It didn’t look or feel like lighting the fuse to a load of dynamite.
But that’s what West Richmond Friends Meeting in Indiana did in June 2008 when they added a minute to their website.
They placed the post without fanfare. But the fuse, once lit, sputtered and flashed for several years, and the ultimate explosion blew up a yearly meeting that was nearing its 200th anniversary.
A new book, Indiana Trainwreck, is the first to tell the story. West Richmond’s 2008 minute announced that the group had “reached unity” on supporting full inclusion of LGBT persons, concluding to do so was in harmony with their best understanding of the Bible, the thrust of Quaker/Christian history & witness, and the will of God.
News of West Richmond’s minute soon reached the leadership of Indiana Yeatly Meeting, the regional association of which West Richmond was a member. And they soon sent word to the group that they wanted the minute removed from West Richmond’s website.
The meeting pondered this demand, prayed over it, and declined to comply; the minute stayed.
Indiana Yearly Meeting authorities said this was unacceptable.
Beyond the perimeter of Indiana Yearly Meeting, two other Quakers were watching as this standoff took shape: Stephen Angell, Professor of Quakers Studies at the Earlham School of Religion, part of nearby Earlham College; and Chuck Fager in North Carolina, several hundred miles east. Angell and Fager were editors of Quaker Theology, an independent journal founded in 1999.
While news reporting was not the journal’s forte, both Friends saw the unfolding encounter as potentially important, perhaps even historic. It blended news and theology with issues hotly contested in the wider society. And, they noted, no other Quaker publication seemed equipped to, or interested in, covering it. So they started taking notes, and collecting documents.
Over the next five years, what started as a dispute between one meeting and a few officials steadily ballooned into a confrontation that engulfed the entire yearly meeting. Beginning with Quaker Theology’s Issue #18, Angell and Fager’s work produced a series of reports that are the basis of Indiana Trainwreck, The book is a unique hybrid of preliminary history, provisional theology, and searching investigative reporting.
Indiana Trainwreck should be of value to active Quakers, scholars of religion, and anyone concerned with the fierce cultural/religious conflicts that have so dominated American culture and politics.
Although intensely local, the fuse West Richmond lit set off the first of several explosions across the American Quaker landscape, which echoed in settings far beyond this small denomination.
The issues engaged here included the nature & proper exercise of church authority; What is the place of the Bible and who is properly charged to interpret it? Which views of the nature and role of Jesus in Christianity are permissible among Friends—and who gets to answer this question? And how important is it to respect distnctive Quaker polity when the place of LGBT persons in the community is at stake?
All these and more questions were debated, and answered (but perhaps not resolved) in Indiana Yearly Meeting, with concrete, traumatic and lasting consequences.
Indiana Trainwreck stands alone in showing how this extended clash changed the religious landscape for Indiana Quakers, and its reverberations continue far beyond its borders, The book is now available in both paperback and Kindle editions.