A Quaker Race Riot In Philadelphia?

Three forces in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PHYM) are on a collision course, and unless there is a major new development they are due to meet head-on Saturday March 25, at the spring yearly meeting session.

On one track is the self-styled Undoing Racism Group (URG), which is determined to “hold accountable” the YM, its staff & structures in a drive to “decenter whiteness” & uproot what it sees as an entrenched culture of “white supremacy.”

On another track are those in the YM who are uneasy with the URG. Everyone insists they want to banish racism; but some question whether URG is the best vehicle for this work. Its assertive/aggressive style, some doubt the wisdom of its proposals, some are troubled by both.

This mix is volatile enough. Then on March 4, the third train hove into view in the form of the PYM General Secretary, Christie Duncan-Tessmer. She announced several staff changes, abolishing four job slots, and downgrading another.
[Photo below: Christie Duncan-Tessmer, General Secretary, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.]

Job cuts are always hard. As Zach Dutton, PHYM Associate Secretary for Program and Religious Life, put it on March 6, 2017: 

Laying down the four coordinator positions that make up the Youth & Young Adult Programs Team allows us to create space for the expansion of the current set of programs we offer. I know that this seems counter-intuitive. It also hurts the Friends who work in these positions to lose their jobs. It hurts the communities they serve to lose relationships with their coordinators. This fact bears repeating and holding up. There is nothing about laying down the positions that isn’t painful and that doesn’t make life hard in the short term. We are doing everything we can to ensure that the coming transitions are as smooth and supportive as humanly possible.

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has had to absorb many in recent years;at the turn of this century, it had over 50 full-time staff; after the changes it will be about 25. And this time the impact of the changes could be explosive, because they include a demotion for the one Friend of color on the YM staff. (There are several other staff of color, non-Friends.) Further, the person demoted, Marille Heallis, is Executive Assistant to General Secretary Duncan-Tessmer. And the reaction to this move among URG stalwarts has been harsh.

In 2015, the YM listed work against racism as one of its corporate goals. URG came together as an informal, volunteer group, to pursue this work. It has conducted numerous workshops and made various presentations.

It has also made proposals to become a formal ongoing part of the PHYM structure. Here it has hit a wall. It asked to be made a formal YM committee, but the idea was rejected. Then it prepared a detailed plan for incorporating its efforts across all PHYM structures. They took this plan to the Implementation Committee for the Strategic goals. The Implementation Committee turned down this plan also.

But the URG was not ready to take no for an answer. At last summer’s annual session, after the plan was read, described for information only, several URG supporters walked to the front and surrounded the Clerk’s table, and prevented the body from moving on to its next agenda item (revisions of Faith & Practice), insisting that the URG proposal be discussed and then acted upon.

They got their wish. Faith & Practice was set aside, and the URG plan was extensively debated (some Friends might object to the term “debate,” but I’ll let it stand.) And in the end, the URG got its wish, but didn’t reach its goal. When the Clerk asked for approval, there were also numerous voices raised in disapproval, and the Clerk properly noted that there was no unity and the plan was set aside.

Did the “blockade” of the Clerk’s table (some URG supporters called it “eldering”) & the disruption of the session spark this opposition? To some extent it seems likely. Even URG leader Lucy Duncan, who helped present the plan, later wrote that “Though it felt as though there was urgency and spirit moving, I can see how some would interpret this as pushing too hard, perhaps even bullying.” (Facebook August 4, 2016)

It would also hardly be a surprise if some resolved not to reward such behavior but to rebuke it.

Furthermore, the plan’s rhetoric reportedly alienated some. It spoke repeatedly of the YM as embodying & supporting “white supremacy” and “racism.” Yet, for me at least, trying to see PHYM in a larger social perspective makes this terminology problematic. As the PHYM session gathered, the larger society was in the midst of a turbulent political campaign in which avowedly white nationalist groups were being mainstreamed and openly bigoted attitudes were being articulated by leading candidates. (This “mainstreaming” has continued since the November election.)

“White supremacy” and “racism” seem quite correct applied to them and their agendas (& still do). But using the same terminology to describe PHYM? Certainly this nearly all-white Quaker body needs work. But to some at least, hearing it lumped into the same rhetorical category as those giving Nazi salutes, reviving the Klan, and vowing to rid the country of Muslims and Latinos (not to mention the ominous anti-semitic stirrings) would seem at least inaccurate if not downright offensive. After all, PHYM has many faults; but it is also the body that produced John Woolman, Lucretia Mott, and Bayard Rustin. It is not the Klan, or The Daily Stormer.

