The theme was announced by none other than Wayne Lamb, pastor of Chatham NC Friends and self-proclaimed scourge of liberal Carolina Quakers.
“It’s June 6,” he boomed to the Representative meeting of North Carolina Yearly Meeting-FUM (NCYM), crowded into Pine Hill Meeting in Ararat NC.
Then, for emphasis: “June 6, 1944,” he repeated, then added: “‘A Date Which Will Live In Infamy.'”
I glanced quizzically at the Friend beside me: she was as puzzled as I.
“A date which will live –”
Wait: wasn’t THAT quote from a couple years BEFORE D-Day?? About a completely different piece of World War Two??
Sure enough. The quote was from President Franklin Roosevelt, after Pearl Harbor:
Well, picky picky. In any case, the point was (I think), that June 6, 2015 was supposed to be D-Day for NCYM. And in the end, Wayne Lamb turned out to be right, in a way, on both counts. But of that, more presently.
So it was the Day of Decision, we were told several times during the grueling hours-long session, because it was the day to decide how to expel a pack of liberal meetings who, depending on which homegrown theological expert was speaking, were:
— peddling “blasphemy”;
— driving young Friends away in droves from other, more evangelical meetings, by having dared to interpret the Bible; by taking seriously the statements in NCYM’s Faith & Practice that it is not a creed; and by their friendliness to LGBT folks. (Not to mention the suspicion that many in the target meetings voted for Democrats);
— on the road to repeating the murderous horrors of David Koresh & Jim Jones (yes, faithful readers, you have heard that one before); but
— here was a new one: aiding the Tajik general, who was once trained by the notorious U.S. torture firm Blackwater in the “War On Terror”, and who had recently defected to ISIS in Tajikistan.
(This was yet another puzzler, as liberal NC Quakers had just about unanimously opposed the war this fellow was trained for, none are known to have been to Tajikistan, or were ever employed by the odious –and now banished and renamed Blackwater– and all abhorred ISIS. )
So how were we supposed to have–?
But I digress. The point of this chorus was that the Representative Body was supposed to agree on how to rid NCYM of the liberal virus, and June 6 was the drop-dead deadline. Its decision would then be ratified at the NCYM annual session in early September.
Several of the purgers loudly stated that their fundamentalist-oriented meetings were on the very brink of “pulling out” of NCYM, if this housecleaning was not made possible forthwith; this day was NCYM’s last chance. (Similar statements have been made repeatedly since last summer.)
But how to do it?
As they’ve been learning, it’s not so easy. The first major obstacle to meeting the purgers’ demand was the NCYM Faith & Practice, which gives the Yearly Meeting NO authority to expel meetings, particularly on doctrinal grounds. And the purgers’ previous approach — to heap abuse on the liberals, evidently in hopes of driving them out by the volume of vitriol, had yielded but meager results.
Only one small liberal Group, Fancy Gap Friends, left the YM last summer, after the current barrage began. The larger ones, including New Garden Friends in Greensboro, the YM’s biggest monthly meeting, have made it plain that they are staying put. And given the current Faith & Practice, there was nothing the purgers could do about that.
So Faith & Practice had to be changed.
But how? A “New Committee,” formed last summer in response to the purgers’ initial outcry, had labored for nine months to answer the query: “What might a restructured or even divided yearly meeting look like?”
This “New Committee” delivered its final report to the Representatives on June 6. And with it came another roadblock for the purgers: it had no recommendation.
Instead, it submitted a list of three “options” which they had discussed and debated. But the committee had not been able to agree on any of them; it had found no unity, no “sense of the meeting,” and left any decision up to the representative body.
Here is a brief summary of these options (it is unavoidably somewhat wonky).
Option #1 — A Managed Divorce:
This option’s advocate asserted that it would bring internal peace to NCYM, by devolving most contested issues (e.g., homosexuality, theology) to the “associations,” and leaving the YM only a “fiduciary” responsibility, for the money and the YM’s main property, its camp.
