The Shoe Drops (Again) for North Carolina Yearly Meeting-FUM

This past week (so far) a bunch of big shoes have dropped, including:

— a huge war buildup;

— the sharks circling for the kill on health care; while

— even longtime peaceful immigrants living in fear;

— Muslims, even American-born ones, being harassed at the borders;

— clean air & water are gurgling down the tubes;

–  more vote suppression is on the march, and

– I probably forgot several more —

But stop the presses–!!

The really big Quaker news is that the hardline evangelical caucus in North Carolina YM is upset (again) because they aren’t yet guaranteed “sufficient separation” from a handful of liberal meetings they’ve been trying to purge for more than two years. And so they’re pushing for yet another in the unending series of showdowns; it will come this Saturday, March 4, at the NCYM Representative body session.

And who cares about a distraction like fair Quaker process?
A document we recently gained access to shows that the answer is: some important people don’t. (More on that in a few minutes.)

First an admission: Yes, Friend, I for one am getting weary of writing this same story: “Another NCYM crisis showdown! The hardline caucus is demanding this and that (mainly that “liberals” have to go) or else they’ll leave, the sky will fall, satan will rule, yada yada. . . .”

Well, they haven’t succeeded, and some of their meetings have indeed put the walk in their talk and marched out the door; so god bless ’em and thanks.

But like dandelions in the lawn, more just keep popping up. And the NCYM establishment, either in cahoots or cowed, keeps telling the rest of us to knuckle under. Except mostly we haven’t.

It’s pretty much the same old song again for this weekend. The main target is the decision made last August at the 2016 annual session to placate the evangelicals by reorganizing NCYM, adding two distinct associations under a skeletal NCYM umbrella.

This decision was an alternative to a plan to split the YM in two, which was specifically rejected. This no-split decision was reaffirmed at the November Representative body session.

But now, the hard core evangelicals are throwing another tantrum, saying “Nope– not good enough, we demand a do-over.”  And this do-over would completely invert the decision from last summer.

To review, here’s the general idea from last summer. 

Note that the two new “associations” would really have had very little day-to-day connection, other than being “under” (graphically speaking) NCYM. And NCYM would be drastically shrunken, reduced to little more than an investment bank account & a committee of trustees (drawn from the two subgroups), and its only staff a part-time bookkeeper.

The “reorganization plan” from last August, in schematic form.

But it turns out that for some evangelicals, even that slender residual “connection” is too much to bear. One can hear the tired refrains: “Be not unequally yoked . . .”; “what does Christ have to do with Satan or Belial (satan’s nickname),” yada yada antichrist, demons, homosexuals.”  (Wake me when it’s over.)

So, as we reported in late January, a transition committee headed by longtime NCYM pastor Hugh Spaulding put out a letter insisting that the hardcore had reneged. They now said they must have “adequate separation into two groups,” or else they “will continue to splinter,” which would somehow be terrible. And even though Spaulding’s committee was not in unity to give in to this demand, he said we had to anyway. (See what I mean about who gives a fig for a fair Quaker process?)

In response, the Autonomites (the unofficial name for designated liberal meetings–they have not yet picked an “official” name) we posted about them here), called a meeting last Saturday (February 25), in which they were urged by facilitator Mark Farlow to form a solid block of opposition to this plan at the upcoming Representative session this Saturday.

There was general agreement with this idea, but this observer noted something less than a tide of enthusiasm or high dudgeon in the room. Indeed, one suspects that even many Autonomites, after two-plus years of fending off wave after wave of purge attempts, are feeling a good bit of purge fatigue. This sentiment could well have been deepened by the many other shocks they (and the country) have faced since January 20.

But I digress. What’s at stake in this internecine, increasingly obscure dispute?

As far as I can see, it’s mainly two things: first, the remaining shreds of integrity retained by the NCYM establishment. If they’re going to toss out their own decision made in August and reaffirmed in November, in the face of yet another blackmail/extortion ultimatum, then for what it’s worth, their reputation will go down the drain with it.

Otherwise, the main concrete stake is money; but even that won’t really be affected much.

Either way, the “reorganized” NCYM will be turned into a foundation; legally, it will no longer even be a church body. Its role will be to hold the NCYM trust funds of $12 million or thereabouts, and dole out the earnings; it will own such properties as NCYM now has, which are of three types: some real estate, which they plan to sell; some cemeteries to keep up; and the NCYM Camp, Quaker Lake, which they plan to rapidly spin off on its own.

So Quaker Lake will supposedly soon only be technically “owned” by NCYM; in fact, its own board has already been charged to move rapidly toward full autonomy.

BTW — The Quaker Lake board seems eager to be on their own: reports from camp insiders indicate that many Quaker Lake board members very much fear that unless they get out from under NCYM fast, the toxic spirit of creeds and purges which has demolished the Yearly Meeting will spread and infect their small green acreage as well, with similarly dire effects. (And you ask me, they are quite right to be worried.)

