So. The registration info for the 2010 Young adult Friends (YAF) Conference in Wichita is now online. As a preliminary, there’s a two-page statements of “expectations” and rules. The complete text is below. But some particular items deserve special attention, and I wonder what others think of them.
I won’t be shy about my reactions. Some sections are no big problem, e.g.:
<< Our minds and hearts will be entirely open to God’s work . . .>>
Okay; a boilerplate bromide, but sure, whatever.
<< We will show love and support in ways that are comfortable to those around us. >>
Of course. Live & let live; do unto others . . . .
But a lot of the rest of it is problematic. Very problematic.
If this were a group of minors, high-schoolers, sure. In such situations, and I’ve been there often, you definitely need specific rules, with enforcement; you have to steer clear of the liability hazards. And those responsible need to keep the lid on. Got it.
But these folks are all allegedly “adults,” as old as 35. And while the statement says << these guidelines don’t come from a place of legalism >> I’m sorry: a dress code (!?) that specifically forbids speedos sounds legalistic to me. It’s also hardly “balanced,” when it makes no mention of crosses, or WWJD tees.
And what is this? << We will not let sexuality disrupt, distract or divide us. >>
Oh, yeah? I am reliably informed that at the 2008 conference this meant that all discussion of LGBTQ issues was “off the table,” period. Well, that’s sure distracting to me, not to mention divisive. I mean oppressive. And legalistic as hell (Oops, my bad: << We will use respectful language, avoiding profanity. )>>
Fager: FAIL. (Do I get three strikes?)
And for the next one, the italics are in the original:
<< We will abstain from sexual activity, including within committed relationships. >>
In public, sure. Even us liberal Quakes are pretty hard-core about that.
But behind closed doors, between committed adult partners?
Forgive me, but what is up with that?
And just how is this ban to be monitored and enforced? I gather that last time, the committed couples were broken up for the nonce. However the monitoring is to be done this time, they’re not kidding, because the statement makes clear that << If you are unable to function within the specific guidelines in italics below, you will be asked to leave the conference . . . >>
Boundaries are one thing; we all deal with those. But a no-sex-and-no-speedos list for adults — disclaimers aside, that is way over the legalistic top for me.
And there’s more: << We will speak to each other in a way that glorifies God. >>
Am I the only one that sees the unacknowledged theological bias and baggage bulging from practically every syllable of this?
Ditto for << We will remember that our actions . . . reflect on us as young people, as Friends, and as members of the Body of Christ.>>
Hmmmm. That sentence jangles when I look back to read that << Our goal is that this conference will be a welcoming place for all Friends. >> (Bold in the original.)
I’ll skip the wisecracks about those who can’t live without their tank tops (thee knows who thee are.) But what of the Friends who don’t consider themselves part of “the body of Christ”? And what about those who are dubious or definitely apart from the “God” part?
How welcome are they supposed to feel? Or where do the theists fit in who are not sure whether they can “glorify” a God that has the checkered past of the One who messed with Job, allowed the Holocaust(s), and so many other seeming missteps?
Frankly, it seems obvious to me that large swathes of important discourse among Friends today, and significant segments of the Quaker constituency, are definitely and deliberately being LEFT OUT — no, forced out, made invisible, and suppressed by this model. (Do I have to smile when I say that?)
Yeah, overall the whole thing leaves me feeling a little queasy, and grateful that I’m too old to qualify for the event.
Instead, I think I’ll just stay home, and wrestle with God some (I’m especially miffed about that Haiti and Chile business if you really wanna know, and I may use more than a little profanity when we get to the part about the dead babies in the rubble). Then I’ll chat openly and affirmatively with my non-Christian and non-theist Friends; God doesn’t mind them, so why should I?
I’m also keen to talk about how US Christians, evangelicals especially, can help to bust up the plans for a kill-the-gays law in Uganda — but of course, in a non-distracting, non-disruptive, and non-divisive way. Well; that should be easy enough, right?. Somewhere along the line I might have some committed sex (okay, okay, in private); and since in late May it should be plenty warm, maybe I’ll even bare my chest a bit to chill out.
Perhaps I’ll also sit a spell on the porch, in this state of deshabille, and re-read Chapter One of my book, “Without Apology,” which describes another cross-branch Quaker conference in Wichita, in 1977, when many of us struggled to open things up, especially for those Friends who were non-heterosexual, and those who questioned conventional Christianity. Then, as I said, we labored to open things up; what I see here looks more like agreeing to close things down.
I wish I could say reading and reflecting on these “community expectations” for adult Friends in 2010 made me proud of those who put them together; but I can’t. To speak plainly, they appall me.
How bad is it? This bad: it makes me want to go buy a speedo.
Here’s the whole text, FYI:
2010 Young Adult Friends Gathering in Wichita
Bearing Witness to the Word Among Us: Witness, Testimony, and Transformation
Expectations for Community
As Friends we come from a tradition that has long emphasized that our entire lives are changed by our encounter with God. We now have different expectations as to what the out-ward signs of a changed life are, and this reality becomes evident when we are suddenly living together in close proximity with strangers from other branches of Friends. How can we create a safer space where young adult Friends can focus on worshipping the living God and learning from each other? How do we remove distractions to this experience? Our goal is that this conference will be a welcoming place for all Friends.
We’ll need clear boundaries, self-discipline, and accountability to each other. At the 2008 Young Adult Friends Conference in Richmond, Indiana, Friends followed a brief list of guidelines which are the basis for what we expect of each other at this gathering. We want to be sure that Friends understand that these guidelines don’t come from a place of legalism, but are meant to build a healthy community at the conference. The underlying goal of each guideline is shown below to clarify this.
Some young adult Friends may find these unusually restrictive, while others will wonder why we even have to spell them out. All of us will probably be taken a little out of our comfort zones during the conference, but that’s also part of building an inclusive and respectful gathering.
All of these commitments are in harmony with Friends’ traditional understanding of holy living and respect for others. Remember that there will be a Pastoral Care Team available for you to talk to about any concerns you have.
We do have to hold each other accountable. If you are unable to function within the specific guidelines in italics below, you will be asked to leave the conference at your own expense.
See next page for expectations for community>
Expectations for Community:
Our minds and hearts will be entirely open to God’s work within us.
We will abstain from alcohol and other intoxicants, wherever we are, for the duration of our time together.
We will not let sexuality disrupt, distract or divide us.
We will abstain from sexual activity, including within committed relationships.
We will dress modestly. This means not wearing tank tops, sleeveless or low cut dresses or tops, midriffs showing, skirts or shorts above mid thigh, bikinis, speedos, or bare chests.
We will speak to each other in a way that glorifies God.
We will use respectful language, avoiding profanity.
We will show love and support in ways that are comfortable to those around us.
We will avoid showing physical affection without asking. Every person has different levels of com- fort about touch.
We will be grateful and respectful of our hosts.
We will abide by the guidelines of Friends University.
We will remember that our actions towards Friends University, University Friends Meeting, and the people of Wichita reflect on us as young people, as Friends, and as members of the Body of Christ.