Push & Pushback in the Northwest “Showdown”

Northwest Yearly Meeting is notorious for its institutional culture of secrecy; indeed, I think they could teach the CIA some tricks.

So imagine my surprise when a clandestine collective which can be  called “Quaki-Leaks” passed along some emails hacked from the listserve for NWYM pastors. There were other posts,but these offer an illuminating glimpse of what goes on behind one of the numerous veils that shroud much (too much, in my view) of NWYM’s proceedings.  It is a useful followup to yesterday’s post regarding the ‘Way Forward” ultimatum letter.

The posts dealt with the impending midyear sessions that begin this weekend, and the hot issue of what to do about LGBT-friendly meetings. The samples presented here offer three distinct views of the situation, with some qualifying comments by the NWYM Superintendent. We’ll finish with some brief comments of our own.

First up is a Friend who dislikes the petition, because he hopes to avoid the purge it seeks. We’ll let him explain:

Phil Smith:

As a representative of Newberg Friends, I want to voice my sincere appreciation for the work done at the reps meeting in December. The clerks were right to say that we did not reach agreement. Perhaps we didn’t even make progress toward agreement. But we listened to each other. We expressed respect and love for each other. We affirmed our commitment to Jesus.

I have to face a hard truth: there are Quaker Christians who love Jesus and who disagree with me about gay marriage. Those Christians who disagree with me are God’s people. They are God’s gift to me, to challenge me to think and listen more carefully.

I do not think the arguments for gay marriage are sound. I think those arguments contain two interlocking philosophical errors.

But experience shows that I can be wrong. I probably will not discover that I am wrong unless I am in loving conversation with Christians who disagree with me. If it turns out that I am right, those who approve of gay marriage are not likely to discover they are wrong unless we have loving conversation. So my desire is for the YM to stay together. A painful conversation is better than a church split.

We are, of course, human beings. We are susceptible to sin and error. Maybe we will split. If that happens I pledge to those who affirm gay marriage that I will continue to love you and listen to you. 

Second in line here is Kevin Davis, an Idaho pastor who supports the petition. His posting was rather lengthy, and we’ve trimmed it, as noted by ellipses:

 

Kevin Davis, Pastor, Woodland Friends, Kamiah, Idaho:

It seems that we have done a disservice to our Yearly Meeting Elders who did the task first handed to them, and they did provide a way forward through their original intent to release West Hills Friends. I felt that this decision on part of the Elders:

(A) Upheld Faith & Practice . . .

(B) Was gracious in its tone . . .

(C) Was a reasonable exercise of our Elders . . .

3 – Was their authoritative decision that people within the NWYM rejected

With all that being said. Though things like, “We respect all the hard work our Elders have done around this decision,” were said while rejecting the product of their hard work seems a bit disingenuous to me. Rather, I wonder if Friends ought to uphold and practice in faith the methods and abide by the spiritual authority they at one point in time entrusted in their Elders (and have obviously since rejected). . . .

The Elders made a decision, and the Gathered YM rejected it.

The A&C [Administrative Committee]  failed to make a decision, and fell back on accepting the decision the Elders already made.

The Gathered Yearly Meeting failed to make a decision, and again rejected the Elders’ first decision.

The gathered YM Representatives failed to make a decision, and again rejected the Elders’ first decision.

The A&C are back with this problem under slightly different terms. Call me cynical, but I have an idea as to what will happen.

It seems to me that the only people who have made a decision, regardless of how hard it was to make it, was our Elders, who were tasked with in the first place to make a decision, and they did make a decision. I personally hear the Voice of the Shepherd in their decision, and wonder why we Friends in the Yearly Meeting aren’t able to set aside our feelings and submit to the authority God has entrusted to the Yearly Meeting. . . .

Probably because we’re all sinners, with our own thoughts, and our own tendencies to remove from God what He has told us to do, and instead fall back on our own intelligence, our own sophisticated thoughts, and our own feelings.

Which brings me to this letter that I have signed my name to about the “way forward.”

