NC Quakers & “Options”: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Is there a future for North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM)?
When its Representative Body gathers on Saturday August 1, the formal agenda will focus on deciding among a series of options.
The options list is long, and — who knows — may get longer in the next 24 hours. Further, besides the specific list now on tap, there is another one which isn’t there, but is: namely “None Of The Above.”
Indeed, that was the clear choice at the previous session on June 6, when three “options” were debated. After several hours, the Clerk himself declared there was nothing approaching a groundswell for any of them, no unity, no consensus.
Viewed with detachment, the finding of “no unity” was a perfectly workable outcome. Viewed theologically, from the traditional view that the divine will is disclosed in Quaker process, no unity is as clear a message as is unanimity for specific action. The message then is: Stop. Don’t make change. Wait.
There’s plenty of precedent in Quaker history for this: in Philadelphia, controversy over outlawing slavery took decades to resolve. The move to permit paid pastors lasted many years, and is not universal even today. Many other examples could be cited.
For that matter, on June 6, the NCYM Faith & Practice was still in place; the YM office was functioning; member payments were coming in. There was no real deadline for decision.
But this outcome was intolerable to those who had come to the session determined to purge and plunder. There had to be a decision, they insisted, presumably in time to be presented at the annual sessions, which are held the first weekend of September.
An account of this long, difficult June 6 session is here.
So the Clerk yielded and called a special Representative session for August 1.
Yet before he could adjourn the session, one of the purgers insisted a fourth option be added to the list. A few weeks later, the Clerk and the Superintendent crafted a fifth, which they thought of as a “unity” compromise.
And still, over them all hangs the specter of “None of The Above,” the many who are quiet, but when pressed answer, “Leave us alone, for Christ’s sake.”
If so, that’s understandable.
But help is on the way. Here is a sketch of these options, with links to the actual texts that are available, plus some impressions and views.
Each of these options envisions a future for NCYM. So let’s add them up and consider:
Option One (Call it Legal Separation, But Not Quite Divorce)
Under this plan, NCYM meetings would regroup into two “associations.” These two would send delegates to a committee its to hold and manage the main NCYM assets: $2 million or so of trust funds, and Quaker Lake, the YM camp.
In every other way, the associations would be effectively estranged: each would have its own name, Faith & Practice, committees, and operating budget. Each would be forbidden to speak in public either about the other group, or the YM as a whole.
Notes: This plan appears mainly intended to save money, by avoiding expensive lawsuits over division of assets between the rival “associations.” It left unaddressed how the associations would be formed.
And it seems likely many meetings would resist being forced into an either/or designation. The meetings targeted to be purged have said repeatedly that they want nothing to do with such bipolarization. And what of the “leave us be” meetings, of which there were dozens in June?
Option One clearly relied on the precedent of the Indiana YM purge, in which a top-down Faith & Practice, applied by determined YM officials, forced all monthly meetings into an A-or-B choice, over the deep objections, and ultimate departure, of more than fifteen meetings. In the end, some assets were divided, and lawsuits were avoided.
As we’ve shown before, NCYM does not have a top-down Faith and Practice, and its officers have not so far joined the purge effort. At the June session, little interest in this Option One was voiced. And Holly Spring Meeting, one of the purge supporters, stated outright in a letter that it was not interested in it. On this point, I agree with them.
Now for Option Two, astutely packaged as “Bless and Release.” It would rely on the existing Faith & Practice, and invite those meetings which cannot abide being “yoked” with other meetings to withdraw and form their own grouping, a new YM or whatever. Those thus “released” would be “blessed” with the right to keep their buildings, land and local bank accounts.
There are several obvious advantages to Option Two: For one, it shows respect for the current Faith & Practice, neither ignoring nor trampling on it. For another, it avoids the deliberately arduous and time-consuming process of revising it. For a third, the terms of “release” are quite generous. The meetings which depart could then negotiate for settlements regarding YM resources.
