Max Carter Speaks Out for Expelled New Garden Meeting
We just interviewed Max Carter, a newly retired former faculty member and Director of the Friends Center at Guilford College. Max is also a member of New Garden Friends Meeting (NGFM), recently pronounced “released” [i.e., expelled] by the North Carolina Yearly Meeting (NCYM) Executive Committee.
(We have also offered to let an informed member of the other two “released” NCYM Meetings, Holly Spring & Poplar Ridge, make their case against the Executive Committee action here. No takers yet.)
Those who have been following this unfolding saga will know that New Garden has been a main target of those who feel that NCYM needs to be cleansed of heresy and liberalism, theological, cultural or political.
Max has been vocal as a representative for NGFM in various NCYM sessions, but in this conversation he is speaking for himself, not for the meeting in any official way. (New Garden will be gathering shortly to formulate a formal appeal to the NCYM annual sessions, which convene late next week.)
A Friendly Letter: So Max, am I right that NGFM is planning to address its “release”(expulsion) soon? What can you tell us about that?
MAX: There have been consultations throughout the week, and there will be a called business meeting on First-day [08/30/2015] following worship. A draft of an appeal letter has been worked on.
I can also attest to the fact that folks on and close to the Executive Committee have encouraged us to appeal.
A Friendly Letter: All right. Here’s the “bottom line statement from the Executive Committee:
“In further recognition that New Garden Friends Meeting has joined another Yearly Meeting, the Executive Committee hereby resolves that New Garden Friends Meeting shall be released from membership in the North Carolina Yearly Meeting and that its membership shall be transferred to its new Yearly Meeting.”
First, Max, did you, or anyone else at NGFM that you’ve talked to, have any idea this was coming?
MAX: No. It took us by surprise. Nobody talked with us ahead of time. No decision by [NCYM’s] Representative Body had been made about dual affiliation.
A Friendly Letter: How long have you been in NGFM and North Carolina YM?
MAX: 25 years. Beginning to feel like 50!
A Friendly Letter: Not surprised. In that time, can you recall any other cases of actions by the Yearly Meeting to “release” other local meetings?
MAX: None. There have been meetings that have voluntarily left, especially in the early ’90s.
But I recall how even the conservatives used to respond to some of the more extreme elements’ call for “purging.”
In the debates over homosexuality and “New Age” theology in the early ’90s, some conservatives caucused and wanted to strategize about how to rid the YM of the liberals. One of their own stood up and said, “When I was taking classes at Guilford College with [Religion professor and Bible scholar]Fred Crownfield, I didn’t agree with much of what he taught in religion, but I knew that I had to behave on the final exam.
But Fred knew that and told us that he’d expect us to answer correctly, but we were free on the bottom of the test to write: “I am giving the answers the professor wants, but I don’t believe a word of it – and anybody who does is going to hell!” I did that, and it was fine. I think we can allow the same latitude here.”
That pretty much squashed that attempt. But, again, it was from the bottom up; not the top down.
Now let me say something about the late Willie Frye, a longtime NCYM pastor.
Willie was accused of teaching New Age Theology because he was asked to lead a study at Winston-Salem Meeting on the [channeled] “Book of Seth.” He simply responded to the request, being a valued former pastor there. And then he wrote an essay on biblical understandings of homosexuality, doing a brilliant job of exegeting the “clobber texts.” That put some over the edge, and a few pastors in particular sought to have his recording rescinded. When that didn’t work, some of the meetings in the Quarter withdrew.
And then, along about that time, there was also a secretive group of conservative pastors who wrote the “Stonecutters of Satan” letter – calling out New Garden, Spring, Mount Airy, Winston-Salem, and a few others as the handtools of the hoofed one and calling for their exclusion. That came to nothing, too.
A Friendly Letter: Wow. “Stonecutters of Satan,” eh? Any chance somebody has a copy of that classic somewhere? I’d love to see and copy it.
MAX: I don’t have it; not sure if it is in New Garden’s files somewhere. We did wear it as a badge of honor!
And like Nixon’s Enemies List, those meetings who didn’t make the designation felt hurt!
A Friendly Letter: When you say that “came to nothing,” was it presented to Rep Body or annual sessions, or was it just supposed to make NGFM so embarrassed that you would leave just in shame?