It was said, and I’m not attacking the person, but I’m commenting on the comment, “This letter is a variant of a previous letter from a group with no official capacity other than their own convictions.” I chewed on this phrase all day. I thought, and i could be wrong, but the heart of NWYM is supposed to be a a group of Christians with no official capacity than our own convictions. The reason I signed this document, is because I feel like, like any denomination, NWYM has lost the Gospel.

Point-in-case, the entire Yearly Meeting is on the edge of their seats looking at what? Looking at what we’re all going to do about homosexuality. Humans are to find their identity in Christ, not in their sexuality. In Christ, we are directed to who we are to be sexually. And Christ lays it out quite clearly to me, but that’s beside the point. And that’s my point, that’s beside the point. The point is Christ, and Him crucified! The point is Christ, period.

So yes, this way forward was produced by a group of people with convictions. Convicted, I dare say, by the Gospel. I know Quakers have a history of social justice. That social justice, if I’m not mistaken, was propelled by a deep conviction of Christ and the Scriptures which directed us to act. Some people, I fear and wonder have said, “Oh, I’m a Quaker, that means I need to do social justice things.” Or still others, not being Christian, have said, “I’m socially active, and I think I’m spiritual, so I’ll shop religions until I find one that fits me. Oh look, Quakers.”

If that is the case, give me Christ and Him crucified, and allow Him to direct my social activity. I come to Christ with all my religiosity, with all my sins, with all my failures, flaws, dogmas, and opinions, and say to Him, “I don’t want to be first a Quaker. I don’t want to be first a social agent of justice. I first want to realize what I am: a sinner bound on the train to hell save the Cross of Christ, save Your righteousness given to me.”

. . . I see this quite vividly, Christ’s Word (on sexuality) is separating chaff from wheat right now. . . .

Christ has declared His stance on sexuality. He affirms the entirety of Scripture, and has called Paul to His service in Acts 4, and Paul has made abundantly clear the Christian ethic of sexuality in Romans 1, 1 Timothy 6, etc. Gospel-centered Christians must abide in the teaching of Christ. . . .

Just as Satan did in the garden, does he not come to sinful saints now to say, “Did Christ really say this about sexuality? Don’t we not know better now in our culture and society today?”

. . . I personally, can no longer in the name of “love,” “grace,” and a general feel-good “unity,” ignore what Christ commands in my life, in this culture, to say, “Oh look, we stick together.” I must obey God rather than man. And Christ redeems sin, He doesn’t condone it. Christ produces change on the willing heart, not compromise on the hard heart.

Quakers have historically emphasized and upheld the priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2). As such, I have signed my name on a document, comprised by convicted priests in our midst and given to our leaders who have agreed to consider it.

This has been a large part, if you’ve read, probably more general thoughts about all of this entire situation, and not just the Way Forward letter.

Perhaps it gives a snap shot of many of the signers of this document. . . .

Kev Davis

Woodland Friends

And last in the line of opinion, here is one who rejects the “Way Forward” document, not because it is too harsh, but because for him it is not nearly harsh enough: meetings put out must pay “a high price.” It’s from Paul Anderson, longtime professor of Biblical and Quaker studies at George Fox University.

 

Dear Friends,

In terms of a way forward, I concur with the importance of expecting our churches to uphold their commitment to Faith and Practice and not to break with it. This is our covenant as members of Northwest Yearly Meeting, and over the years we have maintained unity by waiting together and adhering to our agreements until we are led together in other directions. We have a deliberative process by which to change Faith and Practice, but until we do–and this was clearly stated when we did not adopt a first reading of proposed changes several years ago–we are to find ways to live with what stands until we make a change together, in Spirit-led unity. Again, the current statement does not judge orientation; it upholds standards of behavior.

mI also stated my strong conviction at the Representatives meeting in December that we should NOT make division or leaving the Yearly Meeting easier. Let’s stay together and extend grace to others perceived to hold different views–especially when we might be responding to fear of extremes rather than what are realities in our churches. I think we are far more united than we are divided; let’s celebrate that reality! I believe all of our churches are committed to being welcoming and loving places for all seekers, and I do not believe those advocating pastoral sensitivity to those with same-sex attraction are encouraging licentious behaviors. Our unity, though, is not in appeasing LGBTQ activists, or any other ideological movement; our unity is in Christ Jesus and living under his Lordship. So, let’s extend each other grace, and assume the best with one another, not the worst.

