The Northwest Gay Expulsion Impasse: Is A Break In Sight?
At its September business meeting, West Hills Friends (WHF) in Portland Oregon considered a statement accepting its expulsion from Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM) for having become a LGBT-welcoming congregation. If approved, the statement would be issued jointly with NWYM.
The decision to expel West Hills was made public by Northwest YM’s elders on July 24, 2015, at the conclusion of the YM’s annual sessions. (More details here.)
However, like a death sentence, pronouncing the expulsion did not
mean it was immediately carried out. West Hills won a “stay of execution” because eight meetings formally appealed the elders’ decision (as was their option; West Hills itself did not, saying that it would need much more time to consider the matter.) The “official” appeals were accompanied by an unofficial letter of protest signed by more than 220, many of them younger Friends. Action on the appeals was left to the Administrative Council of NWYM.
The Council had no specific deadline for a response. Six months later, we reported in January 2016 that the Administrative Council was deadlocked on the appeals, unable to reach any decision — except to “kick the can down the road” until it could agree to either accept or deny them, perhaps at the 2016 NWYM annual sessions in July.
But there was no decision then either. Now, fifteen months later, this proposed “joint statement” appears to be an effort, almost a plea to West Hills to bail out the NWYM authorities by agreeing to the expulsion and walking away.
The Potential Joint Statement:
While any decision has the potential to cause pain, the Yearly Meeting Elders have discerned that some distance between West Hills Friends and the rest of NWYM is necessary for the healthy forward movement of our yearly meeting. *West Hills Friends affirms that the Elders are uniquely qualified to discern the best course of action for NWYM as a whole.* [* Some Friends expressed a leading to remove this sentence. ] West Hills will honor the Yearly Meeting Board of Elders discernment and withdraw from NWYM.
It is hoped that this separation will allow both West Hills and the yearly meeting to move forward. We recognize that, as a yearly meeting, we are not in unity over the statement on human sexuality in the Faith & Practice. We recognize that as a yearly meeting we need to do the hard work of theological reflection as Friends on these issues. West Hills Friends values the dialogue enough to step back from yearly meeting membership in the hope that doing so will foster a more productive yearly meeting discussion.
We understand that this decision is not a rejection of West Hills Friends, but a way of creating space for the yearly meeting and West Hills to move forward in the work God has called them to do. We nurture the hope that a reconnection between West Hills and NWYM might be possible at some time in the future.
No decision on the statement was expected at West Hills’ session in September meeting. Some of the comments, as summarized in West Hills’ Newsletter , included:
.. WHF wants to continue to encourage yearly meeting-level discussions about same-sex relationships. There were different thoughts about if WHF is currently helping this process by being part of the YM, or if WHF has become an obstacle due to being a distraction from this topic.
.. We need to think about the health of WHF’s meeting, not just the NWYM.
.. It takes a lot of energy from [pastor] Mike [Huber] and the WHF Elders and Reps to be in this process; WHF has other matters needing attention.
.. We need to stay in YM and figure out how to better support WHF elders and pastors during this process.
.. It isn’t WHF’s responsibility to fix this; should we let the YM process continue?
.. Leaving would be an act of mercy.
.. If we left, what would that say to the eight churches that appealed the YM Elders’ decision?
They did agree to seek further input from the Portland Area association of eleven meetings.
So today (October 22), as this is written, a session is underway to address this. The session is being held at Hillsboro Friends, a church which filed a vigorously critical appeal of the expulsion. Also, the Portland area group already sent a letter to NWYM that was sharply critical of the basis of “shattering” used to discipline West Hills. (Details on that here.)
It’s tempting to speculate what action might be taken on the proposed statement. Since the Elders’ expulsion decision was issued, the nation and Oregon have had fifteen months to become more accustomed to the non-apocalyptic impact of legalizing same sex marriage. In many places the salience of this controversy has waned considerably.
Whether that is the case in the notoriously secretive upper echelons of Northwest YM is unclear; the floating of this statement suggests that may not be the case. So as this new chapter unfolds, we’ll be ready with updates, as way opens.