Why Expel A Gay-Friendly Oregon Meeting? Here Are 8 Answers.
Weak Tea, and Strong Drink
Some very revealing reading has come in from Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM).
Copies of all the eight appeal letters protesting the expulsion of LGBT-welcoming West Hills Friends Church (WHFC) from the YM last summer are now uploaded on the Northwest YM website.
We have written about these appeals before. The NWYM Administrative Council is supposed to act on them, and either uphold the expulsion, or vacate it.
When? Unknown; when they’re good and ready, it appears.
But that’s not all the uploads. Along with the appeals is something new: a collection of eight more letters/statements in support of the expulsion.
Ah, now this should be good, I thought: the curtain will drop; the gloves come off; and maybe there will even be a sighting of that rarest of regional birds: the Northwest Full-Feathered Plainspeaker.
But wait: First a word about the meetings which are NOT on this list of expulsion supporters: namely the largest ones. Those are meetings in and around Newberg, and in southern Idaho.
The Newberg meetings are the oldest; many of the Idaho groups are thought to be more conservative in their theology. But all are, at least on the record, silent at this point.
The one exception is/was the very largest — Anthem, in northern Idaho, which loudly left NWYM, as we noted recently. But Anthem’s departure letter downplayed the West Hills situation as a reason, acknowledging instead that the group wasn’t really that Quaker at all:
“Many of you know that Anthem Friends Church (formerly Hayden Lake Friends Church) has never been extremely devoted to Quaker practices and principles. Over the past 50 years of our Church’s existence we have followed Quaker practices very loosely.”
Why the silence from the other biggies? Sources suggest that some of these meetings have grappled with the matter of West Hills’ expulsion, and failed to find unity, pro or con.
That makes sense, because for one thing any large group of Quakers is likely to have a range of opinion. Another reason is that, despite the indignant denials we will read in some places below, Northwest YM is in fact very much in struggle with the issues of how to deal with changing views on sexuality, no matter how dogmatic a face is put on it for public consumption. The cracks in the dogma are there for all to see. Only the outcome is cloudy.
So let’s turn to the eight statements supporting the West Hills ouster. After reading the first several, my initial hopes for something hard-hitting were dashed: no such luck.
In fact, the first four statements –half the total — took up barely a single full page of text. And the message was, well, mighty weak tea. Some excerpts:
West Chehalem: They “believe” the “Elders acted in keeping with the present YM F&P and at the same time worked very hard to find common ground with WHFC.” (The whole thing was six lines.)
Entiat: They too “believe” “elders faithfully followed F&P and the authority given to them therein, to respond to the issue of WHFC being out of compliance . . . .We understand that the elders served as peacemakers with WHFC . . . .We understand WHFC was unwilling to come into compliance and further frustrated efforts by allowing a same sex marriage to be performed during the process.” (The full text was 12 lines.)
Marion: They “want you [the Elders] to know that we approve of the elders decision regarding WHFC and your stand on gay marriages. This was unanimous in our meeting.”
Marion has also “drawn up a statement:” regarding “our stand on the matter,” for their minutes and at the church for anyone to come look at it there, “should it be needed to meet with anyone wanting us to be party to the gay stand.” (Their full text was eight lines.)
Meridian: Agrees the Elders reached their decision by “prayerful discernment, we affirm that their decision was loving and accurate, consistent with the Word of God and in line with Faith & Practice (F&P). We appreciate that . . .WHFC has been released to ‘pursue the call of God they have discerned.’” They also share the Board’s “hope that a reconnection with NWYM might be possible in the future.’” (Their full text was 14 lines.)
Okay, all this is clear enough, if not exactly ardent or eloquent. I noted that three of the four also repeated the Board of Elders’ euphemism of art: “release” for its expulsion of West Hills.
But then when I turned to the other four, things got more interesting. More substance, for one thing. Rosedale submitted two full pages. And indeed some pretty plain speaking.
Part of Rosedale’s letter was what was now becoming boilerplate: “While no process involving human effort can ever be perfect (especially when the results create pain for some) we affirm the Board of Elders’ process and their conclusion to uphold current Faith and Practice resulting in West Hills Friends Church removal from fellowship.” They get an extra point for saying “removal” instead of “release.”
More revealing was a set of four questions, with answers, attached to their letter, summarizing their view of the authority relationships involved:
Questions concerning West Hill’s actions:
1. Are all members and local churches required to accept the Faith and Practice as prescriptive? Yes.
2. Does the F&P allow a local church to create or form doctrine?
No. The only body given authority to change doctrine is the Faith and Practice committee of the yearly meeting.
3. Does the F&P give Elders authority to oversee doctrinal disputes and to discontinue churches? Yes.
4. Does the F&P require the Elders to follow a particular procedure in declaring the issue is shattering to the Yearly Meeting, or in discontinuing a church, other than what is mentioned in [two sections of F&P]? No.
Note here that questions are only asked about West Hills actions; the Elders aren’t subject to interrogation. Further, the relationship described here is strictly top-down.
And from a liberal Friend’s perspective, it is remarkable how completely absent from this formulation is any notion of continuing revelation coming from anywhere except the top. However, this arrangement, and the theology underlying it, is consistent with the evangelical view of the church.