Meantime, beginning next fall (that’s the target, at any rate) the NCYM-Foundation will begin handing out trust fund earnings to the two new separated yearly meetings, proportionally to membership. Current estimates are that the evangelicals have about three times as many members on their list as do the Autonomites. So the actual arrangement would resemble this revised, “NEW Umbrellas” chart.

In practical terms, the difference between the two arrangements may not be great: in both, NCYM is equally shrunken; in both, each subgroup will get their checks. But there’s a kicker: if more meetings leave before the reorganization is finalized, like disinherited offspring, they lose their access to the trust fund gravy train.

So this new scheme offers a way for the hardcore to have their cake and eat it too: to gain “adequate separation” from the liberals, without having to leave — yet while keeping copious access to the money.

Suppose they get away with it? Suppose the liberal meetings are fed up and forced out, and the only remaining connection is that their new body sends a few members to the NCYM Foundation trustees? What then?

How long do you think it would be before the hardcore demanded a purge of the foundation board, to get fully rid of the despised liberal remnant – and have all the fund income for their own pet projects?

I try to hold back about predicting the future: but given the pattern of NCYM history for twenty-plus years, it’s a no brainer to see new purges coming; for some of these folks, it’s what “being church” really means.

And as for Quaker process, here’s a revelation to ponder: the January letter insisting on the revived split was from Hugh Spaulding, as we noted in the earlier post. Spaulding had been named Clerk of a committee to consider changes in Quarterly meetings as part of the reorganization. And his letter insisting on the separate-or-splinter was issued, in his own words, in spite of the fact that committee was “not in unity” behind the new two-YM split idea. But so what?

So this: what surfaced a few days ago were the minutes of the “Authority group,” that is, the evangelical caucus from which all this pressure has come. And they show that the clerk-coordinator-organizer of the latest evangelicals putsch is – voila! It’s Hugh Spaulding! (The full text of these minutes is here.)

Talk about putting your thumb on the scale. Talk about loading the dice. Stacking the deck. Conflict of interest; a smoking gun; flagrant, blatant. Using his position purportedly as a servant of the body to completely thwart its formal decision, to shape its destiny on behalf of the faction he is essentially leading.

So what will happen to NCYM this Saturday? Whichever way it goes,  North Carolina Yearly Meeting, FUM branch, that’s been around for more than three hundred and twenty years, looks pretty much done for, and with it will go a once-honorable “Reputation of Friends.”

Already all that’s left is some spoils to squabble over. (This will be almost a textbook example of what has been described in earlier posts as the “Blockbuster Effect,” when a seemingly thriving, major enterprise completely loses touch with its “industry” for internal reasons, and quickly goes out of business.)

(Yet a quietist voice, reading this last passage, whispered gently in my ear: “Ah, but North Carolina has been through this movie before!  In 1903 to be exact, when a similarly-determined pastor-oriented leadership insisted that every local meeting had to have a pastor.

But some traditionalist meetings said ‘No!’ and from that –relatively quiet — split came two groups claiming the Quaker heritage back to NCYM’s beginning.”)

And good grief, their claim is valid! So even if NCYM-FUM essentially disappears, as seems likely, nevertheless “North Carolina Yearly Meeting” will continue to exist, in the smaller branch, called NCYM-Conservative. (They’re still non-pastoral, but not all that “Conservative”: they even have a website.)

Seems they’ve been walking humbly enough, loving mercy and their fellow people enough, that so far they haven’t ended up tearing each other apart, which now looks like no small feat. So they could well turn out to be the last original North Carolina Yearly Meeting left standing.

Could it be they know something that these hardcore evangelicals don’t, and even many of the liberals have forgotten?”

Or possibly, when the dust settles, the Autonomites might take a page from NCYM-Conservative and reorganize themselves with the familiar name.  NCYM could rise from its own ashes yet again – same name, many of the same people, and one can hope with a new affirmation to worship freely, peaceably, and faithfully in the Light, particularly in this year with all these other, truly big shoes dropping all around.

What a concept.



7 thoughts on “The Shoe Drops (Again) for North Carolina Yearly Meeting-FUM”

  1. I was wondering if there were any widows and orphans around for these people to concentrate on. Guess that stuff is all taken care of now. sigh

    1. At their initial meeting, the group firmly rejected “Autonomites” and “The Autonomy Group” as their designation. However, they were unable to agree on any alternative. So for journalistic purposes, it’s either this, or maybe “Ex-Autonomites.” When (if?) there’s a different name agreed upon, watch for updates . . .

  2. NCYM continues to be a tempest in a teapot. It just keeps whistling but no one turns the heat off.

  3. That other NCYM (the Conservative one) is still just fine. Small, deep, and loving. The most recent Journal of NCYMC was entitled “Keeping The Unity Of The Spirit In The Bond Of Peace”, and it goes a long way to describing how Friends can hold one another with love and forbearance, even while they are laboring over differences. You can find the Journal here:

    As a Durham Friend, I particularly recommend the article by Gwen Gosney Erickson, entitled “Faith, Love and Trust: Maintaining Unity in the Face of Evolving Concepts of Marriage and Sexuality”. Just beautiful and poignant.

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