You want “white supremacy? They’ll show you white supremacy. You want racism? They got that, too. Plenty. And they’re not alone.

Yet there were also substantive objections, which to my mind deserve careful attention. Let’s look first at the URG proposal. The full text is here, but this excerpt and this diagram that came with it makes its thrust visible:

From URG Plan, submitted at PYM annual session 2016

“Proposed Structure and Leadership for the Undoing Racism Group of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting” (Excerpt)

In order for PYM to fully live out its commitment to ending racism in our midst, it will be essential for the body to understand that unless we are actively resisting racism, a majority white body will perpetuate the racism and white supremacy.

We believe it is essential that the Undoing Racism Group also be placed within the structure of PYM in such a way that it has the responsibility to hold the yearly meeting accountable to its corporate witness around racism.


Our primary purpose and goal is to eliminate racism and white supremacy in our Yearly Meeting. We will achieve our purpose by:

• forming a Care Committee, consisting of Friends of Color dedicated to the service of holding the Yearly Meeting and our clerks accountable in a loving and faithful manner


Sorry for the fuzzy image. The four vertical blue boxes are labeled (left to right): “Admin Council; Quaker Life Council; Nominating Council; & PYM Staff. These are now the principal departments of PHYM.

In sum, the plan would have given the URG an all-pervasive status, with a seat at every PHYM table, a finger in every pie, a voice in every deliberation & hiring choice, and the mandate to “hold accountable” all of it, according to standards they would define & set. Which frankly sounds like having a veto, though the term was not used. Further, the URG would be self-forming & autonomous, outside the established PHYM Nominating mechanisms. The arrangement would continue until URG felt its work was done.

Pondering this, I was not surprised that the Implementation Committee balked at it, followed by many at the 2016 annual session. And the reasons, while surrounded by layers of mushy talk, were pretty straightforward. The Committee wrote: 

Our sense is that the autonomous role proposed by URG for itself in the recent proposal is not in alignment with the expectation that the work of ending racism be the work of our entire community, nor with the manner of holding authority and accountability as envisioned in the Long Range Plan approved by PYM. This creates a conflict for a group that wants to exist within the structure of the Yearly Meeting.


The URG plan, some said, seemed less to “fit into” the PYM structure, but looked more like a takeover: it would have been similar to a receivership, when an outside authority takes control of a foundering body, and is empowered to take drastic steps to revive and rescue it. And even from the distance of several hundred miles, that’s how it reads.

It may be that the URG really believes PHYM is in just such desperate shape. Or perhaps they didn’t see all these troubling implications.

Whichever, others saw them, said so, and didn’t back off. Indeed, this session marked the third time by my count that the URG has made a proposal and been rebuffed.

From my outside standpoint, it seems that URG’s repeated failures are not so much proof of ineradicable racism in PHYM, but suggest rather that they have misunderstood some key elements of the body’s history & evolution.

To explain, let me call on one of PHYM’s patron saints, Lucretia Mott. When Lucretia came into PHYM, it was nothing like the oft-praised equalitarian “spiritual democracy” frequently evoked by today’s fuzzy liberals. To the contrary, it was a strict top-down hierarchy, run by “Select Meetings” of ministers, elders & overseers.

Yes, overseers –and however unfashionable that term is today, it described them well — their task was to “See-Over” the rank & file, from their elevated perch on the facing benches (& everywhere else too), and enforce many quite specific rules. [The photo below is of the three rows of elevated facing benches at the historic Arch Street Meetinghouse in Philadelphia. For many decades, they were more than simply decorative, but expressions of power & hierarchy.]
The overseers were appointed essentially for life, and did not answer to the meetings they oversaw.

Lucretia’s ability soon gave her entry into the PYM Select Meetings. But instead of climbing the ladder, she quickly began to chafe under their weight & pettifoggery, which involved disowning people left and right.
[The photo below is of the Longwood Progressive Friends Meetinghouse, next to Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania, 1865.]

