Carolina Quaker Witch Hunt: Here Comes The “Auditing Committee”
A Visit From The Auditing Committee
[NOTE: The dramatization below is fiction. But it is based on an actual plan for a doctrinal “cleansing” of North Carolina Yearly Meeting-FUM that was presented to NCYM’s Representative Body on June 6, 2015. For comparison and authentication, the full text of the proposal is attached following this vignette]:
Horace Carter walked down the hallway, past the library-children’s room, and stopped at the table where Miriam sat by the meeting’s front door. He was holding a sheet of paper, and Miriam noticed that his hand seemed to be trembling slightly.
“All right,” he said quietly. “It’s done.” He dropped the sheet on the table. “I signed it.”
Miriam regarded him. Horace was tall, lean, and slightly stooped. Thinning gray hair was highlighted by the sunlight through the big windows. His expression was shadowed, with what Miriam usually figured was the ongoing work of grief. But the frown was newly added.
“Thank you,” she said, and her tone was apologetic.
She dropped her eyes to the sheet. “Letter of Compliance,” was the heading, “North Carolina Yearly Meeting.” At the bottom was her signature, at the left, with that of Horace at the right. The line for “pastor” was blank; they were in between.
She felt a familiar knot in her stomach. There was a rustle and she glanced up.
Horace had donned his hat and jacket. “What –?” Miriam asked.
“I have to go,” Horace said. “I can’t take any more of this travesty.” He tapped the letter with a long finger. “I only signed this because my Rachel is out in the graveyard, and her mother and grandmother too.”
“But the Audit Committee will be here any minute,” Miriam protested. “They said they expected to talk to you too–”
“I Know,” Horace said. He reached for the doorknob. “But I can’t trust myself to talk to them. I think I can make it to the highway before they get here.”
Miriam sighed. “Will you be back?” Now she sounded plaintive, and she hated that. But the same question had been raised in the meetinghouse more than once during the lengthy debate over this letter.
Horace shrugged . “Oh yeah,” he said. She heard the sardonic edge. “In an urn, about twelve inches high. You can put it there, where I used to sit with Rachel. Then plant me next to her out there. That is, if they let you.”
The door swung shut quietly behind him, and in a moment she heard his pickup spraying gravel in the driveway.
Miriam listened to the fading rattle, and then into the quiet her nagging internal refrain returned.
Had it really been right to agree to this letter? It wasn’t her idea. But they were obliged to respond, once the Yearly Meeting “Auditing Committee” notified them that the meeting had been deemed “out of compliance” with the new yearly meeting-imposed standards.
Out of compliance meant subject to “release.” Or more plainly, “expulsion.”
Most of those at the last business meeting had urged submission, which meant sending the Letter of Compliance. But this view was far from unanimous. At length the dissenters had stood aside, and as Clerk she declared it the sense of the meeting.
Miriam gazed around the room, remembering the anxiety that had recently filled the plain, yet comely space. On the small table by the facing bench, a hand-picked bouquet of multicolored irises were still leaning, left over from morning worship, next to the pulpit.
In the slanting late afternoon light, the blooms’ sinuous curves and bright colors somehow blended well with the burnished dark wainscoting and venerable brown benches.
But the Friends who were in favor of submitting the letter didn’t really say they agreed with the Richmond Declaration and the Barbados Letter, which North Carolina Yearly Meeting had only recently raised to unquestioned creedal status. Hardly anyone had mentioned anything about doctrines, except to insist they were Christians too.
Instead, they spoke haltingly about trying to keep the monthly meeting together in a difficult time. They said they were weary of the pressure and worried about the chaos that had followed as other meetings had been expelled for “noncompliance.”
There had been some tears, and more than one, like Horace, had mentioned the cemetery and the generations of relatives resting there, as if they were now pawns in some crazy hostage drama.
But Miriam thought they had gotten through it. Except that ever since, there had been several more empty spaces on the benches. Among the missing faces were most of the Friends who had differed, but yielded.
Miriam heard more tires on the gravel. Was Horace returning?
No, the sound was different. It was them. The committee.
She took a deep breath, and folded the letter in half. Yes, she thought, and sighed. The Friends who stood aside then were now sitting elsewhere, along with several others.
