlier post, the late Willie Frye, a longtime North Carolina Quaker pastor, was the target of intense criticism in the early 1990s by making supportive statements about homosexuals. Charges were made that he was teaching “false doctrine,” and advocating homosexuality. Efforts were made to drive him from the yearly meeting, out of his pastoral career, and to divide the yearly meeting itself.
In 1994, Willie presented a statement on his behalf. Since then it sat obscurely in his papers until a few days ago, when a relative retrieved it, and shared a copy with this blog.
We’ll take up the bulk of the presentation in a future post; it makes gripping reading. But in light of events earlier this week, in Orlando, the following section leaped out as timely, though it is 22 years old. Genuinely prophetic statements have such continuing relevance.
Willie Frye, from a Statement to Ministry and Counsel of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM), delivered on September 30, 1994 [Emphasis has been added]:
The third charge against me is that I am defending and promoting homosexuality. There is a perception that I initiated the present conflict and am keeping it alive. Nothing could be further from the truth . . . .
It is not possible for me to promote homosexuality of course for the simple reason that people do not become homosexual because someone advocates it. My position is simply one that grows out of my commitment to Jesus and his gospel.
At the inauguration of his ministry in Luke 4:18, Jesus described his mission: it was to preach good new to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. At no time did he indicate that his purpose was to condemn.
In fact, John 3:17 says specifically: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved.” Jesus even ridiculed the Pharisee who prayed, “I thank God I am not as other men are.” Not once did he speak words of condemnation to anyone except the Pharisees and when we want to adopt condemnatory statements we come perilously close to the spirit he rebuked in them.
Therefore, although I do not defend homosexuality any more than I would attempt to defend blue eyes, I do defend homosexual people. I defend their right to be who they are; I defend their right to equality under the law; I defend their right to attend Quaker Meetings and to be a part of them; I defend the idea that they, too, are children of God, spiritual persons, deserving the love and care of God and of his children. I believe that statements to condemn them are violent statements and are the first step in depriving them of their rights, of abusing them, of physical violence on their persons.
Many are mistakenly assuming that I hold my position only because my son is gay and that I do it in defense of him. That is not the case. I feel as strongly about this issue as a [John] Woolman about slavery or an Amos [the biblical prophet] about oppression of the poor or as [the prophet] Jeremiah about religious form without obedience.
A friend even said to me, “You should have kept your mouth shut and you would not have had a problem.” But how can an Amos or a Jeremiah or a Woolman stifle the prophetic message? I am not the only one who feels strongly about this. There is a large group here who support my position. They do not have children who are homosexual. They support it because they believe it is right.
People have been terribly upset with me because I have not stated that homosexuality is a sin. Those who know me know, of course, that I have always conducted my own life according to the highest standards of personal morality and ethics and that I do not condone sin any more than Jesus did. I have never condoned promiscuity whether heterosexual or homosexual. In that context, I have to believe that some homosexual acts are indeed sinful just as I believe that some heterosexual acts are sinful. I believe that any act, sexual or otherwise, that exploits, abuses or harms another individual is sinful.
If we define sin as destructive behavior, what could be more destructive than the behavior that has taken place in our Yearly Meeting during the past year? Are not the sins of the spirit more grievous than the sins of the flesh? . . . . I believe that a church that spends its time in condemning will not reach the world with the love of Christ. I believe that the condemnation, judgment, and hatred of homosexuals is itself a sin and that it leads to violence against them, and that the spirit that bashes homosexuals is the same spirit that burned witches in Salem, hanged Quakers in Boston, and burned Jews in Buchenwald.
I believe that it is thoroughly proper for Christians, for Quakers, to discuss issues fully and even heatedly, but it is not proper to attack persons and to engage in character assassination because someone disagrees. Someone remarked that the recent annual sessions of Ministry and Counsel were full of violence and that there is only a thin line between the violent rhetoric we heard at Yearly Meeting and physical violence. Such violence, either physical or verbal, can never be reconciled with Quakerism nor with the gospel of Jesus.”
Watch for a future post which deals with the rest of Willie Frye’s statement, and its applicability to conditions in North Carolina Yearly Meeting, and more broadly, today.