MAX: It was never brought to Rep. Body. It was a letter that was circulated, trying to shame us into leaving.
A Friendly Letter: Okay, let’s turn to the 2014 NCYM annual sessions last September . . . . It seems to me that the “trigger” or the “fuse” of this blow-up was most likely the anti-same sex marriage constitutional amendment campaign of 2012 here in North Carolina. Both NGFM and Spring Meeting took out newspaper ads opposing the amendment, and that seemed to send some folks into orbit. Would you agree with that, or am I missing something?
MAX: That may have played into it, but I think it went further back to Cheryl Bridges’ recommendation for recording from NGFM.
A Friendly Letter: As I recall, she was out as a lesbian. Better give us some background on that, then.
MAX: Cheryl, raised in Poplar Ridge and an M.Div. grad. of Wake Forest, was recommended by NGFM for recording [as a minister].
The Executive Commitee, then clerked by Brady Morrison called an emergency session. I was on the committee then, owing to my being clerk of the Program Committee.
Brady opened the meeting by saying Cheryl’s recording must never come before the annual sessions and had to be stopped at the Quarterly Meeting level.
A Friendly Letter: Because–??
MAX: He said that homosexuality is contrary to our Faith & Practice.
I told Brady at the meeting that according to our Faith & Practice alcohol, lotteries, tobacco, secret societies, and the military were also contrary to Quaker testimonies, but I knew many recorded ministers who violated some, if not all, of them. And F & P says nothing about homosexuality.
Brady wouldn’t buy it and dismissed those other issues as trivial.
He called at that meeting for the necessity of a [yearly meeting] separation.
A Friendly Letter: I have to say I’m a little puzzled here. Didn’t you or anybody at NGFM realize that this was the Hot Button of Hot Buttons?? Sounds, to be candid, a bit naive to me.
MAX: We knew it was a hot button. But we also knew Cheryl. And we could not come up with a valid reason to deny her gifts in ministry. Nor could the committee of the Quarter that met with her and recommended her. We were trying to be faithful to what we witnessed.
A Friendly Letter: Okay. So after that emergency meeting . . .
MAX: They packed the Quarterly Meetings for a year or so, squashing any possibility of her recording. And it was nasty! Name-calling; the kind of stuff you’ve witnessed on the floor of YM the past year.
We were accused of trying to ram the “gay agenda” down the YM’s throat. Cheryl was told to her face that she was going to hell and would take anyone along with her if she were in ministry.
A Friendly Letter: Hmmm. Well, that fits the belief system. So eventually was it that NGFM backed off, or what happened?
MAX: Then it morphed into an effort to re-affirm the Richmond Declaration of Faith. And when the folks who proposed the re-affirmation were asked why, they finally admitted that it was the Declaration’s “high view” of scripture, which would then justify opposing homosexuality.
When that didn’t fly, I think some saw the handwriting on the wall (see! I know my Bible!) and realized they weren’t going to have their way with defining an exclusively conservative interpretation of the YM.
But according to one long-time pastor, Brady has been calling for separation for more than 20 years.
A Friendly Letter: I might also add here that Brady Morrison was the chief author of what was called “Option One” in recent NCYM deliberations about a potential division. That was the plan to subdivide the YM into two associations, which would have nothing in common but the name and the YM trust funds and camp. It didn’t gain significant support, though.
So then, they turned to planning for what we saw last year? Surely the anti-gay Amendment comes into this somewhere. In Western Qtr., the pastor at Chatham tried to get Spring Meeting laid down or banished after the Meeting’s ad. It was a little business card sized ad, but raised a full-page ruckus in Western Quarter. Which didn’t go anywhere.
MAX: The YM leadership has long seen a problem with some of the more extreme pastors and has counseled me to ignore them when they preached sermons such as one that accused me of starting a Quaker nudist colony at Guilford. But, I believe ignoring them simply empowered them. And then there was a critical mass!
A Friendly Letter: Which brings us back to 2014 annual sessions. Somebody (Poplar Ridge Friends Meeting sent out the first big letter) organized the effort to pack the annual sessions, and they brought down the incumbent Clerk, Bill Eagles and the Clerk of the Executive Committee, Jack Ciancio, and where did that come from? Must have taken some planning and coordination.