When would they be back? “In an urn” — Horace had said it openly. Is that how the others would return, if ever?
There was a rap at the door. Miriam stood and opened it.
Jonnie Morris and David Darth came in: Clerk and Assistant Clerk of what was officially called the Auditing Committee.
Neither was an accountant. Morris was late middle-aged, sallow and paunchy. Darth was shiny bald and perpetually smiling, as befits the pastor of a sizable church. But their mission was nothing to smile about. They had not come to audit numbers, or bank accounts, They were at the meeting to audit its soul, its mind, its conscience.
Miriam wanted to get it over with. “I have the letter here,” she said, and handed them the folded sheet. “It’s signed on the front. You know we’re between pastors.”
Morris glanced down at it, then peered around the meeting room. “But Horace Carter isn’t here?” he said. “We were expecting to interview him as well.”
“Um, he had to leave,” Miriam said, and paused. Then — not lying exactly, more like improvising: “He’s still very much feeling the loss of Rachel,” she finished.
Morris’s expression didn’t change. “We’ll still want to talk with him,” he said.
Darth turned toward the pulpit. “Carter wasn’t exactly friendly to the auditing process when it was proposed to the yearly meeting. Um –”, another grin. “Where’s your men’s room?”
Miriam pointed past the library, and Darth headed that direction.
Morris was still studying the letter. “You realize,” he said, “this is just the first step in the restoration process.”
He turned, and moved toward the facing benches. “We’ll need signatures from all other M&C members too. And the meeting will be on probation for a year.” He plucked one of the irises from the vase. “Nice flowers,” he said, ignoring the drips onto the tabletop.
“There’s a nice patch of them over by the cemetery,” Miriam said. She loved the flowers, but couldn’t force much enthusiasm into her voice.
Morris stepped to the window that faced the graveyard. “Oh, yes, I can see them now,” he said.
“You realize,” he was back on track, “we’re required to monitor the meeting’s compliance during the probation period. I’ll need to be added to your email list serve, the subscription list for your newsletter, and be sent any other general mailings.”
He moved back to the table and slid the iris into the vase; small bubbles formed around its stalk. “And committee members will be reviewing all speakers or sermons, and any programs you organize.”
Morris made a dismissive gesture. “It sounds like a lot, but it’s really not all that much. Depends on what kinds of programs you want to put on.”
“Uh, Johnnie –” It was Darth. He was coming out of the library. Three slim books were under his arm. “I think you’ll want to see these.”
He laid the books on the table. Miriam read the title of the one on top: it was, “If The Church Were Christian.”
“That’s by Phil Gulley,” Darth said. So are the others.”
Morris pursed his lips and blew out a slow sigh. He fingered the book, and started to lift the cover. Then he let it close, and rubbed his hand on his pants, as if it had been burned. He turned to Miriam with frown lines furrowing his forehead.
“Gulley is a shameless, self-admitted Universalist,” he intoned. “He completely denies the Atonement, the authority of the Bible, and even hell. He’s completely bought into the gay agenda. It’s blasphemous that he’s still allowed to pastor a Friends church in Indiana.”
Darth shook his head. “This is what the monitoring is for,” he said. to Miriam. “To help you get free of these traps and doctrinal delusions.”
Suddenly Miriam felt a protective feeling rising in her chest, as if one of her children was being threatened. She picked up the books, almost snatching them out of harm’s way.
“I’ll see that they’re properly disposed of,” she said. Then, “Is there anything else you need?”
Darth & Morris exchanged glances.
“We’ll want some time at your next business meeting, to explain the probation and monitoring processes,” Darth said. “We may need to interview some of the members in the meantime. And we’ll want to collect the rest of the signatures.”
He turned toward the door. “We’ll give you a call about that.”
A moment later, Miriam listened to their car scrambling the gravel. She sat for a moment, then picked up the top book, “If The Church Were Christian,” and opened the cover.
There was a notation on the flyleaf: “Donated by Horace Carter,” it said. “In memory of his beloved wife Rachel.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
[NOTE: Here is the actual proposal. It was part of the report of the “New Committee,” presented to the NCYM-FUM Representative Body on June 6, 2015. (An account of this long, difficult session is here. )]
The proposal below was the third of three “options” developed as potential answers to a question before the “new Committee,” namely:
Question #5: What might a restructured or even divided yearly meeting look like?