And not one to merely talk, Lucretia was soon a leading figure in a grassroots rebellion, which became visible in the Progressive Friends movement. Lucretia and other key Progressives worked from inside PHYM (& other YMs), demanding an end to the Select Meetings, abolition of recording & snoopy overseers, and replacement of the hierarchical pyramid with a flattened congregational structure. They wanted monthly meetings to be the “center” and Quarters and Yearly Meeting were to serve, and not rule them. [Photo below is of the earlier, hierarchical Quaker church structure, which lasted more than 200 years.]

Lucretia did not live to see the achievement of the Progressive reforms, but they were in place by the of the 1920s, and were ingrained in the PHYM ethos by the time of the reunification in 1955.

Few Friends today know this history. Yet for almost a century, this congregation-centered structure has continued. In Philadelphia some of this reality was obscured by the comparatively huge PHYM central staff (peaking at 50+ full-time at the turn of this century).

But this top-heavy wheel-spinning (financed by the way, mainly with dead Quakers’ bequest income) did not replicate the old pyramid’s rule. One reason is that among the thousands of convinced Friends who joined during those decades, there were very many who had left other authoritarian churches. And they did not expect to bow to Philadelphia (well, unless they were looking for a job, a grant, or scholarships for their kids). Along the way, innocent of Friends’ history, they invented a new Testimony called Equality & inaccurately projected it back to Fox’s time.

Now comes the URG, whose plan called for setting up a new cohort of overseers in every nook and cranny of PHYM, with mysterious measuring rods and the power to call down the electric furies of “racism” on miscreants at their option.

Structurally, this would be a big step back toward a past which PHYM had long ago left behind, and many members had rejected in other settings, and were very hesitant to go through again.

Perhaps this description will be unwelcome to some in the URG. When the point was raised, according to the  minutes:

 Another Friend asked for clarity about what seems to be a hierarchical nature of the proposed structure. The response was that it is a relational body, not a supervisory body.

Nevertheless, the resemblances to that old order were more than a few, and all unsettling:

For one thing, the URG in the proposal was answerable only to itself, like the old Select Meetings. And like them, its jurisdiction and tenure were essentially unlimited. And there’s that freighted phrase, “hold accountable”.

Moreover, in the proposal, both “racism” and “resisting racism” are referred to in doctrinal terms: the URG asserted that it knows (best) what the one is, and how (best) to do the other. Expressing doubts about this is typically seen as evidence of racism (i. e., heresy). I don’t say the URG Friends all think this way, but that’s how it reads.

Now into this mix has been tossed the bombshell of staff changes: four positions dealing with children and young Friends are abolished. They’ll be replaced with contract workers hired by the event, overseen (there’s that word again) by one full-time office staff member.

And General Secretary Christy Duncan Tessmer’s Executive Assistant, Marille Heallis [photo at left], is being demoted: from full-time to 60 per cent time, and at a lower hourly rate. (She was also, she has written, offered a substantial severance package if she declined the demotion and left the staff.)

The youth staff cuts will be regretted and grumbled at; Marille Heallis’s demotion has already sparked outrage and calls for resistance.

Heallis has filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And she has gone public, with a lengthy blog post detailing her charges of being chronically discriminated against by her boss.

Her complaint was echoed by a former colleague, Jennie Sheeks, who was for several years PHYM’s fundraising staffer, until she left earlier this year. In a Facebook post on March 8, she was asked if she believed the demotion was an act of racist retaliation. She replied:

Jennie Sheeks [photo at left]: Yes, I’m so pained to say, that is my conclusion from what I’ve witnessed over many months and after much attempt by many people to quietly, with confidentiality, and with love help Christie. I do not say this lightly. I do not say it with any motive other than Marille’s protection from abuse. I do not say it without having exhausted other routes and means of addressing the injustice. And I didn’t want to say any of it. I’m tired of trying to fix what’s broken here. But there is no one else who had as close a vantage point as me who can speak without fear of loosing their job, so I feel bound to take on this uncomfortable and awkward role bringing the hidden to light.

(Christie Duncan-Tessmer did not return my call seeking comment.)

A key URG member, Lucy Duncan, said of this in a Facebook comment on March 20 that 

if the body [of PHYM] had approved the URG structure proposed [at annual session 2016], this decision would never have been made: the proposal was intended to guard against such overt abuses of power that arise from white assumptions of superiority.

While this was an individual comment in an obscure thread, it was still notable for contradicting the statement in annual session that the URG presence would not be “relational” and not “supervisory.” Stopping the CEO of the organization from changing the status of her own assistant is pretty straight-up supervisory.