Then came River of Life Friends (ROLF), from northern Idaho. They buttressed their support of the expulsion with their view of the Bible:
“True unity in Christ can only occur when individuals choose to believe what Christ said on a Matter and the Holy Spirit, the author of Scripture, will never lead us to discern something contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture. In Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus clearly defines marriage as one man and one woman for a lifetime.
[The quote referred to is: 4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
It’s interesting that by selecting these verses, they avoid the inconvenient fact that only four verses later, Jesus makes important exceptions to this advice against divorce, including a full-fledged caveat: 9:11-12: ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. . . . Let anyone accept this who can.’”]
“The suggestion that we should not or cannot make a decision on the stance of West Hills or other issues regarding human sexuality because the Yearly Meeting is in disunity assumes that we (humans) will eventually agree, or can compromise on this issue. To take this stand is to say that God has not been clear on this matter, and we as a Yearly Meeting need to discern the truth. We believe that to agree to wait and do nothing would be to agree with this assumption.
However, we believe that the Holy Spirit through Scripture has been abundantly clear: homosexuality is sin and to approve of homosexual relations is sin (Romans 1:18-32).”
[I cannot fail to point out here that they cite what is one of the chief “texts of terror” in this regard, Romans 1:32: “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die,” either without understanding of what they are pronouncing, or as an affirmation of it.]
They continue: “We acknowledge that there are those in our Yearly Meeting who sincerely disagree with the statement that homosexuality is a sin. And that is why this difference is irreconcilable. Because either God has clearly spoken in His written Word and the Holy Spirit confirms the truth of Scripture that homosexuality is sin; or God’s written Word is unclear or culturally biased on this matter and people through a discernment process have concluded homosexuality is not a sin. It cannot be both. These two approaches are diametrically opposed and cannot co-exist. A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
[But this is also boilerplate, and unhistorical: Friends have passed through numerous periods when important issues, reflected in the biblical texts, were in dispute: from slavery, to the position of women, the permissibility of paid pastors, and going to war, to pick only four. The struggles over these issues did in some times and places become tumultuous, and produced some separations; but not always. Making a difference like this one “irreconcilable” is a matter of choice. Theirs is clear; it is not the only one.]
And not least, ROLF concludes by speaking that most mysterious of words in this situation:
“River of Life Friends are in 100% agreement that the prolonged discussion and opposing views on homosexuality is shattering the Yearly meeting. It has consumed our time, energy, and resources. We are also in 100% agreement that releasing West Hills Friends is the way forward.
“Shattering” — the term that justified West Hills’ ejection, but is not defined anywhere in F&P, nor has its meaning been made clear by the Elders who applied it to expel WHF. But this is what it means to ROLF: “It has consumed our time, energy, and resources.”
I pondered this for a moment: but don’t many other things consume “time, energy and resources”? How about worship? Bible study? Business sessions on other topics? Even a walk in the park?
No, Friends, sorry: that “definition” doesn’t pass the laugh test. And I suspect that if the Elders thought it did, they would have grabbed it; but they know better.
Nevertheless, ROLF is clear enough: they’re very glad to be rid of West Hills.
Next up was Netarts, from near Tillamook, on the Oregon coast about two hours west of Portland. Here we have a double message, which can’t be passed by without comment:
First the applause:
“> Netarts Friends Church is sympathetic with the plight of West Hills Friends Church, a congregation which has delved into one of the core cultural issues of our time in an attempt to love and care for those with same-sex attraction. While Netarts Friends disagrees with the conclusions reached by West Hills Friends, it applauds West Hills’ thoughtful attention toward those who experience hardship.”
And then, in the very next paragraph, the hook:
“> Netarts Friends Church supports the decision made by Northwest Yearly Meeting’s Elders releasing West Hills Friends Church from Yearly Meeting membership. Northwest Yearly Meeting is comprised of churches and organizations which have covenanted together over the decades, united behind a common set of core beliefs. If a major discrepancy between Faith and Practice and actual “practice” is embraced, disunity is forced upon the Yearly Meeting. The Elders’ decision to release West Hills provides consistency within Northwest Yearly Meeting.”
This is a fine example of what, with a deep bow to George Orwell, I call “Newbergspeak.” Where else can you go to get kicked out of a group while members stand and applaud, and insist their ovation is in sympathy with you and on your behalf?
Sorry, Friends; this kind of “discourse” gives me the screamin’ willies.
But there’s one more, From Peninsula Friends, a church also on the Pacific coast, but northwest of Seattle, looking across Puget Sound to Victoria in Canada.
Talk about plain speaking; its “Pastor and Elder” for nearly 30 years, Jonathan D. Fodge, had an earful to give you..
Or rather, it was an earful for the Board of Elders. For despite the fact that he writes that “We rejoice that after years of the Elders and leadership of NWYM knowing the direction WHFC was headed, sending representatives to observe and participate in their “discernment process,” and finally the giving of notice of their non-compliance, that the Council of Elders has finally dis-fellowshipped WHFC from NWYM.”