If, however, a church really cannot abide with our Christian witness to the world (which is what our doctrines and testimonies convey), it should perhaps consider withdrawing from the Yearly Meeting. They should, however, leave the building behind, as it was paid for and built by members of that church years ago that did in good faith uphold Faith and Practice. Monthly meetings have absolutely no right to expect current impatience with process should legitimate the Yearly Meetings forfeiting of properties that were purchased and built by previous members who were in good order with our covenants and committed to the convictions of Northwest Yearly Meeting. So, a church leaving Northwest Yearly Meeting could buy the building back–at full price, which is what Faith and Practice stipulates, all things being equal–or they should move to another building and allow the Yearly Meeting to start a new work in that area. Keeping the price high for leaving the Yearly Meeting also ensures that the monthly meeting decision is a factor of conscience and conviction rather than impatience or frustration. There is great wisdom in our Faith and Practice stance on these issues, and unless we change Faith and Practice on those matters, or come to a Yearly Meeting decision to do so, we are bound to uphold the high cost of abandoning our connectional covenants.

So, let’s weather this culture-wars storm together, and not make it easier for churches to leave Northwest Yearly Meeting. Let’s extend one another grace, and not assume the worst. Let’s work with Faith and Practice as it stands, being loving and generous in how we implement its values to which we testify. Most of all, let’s look to Christ to lead us in unity in ways that are biblically based, rationally sound, and experientially adequate.

I appreciate this proposal as a possible way forward, and I like the fact that it calls our churches to support Faith and Practice–an expectation that was clearly stated several years ago–but the cost should remain high instead of being made easier.

Praying for and seeking the Lord’s leading,

Paul Anderson
North Valley Friends Church

Finally here’s a comment and clarification by NWYM Superintendent, Retha McCutcheon, as to the status of the “Way Forward” petition, and its likely fate with the Administrative Council and at the midyear session.

 

The clerks and I spent the last two days in retreat praying and working toward possible ways for the yearly meeting to move forward. The Way Forward document was not given special consideration. It was one paper we had along with many other things we have read, people have suggested and ideas that have come to us over hours and hours of prayer and discernment. As leaders of this yearly meeting, we have carefully and very humbly taken all the information we have and drafted some ideas for the AC to consider at our retreat next weekend. At the end of the December called Reps meeting, direction was given for the AC to do this work prior to Mid Year Boards. It is our prayerful hope that the AC will have recommendations to bring to the Representatives at Mid Year Boards. And yes, Mid Year is the next time this subject will be considered by the yearly meeting. It will be a closed meeting for registered Reps only. The only documents we plan to consider at the AC retreat are those the Clerks will offer the AC. They AC will prayerfully consider, discern, edit and make decisions regarding what will go to the Reps at mid year.

We ask for your prayer and patience as we walk this unprecedented path. As leaders we feel a heavy burden, being conscious that every decision made as we move forward affects individuals and churches in more ways than we can imagine. Our goal is to be respectful and Christ-like in conversations and decision-making.

 

Comments: As McCutcheon indicates, proposals for the Midyear will be “double-filtered” & winnowed: first the AC will in retreat, consider ONLY what the Clerks choose to present to them. Then the AC will take that and further “edit” them and decide which if any will be presented to the Reps. After that much pre-digesting and “decisions,” an outside might wonder why they bother with the Reps at all.

But that’s the NWYM way. So it’s quite possible (and sounds even likely) that the “Way Forward” may hit a dead stop this weekend, and not even come to the floor of the midyear session. If it doesn’t, will that be because the leadership favors the much harder Anderson line, or the “live & work through it” approach of Phil Smith? Or will it write up something of its own to take the place of all others?

And what if, as Kevin Davis hints, the midyear reaches no more of a conclusion about expulsion than has the long list of earlier meetings?

In this case, the ‘Way Forward” ultimatum [“We believe that further delay in taking this necessary action will result in the disintegration of NWYM.”] would seem to become a gauntlet, thrown down not at NWYM but at the authors and their supporters: You did not get your “Way,” Friends.  So is it not time to put up or shut up?