So will anything come from all this at the PHYM session on March 25?

It isn’t supposed to. Such sessions are typically very much scripted and scheduled in advance, with little time or space for anything spontaneous to happen. And the published schedule indicates that there will be some time for questions about the staff changes.  But on the other hand, there have been disruptions at recent PHYM sessions, so sometime things don’t go according to plan.

But the changes will not be up for review; wise or not, fair or not, the General Secretary oversees (sic) the staff, and staffing decisions are her call. And with legal action in the offing, Duncan-Tessmer has all the more incentive to listen and say little beyond, “Thank thee Friend.”

Yet even if the lid stays on at this weekend’s session, these rumblings in PHYM are signs of a body in significant internal disarray. And frankly, with the burgeoning return of organized, high-power racism (not to mention numerous other plagues) all around it, this turmoil could not come at a more inopportune time.

32 thoughts on “A Quaker Race Riot In Philadelphia?”

  1. The main problem as I have said before is the “paid clergy” in the “central bureau”, a hicksite term. The local meetings have almost no say in what is done at the yearly meeting level. Sessions do not address the business of the yearly meeting as made up of local meetings, see current continuing session agenda. There is almost no spiritual basis for activities of adult seekers in this agenda. replacement of the hierarchical pyramid with a flattened congregational structure. Local monthly meetings are not at the “center” and the Yearly Meeting staff or sessions do not serve them. The new structure has reenforced this.

  2. Could someone give two or three concrete examples of acts, policies, or statements undertaken or approved by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting made within roughly the past ten (10) years that illustrate (for Friends who are not members of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting) how Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is under the sway of the ideology of white supremacy?

  3. Do PYM and PHYM refer to the same entity? If so, please pick one and stick to it. Quaker vegetable soup is hard enough to understand without willy-nilly variation within one document.

    1. Good point, Arnold. I have now made “PYM” into “PHYM” in 11 places, for consistency. There’s one instance in a quote where it’s still “PYM”, because I didn’t want to alter what someone else wrote. And BTW the reason I put it as “PHYM” is because out in the “real Quaker world” (beyond Philly), there’s ANOTHER “PYM,” namely Pacific Yearly Meeting out west. And since readers come to this blog from a pretty broad stretch of the world, I try to minimize confusion. (Which I fell short of this time, but I hope it’s better now.)

      1. Don’t forget Piedmont Yearly Meeting as well, which by the way appears to be a wonderful model for a modern stripped down, simple Quaker yearly meeting in a 21st century world. Stripped down staff (which I think is volunteer), stripped down finances, and stripped down busyness.

        Just what I’ve heard; don’t know this first-hand.

        1. You may have a point, Howard. And Piedmont is not alone in its stripped down Carolina glory: North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) has operated sans staff or office for over a century. And the other, predominantly pastoral NCYM-FUM is in the process of stripping itself down, too. By next year all that will be left is a charitable foundation to manage its endowments (it now also owns some real estate, which it expects to sell), with only a part-time bookkeeper and no separate office; its member meetings are organizing two autonomous associations, which will operate as they see fit and can afford, and will not pay dues or assessments to the NCYM foundation. It’s not quite the same, but very much stripped down from just a few years ago. Can it be that North Carolina is showing the way to the Quaker future?

  4. Friends, please accept my apologies that I don’t have time to correct the several inaccuracies and omissions in this report nor to explain the lack of care for the people involved by its author.

    However, to illustrate, PhYM’s approved minutes offer another account of what the author says was “the ‘blockade’ of the Clerk’s table” which “prevented the body from moving on to its next agenda item (revisions of Faith & Practice).”

    -Viv Hawkins, Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, former PhYM staff (1999-2005), and member of Undoing Racism Group

    Excerpt from PhYM Saturday 2016-07-30 morning annual session minutes available in full at
    Note: 1. At this session, the clerks’ table was on a raised stage, above the floor and about 7-10 feet back from the edge of the stage. The dais for speakers was on the floor in front of the stage; the dais was the area around which people gathered in support of the speakers.
    2. Business continued and received the Faith and Practice report.

    “URG members slowly walked to joined (sic) [a Friend] at the dais. Many friends joined. The Presiding Clerk noted interest in the work of URG has grown tremendously due to last night’s and this morning’s presentation. [An URG co-clerk] repeated URG’s invitation to have more involvement from Friends and more joined [Friends] at the dais.

