Very interesting – the conversation about the “Expectations” and the framework for the Wichita YAF conference gets more interesting by the day. Two recent communications are especially intriguing and revealing.
First, yesterday a member of the Wichita Planning Committee contacted me, and asked if I really thought they and their rules were really unwelcoming.
My response was meant to be polite (don’t know how to ensure that one “sounds” polite on a Facebook IM, but the effort was genuine). It was that “the very, very short answer is yes.”
How come, she asked? After all, “. . . I am an evangelical friend and for me it has been a sacrifice to allow some liberalism in the gathering. If we are giving in I think that the other side should sacrifice something as well. Evangelicals have sacrificed to not condemn it and why should liberals advertise it?”
I agreed that “folks from all the branches will need to make adjustments so the session can be as peaceable as possible. The question is what kinds of adjustments, and what kind of spirit they express.”
It took some more probing to figure out that in the phrases “Not condemn IT,” and “why should liberals advertise IT,” the pronoun did not refer to the conference or the guidelines, but to anything connected with LGBTQ matters.
She added that the committee did not really write the rules, they were prepared for the 2008 conference, and “We just adopted guidelines that have worked in the past events and no one felt unwelcomed with them, in fact in the past gatherings it has been mostly liberal participation.”
Now here’s a point: did in fact anyone feel “unwelcomed” or constrained by the rules at the 2008 conference?
Today I found an answer, in the second “conversation.”
It was in the new book, Spirit Rising, just published by FGC, in association with Quakers Uniting In Publication.
A long entry in the book was by Emily Stewart, a young Friend who has been on the FGC staff for a few years.
She also attended the 2008 YAF conference, and reported in the book on how she felt there. Here’s her description of the climactic worship:
“In the calm of the moment, I wrestle with whether I have listened hard enough, spoken up enough, and if I have truly been faithful. I feel upset for not sharing what I believe and publicly naming my support for gay and lesbian Friends. In trying to create a space where everyone feels welcome, I have held back from sharing my own beliefs.” (p. 64)
Held back? Not spoken up enough? Been unfaithful? Felt upset?
Hmmmm. Does this sound like constraint? Sure does to me. And something else, too; but before we get to that, a query: was this restraint matched by Friends from other branches?
To some extent, but with a very different outcome. Here is more of Stewart’s report:
“Out of the silence a woman stands. She shares with us her internal struggle about whether to water down the message she was given for fear that Friends would disagree or be angry with her for what she believed. Yet, she stands and delivers the message. She asks us, ‘What are you waiting for?’ Over and over again she asks, ‘I’m sorry that anyone has ever hurt you in the name of Jesus Christ. That was so wrong and I’m so sorry. It should not have happened. But you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is that of Jesus Christ who can speak to thy condition and he lives in each one of us, right now. He loves you. He is speaking through us even today. Why aren’t you listening? There is so much going wrong in this world. When will you act? What are you waiting for? What are you waiting for?”
This message is a good model for what in my view Emily Stewart or some other Liberal Friend ought to have stated equally clearly and affirmatively. Reciting the brief but strong FGC minute of 2004 in support of LGBTQ Friends would have been a good start.
Memo to Liberal YAFs: a lot of life is about courage. The “What are you waiting for?” speaker above had it. Liberals should have no less.
That needs some work. A few years back FGC’s youth program put out a tee shirt bearing the motto, “Quaker Youth, Speak Thy Truth.”
I’ve seen it on many of you. I recommend that yes, indeed, you speak it, and live it, as well as wear it. Especially if you’re going to Wichita.
There’s that great tee shirt motto,
worn by Emily Stewart at the FGC website.
“Quaker Youth Speak Thy Truth.”
Wear it, live it.
The “What are you waiting for?” message is revealing in another way: with its repeated, insistent (some might even say aggressive) challenging, it expresses a frame that the conference planners also put forth as something beyond question (see the item about everyone acting as a part of the “body of Christ.”)
And the frame is this: The only good reason some Liberal Friends are not “Christian” is because a misguided believer was mean to them. That’s too bad, but they should hurry up and get over it and come back to being Christian again, which is what Quakerism really is.
So here is a second aspect of the rules’ constraints: they leave no space for stating the alternative reality that lots of Liberal Friends are neither Christian nor even theist. That is not only because some were abused by believers. For many, it’s because they’ve thought it through, and Quakerism works quite well for them as a religion without either. (One articulate description of this rethinking is here.)
The roots of this tendency go back quite far, as has been shown by Os Cresson among others. It has also produced some very stimulating publications, such as their book, “Godless for God’s Sake.”
They maintain a detailed website here.)
Thus to continue the analogy, when they threw out the bathwater, there was no baby in it. They have nothing to hide or apologize for. And it is fair to ask why they would not have every right to expect full recognition of their existence and views at inter-branch events – by timid Liberal Friends as well as those from other branches.
So along with LGBT folks, this substantial group of Friends is also delegitimized and made invisible by the YAF conference framework. That is “unwelcoming,” and it’s time it was changed.
Stewart does not report any speaking to this very important point either. Instead, she finally sang a song, which begins, “How could anyone ever tell you . . . .” The ditty appears to be a coming successor to “Kumbaya” in liberal circles. I’m not a big fan of “Kumbaya,” especially as a substitute for plain speaking and facing up to issues. So I won’t disguise my disappointment with that denouement.
As I said, these were two very illuminating expressions relating to the Wichita Conference. I hope the insights they yield will be grasped and affirmed, not only by the planners, but by attenders as well.
Quaker Youth, Speak Thy Truth
In all its marvelous and unruly variety.