The full description of all three options is at the NCYM-FUM website, here.
From the NEW COMMITTEE REPORT
Question#5: What might a restructured or even divided yearly meeting look like?
Question #5. Option #3 presented at Rep Body today [June 6, 2014]: Option Three is to define and approve a mechanism for removing meetings from NCYM that do not support the theological positions of NCYM as currently expressed in Faith and Practice,including “The Richmond Declaration of Faith” and in the “Excerpt from George Fox letter to the Governor of Barbados”, as well as incorporating the approved responses and associated recommendations of Questions 1-4 as provided by NCYM in 2014 Annual Sessions.
Some might describe this as holding meetings accountable to uphold our current Faith and Practice directives.
Additional details of Option #3 are: There was a committee approved at March 7th Rep Body meeting that consists of the Superintendent, NCYM Clerk, Clerk of Ministry and Counsel and Clerk of Executive Committee which would work to resolve issues and bring meetings back into good standing. The suggestion is that this committee be named “The Auditing Committee” for purposes of clarity and start immediately addressing meetings that are out of harmony with NCYM and implement the standards of Option 3, question #5 stated above.
Again, the process should start immediately and meetings found out of harmony/compliance would be held accountable as described in question #4 of the New Committee report and approved at Rep Body on March11, 2015 at Quaker Lake.
Below are the consequences which would apply to Option 3;
> Members will be removed from any NCYM committees temporarily until the next Rep Body meeting when a report will be given concerning the meeting.
> Members cannot serve as Representative to Rep Body during this process.
> Members must pay non-member fees to all NCYM activities during this process.
The “Auditing Committee” will implement these restrictions immediately on a temporary basis and report to Executive Committee actions taken. These actions will be taken to the next Rep Body meeting, reporting their non-compliance and that the meeting does not choose to be in harmony with NCYM statements; then Rep Body may release the meeting from NCYM. All meetings will be ministered to in order to obtain change so that they might comply with the will of NCYM as to theological, financial and membership issues. There will be ongoing dialogue between the meeting and the Auditing Committee during this process. If any meeting which is out of compliance wishes to commit to change and come back into compliance, they will be asked to sign a statement of such by the pastor, clerk and all members of Ministry and Counsel and be on probation for one year with consequences. The Auditing committee will monitor this meeting and report to Executive Committee. Compliance to question #4 of the New Committee report as to finances will have additional requirements, such as past due askings and questions of a meeting’s reason for not paying. Meetings that are in compliance theologically, but can’t meet their financial obligations, will be given all consideration and help with their situation.
The Executive Committee will have oversight of the Auditing Committee and will support and monitor their actions to keep things moving and expedite this process so that other meetings in NCYM that are in compliance/harmony will not be wondering if action is going to take place.
The faster we resolve these issues the better chance we have in retaining the majority of NCYM intact, so we might start to repair our minds and hearts to worship Jesus Christ and present the truth to the world at large. Addressing meetings that are not in compliance should continue between Representative Body sessions, with actions taken as appropriate and reported to the subsequent Representative Body for final approval.
The time is now to settle some of our divisions, after some 30 or so years we cannot go on arguing these differences among ourselves. Neither side is accomplishing anything for Christ by doing this. The Evangelical/conservative meetings in NCYM cannot compromise our stance because of biblical instruction in this area, as we do consider the Holy Bible our final authority. We will be glad to bless and release any meeting that sees our differences and can anticipate the consequences coming through this action, but this has not proven to be the case so far. Thus we have the need for consequences to hold meetings accountable and put integrity back in NCYM. We must unite in a common belief and truth in order to survive, but more importantly we need to be presenting Jesus Christ and God’s truth to the world at large, bringing in sinners to salvation only through Jesus Christ.
Johnny Simmons, Surry Quarter representative to the New Committee and representative for Pine Hill Friends to Rep Body.
Note: This “option” was also strongly advocated by Kevin Rollins, pastor of Plainfield Meeting.