    [A Friend] read the Sixth Query from Faith and Practice, ‘How does our meeting help to create and maintain a society whose institutions recognize and do away with the inequities rooted in patterns of prejudice and economic convenience?
    Is our meeting open to all regardless of race, ability, sexual orientation or class?
    What steps are we taking as a meeting to assure that our meeting and the committees and institutions under our care reflect our respect for all and are free from practices rooted in prejudice?’

    Understanding that this work would take more than the 25 minutes remaining, the Presiding Clerk suggested there would be space held on Sunday morning agenda for URG
    and asked that those standing return to their seats so the body could proceed with its next piece of business:
    consideration of the revision of Faith and Practice.
    URG then invited friends to talk about any concerns at lunch.
    A number of URG members and other Friends remained standing after this request.

    Alternate Clerk Alison Anderson then introduced Martha
    Bryans (Downingtown MM).
    Faith and Practice Revision Group (FPRG) Report…

    More minutes of 2016 summer sessions available here:

  5. It is not uncharacteristic of you to try to provoke response, and here I am braving it. The history you provide here is interesting, but you write about Summer Sessions as if you were there and need more thorough research. Be aware that the response to URG action–of which I was and am part–was debatish indeed, with a yelling of NO, NO on the part of the “Quaker-process” people that was decidedly NOT. Few can be proud of that interaction, though we can be grateful at hearing multiple viewpoints including from People of Color who spoke out at the time. We might have listened to each other more carefully rather than shutting up even non-involved Quakers who made proposals from the floor. This was faith in action and it was precious. I agree with Lucy that welcome of even a part of the URG proposal would have prevented push back now BECAUSE there would have been transparent processes that clearly took into consideration questions pertaining to racial justice. This is not dictatorship but living our commitments even while learning how to do so. Whether or not there were issues of poor work on the part of Christie’s assistant (there were not) or issues of personality conflict (there may be), whether or not the outcome would have been the same (this is doubtful), PhYM would have lived up to its commitment to work on its minute to undo racism. Let me note too, other ways of addressing these issues have not been considered, like including guidelines for examining bias and supremacy in the job descriptions of PhYM. In fact, the new Faith and Practice doesn’t include this concern in matters of employment and job descriptions at the core of PhYM. Why? PhYM is changing structurally. Indeed. The administration that works for and answers to monthly meetings must begin to include transparency on matters of race or be accountable to its membership for not doing so. Asking for a suspension of staffing changes until that can be evaluated makes perfect sense. May it be asked for and approved. I hope that you and others can see that “race riot” and “war” is inaccurate. Instead this is a call for a “Cease Fire” and an end to casualties. I ask as an individual, though I am happy to do so as a member of my preparative meeting, as a member of URG, as part of PYM, as everything else I am. Pausing to be a Quaker organization in our own time–regardless of the past inequities within Quaker organizations” –is a no-brainer. In my opinion it is also urgent because a trend is emerging which reflects unfortunate trends in the world. The need to be clear about what is Quaker about Quaker organizations applies to meetings like Upper Dublin, to Schools like Friends Central, to yearly meetings like PhYM and to URG itself. We look within for the One who can answer. We look for that of God in all, and with Light rather than lightly. Usually, my weighty Friend Chuck, you want that, too.

  6. Chuck, you make the mistake, as many do, of using the term ‘white supremacy’ in the manner that applies to overt acts, usually connected with hatred. The point many (not just Undoing Racism Friends in Phym) are trying to make is the norm of our culture, born from the notion of justified Christian European dominance (re Doctrine of Discovery), is essentially a white normed dominance, unspoken, often unrecognized. We are trying to lift up a reality we all live in, to understand how it continues to be supported, not reduced. As for the diagram, we are trying to give language and form to accountability, which Friends talk about a lot, but often cannot describe it beyond the acts of disownment of the 19th century. I want something that better reflects the love of Spirit. Interesting that you, like so many at sessions, seemed to assume the worst, by our involvement… what a pity . I am also somewhat bemused at your use of aggressive, as if U R G was aggressive. I experienced our assertiveness, sadly, did invite aggression… As for the diagram, it was an attempt to put in 2 dimensions what is a more complex, probably multdimensional, idea. We continue to work on this.

