North Carolina YM Update: Goodbye To Doormat Quakerism?
On August 1, another showdown meeting will convene for Carolina Quakers. Will it be the climactic moment of a struggle that has boiled over for nearly a year?
Maybe. But in assessing its prospects, it’s appropriate to take a reading on a factor that’s seldom named, but will be familiar to most experienced Friends. They will know that in internal Quaker conflicts, besides those on one side or the other, there is usually a sizable group which wants at all costs to avoid, cover up, or flee the conflict.
This constituency is often big enough to be decisive; and rather than having a particular theological or even ideological view, it typically has a position, or more precisely, a posture: pretty much flat on the floor.
Yes, to understand recent and current Quaker events, you have to get to know Doormat Quakerism.
In the current difficulty within North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM), there was initially much Doormat Quakerism in evidence. When a claque of fundamentalist pastors and their supporters came roaring into the YM’s 2014 annual session, demanding a heresy hunt, a purge and a breakup, many of their targets ran for cover or headed for the exits.
A few years back, when a similar coup was mounted in Indiana Yearly Meeting, the Doormat Quaker faction was critical: those bent on a purge encountered hardly any real resistance, and easily carried the day. Oh, there were plenty of Friends outraged by what happened; yet they mostly spoke behind their hands, or off the record, and barely slowed it down.
But in Carolina, it hasn’t quite turned out that way, so far. After sweeping the opening round, the purgers ran into increasing resistance. Instead of folding, a few of their targeted meetings stood up and spoke back eloquently. In key committees, the push for breaking up the body ran into dogged, lonely Friends who staunchly refused to be bulldozed into a fake “consensus” enabling a purge.
A number of the targeted meetings, however, hung back. A few of their members stood bravely against the tide in exhausting, acrimonious sessions of the YM’s Representative Body. But as groups, they were long silent.
The one target meeting which yielded to the pressure, Fancy Gap Friends, left the YM. But as it did so it aimed an indictment at the many who had, its clerk wrote, enabled the insurgents’ often abusive behavior by passive silence in the face of abusive actions.
“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 . . . .”
Then, at the June Representative session, the purgers may have overplayed their hand: when the YM Personnel Committee selected Emily Albert, a young woman Friend for a Religious Education staff slot, purge supporters besieged her with abusive phone calls and other behind-the-scenes pressure. They denounced her religious views (staunchly Christian, but not Christian enough for them) and where she went to school (the Quaker Guilford College, where she excelled in Quaker and religious studies).
Obviously, she was totally UN-qualified to work for a Quaker body in the same state where she went to a Quaker school. <Sarcasm alert.>
Just hours before her appointment was to be presented to the Representative body, Albert gave in and backed out. And who could blame her? If she had wanted a war, she would have gone down to Fort Bragg and joined the Army. (That would have been cleaner, plus the Army would have given her an enlistment bonus and a rifle to defend herself with.)
The disclosure of these shameful strong-arm maneuvers turned many stomachs. Combined with the months of hounding in committees; the repeated (if repeatedly empty) threats by the purge spokesmen that their meetings were ready to bolt the YM en masse unless they got what they wanted right now, the call from the Fancy Gap survivors seemed at last to take hold.
Since the end of June, there have been at least three statements issued and circulated denouncing the purgers’ behavior.
The first was drafted by Max Carter, the just-retired Director of the Friends Center at Guilford College, and Frank Massey, a pastor from near Greensboro:
“. .. we are concerned by those instances of what must honestly be called “bullying.” We have watched with growing concern and pain as people we love have been privately and publicly bullied, harassed, and discouraged for honestly held differences of opinion. This has occurred in congregations, in our representative gatherings, in committee work, in phone calls and e-mails, and in individual conversations. It has resulted in distress, retreat from work for the Yearly Meeting, and in extreme cases in hospitalization for stress and anxiety.
It must stop. “
This was followed by an even more forceful letter signed by the Clerk of the Personnel Committee, and the YM Superintendent:
“In doing [its] job, the Personnel Committee is disheartened and disturbed by what appear to be roadblocks to our efforts. If individuals have concerns about a person being suggested for a position within the Yearly Meeting, that concern should come to the attention of the Personnel Committee, not directly to the candidate, not to leaders in our Yearly Meeting not on the Personnel Committee and not in participation [in] a negative campaign against the candidate.
We are concerned about rumors, innuendo, gossip and bullying not only concerning prospective personnel, but among the larger body of Friends in the Yearly Meeting. This behavior is hurtful to some and a hindrance to all, is unbecoming and not consistent with our Quaker Christian expression of love.
We ask that this letter of concern be read in the next meeting of each Yearly Meeting committee or organization, and that we all seek to follow the commandment of loving one another in a Christ-like manner. We pray that Friends cease to participate in rumors, innuendo, gossip and bullying, and take a clear stand against such activity if it occurs in your presence.”
And from Jamestown Meeting, one of the groups that had hitherto been silent, came a particularly plain-spoken declaration:
“We are deeply troubled by the aggressive actions of some Meetings and individuals to excommunicate from the Yearly Meeting those Meetings and members who do not subscribe to their theological perspectives. We recognize there is diversity of belief and practice within the Yearly Meeting but we acknowledge this as a positive which adds to the life and strength of our collective witness as a Yearly Meeting. The calls for division and expulsion contradict our understanding of Quaker belief and practice, including the time-tested Quaker process of considering changes and reaching decisions.”
Joining the chorus was Spring Meeting:
“Spring Friends Meeting supports the concerns expressed regarding the ongoing bullying within the NCYM. Our congregation stands by the anti-bullying letter that was written by Max Carter, Frank Massey, and Bill Rogers, as well as, the letter from the NCYM Personnel Committee. We stand resolute against any bullying activity and defend those who are subject to said offenses.”
The August 1 Representative Body session will be the crucible for these forthright anti-Doormat declarations. Can members of these and like-minded Meetings back them up with direct, assertive statements and firm resistance to the purge and plunder plans?
“Purge & plunder” may offend some, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration. A late June letter from the purge-oriented Holly Spring Meeting called for NCYM to hire (and pay for) a lawyer who would divide up its assets and property with the dissidents. Can they push this idea through?
We’ll take a closer look at this and related ideas in another post.