Yes but, it turns out that their rejoicing was actually rather restrained, because to them, the Elders;’ action only seemed to be strong, but to use a technical theological term, it was really a sellout:
He writes: The “discipline” given to WHFC amounts to no discipline at all since the congregation was “released” instead of “dis-fellowshipped.” The term “released” (and the language surrounding the decision) suggest that WHFC is nothing if not one of the holiest congregations in our YM, since they are following so closely to “God’s leading” as a direct result of their discernment process. In fact, WHFC was commended for their following the path they “discerned.”
[A bit of discernment: it appears that as used here, “dis-fellowshipped” would mean the total dissolution of West Hills by the yearly meeting, presumably to include seizing its property and assets; such actions are by no means unknown in church disputes.]
The fact that WHFC was released to prevent further “shattering” of NWYM as opposed to being dis-fellowshipped for being out of compliance with key doctrines in our membership covenant would suggest that if the “shattering” effect could be reduced, and more congregations be convinced of the inadequacies of our F & P to allow for God (and by extension the Scriptures) to be changed (amended) into the likeness of our godless culture, rather than vice-versa, that WHFC would be welcomed back. There is no suggestion of a change of mind, heart, conviction, doctrinal stance, etc. for that welcome to be extended. In fact, the reverse is clearly inferred by the affirmation of their direction and the hope that NWYM will soon be able to welcome them back. Thus, the Council of Elders has, (whether intentional or not) by its affirmation of the correct discernment and doctrinal changes of WHFC, given voice to their support for a radical change of doctrine and direction for NWYM as a whole.
But that disastrous plan has to be stopped. To head its off, Fodge insists that
“it is our discerned conviction, based upon the Scriptures and the F&P that those churches and members of NWYM that have endorsed the doctrines and practices of WHFC (as a “welcoming and affirming” congregation-code word for the full acceptance of the practice of sexual immorality by “Christian” congregations) should also be placed upon notice of being in “non-compliance” with the F & P of NWYM and placed under discipline. If unrepentant, then they also should be put out of NWYM. . . .
The F & P affirms the authority and responsibility of the Church (through our collective representatives, the Council of Elders) to put out members and congregations that refuse to come out of their sin. . . .
Having stated that the appeals will be submitted to the Scripture and to the Faith and Practice, the Administrative Council is clearly bound to uphold the eviction of WHFC from membership in NWYM. To do otherwise will go against clear biblical statements, our own doctrinal statements and our own statements of the authority to put churches out who are not in compliance.”
So there you have it. If this view seems harsh to some readers, it fits the character of the church and its leadership.
Or — well, it does to some extent. Fodge sounds like rather a hardline Northwest Faith & Practice literalist here; his letter is the longest, most detailed, and most demanding among the whole collection of eight. Yet in other more local venues Fodge strikes quite a different note.
For instance, despite several clear declarations in F&P that Northwest Friends do not celebrate outward sacraments (a traditional Quaker stance), Peninsula advertises that it holds an “open communion” service at least four times a year. An “open communion” means participants need not be church members, but “with the standard that the participants be born again, or are children who honor and obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1-2).” Moreover, all Peninsula’s elders in 2014 were male.
Moreover, Peninsula’s website includes numerous links that seem quite unusual in even an evangelical Quaker setting: one is to the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, a group preaching that women, especially wives, are commanded by God and the Bible to “serve” men, especially husbands and fathers.
Several other links are to the Grace Community Church in southern California, an independent megachurch which advocates similar female subordination, has only male elders, and which numerous ex-members have accused of being cult-like in its practices.
Peninsula also commends the “Quiver Full” movement, a ministry that advocates large families, rejects birth control, and upholds strict male rulership in home and family.
By contrast, the Northwest Faith & Practice specifies several times that the body is committed to equality of the sexes. As in Query 18: Do you recognize the equality of persons regardless of race, gender, or economic status? (p. 13)
And in the F&P’s statement of “Fundamental Truths”: “Friends accord to every person the right of equality with every other.” (p. 81)
Why these rather marked departures at Peninsula from what are set forth as “fundamentals” of F&P?
Fodge essentially shrugged it off in an interview with a local paper: “As a member of NWYM, we are Quaker in our association, while serving as a community church in the Agnew area. Many of us come from a background other than ‘Friends.'”
This sounds rather like the attitude at Anthem. And Fodge has been pastor at Peninsula for 29 years. It is striking that these longtime departures from the Yearly Meeting’s standards have not seemed to attract any attention from the Board of Elders or other responsible authorities.
Or perhaps it’s not so striking. Clearly in Northwest disciplinary matters, some “Fundamental Truths” are rather more “fundamental” than others.
Or excuse me, shattering. Is a church welcoming to LGBTQ persons? To the barricades!
A little matter like subordination of women? Nothing to get ruffled about.
And who gives a hoot, really, about the F&P’s strictures regarding outward “ordinances,” which only go back to George Fox?
I’m grateful to pastor Fodge for bringing all this clearly into the light of day.
And here’s a Bible study suggestion for those pondering the outcome of the West Hills case: Matthew 23, especially the phrase that Jesus repeats there. You know the one: he repeats it seven times.