“pledged to march thousands of demonstrators naked through the streets of Nairobi as Obama touches down on Friday to protest Obama’s support for LGBT rights. The nude display will apparently show Obama ‘the difference between a man and woman,’ Vincent Idala, the party’s leader, who claims to have recruited prostitutes for the occasion, has said.”
What’s this got to do with North Carolina Yearly Meeting-FUM (NCYM) and its current troubles?
Stay with me.
First, Kenya has probably the biggest Quaker population of any nation.
Actually, the official Quaker position there goes further than Kenyan laws. Gays can get up to 14 years in prison for having sex there; but the Kenyan Quaker leadership insists that:
“God outlawed all homosexuality and bestiality as sexual perversion that should not be tolerated. All sexual perversions were worthy of death, indicating their loath sameness before God. . . . Modernizing Christianity to meet our own selfish desires is immoral. The God of yesterday is the same today and tomorrow and His commandments have remained and will remain forever.“
“Worthy of death.”Spin it any way you want: that’s hard core.
There are numerous ties between Kenyan Quakers and Friends in NCYM.
The attitudes of many in NCYM are much the same on this topic.
And anti-gay sentiment played a big role in setting off the current purge campaign in NCYM. Indeed, looking back, it was likely the trigger, the fuse for the explosion.
For background, let’s step back three years:
In the spring of 2012, NC Republicans promoted a referendum on a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage (which was already illegal; but not illegalenough for some). Party leaders figured the campaign would charge up their base, and the momentum would carry over to the state & federal elections in November of that year.
The plan worked. After a noisy and expensive campaign, the amendment passed in May 2012 by 61 per cent statewide. And the Republicans swept the fall elections too.
Sixty-one per cent for the Amendment was undeniably a landslide margin. But a closer look shows that in certain areas the result was more like an avalanche. Take these three counties:
Surry County – Yes vote 78 % Randolph County – Yes vote 80 % Yadkin County – Yes vote 82 % (That’s an average result 19 points ahead of the statewide margin.)
Why name these three counties? Because that’s where most of the NCYM meetings now on the warpath about purging their yearly meeting are located.
By contrast, In Guilford County, home of three “liberal” (i.e., gay-welcoming) NCYM meetings, the amendment barely passed in a squeaker, 50.02 % Yes to 49.98 No.
And there’s more. During the Amendment campaign, two of the “liberal” Meetings, New Garden in Greensboro (Guilford County), and Spring (in nearby Alamance County, where the Amendment passed by ”only” 64 %), went public with their sentiments.
Spring’s statement took the form of a business-card sized ad in a local paper. Here it is:
New Garden’s ad was larger. The image I was able to find was not very clear; but you get the idea:
On the other side, Chatham Friends, another Alamance-based NCYM church with an outspoken conservative pastor, also published an ad, supporting the Amendment:
This back and forth is somewhat interesting, but by now it’s ancient history. Even at the time, many might have read the respective ads and shrug: “That’s democracy in action. Different strokes for different folks, and the ballot box will settle it.”
For that matter, the ballot box did not settle it for the state either.
Amendment opponents soon turned to the courts, amid shifts in both legal and public opinion on the issue that were nothing less than seismic.
In early 2014, a federal judge accelerated the transition by striking down the anti-same sex marriage law in Virginia, next door.
On June 28 the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision, which extended it to North Carolina.
This June date was the big one; it made clear that the NC Amendment’s days were numbered.
And so they were. On October 10 a Carolina federal judge declared the NC Amendment unconstitutional, and county officers began issuing marriage licenses.
Needless to say, these legal actions, snatching away the Amendment supporters’ electoral victory, were met with outrage. And the outcome was clear by midsummer.
For Amendment supporters in NCYM, how was outrage and resistance to be expressed? They had voted for it by 80 per cent or more, and now their stand had turned to ashes. Were they going to take this lying down? But what to do?
Consider: the annual sessions of NCYM are held in early September, over the Labor Day holiday weekend; that was only two months away. Further, the Presiding clerk was a member of New Garden Meeting, which had published the larger pro-marriage ad during the campaign.
