An Interview: Is North Carolina YM Out of the Woods? Or Not?
Chuck Fager is the Editor of the twice-yearly journal, Quaker Theology, which has just published a new issue (#27). In it is a major update article about the struggle in North Carolina Yearly Meeting-FUM. Here the Editor is interviewed by the blogger behind “A Friendly Letter,” who also happens to be Chuck Fager.
Q. So there’s an updated report in the new Quaker Theology issue, about North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) and its recent struggles.
A. That’s right. It’s available now. And you can read it online too, here.
Q. What are some of the highlights of the article? What did you find in your reporting for it that seemed particularly revealing?
A. Several big new things came from reading the minutes of the 2014 Annual Session. (Hat-tip to the Recording Clerk for doing such a good job! So many YM minutes are so skimpy and unrevealing. But not these!)
For instance, I learned there just how aggressive the initial demands of the purge faction were. Take Todd Brown, pastor of Holly Spring (now gone). He was quite belligerent:
“It is clear,” Brown said, according to the minutes (alas, they are not online), “that the only way to have peace and move forward is for those meetings that have aligned with Piedmont Friends Fellowship [PFF] and Friends General Conference to immediately separate from NCYM. Members from those meetings should resign immediately.”
Well, Brown at least gets points for being clear. And for the record, he made this demand long before there was a new PFF-associated “yearly meeting”; the intolerable offense was any connection with the group whatsoever, no matter how informal.
Q. Were there other insights in the minutes?
A. Yes. Another “revelation” was how little respect was shown for Quaker business practice. They made repeated demands for an immediate decision to break up the YM.
We’ve already heard Todd Brown insist on “immediate resignations.” Then, from Chatham Meeting, pastor Wayne Lamb declared: “I believe we could make a decision on what has been said today. . . .[L]et’s go ahead and make the decision to split and work out the details later.”
Of course, any honest Quaker Clerk would have demurred, because first of all, despite the outcry there was no clear unity or consensus in support of the call, and in any event, such a weighty decision should only be made after careful and sober deliberation.
That’s what outgoing Clerk Bill Eagles said. But Wayne Lamb was unimpressed, and bluntly called for Eagles to be removed and replaced by a Clerk who would approve the split right then.
And a Friend from Pine Hill echoed: “Now is the time for action.” But why? What was the reason for the dire, can’t-possibly-wait-another-minute urgency?
This: “[S]ince people have driven up here.”
I see; their travel plans trumped 360 years of Quaker process. Right.
Q. This is pretty intense stuff, for minutes.
A. It sure was. And one other thing: I wonder if these folks ever listened to themselves.
Consider: A letter from Southern Quarter, where Todd Brown is from, was read, and it said of the immediate separation demand, “We recognize this solution is similar to major surgery in that it should never be the first option, but on occasion it absolutely must be the last option.”
Q. Major surgery?
A. Yes. Only, on this makeshift operating table, the purge advocates would be the surgeons wielding the knife, while the targeted Friends, despite feeling quite healthy, and having done nothing wrong according to Faith & Practice, were “volunteered” to be the “patients,” or rather sacrificial victims; and nothing was said of anesthesia. “Absolutely” nothing.
Q. Pretty stark.
A. I guess! Imagine how such talk sounds to those on the receiving end of the proposed “operation”?
Yet the purge advocates seemed shocked and surprised that the targeted meetings did not regard this surgical metaphor as friendly or appealing. When one Friend complained that “several here today want to kick some meetings out,” Todd Brown baldly retorted that “the term kicking out is not appropriate. It is not what we are doing. A recommendation of separating is not meant to be unkind. . . .”
It isn’t? Let’s see: it is “not appropriate” to hear demands that those Brown does not approve of must “resign immediately,” as amounting to a call for “kicking them out”? And comparing Friends and meetings to so many cancerous tumors which “absolutely” had to be sliced out — somehow the targeted Friends were out of order to hear that as in any way, “unkind”?
Well, excuse them for thinking such dreadful things.
(There was more of this to come, as described more fully in the article in Quaker Theology.) But what goes around comes around: when the shoe went on the other foot, in August of this year, Brown and Holly Spring were not at all ready to accept being “released” by the Executive Committee as somehow different from, more polite –or “kinder” –than being kicked out, surgically amputated, or expelled. And I happen to agree with them on that point.)
