“We Expelled Nobody!” Says Carolina Executive Committee. Really?

“We Expelled Nobody!” Says Carolina Executive Committee. Really?

First, a CORRECTION: in my post yesterday on the expulsion of three North Carolina Quaker meetings, I stated that, regarding the charge that one of the meetings was removed because it had joined another yearly meeting, and such dual affiliation was not permitted:
 
“[T]here was (and still is) no provision in the NCYM Faith & Practice forbidding such a dual affiliation. (However, the Representative body has since adopted a minute opposing such dual affiliation; but its status is uncertain, as is whether it can be applied retroactively; and no such change in Faith & Practice has yet been presented.)”

But in fact the Representative Body did NOT adopt any such minute. One was proposed, but it was NOT agreed to. I regret the error.

Now to an update on yesterday’s report about the expulsion of three local meetings from North Carolina yearly Meeting (FUM; NCYM for short), by the NCYM Executive Committee.

Split-churchReaders will know that I spent much of yesterday chasing further facts about this jolting report.

 Finally, by Saturday evening I was able to talk with Wallace Sills, the Clerk and a member of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting (NCYM), and Tom Terrell, a Quaker attorney who consulted with them. Just as significant, I was able to obtain some of the key documents associated with their action. (Not all; I’m still seeking more.)

Of these, the most important for the record is the formal statement of the committee’s action. This “resolution” was hand-delivered to officers of all the three meetings, and then a second copy was sent by certified mail, with return receipts. Here it is, in full:

Resolution of the Executive Committee of the 
North Carolina Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society Of Friends 

The North Carolina Yearly Meeting Executive Committee, in recognition that Poplar Ridge Friends Meeting and Holly Spring Friends Meeting have formed a new Yearly Meeting, to which they have pledged their membership, their finances & their allegiance, hereby resolves that these two meetings shall be released from membership in the North Carolina Yearly Meeting, and that their membership shall be transferred to their new Yearly Meeting.

In further recognition that New Garden Friends Meeting has joined another Yearly Meeting, the Executive Committee hereby resolves that New Garden Friends Meeting shall be released from membership in the North Carolina Yearly Meeting and that its membership shall be transferred to its new Yearly Meeting.

This action is effective as of this date, but may be appealed to and is subordinate to the North Carolina Yearly Meeting at its next annual session.

This, the 20th day of Aug 2015.

Wallace L. Sills, Clerk, Executive Committee 

And both Sills and Terrell insisted that this action was not expulsion. Rather, they said it constituted an acknowledgment by the committee that all three of the meetings had joined a different yearly meeting, and thus had ceased to be members of NCYM.

“We threw out nobody,” Sills declared.

In the case of Holly Spring and Poplar Ridge Meetings, two strongly evangelical churches, according to Sills and Terrell the other yearly meeting they have joined is one they are organizing, which is as yet unnamed.

Of course, there has been talk for at least a year about some meetings wishing to leave NCYM and form a more congenial association; we have reported on that for months. But previously it had mostly been talk and bluster.

The key piece of evidence that this talk had turned to action came to the committee in minutes from Holly Spring, which stated that it and Poplar Ridge had allocated funds to hire a Friends minister, Daniel Thames, as staff for the nascent body, to help get it off the ground and recruit other meetings to join. Moreover, these two had been meeting frequently with Friends from other meetings as part of the organizing effort.

The exchange of money, the hiring of staff, for Terrell and the Executive Committee, made the rival effort real. As Terrell put it in a memorandum he prepared for the committee:

“The formation of a new yearly meeting while still a member of this yearly meeting has a context.  . . . The context I just referred to is broader than historic discussions over core beliefs.  No other meeting is home to as many NC Yearly Meeting employees or recent employees as Poplar Ridge, and both of these meetings are prominently represented on numerous NC Yearly Meeting committees, including the Nominating Committee, Church Extension Committee, Christian Education, and Quaker Lake Board, just to name a few.

It is not an insignificant matter that these two meetings are actively engaging in decisions over the manner in which the NC Yearly Meeting is organized, how it spends its funds, and what its missions and future will be while simultaneously establishing another yearly meeting that will compete with the NC Yearly Meeting in many ways.  

Service on NC Yearly Meeting committees is a fiduciary duty, and the essential quality of a fiduciary is that he or she fully serves, without compromise, the interests of the beneficiary.  This conflict is most pronounced in the month of September when Friends gather for their annual session and when planning and budgeting for the coming year commences in earnest.

This is not a situation that the NC Yearly Meeting has created, but it is a situation that the NC Yearly Meeting cannot ignore.  Indeed, the timing and severity of this conflict require a response devoid of lengthy discussion and handwringing.  

It is vitally important to this analysis that the direct or indirect creation of a conflict of interest does not imply inappropriate or untoward motives, and I emphasize that this conflict is just a fact resulting from at least two meetings having competing interests with the larger group. To anyone who would attempt to use this situation as an excuse to point an accusatory finger at either Poplar Ridge or Holly Spring, I respectfully ask that you please refrain.

It is important, though, to acknowledge that this conflict arises at a time when Poplar Ridge and Holly Spring have been highly critical of the NC Yearly Meeting generally and several meetings specifically, to the point that they are actively and financially establishing a competing yearly meeting.  While it is fully their right to do so, it is imperative that they not do so while their members serve in positions where they can control or influence the existence of the yearly meeting they are leaving.”

