Carolina Quakers & “The Way Forward” — Or Is It The Way Backward?

Carolina Quakers & “The Way Forward” — Or Is It The Way Backward?

Okay, Carolina Friends (and others who’ve been following our NCYM-FUM soap opera), let’s talk about The “Grand Plan,” from the Task Force, and its “Recommended Way Forward.” (The full text is here. )
What’s that? Thee don’t want to?
Well, me neither. But we kinda have to.  (Sorry.)
‘Cause there it is. Dumped in our laps at annual sessions. And all our meetings are under orders to submit detailed comments on, and/or pledges of compliance with it (honestly, I’m not sure which; more on that in a moment) by Twelfth Month 1 (December first, for the rest of thees).
And the clock is ticking; it’s autumn already, for petes sake.

December-calendar How did “The Plan” get here? Let’s recap briefly: 

There was this, er, disturbance at the 2014 NCYM annual session; several strongly evangelical meetings demanded that all “liberals” and their meetings had to — as they delicately put it — “immediately resign” from NCYM. (Exact quote BTW.) 

Much of the past year was spent in wrangling, revolving around several stubborn facts, established early, contested endlessly, but not really changed. These facts were:

1. The liberal Friends & meetings (with one small exception), didn’t want to leave; and, 

2. There was no “legal” way to throw them out; and besides,

3. There was nothing like a “consensus,” or even a clear majority, that wanted such a purge; but even so (this next is crucial)

4. The purge folks were not about to take “No unity” for an answer.

Except that in the end (or at least by the middle of September 2015), three of the four main meetings pushing for these “immediate resignations” of others and a “total separation”  or breakup of NCYM finally more or less DID take “No unity” for an answer, and quit the YM. (Okay, a couple had help; but they’re all gone nonetheless.) And the fourth meeting with them has one-and-a-half feet out the door too.

Now we can get to the “Grand Plan” and its “Way Forward.” The Plan was drafted by a task force which was approved last June, on the smoldering ruins of the “New Committee” formed after the 2014 uprising. The New Committee, after months of labor did not reach any agreements on a “plan” to “unify” (i.e.,  purge) the YM.

As near as I could tell, the Task Force was kind of a “Hail Mary pass” thing, by which the purgers hoped that with one more try they could push through a way to force out the “liberals” after all the previous efforts hadn’t succeeded.

Maybe the Task Force members wouldn’t agree with that estimate of their mandate. But look, Friends, check out your bottom line. What else is the “Recommended Way Forward” part about but hunting down meetings that are insufficiently “affirmative,” harassing them for a year, and then, if they don’t knuckle under, confronting them with  an “Or Else” part, not exactly spelled out, but definitely hinted at strongly.

Lipstick-pigMaybe some still don’t think this is a program for a purge; but who are we kidding here?  Somebody can tell me they’re bedecking a porcine visage with scarlet greasepaint, but I’ve been to school. I know that’s just putting lipstick on a pig.

And much as I like bacon, I’m not in the market for this one.

 Which brings me to a few preliminary comments about “The Plan”:

First, do we REALLY want to go through this yet again? ALREADY?? (Or, in proper Quakerese: Could this whole idea perhaps benefit from some more “seasoning”? Like maybe twenty years worth?)

Friends, raise your hands if you’ve had enough of this “Let’s play, Tear NCYM Apart” business for this go-round.


[Okay, that’s an unscientific poll; but not unrealistic, I bet.] And here’s a suggestion to meetings: when this Plan comes up, how about thees start by asking thyselves: do we really want to do this? Or are there more urgent and constructive priorities for our meeting and NCYM? 

Because if many others are as tired of this kind of thing as I am, maybe that’s feedback the Task Force needs to hear, and soon. As my early Clearness Committee, The Supremes, put it so well, echoing from their committee session of 1965:

“STOP! In The Name Of Love!”

My Clearness Committee

My own uneasiness deepens when moving from the first four “Steps” in “The Plan” (we’ll come back to them) to the “Recommended Way Forward” section. That’s the “action part,” and the more times I read it, the more uneasy I get.

The fact is, Friends, it doesn’t sound like a “request” for input into a collective, transparent, open-to-the-spirit discernment process. 

Not at all. Which sets off the alarms and raises the warning flags.

For one thing, look at this instruction:

“This request shall be considered by all monthly meetings and a copy of the approved minute related to this request submitted to the Yearly Meeting office by December 1, 2015 for review by the Task Force.” 

The paper says “request,” but I grew up in a military family. I know an order when I read it. I also did pretty well in English class. And I know that “Shall” used in the third person connotes an order, a requirement or an obligation. I got it.

And then the paper says that “Meetings that respond affirmatively to steps 1 through 4 of the Plan are members of NCYM . . . .” 

“Respond affirmatively” means “Accept. Submit.” Not discuss, discern, seek, or exercise freedom without fear.

Nope, Friends, This “Way Forward” reads like a barely-concealed ultimatum.

And there’s more. Any meetings that  “do not respond affirmatively” to the “Steps,” then will face a year on a kind of probation — and after that?? 

They are to “reconsider” either their insufficiently affirmative (submissive) “responses” or a committee will “assist” the meeting in “determining its future.” 

Wait — doesn’t that kinda rhyme with “release”?