Option 2: “Bless and release”: as the Committee put it, “to accept the view that the Risen Christ present to us is the Authority and that the Quarterly and Yearly Meetings have no authority over the individual or local meetings. The body would ‘bless and release’ those meetings that do not feel they can remain in relationship with the Yearly Meeting under these conditions.”
This option was rightly described as essentially the status quo under the current Faith & Practice. Thus it was essentially “in place,” and need not be “adopted.”
Option #3: The Purge: Change Faith & Practice to give the YM “a mechanism for removing meetings from NCYM that do not support the theological positions of NCYM as currently expressed in Faith and Practice . . . .” Its advocates explained that following this change, a YM committee would be formed to visit and examine every meeting (approximately 70) for its doctrinal soundness, and weed out those not up to snuff.
Debate on these three went on for several hours, and when the dust settled, the Clerk, Michael Fulp, wearily pointed out that its results mirrored those of the Committee: nothing even approaching “unity,” or for that matter, a preponderance.
He showed a summary of the views voiced by appointed monthly meeting representatives: several liked each option; several opposed each option; a few wanted some combination; and several others said their meetings had not yet taken a position. Furthermore, fewer than half of the YM’s meetings were even represented at the session.
Thus the purgers ran smack into two more major obstacles: one–lack of any clear preference in the body; and two, perhaps even more important, a Clerk honest enough to state this result truthfully.
So the first Big Decision of NCYM’s D-Day was — no decision. Which is also to say, the liberal “blasphemers” and their meetings were still in no danger of expulsion.
Thus, based on the repeated statements of several meetings and vocal pastors, as well as documents for a new hard-evangelical YM (disclosed here in March) that have been in circulation, the hard core of the NCYM meetings backing the purge plan should have been headed out the door right then.
Unless, of course, all the months of bluster were but the bleating of hypocritical abusive windbags.
Whatever, they were NOT in fact finished. As the afternoon waned, along with attendance, the purgers seemed certain that if the group only talked some more, all would see it their way, and finish the purge at yearly meeting.
Further, just as the discussion was truly wearing down, an obscure assistant pastor had a bright idea, which in another theological tradition would be called a Hail Mary pass: let’s add a fourth option to the mix, he urged, that of the “Indiana reconfiguration,” referring to the purge in that yearly meeting (which BTW has been extensively chronicled in our journal Quaker Theology.) Surely everyone would soon see the wisdom of the Hoosier group’s actions.
And let all four be taken up –yet again — at a special called Representative session before YM sessions.
A glance around the room indicated that for many, this was akin to seeking volunteers to undergo simultaneous root canals and colonoscopies. A Representative session at the height of vacation season?
Nevertheless it was agreed to have a special Representative session on August 1 at Holly Spring Meeting.
Only after Saturday, did someone consult the NCYM Faith and Practice, and uncover yet more major flies in the purgers’ ointment: it specifies (on page 105) that any changes in Faith & Practice must proceed through at least five steps [Trigger Warning: More Quaker wonkery ahead]:
–FIRST, it must be initially approved by the Representative session;
–THEN it is referred to the F&P Committee for study and recommendation (no deadline on this);
— THEN when the F&P Committee finishes, it can be brought back to a SECOND Representative session;
— THEN, if approved again, the proposal is submitted to the clerks of every monthly meeting (approx. 70), for formal consideration by them. This submission to local meetings must be at least two months prior to a yearly meeting session; and
— THEN the proposed change can be considered by the next yearly meeting session.
Sorry if thine eyes glazed over, Friend, but this is important stuff. And here’s the whole section for reference:
Dig that “cautiously and with deliberation.”
Yet the purgers hope that ALL this, including the two-months local meeting consideration, can be crammed into the 35 days between August 1 and September 4, which is when the 2015 annual session opens.
Well, good luck with that.
I wish that were the end of this report. Certainly those who remained at the Representative session had shown fortitude if nothing else.
But unfortunately there was still more, and worse, to come.
The next news was delivered by the NCYM Personnel Committee. They had earlier announced that they planned to bring forward the name of a young adult Friend, Emily Albert, to fill the yearly meeting post of Director of Religious Education, Young Friends and Young Adults. As part of an effort to increase transparency in NCYM operations, this selection had been posted on the NCYM website, along with Albert’s resume and statement of faith.