Option Two had one other big advantage, if a less welcome one: it put a spotlight on the purgers’ actual agenda. That is, they do not really want “out” of NCYM, despite all the gabble about two sides parting amicably. They want a new exit to be forced open in it, through which their selected target group of “liberal” meetings can be shoved out into the cold (or the heat, depending on the season), leaving the purgers in command of the YM structure, assets and capital.
Option Two, however, got as much support at the June session as any. That was because the representatives of the targeted meetings spoke up for it, as well as a number of groups which were not settled in their opinion, but could see some merit in it.
If anyone thinks I have exaggerated the agenda of the purgers, Option Three, the Inquisition, should clear that up. Here is the heart of the matter:
Option Three is to define and approve a mechanism for removing meetings from NCYM that do not support the theological positions of NCYM as currently expressed in Faith and Practice . . . . Some might describe this as holding meetings accountable to uphold our current Faith and Practice directives. . . .
All meetings will be ministered to in order to obtain change so that they might comply with the will of NCYM as to theological, financial and membership issues. There will be ongoing dialogue between the meeting and the Auditing Committee during this process. If any meeting which is out of compliance wishes to commit to change and come back into compliance, they will be asked to sign a statement of such by the pastor, clerk and all members of Ministry and Counsel and be on probation for one year with consequences. The Auditing committee will monitor this meeting and report to Executive Committee. . . .
The time is now to settle some of our divisions, after some 30 or so years we cannot go on arguing these differences among ourselves. . . . .
And the way to “settle” these “divisions” is by expelling any meeting which doesn’t measure up to the authors’ theology. Option Three said noting about the YM trust funds or properties.
One appreciates the candor and clarity of the document. We dramatized the impact of this plan in an earlier post.
Such “audits,” also called inquisitions, are hardly unknown in religious groups. One thinks of the Catholic and Mormon churches as familiar examples.
For that matter, such processes, while they would be radically new in NCYM, are not unknown among Friends.
A similar proposal, though expressed in different terminology, was added to the Faith & Practice of Northwest YM in 2011. And it was applied for the first time last week, with the abrupt expulsion of West Hills Friends in Portland, Oregon. Other Northwest Meetings are reported to be candidates for similar treatment.
(It is massively ironic that the purgers in NCYM want to use for their creedal inquisition a document which states at least four times that it is not a creed. But I digress.)
My own sense of the on-the-ground impact of Option three in NCYM meetings is that it would prove massively traumatic.
And after the idea was laid out, the response on June 6 was hardly enthusiastic. Though it did have its advocates, such as Kevin Rollins, whose outlook was sketched in an earlier post.
But many others who spoke, even from “non-liberal” meetings, were clearly taken aback. A few tentatively wondered if there wasn’t some way to combine Options two and three, to somehow soften the blow. (Which to this listener seemed like asking if we couldn’t square the circle.)
So these were the three Options presented on June 6. And the only clarity achieved there was that there was no clarity regarding them.
Option Four- the Indiana Plan: As mentioned earlier, as the June 6 session moved to its irresolute close, one of the purgers called out for a fourth proposal to be added, the “Indiana Option.”
The NCYM office later sent out a letter and some documentation about what the victors in the Indiana purge call their “reconfiguration,” which is available here.
The letter confirmed the point we have often repeated here: the NCYM Faith & Practice does not authorize the kind of top-down intervention that enabled the purge there.
This Indiana plan was clearly on the minds of those who wrote what could be considered a Fifth Option, not discussed in June, but circulated by Holly Spring Meeting in a letter we have referenced before.
Option Five: Holly Spring insisted that the time had come for
a complete and total separation including finances. . . . Maybe this could be seen as taking Option One to a higher level. We are a peace-loving people, and we believe this could and should be a peaceful, amicable separation whereby we “bless and release” each other.
The letter proposed that YM leadership
obtain objective legal counsel and work towards a complete separation where each side gets what is fair. Hopefully, an objective attorney could give us some realistic ways to handle the future of Quaker Lake as well as separate other assets. We realize this could be expensive, but given our current situation, we feel this is necessary.
