Carolina Quakers’ “Grand Plan” II: Gotta Do Better, Friends
Following up yesterday’s post, “The Plan” for North Carolina Yearly Meeting, lists four “steps forward.” (The full text is here. )
I’m not sure why they’re referred to as “steps,” though; they are more like propositions, which meetings are called on to “approve,” “reaffirm,” “faithfully pledge to”, and other synonyms for submission. And considering them, most look like “steps” in the wrong direction.
Well, not entirely. “Step” Number 4 is reasonable. It says meetings should pay their dues. (In NCYM dues are called “Askings”; which is a misnomer, because the YM doesn’t really “Ask” for the money, anymore than the IRS does. They expect it, and if a meeting doesn’t pay, it will eventually be in trouble. But I digress.)
So, sure: if we’re going to be in this club, there are dues to pay. We can haggle over the actual amounts; but in principle, no problem.
Unfortunately, except for that, the “steps” are tough going, and it’s hard for me to see them taking us “forward.”
The easiest to dispose of is “Step” Number Two. When I saw that, the reaction was visceral: “Oh, NO — not THIS Again!?!?”
What is it?
Here: “2. No monthly meeting in NCYM shall have dual membership with another yearly meeting. . . . Please explain any difficulty the monthly meeting has with this request.”
Okay, I’m not a monthly meeting, but here’s my “difficulty.”
In the past year, this same proposition has been brought up and rejected by NCYM’s responsible bodies.
Not once. Not twice. But. THREE. Times. Hello?
Being a baseball fan no doubt leaves me biased. But for petes sake, isn’t it reasonable to conclude that, “Three strikes and this turkey is OUT”? Or three outs and its inning is OVER?
This proposition is no more than a gilt-edged invitation to another pointless round of bruising, dead-end struggle. And with four of the most vociferous advocates of purging the “dual affiliated” Friends now gone, why do some think it can be pushed through this fourth time?
Do the right thing–Dump it. Leave the meetings which have these connections alone. Instead, replace this proposition with something like, “The meetings will undertake to learn how to live together in a peaceable Christian manner amid their diversity of outlooks and connections.”
And then, if some concrete “conflict of interest” appears (like, ahem, a meeting trying to recruit other meetings away to a rival body, taking chunks of NCYM property and money with them), deal with that conflict of interest.
But that’s not the same thing.
“Step” Number Three is just as unfortunate: “Monthly Meetings shall ‘reaffirm Friends’ Historic testimony for Integrity.”
Hey, who could be against “integrity”? But what does it mean?
When asked about this, the Task Force Clerk reading the report told us not to worry, that everybody has their own version of “integrity”.
At this, I admit it, I almost burst out laughing. If so, doesn’t that rather empty the term of any meaning, and defeat the purpose of “reaffirming” it?
But in any case, that is NOT what “Step Three” says. It goes on to dictate a list of Do’s and Don’ts, some of which are quite specific. And very problematic.
Like sex. for one thing, it denies any sanction to same sex marriage.
Sorry, but some of us, including several meetings, approve of same sex marriage on the same basis as mixed sex unions, and it’s not just a notion, but a settled witness. And we’re not going back.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Views on this in NCYM are now diverse. A few meetings, we found out, couldn’t live with that actual diversity; so they left, and God bless ‘em.
But now, isn’t it time that, for those who are staying, we turn this into a positive “step,” and charge ourselves to learn how to live with this diversity, instead of trying to deny or eradicate it? (Pardon me if I’m repeating myself.)
The same thing goes for Step Three’s other strictures on sex: “sexual integrity” for many many (maybe even most) heterosexual Friends in 2015 just does not mean the same thing as the Ozzie and Harriet views expounded here. Isn’t it time to face up to that reality too?
Not to mention the Third “Step’s” mandate for “complete abstinence from alcohol.”
Such a command is the opposite of “integrity” — it would make instant hypocrites and liars of a large percentage of NCYM Friends.
That’s just a fact.
So let’s NOT step off in that direction; it’s another dead end.
Don’t get me wrong — alcohol abuse and associated issues are very real; but this prohibition-era approach is a time-tested, experience-proven FAILURE. (And I say that as a lifelong “total abstainer.”)
Now, in this blog post the first shall be last: Step Number One expects us to “approve or reaffirm NCYM Faith & Practice, which directs us to the Holy Bible, and includes documents . . . such as the Richmond Declaration of Faith, which presents our core spiritual beliefs in a clear, concise manner.” (There’s more like this; but this will do.)