Thus, the Executive Committee argued, it had done no more than formally recognize a change that is real and which emerged from the initiative of the two meetings involved, not by their ejection at the behest of NCYM. The committee merely named this fact, and took steps to protect the NCYM structure from its consequences.

There seems little doubt but that a new association (whether or not it is called a “yearly meeting”) is in the offing. Chances seem good that some other meetings may follow Holly Spring and Poplar Ridge. The debate over the Executive Committee’s action may come down to quibbles about timing; whether the committee should have waited til the meetings formally announced their departure, versus the hazard of the many conflicts of interest described by Terrell. We’ll soon see how that unfolds.

New Garden Friends Meeting is a different matter. Whereas Holly Spring and Poplar Ridge have been trying to split or purge NCYM and, not having succeeded at it, are preparing an exodus, New Garden has often and publicly avowed its attachment to NCYM, and its desire to help learn to live with its diversity. So what’s the beef here?

The key for the committee is that last March New Garden added to its NCYM affiliation, membership in the new Piedmont Yearly Meeting. As Terrell’s memo put it, 

“It is also important to acknowledge that at least two other meetings in the NC Yearly Meeting – New Garden and Spring – have some form of membership or informal affiliation or communicative ties to an already established yearly meeting.  Even though these ties may not constitute membership per se and their participation may not rise to a level of competition with NC Yearly Meeting, it would only be fair to inquire about those affiliations.  However, acknowledging that the conflict issue is possibly broader than the conflict recently presented by Poplar Ridge and Holly Spring does not suggest or require that we must delay action regarding these two meetings in order to form a global response.  Prudence may require that the NC Yearly Meeting handle these issues sequentially rather than concurrently so that distinctions in fact and degree need not be parsed and debated, leading to prolonged inaction.”

Spring Meeting was crossed off the list, for now, because it had not joined the new yearly meeting. But New Garden? As the discussion continued, both Terrell and Sills report that the positive attitude toward  NCYM expressed by New Garden was not seen as a significant difference. It too had joined another yearly meeting, and there was evidence that it had made a financial contribution to it; tho the new YM has no staff. So this affiliation was likewise deemed a departure. 

Terrell’s memo called for an end to delay:

“Based upon (1) the foregoing description of a situation comprised of facts that are publicly described by Poplar Ridge and Holly Spring themselves in various communications and monthly meeting minutes, and (2) the severity of the conflict of interest it creates as to these two meetings in particular, I recommend that the NC Yearly Meeting Executive Committee act decisively and without delay, acknowledging that Poplar Ridge and Holly Spring have already proclaimed their decision to leave the NC Yearly Meeting and that they are herby released from their membership in the NC Yearly Meeting so that they may complete the formation of the yearly meeting they have already started and funded. We should do this in full respect of their decision.  Because their conflict occurs at a time when the NC Yearly Meeting’s future is being decided, they have neither purpose nor rightful claim to participate in the decision of the yearly meeting they are leaving. I therefore recommend that their release is effective immediately, and posit that there is no reasonable alternative. 

I further recommend that a diligent inquiry be made to determine the nature and status of other yearly meeting memberships held by Spring and New Garden and that appropriate action be taken based upon the information acquired.

This type of action is not foreign to the Society of Friends at all, and it would closely parallel a meeting’s duty to remove a member from membership upon evidence that the member has joined another meeting or denomination (“When any member becomes a member of another meeting or denomination . . . the monthly meeting, upon verification, shall remove the member’s name from the list of members and inform the member of its action.”) (Faith and Practice, 2012 ed., Rules of Membership, # 11)”

His recommendations were accepted, and drafted into the resolution reproduced above.

Now the question becomes, will any of these meetings appeal? The annual session is less than two weeks away. 

Personally, I hope they do. For one thing, the role of the Executive Committee deserves review. As Terrell put it,

“Under our Faith and Practice, the Executive Committee has the ability to make any decision not inconsistent with its described authority.  Although its described authority is vague, my years of service on the Executive Committee have, if anything, taught me that the widely accepted exercise of the Executive Committee’s authority is much broader.   A decision of the Executive Committee, though, is “subordinate to” the Representative Body.”

To which I say, Whoa, Nelly!

This “vaguely described” authority is too “vague” and sweeping for me.  And letting the committee take unto itself the prerogative of deciding that this or that meeting has forfeited its membership in the yearly meeting, with no warrant, no notice, no standards and no  procedural guides, is a recipe for big trouble.

Moreover, I don’t buy the idea that New Garden and the other two are three peas in a pod. I believe the difference between meetings that are clearly on their way out of NCYM and one with a demonstrated positive commitment to NCYM and its diversity is quite significant.

Furthermore, remember the correction that opened this post: not only does the NCYM Faith and Practice contain NO prohibition of  dual membership by meetings, a proposal to add such a ban was rejected just a few months ago.

To assume by analogy that because individual dual membership is not permitted that banning it for a group is just that, an analogy. One could just as well argue from the intelligence of the authors of Faith & Practice: they were smart enough to know the difference between an individual and a group, and they did not apply the ban to a group. And since such a ban was only recently refused, where does the Executive Committee get the authority to unilaterally reverse that corporate decision?

This debate looks to be, at the least, lively. We’ll do our best to stay on top of it.

And it’s been a very long day.

 

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