Now maybe this part just hasn’t been drafted clearly enough. I hope not, because it sounds like a barely disguised ultimatum (see the bedecked porcine, above). And I for one have had enough of ultimatums. This “Recommended Way Forward” looks a lot more like a “Recommended Way BACKWARD” — into more acrimony and mutual recriminations, to end with more attempted expulsions.

If I’m reading this wrong, Task Force, by all means enlighten me. Because while I’m speaking for myself here, I know I’m not the only one with this impression.

And by the way, questions similar to these were raised at annual session when “the Plan” was distributed. But they all got the same response: Send in your minutes by December 1 and then we’ll see. (Words to that effect.)

But that’s not good enough. I can’t wait til after December to know whether this is a “Way Forward” or a forced march.

Either we’re equal partners in an authentically open process here, and the fix isn’t in — or we’re responding to this with a gun to our heads. 

Which is it?


This question is important in itself, but becomes more so when I go back to the Four “Steps” which precede this “Way Forward.”

Ah yes, the “Steps.” But this post is long enough. I’ll take up the Four “Steps” tomorrow.

8 thoughts on “Carolina Quakers & “The Way Forward” — Or Is It The Way Backward?”

  1. Yup. It reads like a purge to me.

    I’m afraid I don’t understand how this kind of Quakerism respects the Light that God gives each of us. It’s been my experience that we each carry a kernel of wisdom. I also know that I’m not always able to express the wisdom I’m given in a clear form. That’s why I listen to others, prayerfully, and also why I express my kernel as best I understand it. It’s why I try always to be open to a change of heart.

    To me, the Quaker way involves listening to each other with love, so that we are open to God’s leading us through the wilderness.

    I don’t see much love in this document. It presumes a goal that the bulk of North Carolina Yearly Meeting seems recently to have rejected. Certainly, that goal was not affirmed. How is it then good ministry to demand that all meetings toe the line or be expelled?

    — Jim S

  2. This Friend senses that “The Plan”, and its “Recommended Way Forward”, suffers from an extreme lack of clarity, so much so that it begs the question of whether the opacity was intentional. (“It’s not a bug, it’s a ‘feature’!”)

    For example:

    “1. All Monthly Meetings shall approve or reaffirm NCYM Faith & Practice…

    Affirmation of Faith & Practice as our guide does not establish a creed.”

    some definitions from Google:

    – state as a fact; assert strongly and publicly.
    – offer (someone) emotional support or encouragement.

    – officially agree to or accept as satisfactory.
    – (archaic) prove; show.

    – a system of Christian or other religious belief; a faith.
    – a formal statement of Christian beliefs, especially the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed.
    – a set of beliefs or aims that guide someone’s actions.

    – a person who advises or shows the way to others.
    – a thing that helps someone to form an opinion or make a decision or calculation.


    On the one hand, if a Monthly Meeting fails to “affirm” steps 1-4 of The Plan, then the YM will take steps to ” assist the monthly meeting in determining its future and/or allow the monthly meeting to reconsider the responses”.

    On the other hand, affirmation of the F&P as a “guide” doesn’t establish a creed?

    In Step 3 of the Plan, Monthly Meetings shall “reaffirm Friends’ Historic testimony for Integrity…” But I guess that testimony for integrity doesn’t include the Plan itself, which contradicts itself in the extreme.

  3. If this was the “Plan” that was originally proposed earlier this month and was written over this summer by the Task Group, me thinks that this “original” document was not edited before sending out to the monthly meetings. I read the letter from YM for each monthly meeting to edit this plan as they would see fit with explanations why they would want their changes. In short, monthly meetings will be doing the job of editing the report, the Task Group will compile. The reason I read it this way is all the negatives you mentioned are in the Plan document but the letter to the Meetings were courteous. Am I the only one who read it this way??

    1. Arlene– There is more than one strand here; the letter & the Plan don’t fit easily together. I’m hoping we might see some refinement/editing of the Plan document, to clarify some of this. But it’s tricky. At YM, to all questions the answer was the same: “Send in your comments by Dec. 1 and we’ll go from there.” But that’s not good enough for me. The whole frame and weight of this document is unclear; and I’ve been made cautious about such unclarity.

  4. I’m SO happy that our meeting no longer has to cope with all of this (can you hear my snickering from the sideline?). It seems to me that all a meeting has to do with this missive is to trash it. What Yearly Meeting anywhere in the Society of Friends has authority to issue orders? Wouldn’t it be great if all meetings concerned regardless of theology simply ignored it?

  5. From here in my part of the UK the Plan seems to be organising to the point of controlling. Quakers like many need dates in order for processes of such importance to be considered, organised and managed. To this extreme???

    The document reads as if there is an extremely influential minority who are pushing blindly forward with actions that are intended to create separation and division. Is the Task Force (a militaristic term) willing servants of the NCYM or a group of individuals pressurised into action?

    I don’t see how this is going to end positively for anyone. I forsee tears and a lot of hurt and funerals before eventually in the decades ahead there is reconciliation.

    What will happen to a MM that does not affirm and refuses to pay money to support an organisation whose current actions they may be deeply opposed to? Expelled or walk away as a mark of independence?

    There is an abundence of lovelessness in the Plan and Recommended Way Forward. Somewhere Quaker humanity, humility and recognition of others is missing.

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