Thanks again to “Quaki-Leaks.” Oh — and about that persistent rumbling in the distance? It seems to be getting closer, and louder.

Maybe somebody should check on it?

10 thoughts on “Push & Pushback in the Northwest “Showdown””

  1. Hmmn: why am I seeing so much put up and shut up language, not only here but in a wide variety of venues? Rumbles of thunder indeed.

  2. Hey- perhaps we could just lay this problem down for a bit, say 100 years and deal with it when it is seasoned.
    BTW. I do love the “humble” stuff—–
    I don’t know how to do the laughing emoji, but oh well…

  3. You state that Phil Smith and Paul Anderson represent opposite opinions on this, while I think they would tell you they’re trying to say the same thing. Anderson attempts to make it difficult for Friends to leave so that everyone will stay and work on the problem together, which is also what Smith wants to do. By making it easy to leave, Anderson suggests, it makes a split less appealing. I don’t say this to defend either of their opinions, but to shed light on their meaning.

    I am sorry that you feel that NWYM is being less than transparent. In my opinion, it is because they do not trust you, because you have in the past used information in ways that caused division rather than shedding light in a way that is insightful. It seems to me that in the last year, NWYM leadership has attempted to be transparent, trying to figure out how to share what needs to be shared with those who need to know it, and making sure no one feels left out. You are not part of us, so you may not receive all the communications. As I have said in regards to your previous posts on NWYM, you come across as belligerent and rude, as divisive and unhelpful. This may be why, other than your “Quaki-leaks” sources, you feel like no one is telling you anything. You might try a different style of communication and receive different results.

    1. Cherice, you have a great future ahead in the Tone Police, with a specialty in disguising ad hominem attacks as something else; but the packaging still needs some work.

  4. Where to begin? How much to try to clarify?

    I’ll just choose Paul Anderson’s comments. The context for his comments is the “easy way out” being suggested by some Friends who don’t want to penalize meetings for acting on their convictions and leaving the YM for the sake of their conscience.

    While it might not be obvious from Friend Anderson’s words quoted in this blog post, when he spoke at our called meeting in December he was clear that he wanted to test exactly how strong these convictions are, how far their conscience compels them. If a congregation REALLY feels moved by conviction, it shouldn’t matter whether or not they get to keep their buildings and property.

    Friend Anderson’s “hard line” and “high price” would apply to ANY meeting that desires to withdraw. In other words, he wants us to stay together, wrestle together, do the hard work of Quaker discernment — TOGETHER. I think his proposal is admirable, and slyly amusing.

    [Full disclosure: Paul Anderson and I have different leadings at the moment on same-sex relationships, but I agree 100% with him when he writes that there is more that unites us than divides us; I hope to be in NWYM with him for the rest of my life, if God wills.]

    1. An interesting analysis, Julie, and I’ll not quibble. I can report, though, that in North Carolina YM, meetings (mostly hardcore evangelical exclusive types) have left, with no financial penalty, except that some few which owed the YM money are still supposed to repay it. That’s just a different policy, and as a NCYM member, I personally think it spared us some additional grief. But to each (YM) their own.

      1. I was glad to hear of grace given in these NCYM financial concerns, and bet* you’re right about how it spared additional grief. Such generosity probably also leaves the door just a bit more ajar for any future reconciliation.

        *[uh oh…. Quakers don’t bet, so PLEASE let’s keep that comment just between us lest I get in more trouble than I already am!]

  5. “You did not get your ‘Way,’ Friends.” – You seem to suggest that this is a matter of self-seeking, and not God-abiding.

    If it was merely a matter of self-seeking, I am sure this discussion would’ve been done a long time ago, even utilizing the usual Quaker-speed of 1 decision per five years.

    This decision for both sides is a matter of interpreting Scripture, understanding what true discernment from God is, and being true to what we hear from God, not from activists, political commentators and the like.

    But by all means , if it would be better to quickly cause emotional harm for entire pockets of people, whether they be the LGBT community “if things don’t go their way,” or the more conservative community “if things don’t go their way,” (again, assuming this was a self-centered issue) I suppose we can forego the gracious process our leaders are trying to take in an issue that many denominations have faced and always seem to face the wrong way when left up to the critics.

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