    I am sad to report that one of the problems with journalism in general is that it has taken its cues from the same instincts you have. I like well researched stories with opinionated ideas left to sidebar comments… But I do know you, and know that you do not call yourself a journalist. Love, Joan*

    1. Joan, I think you are responding at a completely different level of abstraction than what Chuck was saying about the phrase “white supremacy.” You just can’t make it mean what you want it to mean. The term has strong emotional associations, especially for the Boomer generation, and you can explain all you want about what you *really* mean by the term, but using it is going to trigger a very strong (and predictable) response. There’s no getting around the reality that that term will never win hearts and minds — it will set you up for the opposite. I’ve tried to imagine what was going on in the heads of the folks who drafted the proposal, and I have 3 theories: (1) it was drafted from inside an echo chamber by people who just forgot what it might sound like outside that chamber; (2) it was chosen intentionally for its shock value and people just didn’t realize that they were using a lightning bolt rather than a taser; or (3) it was chosen by people too young to remember, say 1965, and older people didn’t want to do the boomersplaining thing to them. Can you edify me?

      1. Chel, thank you for inquiring. I was among the authors of the 2015 Undoing Racism Group Working Document which can be found at

        While I personally do not use the term “white supremacy,” believing that racism captures the many nuances of the evil I hope to eliminate, others, with more knowledge of the subject of anti-racism work, do use it.

        I do NOT believe that any of the three intentions which you surmise, Chel, were at play for the people who asked that term and definition to be included. The intent in using this phrase was to NAME, UNMASK, and ENGAGE (to use Walter Wink’s terms in regard to the “powers and principalities”) with a particular component of racism. I believe the intent was to EDUCATE and FACILITATE CHANGE.

        That said, I will hazard that I believe that supposing those reasons may, in fact, be a living example of the term to which people are referring. Thankfully, you inquired about your assumptions. Still, I wonder when will the time come when Friends of color no longer need to code-switch (to speak as do white, middle-class Friends of European descent) in order for white Friends to hear them?!

        I believe that it is quite telling that more than 2 years later that phrase remains the focus of white Friends when we have several living examples of Friends of color being treated in racist ways, and other examples of ways Quaker institutions perpetuate racism. Meanwhile, Friends stand by and deny the truth inherent in a term. Let’s “put on our big girl panties” and get to the work of ending racism among us, for God’s sake.

        1. Viv, it’s a good response on the intention of the proposal and the reality behind it. FWIW, if I had been present, I believe I would have supported the proposal. (I say this cautiously, because I don’t think it is good Quaker process to think you know what you would have done when you weren’t actually there — the Spirit may have worked in ways I can’t imagine.) And I admire Walter Wink very much, enough so that I like to believe he would have advised a somewhat different approach to the actual implementation of name/unmask/engage. I am talking about strategy. (Is it unQuakerly to strategize? Perhaps. It is impractical not to.) People are more likely to support a proposal if they can feel good about themselves in doing so; they are likely to resist if it makes them feel bad about themselves (such as accepting a term that they feel associates them with the KKK and
          Brietbart). I would have suggested a strategy that framed the proposal that focused on pride and good will rather than shame: (1) naming areas of overcoming racism where we have made progress and can feel pride; (2) noting some missed opportunities to do better; (3) inviting PYM members to take a next step in a challenging but hopeful journey. (I wouldn’t try this approach now–it could come across as too much like manipulation.) I’m off now to continuing sessions, and I’ve checked to make sure I’m wearing my big girl panties–thanks for the reminder–but note that people will wear whichever panties they feel most comfortable in–that’s just how it is. God save me from needing Depends.

        2. Viv,
          Christie mentioned that the genesis for the reorganization came from her supervisory committee. They felt that she should be more outward facing; this sparked the need for managers who could work independently of her. Then the rest of the reorganization was needed to pay people properly and still stay within the wiggle-room of the budget. This kind of major change needs to be heard by at least one representative of the Undoing Racism Group AS IT IS FIRST BEING DISCUSSED. Perhaps an Undoing Racism Group representative can sit regularly in the meetings of the supervisory committee so the committee already has a working relationship with him/her and are accustomed to having their white supremacy named and unmasked. I am grateful for the patience with which my friends–and not only my friends of color–have helped me to recognize my own unconscious white supremacy, sexism, ableism, and ageism. As our Advices tell us, “Be teachable.”

