Carolina Quakes: One Crisis Past; More To Do
< One >
In fact, when it came before the NCYM annual session, facing close to 200 Friends in a well-filled meeting room, the Executive Committee and its expulsions never had a chance.
As Friends gathered, word was spreading that the Greensboro News & Record had featured NCYM on its front page that morning, with an article featuring the headline, “Dissension Among Local Quakers Is Civil War Stuff.”
Only one Friend rose to endorse the EC report.
All the others were more or less grieved or enraged, with the general tone recalling the cry from the movie “Network,” that “We’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore!”
The EC Clerk, Wallace Sills, patiently read his most recent explanation of the action, backed up by Tom Terrell, the attorney who drafted the proposal. And one by one, their points fell flat:
— the YM faced a dire risk if the EC did not intervene;
— expulsion was the only practical way to head off disaster;
— anyway, they weren’t actually expulsions, but “releases” of meetings that had already left NCYM;
— and even though New Garden’s actions were drastically different from the other two, that made no “significant”‘difference.
Perhaps the Executive Committee felt it was being even-handed by including liberal New Garden on the list with evangelical Holly Spring and Poplar Ridge. If so, the ploy backfired big time, filling the session with platoons of angry liberals, cheek by jowl with equally upset evangelicals. These groups may be at odds again soon, but Saturday morning, they shouted approval as one when the YM Clerk, seeing the handwriting on the wall, asked if their wish was to refuse and thereby overturn, the Executive Committee’s report and actions.
The morning session started at 9:00 AM; by 11:30, the expulsion crisis was over, like one of the brief, intense mountain thundershowers crisis-crossing the region that day.
Executive Committee Clerk Wallace Sills, reading the report that NCYM then rejected.
The annual session’s action voided the expulsions; and as New Garden had appealed the action, speculation quickly turned to Holly Spring & Poplar Ridge: they had now been “Un-Expelled”; so would they now reclaim membership in NCYM?
Prior to the session, both had said they would not appeal, and were cutting ties with NCYM. In the absence of any statement from either, here is my guess:
I don’t think they will. After all, both have stated that they began a “process of separation” from NCYM as long ago as last March, as their efforts to free the yearly meeting from liberal connections and influence faltered. Further, even if their “separation process” had not, as the Executive Committee concluded, become the equivalent of a new yearly meeting, it had clearly made much progress. Why give that up?
Further, despite understandable feelings of outrage, the expulsion did push the two meetings into one place they said they wanted to be, namely away from the oppressively “unequal yoke” of NCYM’s tenacious liberal presence. And if the two yielded to the urge to take a victory lap back into NCYM, once done preening, they would be right back in that same offensively mixed-bag theological/cultural milieu. Not least, their moment of triumph would be matched and diluted by the vindication of their dually-affiliated bête noire, New Garden.
So that’s my guess: as the dust settles, it’s hard to see what the two now-independent churches would gain, and easy to tally much they would lose, by returning.
Of more interest to me is the choice now facing those pastors who favored the Poplar Ridge-Holly Spring separation project. Which of them will follow the two out of NCYM? We’ll be watching for news on that front.
And believe it or not, this was not the only important event of the morning.
< Two >
The night before, after the YM’s opening session, I sat down at a bistro in a nearby village. Several square tables had been pushed together, and a dozen or more Friends, done with their legislative duties for the nonce, were arrayed on either side, chatting, laughing, noshing. The Friend who invited me said the assembly was something of a yearly meeting tradition.
I joined in, slathering Texas Pete Hot Sauce on warm homemade potato chips, and guzzling a ginger ale, while several of the others sipped at wine goblets. The scene was noisy, small f friendly, and convivial.
And it came back to me abruptly late Saturday morning, when Judy Ritter, Clerk of the new Task Force on “The Way Forward” for NCYM, reached Section 3 of the Task Force’s newly introduced 4-point plan.
Section 3 charged all Carolina’s Monthly Meetings to “reaffirm” the “Historic testimony for Integrity,” in several specific ways, including —
Subsection a., on “morality & the Christian Family,” which mandated “complete continence before marriage, complete fidelity in marriage, one man and one woman, for life.”
I see, I figured; well, no surprise really. And we’ll get back to all that soon enough, sad to say.
My gaze slid down a few letters to Subsection d. of Part 3, which insisted on “integrity” in “never consciously doing anything that injures other people or injures one’s self unless it is necessary to help others.”
This, I noticed, was as close as “The Plan” came to what used to be called the “historic” Peace Testimony — another non-surprise; and I knew all too well that all our present wars, when we find out about them, are all declared “necessary” to help others, no matter how many innocent “others” we kill in the process. We’ll get back to that also.
But then Subsection d. closed with “This includes complete abstinence from alcohol and harmful drugs.”
And that –that was at last too much.
The bistro vista with its chuckles and clinking glasses came rushing back.
Now I noticed that at the end of each item on “The Plan” we were also instructed To “Please explain any difficulty the Monthly Meeting has with this request.”
When time for questions began, my hand went up. In due course I was called on.
Affirming that I personally have been a complete abstainer from alcohol all my adult life, I nevertheless wanted to know from Judy what the Task Force would do if NCYM’s Monthly Meetings submitted reports, come December 1, which had the capital I integrity to tell the truth about this item, which is that “complete abstinence” from alcohol, even in our tiny Quaker culture, is an increasingly rare phenomenon. There are research reports confirming that more Americans are drinking. (No, they’re not all alcoholics; but Item #3 is talking about “drinking” at all.) A link to one study:
Judy didn’t say much more in reply than that we needed to write up our concerns and submit them by December 1. In fact, that’s how she answered all the questions, except to repeat, quite properly, that genuine Quaker process goes slow and takes time.
Still, coming out of the session I felt of two minds about the morning:
On the one hand, there was deep satisfaction in how decisively the over-reach by the executive Committee was cut down to size.
And on the other, I felt both confused and apprehensive about the “New Plan.” For one thing, many of its provisions seemed like obvious non-starters, ideas already been shown to lack wide support among NCYM meetings. For another, it seemed to point us down the path toward another round of indecisive wrangling about many of the same old things. And how would that be “progress”?
But maybe the Task Force is being crazy like a fox: if the wrangling is thus confined to a long-term, slow motion process, could this be a way of confining it, sidelining it, and creating space for some other, bridge-building efforts to get underway? (But what might these be? And led by whom?)
Maybe it was reassuring that, with the crisis past, the Saturday afternoon session seemed to revert to annual routine: reports from Quaker Lake Camp, the ongoing work trips to Jamaican Friends, and more– fascinating to some, tedious to others.
My attention soon wandered. Which on this day, was likely a good sign. Even though this blog post will likely have competition from a Greensboro daily paper, following up on the Quaker “Civil War stuff” here.
Is it good news when what old-time Quakers called “The World” starts to follow our inelegant internal travails?