There had been other clashes in recent years, over the proposed recording of a lesbian Friend at New Garden as a minister, the alleged infiltration of “universalism” in certain meetings, and so forth. These differences were real enough.
But clearly, in those weeks last summer, a coterie of pastors and vocal Friends decided that enough was enough, and the way to deal with the cresting tide of same sex marriage support was to force the supporters out, maybe because they were the only ones within easy reach. If that meant breaking up the yearly meeting entirely, so be it.
Why then? The first, and prototypical letter demanding purification of NCYM was dated July 8, not even two weeks after the June appeals court ruling. Sent out by Poplar Ridge Meeting (in Randolph County, which went for the Amendment by 80 %), it became a template for the others that soon followed.
The Poplar Ridge letter’s bill of particulars did not mention same sex marriage/LGBTs overtly; but these were only barely veiled between the lines, about:
— “a crucial disagreement” about the “Authority of Scripture” (i.e., rejecting the anti-gay texts);
— accusations of “lack of integrity” by meetings which “no longer affirm the NCYM Faith & Practice” (especially by welcoming LGBTs and same sex marriage), and even more damning, by their
— affiliating with “other Quaker Organizations” that Poplar Ridge disliked, “(specifically Friends General Conference and Piedmont Friends Fellowship . . .)”, which are LGBT-affirming, FGC since the late 1970s; and
— “Meetings that refuse to pay Askings [NCYM’s term for dues] out of protest.” This referred especially to New Garden Meeting (from Guilford County, where the Amendment barely passed). New Garden had been withholding part of its “Askings” payments after its attempt to record a lesbian as a minister was rejected; and
— “Some Yearly Meeting leadership . . . come from meetings that do not affirm NC Yearly Meeting Faith & Practice.” (This was aimed chiefly at incumbent Yearly Meeting Clerk Bill Eagles, a member of New Garden, who was soon driven from the post.)
We won’t repeat the story of the assault on the 2014 NCYM annual sessions. That’s described in Quaker Theology #26, its two previews and the full issue, here, andhere, and here.
Almost a year later, the saga is still playing itself out, and a Representative Body session on August 1, barely a week from now, will write the next chapter.
Other issues have been raised in the current controversy — the authority of the Bible, NCYM’s steady loss of membership, creedal status for the Richmond Declaration of Faith, and others — and they are legitimate enough.
Yet it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it is the affirmation of LGBT persons, especially by marriage, in Meetings and beyond in the country at large, that festers at the center of the struggle: it provides the main fuel for this fire, and lit the fuse.
And while there have no nude marches here, as are forecast in Kenya, the leaders of NCYM’s insurgency are definitely telling those they have challenged to “shut up and go home”; except they want these “hell-bound” liberals to find a different home than the yearly meeting which has sheltered some of the target congregations for more than 250 years. And before Obama’s week-long visit in Africa concludes, there could well be more resonance and echoes from there in the ears of Carolina Friends.
All but one of the targeted Meetings have opted so far to resist this purge effort and stay put. And on August 1, barely a week away, another chapter in this saga, perhaps the climactic one, will be written. We’ll have more to say about this coming session soon.
It is intriguing to me that, among the many reviews of Go Set A Watchman I have read in the past ten days, none mentioned Harper Lee/Jean Louise’s acerbic reflections in it on her experience as a New Yorker.
Anti-Disestablishmentarianism: The Word for Southern Marriage Holdouts Do kids still joke about learning to spell “anti-disestablishentarianism”? I used to think it was a fake, something made up, like Mary Poppins’s “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
But no! It was real. And in fact, I just realized that TODAY, for the very first time ever, I can use the term in a piece of factual writing, in its actual meaning. Because that’s what going on in a few holdouts spots across the American South: fits of Anti-Dis-Establishmentarianism.
Linda Barnette said in a letter of resignation, effective on June 30, 2015, that
“The Supreme Court’s decision violates my core values as a Christian,” she wrote. “My final authority is the Bible. I cannot in all good conscience issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples under my name because the Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality is contrary to God’s plan and purpose for marriage and family. . . .” Acquaintances said Barnette’s husband is a pastor who worked with Billy Graham Ministries for many years. “I choose to obey God rather than man,” Barnette wrote.