          1. Yes, Friend Louis. I hear you raise two points. 1) Being an executive requires much different skills than being a supervisor. In my opinion, that does not necessarily mean that you hire people to do everything for which you are responsible. Instead, it means attending to strategic initiatives and letting go of fluff; it means leading clearly rather than creating constant churn.
            2) I believe you previously communicated the significance of some people having subject-matter expertise related to racism and others having much to learn. I consider myself among those with much to learn but, like you, know enough to acknowledge guidance is needed. That was the premise of the Undoing Racism Group’s structure proposal: place at all decision-making tables people with knowledge of institutional racism and allow URG an officially-recognized organizational role. As demonstrated by the Crossroads material shared at 2016 summer sessions, such a group is routinely used to move forward multicultural initiatives in organizations who are seriously committed to such work. That proposal was soundly refused at PhYM’s 2016 summer sessions and URG has been refused any standing in PhYM other than to name a few members to what may become an institutional multicultural audit of PhYM. Have you heard or read any official reports of that possible audit? I haven’t. Meanwhile, PhYM administrators do what they do based on the level of racial literacy they presently have. At Saturday’s continuing sessions, how many Friends of color called for a called meeting to address two instances of systemic racism among us? Why did the body not Minute its intention to meet as requested? Will such a meeting yet be held? Will it be the beginning of truly making undoing racism among us a priority rather than something to defend against?

  7. In last summer’s discussion someone suggested that we give the URG’s proposals a try on a temporary basis and see what comes out of it. If it proves unsatisfactory, then we can go back to the old system a wiser yearly meeting than we were without trying it, and if it proves satisfactory, then we have indeed moved a step forward. This also was rejected. It goes to show how deeply white supremacy is ingrained in even this, my (and I hope, our) most beloved institution. We are asking our Clerk, our General Secretary and our other leaders to lead us out of this supremacy while using the institutions of that supremacy to choose our Clerk, our General Secretary, and our other leaders. I think we probably do need a specially-chosen non-white voice in the room when we make decisions. “Specially-chosen” so we know that it’s not personal, but institutional interest the voice is addressing. Of course this has a weakness in that no one can adequately represent all of the cultures we white Christians have sidelined in the 17 centuries since we first dominated Europe and then went on to colonize the rest of the world.
    In the end, Love will rule, so we insecure white guys may as well get used to it now.

  8. Based on what I have read so far, PhYM might look at that process SAYMA has included in our Faith & Practice called “Meeting for Threshing”. These are used when ” . . . troublesome issues can prevent us from seeing the fullness of truth. ” Page 16: http://tinyurl.com/m873nxg

    Holding yall in the Light.

  9. Friends, I’m wondering how much this situation (for that matter, many situations) might be improved if we were to bring to steady remembrance these words from Isaac Penington, to Friends at Amersham in 1667: “Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying for one another, and helping one another up with a tender hand, if there has been any slip or fall; and waiting till the Lord give sense and repentance, if sense and repentance in any be wanting. Oh! wait to feel this spirit, and to be guided to walk in this spirit, that ye may enjoy the Lord in sweetness, and walk sweetly, meekly, tenderly, peaceably, and lovingly one with another.”

    1. Steve, I think this is exactly what we need, but only if we are applying it to ourselves rather than telling others they should be guided by it. I am attending Saturday’s session with a sense of foreboding. I don’t want to be there, and there are so many other places I do want to be. I worry that the lines have been drawn (mostly via the internet) and people will be coming with the “right answer” in mind and with the goal of bringing others to that “right answer.” One active URG member has already written: “Spirit has spoken.” (Yikes.) I am going with the intention of holding the meeting in whatever Light I can find, and of probably not speaking. I keep thinking of something from Howard Brinton’s PHP on Inward Light: problems are not solved on their own level, but only on another level when we can rise above them (poor paraphrase).

  10. There is a called session of PHYM called for this Saturday. It is essentially about the 2015 Minute. But since it was advertised only to those who subscribe to email list from PHYM’s office, it is not widely know. I know of many members of PHYM who do not want to keep going over the same things. Quaker process has bee hijacked by a few. URG is not an official group in PHYM and the leadership has not asked for a worshipful approach to the complaints. I will not be attending this session since I will be attending Ben’s refreshing Quakerism workshop at Pendle Hill. I think the paid and volunteer leadership of the YM needs a refresher course in Quakerism.