A thought on this: The first potential problem with this idea is that numerous meetings who want nothing to do with breaking up the YM are likely to object strongly to spending YM funds to which they contributed for that purpose.
Then there are the tricky questions of “objective counsel” and determining “what is fair.” Given the disagreements over doctrine and practice, these would seem herculean tasks, which could easily, one almost dares to say, inevitably, unravel in partisan bickering. This proposal, to be frank, sounds naive. But it’s now in the hopper.
Option Six– “Unity”? And then there is Option Six, dubbed a “Unity” Option by its authors, the NCYM Clerk, Michael Fulp and Superintendent Don Farlow. Issued in a letter dated June 23, 2015, one could also call it, less reverently, the “Slap Them Around & Split The Difference” plan.
The “Unity” Option, they explain,
“offers a perspective differing somewhat from each of the previous three perspectives (options), but drawing on each of them for attributes of this new perspective, focusing on how North Carolina Yearly Meeting might remain true to its spiritual and historical values and retain the largest number of meetings and members.
They way they would do this would be to permit ‘a degree of consequence’ against meeting deemed to be ‘out of accord with the authority of The Holy Bible, the authority of Jesus Christ or NCYM Faith and Practice.”
The main consequence would be to deprive a meeting of the right to send members to YM committees or the Representative sessions. This presumably meant as a sop to the purgers. Yet there is no mention of expulsion, which may be meant as consolation to the meetings (presumably the liberals) being slapped around as inadequately Christian or suitably “biblical.”
But if not expulsion, the “Unity” plan goes on to say that
“For those who elect to do so, particularly those who are focused on placing significantly more power in the hands of the Yearly Meeting, or those who would focus all authority in the hands of the individual/meeting with no accountability to the larger body, this could lead to “blessing and releasing” (with title to their meeting’s land and buildings), but would not include a formal division of NCYM or division of assets of NCYM.”
So in a kind of moral equivalence, the proposal foresees both the hard-core purge meetings and an unspecified collection of anarchist liberal meetings “electing” to leave, with their buildings and land, but no part in the YM assets.
The writers also note that carrying out their plan would require revisions in Faith & Practice, a process that would likely take at least a year, if not longer.
It’s interesting that hard-core Holly Spring meeting, in its June letter, simply shrugs off this plan:
“As with the three options that were presented on June 6, we also do not believe the “Unity Alternative” that was recently presented is the answer to this situation.”
Again, I’m unexpectedly in agreement with Holly Spring here. How practical is it to discipline meetings for being “out of accord” with the Bible, say, when interpretations of the Bible differ widely, and are (rightly) not settled by what is in Faith & Practice?
Moreover, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Most of the purge meetings insist that the Richmond Declaration of Faith, which is in Faith & Practice, be made creedally binding, primarily because of its literalist understanding of the Bible and its statements about Jesus.
But the Declaration also has a very sweeping and absolutist condemnation of any Quaker participation in war, and most of these same meetings are patriotic to a fault. Would they be prepared to face complaints of being “out of accord” with that part of Faith & Practice?
Can anybody say, “Can of worms”? Or “Who let the dogs out?”
So. What will happen to all this welter of competing and varied “Options” on Saturday?
It’s not hard to imagine another irresolute impasse. In that case, most of “Option Two” would still be in effect as a default, because it is based on the existing Faith & Practice.
If there were no resolution (i.e., purge), would the purge meetings finally make good on their promises/threats of departure? There would be nothing to stop them. (But then, there never has been.)
On the other side, the liberal meetings have declared their intention to stay. And far from being anarchists, they have sent many members to serve on yearly meeting committees, and not a few have served as officers — until driven out by purger harassment and bullying.
I don’t know the future. But I will make one prediction: for a long and grueling session on August 1.
Beyond that? Could the future of NCYM-FUM be an Option Seven, something out of the movie “Groundhog Day,” where this same process simply rewinds, as more of the same, forever and ever . . . .?