However, the committee clerk said, they would not be offering Albert’s name for consideration, because late Friday night Albert had called and withdrawn from the position.
Why? The reasons soon leaked out: Albert had been made the victim of a campaign of assaultive opposition by certain persons, who said she would not get any cooperation in her work for the yearly meeting.
Why the opposition? Most likely because Albert was a graduate of Guilford College, and its Quaker Leadership Scholars Program (QLSP), and currently doing RE work for High Point Meeting. High Point is one of the groups which had eloquently rebutted the purgers’ campaign in a letter distributed last fall.
The intimidators had nothing solid for their campaign: Albert’s character is unspotted; her academic record superior; her experience relevant; and her faith sincerely Christian.
Ah — but was she the right kind of Christian? For most of the purgers, the Guilford degree alone was one strike, and the QLSP connection was at least two more. Add in High Point’s rebuke of the purge, and what more did one need?
After all, was not QLSP known to be friendly to religious liberals, and open LGBTs? And was its founder and longtime director none other than Max Carter, a member of the arch-heretical New Garden Friends Meeting? And had not Carter even stood up for New Garden in the D-Day discussions that very same afternoon?
(Lest one think this is exaggeration, NCYM-FUM used to meet at Guilford, until opposition among the proto-purgers to the school’s atmosphere of “liberal heresy” obliged the YM to move its sessions to a YMCA facility near Asheville, more than three hours away.)
While Albert’s sudden withdrawal was unfortunate, it did confirm the high estimate of her intelligence: she saw a lynch mob headed for her, and got out of its way.
As the magnitude of what had been done sank in among those still present in the Representative session, the atmosphere grew solemn.
As if the labors of the long day were not enough, now this: Max Carter and his ilk in the liberal meetings were still beyond reach, but here was an easy, soft target, essentially isolated. Albert thought she was starting on a new path in her spiritual journey. Instead, she got a one-way ticket to Omaha Beach.
And with Emily Albert’s withdrawal the yearly meeting’s functioning was paralyzed in a crucial area.
And so Wayne Lamb’s garbled early jibe about a D-Day that will live in infamy at last came to pass, for NCYM-FUM at least: June 6, 2015, will be long remembered by many in just those terms.
Though in truth, as time passes a different, non-military assaultive image lingers more in my mind: that of campus rape: Deeds done in the dark, aimed at vulnerable, isolated women, with perpetrators too often escaping into mists of denial and official timidity.
Indeed, if I were going to a Representative session tomorrow, I would be sorely tempted to come carrying a mattress, like this:
This very depressing close to that long meeting on June 6 was a melancholy verification of comments made by the Clerk of Fancy Gap Friends last summer, explaining why they left NCYM:
Over the last decade, we have seen members and meetings of NCYM (FUM) display cruelty and meanness in their behavior toward Friends with whom they disagree. We can document those behaviors . . . .
This kind of behavior feels like a direct violation of the only standard we know of that describes true followers of Jesus Christ. The only judgment we feel is our place to make is whether this chronic behavior represents a sick institution with harmful behavior.
We believe that North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends (FUM) is dysfunctional and very much in need of help. We know this by the behavior we observe not through the abstractions of theology. We see cruelty, meanness, manipulation, hostility and codependency.
We are not just pointing a finger at those who attack us theologically but those who permit this behavior as well. As most readers know, the family of an alcoholic can be as responsible for the continuation of the disease as the victim himself.
We believe that even those in NCYM with whom we align theologically have failed to confront the institution’s illness and are complicit as well. We apologize if this seems harsh but we believe we must speak truth to power . . . .
Which leaves a question dangling that is not yet on the agenda for August or the annual session:
Will the NCYM leadership let this personal violation, one of numerous such assaults, pass unaddressed? The incumbent leadership was not part of this incident, but the pattern has been, as Fancy Gap Friends point out, to let such incidents pass.
Perhaps if they had some encouragement?