  11. Just perhaps the purpose of yearly meetings may have something to do with preserving what’s precious in a fading culture, even if that means dwindling in size. I think we should turn to the Spirit and ask what we are here for.

  12. It’s now half a year or more after this piece was first posted, and I have some thoughts and testimony and questions to lift up.

    1. WHITE SUPREMACY. In this post there’s an implied question about the rightness or appropriateness of the use of the phrase “white supremacy” when referring to today’s Quakerism. I myself first disliked the word, but since it was used heavily by Friends of Color, I knew I was being Called into living into my discomfort, rather than insisting that my discomfort be eased by challenging the Friends who used it. White Friends are not the only ones who are voices and instruments of the Counselor, and sometimes the Light pierces my heart with Truth I do not wish to know. I would ask white Friends who are uncomfortable with naming white supremacy within our current practices/processes to ask a series of “Why” questions or “What’s at risk if…” questions. “Why do I get uneasy with that phrase? What’s at risk if I accepted it? Why are Friends of color using that phrase, why now?”

    2. A NOT SO LONG-AGO PARALLEL. It seems to me that there was quite a bit of resistance among straight Friends to accept claims of homophobia by gay and lesbian Friends (and later bisexual Friends; and transphobia by transgender Friends). Maybe there was even resistance or denial about the word “homophobia” like there is with the phrase “white supremacy.” I wasn’t among Friends back then, but I’ve heard stories, especially from the Midwestern U.S., where I’ve grown into Quakerism. It seems to me that straight Friends back then wanted to see themselves as “good” and didn’t want to yield to the Truth as presented by their gay and lesbian counterparts. Wasn’t there blatant homophobia back then that straight Friends didn’t want to own up to? Wasn’t there also more subtle, institutional homophobia? To what extent might there be parallels between that earlier struggle/transformation and the one that many white Friends are facing now? Who gets to decide the appropriate use of a phrase or the appropriate expression of anger or frustration? Who gets to decide what is appropriate “Quaker process” or other mechanism to address a conflict between someone of the dominant group and someone of the historically oppressed group?

    3. A LONGER-AGO PARALLEL. I also imagine a similar trajectory and transformation took place around plain old sexism. To what extent might there be parallels between that earlier struggle/transformation and the one that many white Friends are facing now? Wasn’t there blatant sexism way back then that male Friends didn’t want to own up to? Wasn’t there also more subtle, institutional sexism? (I just read a bit from the new book The Fearless Benjamin Lay, in which the author-historian makes a reference to George Fox’s negative view of women among Friends, for example. Eww.)


  13. As a Friend, I am deeply saddened to read again and again how one “certainty” replaces another in Quaker circles. Once an ideological truth is identified by a group, one must genuflect to it or or become the “other”. While we have eschewed formal theologies, we embrace intolerance in the name of tolerance as readily as any other group on earth. To circle a Clerk to demand anything is not eldering as I see it; it is the kind of act that emerges when one knows beyond all doubt they are right. Once this happens, any intellectual justification becomes acceptable because the truth sets it free. For me, to surround aClerk and disrupt process is an act of spiritual violence , and it is not justified because the circlers have exclusive access to the truth. This lack of epistemological subtlety is terribly sad and unworthy of us.

    1. Ralph, I’m not aware that I know you or that you know any of the people upon whom you are passing judgement. Please be aware that Friend Chuck was not present at the sessions about which he writes. Your comment demonstrates that you were not present, either. The clerk and others at the clerk’s table at the session about which he writes were on a stage. None of the people you disparage were on that stage to “Circle the clerk.” I am “terribly sad” about the untruths of the blog’s account and those who pass judgement based on them. Personally, I believe that is “unworthy of us.”

      If you’re interested in exploring more facts of this matter, you might be interested in the sources at the following link.

    2. Hi Ralph Lelii, Thanks for your comment. I won’t go over the reporting I did on the PYM trouble again. But you should know that I stand by it, even after being subjected to an abusive ambush & attempted program disruption aimed at it, and me specifically, by some of the same persons. FYI that unhappy incident is described at the link below.
      I hope that PYM can be spared further similar disruption, so it can move toward resuming & improving a heritage of work to overcome ethnic & racial prejudice in all its forms that has continued for more than 330 years.


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