This is the only “Step” where the drafting shows some skill. It appears to be designed to placate those who consider certain sections of the Richmond Declaration as a source of clubs with which to beat up on the liberal meetings and Friends. That goes especially for the RTD’s language about the Bible, and in particular for these clauses:
“It has ever been, and still is, the belief of the Society of Friends that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by inspiration of God; that, therefore, there can be no appeal from them to any other authority whatsoever . . . . The Scriptures are the only divinely authorized record of the doctrines which we are bound, as Christians, to accept, and of the moral principles which are to regulate our actions. No one can be required to believe, as an article of faith, any doctrine which is not contained in them; and whatsoever anyone says or does, contrary to the Scriptures, though under profession of the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit, must be reckoned and accounted a mere delusion.”
(Full text of the Declaration is here.)
There are so many things wrong with this that it will take another post or two to even lay them out concisely.
But in short: this section is not at all “clear” (or concise); and it has become a Quaker “clobber passage.” Too many have used it as justification for equating their particular interpretation of (some verses) in the Bible with the whole book, and the unquestionable Will of God, the Gospel, and “Truth” with that Capital “T”. Which it isn’t.
For more than a century this section has been a license to stigmatize, browbeat, and exclude those with other views.
In the case of NCYM’s recent travails, let’s be plain: emphasis on this passage was meant particularly to absolutize the few verses which call for killing those who engage in gay sex, and thereby justify purging any NCYM Friend or meeting which supports same sex marriage or LGBT acceptance.
So it’s past time to say that not only that interpretation, but that whole approach to the Bible is NOT one of my “core beliefs.” I am confident it is not a “core belief” for many others in NCYM who nonetheless take the Bible seriously. To the contrary, that narrow, partisan notion has been divisive and controversial from the day it was written down, gnawing out our “core” rather than strengthening and preserving it.
So if we are really going to find “steps Forward,” NCYM needs to undertake a frank and radical reexamination of the Richmond Declaration, and how it has been used, and how to re-interpret it for our time in ways that build up, instead of tearing down.
I’m convinced that many of those who have drafted editions of NCYM’s Faith & Practice know the pernicious possibilities in the Declaration perfectly well. How so? Because the book says it is NOT a creed, not only once, but SIX times. It takes a dedicated kind of denial to ignore all these reminders; but many manage to do so.
And another key part of truth-speaking about the Richmond Declaration is to face the hypocrisy of most of its fiercest advocates.
Why hypocrisy? Simple: while they want to take this snippet about the Bible and string other Friends up with it, most completely ignore — no they blatantly defy — other major sections of the Declaration. That’s especially true of its section on Peace.
Here the Declaration insists in the strongest language that NO participation in ANY war by Christians and Quakers is permitted by Jesus and his teachings. None. Zero. Ever.
Read it: I’m not exaggerating.
Yet I have heard the Declaration invoked as Scripture in a Friends church which had not one but two flags near the pulpit, and where celebrations of war and warmaking (by the U.S., at least) were regular events. Nor is this uncommon in NCYM.
And I note that in “The Plan,” there is not a single mention, direct or indirect, of this “core belief”, which has also been part of NCYM’s books of Discipline as long as they have been printed. Not one reference.
Integrity, anyone? More like Hypocrisy.
Actually, I’m no fanatic on this. I’m willing to live and let live on fuzziness about the Richmond Declaration’s pacifist commandments. Who’s perfect, after all?
But what goes around comes around, Friends.
And what comes around for me is that, this “Grand Plan” ought to be an opportunity to take “steps” that put NCYM on the path of learning to live with each other, in the spirit of Galatians 6:2 (“Bear one another’s burdens, for in this you fulfill the law of Christ”) and Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares, growing together until the harvest, when the true Judge (which is NOT one of us) will make the needed reckoning (Matthew 13:24-30), instead of some narrow and divisive notions of “unity-by-exclusion and division.”
But “The Plan” is not anything like that. Not yet. So let’s send it back to the drawing board and come up with some new “steps” that will begin to really take us “forward”, rather than backward into another round of fruitless wrangling over tired and pointless disputes.
Otherwise, we’ll just be fulfilling (again) Paul’s prediction in Galatians 5:15: “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
Friends can do better in North Carolina. It’s time.