All the while, Brown still insisted that, regarding meetings associated with Piedmont Friends Fellowship/FGC, he “loves them and they are created in the image of God, but for peace and unity it would be better for these meetings to separate from NCYM.”
But whose “peace and unity” was a stake? What kind of “Love” was this? Or “kindness”? Well, can you blame the targeted meetings if these protestations rang, not only hollow, but hypocritical and abusive? I can’t.
Q. Did any of this remind you of the Indiana YM split you and Quaker Theology covered so extensively?
A. Somewhat. (And for the record, it was Associate Editor Stephen Angell who did the heavy lifting on Indiana. And you’ll want to check out his thoughts in the Comments following this post.) As far as the “we’re-kicking-you-out-because-we-love-you” rhetoric goes, that was definitely familiar. And of course we heard cries in NCYM that Indiana was some kind of model to follow. But actually, at this point, it’s the differences that are more striking to me.
Q. What differences are those?
A. There were several. For one, North Carolina had a different Faith & Practice than Indiana. NCYM’s does not give the YM power over monthly meetings, whereas Indiana’s did. Or at least it was ambiguous enough that it could be used that way by determined officials.
Which points to a second big difference: in Indiana, the Clerk and the Superintendent were determined to have their split, come heck or high water, and they got it, announcing “unity” in spite of 18 meetings being in open, firm disagreement. That was a total hijack and disgrace, but they got away with it.
On the other hand, in NCYM, one honest Clerk was replaced by another, who insisted on having a real consensus or something like unity to take such drastic action.
But it was never there. Never. It just wasn’t. And pushy pastors shouting “blasphemy” and ranting about David Koresh didn’t make it so. The NCYM Clerk repeatedly told the truth about it.
Very important too, in North Carolina, unlike Indiana, the targeted meetings decided NOT to be Quaker doormats. They began speaking up for themselves early. They pushed back. They called out the bullying and abusive behavior.
There were letters written during this struggle which I hope get compiled and saved in the Guilford College Quaker Collection, because among them are some very memorable, eloquent expressions of serious, non-fundamentalist, open-hearted Quaker Christian faith. They will be well worth studying a hundred years from now. (If there’s anyone left to study them.)
Last but not least, the purgers made some big mistakes.
Q. What were those?
A. Here I’m going to be coy: read the Quaker Theology article for those details.
Q. Hmmm. So is there a bottom line here? Is NCYM “over the hump” now?
A. Well, I’m a believer in what the great prophet Yogi Berra said: “Predictions are hard, especially about the future.”
But today I’m ready to go out on a limb and say: I think it mostly is over. Or it could be.
Consider: at this point, at least six meetings have left NCYM. They include most of the very vocal pastors and others who demanded the purge. A number of others may yet follow them; but each departure decreases the pressure for busting up NCYM.
The question now is whether the NCYM leadership can see that this storm is well along toward clearing up, and grab the opportunity that’s opening up with it. If they do, I’m hopeful they could help change the atmosphere in the body away from, “Who do we have to get rid of to satisfy the extremists,” toward “How do we learn to follow the scriptural command to ‘bear one another’s burdens’ and act like a Christian community”?
Q. But you’re not sure about that?
A. I’m not. That’s because there’s this “Grand Plan” out there, hanging over NCYM. It’s really left over from early last summer, and was meant as one more try to please those who wanted a purge. But why the “Task Force” would still be wanting to mollify a group that has now mostly left NCYM behind is beyond me.
Yet that’s how the “Plan” reads and sounds. And if it’s pushed on the yearly meeting, NCYM could face another round of division and conflict, which would really be entirely unnecessary.
There are reasonable people on the Task Force and in the YM leadership. I’m hoping they’ll see the wisdom of dialing back the “Plan,” and reshaping it into a way of helping bring NCYM Friends together, rather than driving them apart again.
Q. All this is in the Quaker Theology report?
A. (Chuckles) Well, actually there’s a good deal more. Better read it to find out. And get your meeting to subscribe to the print version. There’s nothing else like it.
Q. Oh, one more thing — what about for readers that are new to this story? Where can they fill in some background?
A. Good question. And we’ve got answers. They can start by looking at Quaker Theology’s Issue #26, from last spring. And then #27, the new one. After that, track back in these blog posts til March 2015, and follow the posts from there forward. There are no other sources anywhere near as extensive.