From all I’ve heard and read, they were hoping to bust up the yearly meeting right then.
MAX: There were those in Poplar Ridge and Holly Spring who advocated for separation, and I believe they thought there was strength enough to pull it off, but fewer joined that advocacy than perhaps they anticipated.
A Friendly Letter: I also think some of them had heard too many stories about the “great gospel victory” in Indiana Yearly Meeting, where they rolled right over the Quaker Doormats. And then NCYM staggered through the fall, winter and spring. I think several Friends deserve the Quaker equivalent of a purple heart and a silver star for bravery under fire, facing off with some of those determined to force a purge.
MAX: Bill Eagles was too good a person to want to cause a ruckus. It hurt him tremendously, I know, but he bore it with great humor – and now folks even on the “other side” begrudgingly admit that they lost a good clerk.
A Friendly Letter: What’s your estimate of the prospects for this new yearly meeting they’re looking at?
MAX: Aside from Holly Spring, Poplar Ridge, and possibly one or two other meetings, those forming the separate yearly meeting are not among the stronger meetings in NCYM (FUM). And being “released,” they won’t have NCYM funds to divvy up, either. I’m guessing that’s part of why the Exec. Comm. took the action they did with Holly Spring and Poplar Ridge. The majority of the meetings separating are small and, in some cases, struggling. That’s why they needed the NCYM resources. Now, the untold story is about how much dissent there may be even in those meetings. I do know that it has divided families in Holly Spring, and that not everyone in the other meetings is in agreement.
A Friendly Letter: Well, maybe they’re not done yet. I’ve read pretty closely [Quaker attorney] Tom Terrell’s rationale/proposal that the executive Committee based its “release”/expulsions on, and just about every point in it is highly vulnerable to logical and other challenges.
MAX: And I’m sure NGFM’s [forthcoming appeal] letter will do just that.
A Friendly Letter: The one point I see in the Executive Committee document that has some validity is about the conflict of interest thing. It doesn’t sound right to have Friends holding committee or other posts in NCYM, deliberating on finances, property, staffing, and other policies, while organizing a rival YM which would very likely want to take chunks of NCYM property and funds with them.
MAX: It certainly does apply to Holly Spring and Poplar Ridge. I believe NGFM could argue convincingly that there is no real conflict as practiced in our affiliation with Piedmont Yearly Meeting.
A Friendly Letter: So what are your major points in rebuttal to the ExComm, as you now formulate them, repeating that they’re not “official,” but you are a knowledgeable guy.
MAX: I believe that NGFM will point out that what the Executive Committee did does not fall under any of their specifically outlined tasks – or even under their broader duties.
And that “dual affiliation” was not acted upon by Rep. Body…..
A Friendly Letter: Actually a proposed ban on dual affiliation was rejected, not once but TWICE this year . . .
MAX: And that there is no equivalence between a person’s belonging to two meetings and a meeting belonging to two yearly meetings.
There’s also the minor matter of Matthew 18!
A Friendly Letter: Which in this case would mean . . .?
MAX: The secretive nature of the meeting.They never asked New Garden to explain its rationale for joining Piedmont YM, too.
Therefore, they did not follow the scriptural injunction [in Matthew 18] to go [to the alleged wrongdoer] first individually and then as a community.
There will be the point made that Exec. is subordinate to Representative Body and that they acted outside of good order.
A Friendly Letter: Will there be any reference to Holly Spring or Poplar Ridge, to either differentiate NGFM or to throw them a lifeline, because much of what you’ve said would apply to them too? I’m wondering if we could have a moment here of yearly meeting politics making strange bedfellows . . . .
MAX: I don’t know. I haven’t seen the current draft of the NGFM appeal letter, but from what I’ve heard, it speaks in generalities that would, indeed, apply widely.
At NGFM monthly meeting after the 8/1 Rep. Body session, they encouraged me to reach out to Poplar Ridge to suggest getting folks from the two meetings together. they haven’t rejected it, but I don’t think they’re fully in charge of events anymore.
A Friendly Letter: Are any of us? Thanks a lot for talking with us, Max!
MAX: Sure thing!