Bob McGahey, the Clerk of SAYMA (Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association), saw what was coming at last week’s 2021 annual sessions.
What did he see? Trouble & woe.
How do I know?
Because he said so, in a Clerk’s letter sent out as the group was gathering (mostly in Zoom) last week.
The key passage:
Unfortunately, as we approach SAYMA yearly sessions, there are those among us who would enforce their deeply held convictions through pressuring, judging, and threatening behavior. One plenary speaker and two workshops have been challenged and threatened with disruption. One of those workshops has been cancelled, and the leader of the second feels genuinely threatened by escalating attacks, asking for protection. As an open religious society, our protection comes from the divine, which resides deep within each of us, acting from within the body, not from a hierarchy of leaders.
He was mistaken about that last item: protection, especially in SAYMA, comes from leaders and staunch Friends with resolve to uphold good Quaker order, or it will not come at all.
Both were essentially absent from SAYMA’s annual sessions.
Even so, the beleaguered plenary speaker did get to speak. The threatened workshops were delivered, just barely. But by the end of the week, the workshop leader had gone into hiding. As this was written that person was still in an undisclosed location, seeking safety and relief from continued “genuine threats.”
Of course, Clerk McGahey had already been immediately excoriated for having dared to speak a bit of truth. And true to SAYMA’s form, he quickly beat an abject retreat, issuing a second, fulsomely penitent letter, which breathed the embarrassing pathos of a forced hostage video. Among other iniquities, he said,
I need to acknowledge that I was being paternalistic [in the first letter], and at the same time inadvertently protecting the yearly meeting’s place of privilege in a colonialist polity built on all the arrogant assumptions implicit in the old term, Manifest Destiny.
Hmmm. Guilty of “Manifest Destiny”? An unwary reader could have thought he was attempting to uphold some semblance of Quaker good order and safety for SAYMA participants. But no. (Which raises, and perhaps answers another question: have threats and disruptions become another “New Normal”? In SAYMA, it would seem so.) By the way, how much jail time are judges passing out for Manifest Destiny convictions, these days?
Never mind; McGahey the self-confessed Manifest Miscreant said more about the coming week:
Friends, we need to accept the pain of being confronted with our structural complicity and often, of new racist sins in the moment, sometimes of being falsely accused. But we cannot tolerate abusive behavior.
If you take these two statements together, you have the crux of our painful dilemma.
In practice, however, those two statements were not exactly taken together. As the week unfolded, White SAYMA Friends were repeatedly expected to “accept the pain” of a continuing barrage of accusations, many false, plus torrents of abuse about their copious purported “sins in the moment”; and meanwhile, continuing abusive behavior, often marked with peals of street vulgarity, was tolerated, and by a few, commended.
The chief prosecutor, as has become almost a given in SAYMA’s bleakly cheerless proceedings, was a person, Sharon Smith. who claims to be a Quaker, but has no membership in any meeting; she simply asserts she is a “Friend At Large,” blasts any questions as more proof of Quaker racism, and is obediently so listed in SAYMA directories. She also claims to be of both Black and Indian ancestry, again without any evidence. Indeed, she styles herself as the chief Indian elder of the American Southeast, with suzerainty over all Indians of the region.
Quiet inquiries among North Carolina Indian groups last year yielded no knowledge of her or her grandiloquent claims. But any spoken request for documentation for any of this, especially for the claims of authority, are dismissed, usually with much loud profanity, as only more confirmation of White Quaker Racism. McGahey practically fell all over himself in haste to accept such charges:
Let it suffice to say that white people often cause unintended harm, due to their inability to see that they are acting from a position of power within a system that privileges them. As one of you said during the initial part of these sessions, we are like fish swimming in a sea that we cannot see. And when we are surprised, hurt and defensive when shown this, we are demonstrating what has been duly named “white fragility.”
So, suffice to say, the duty of white SAYMA Friends was to continue to swallow it all, resisting not the lash lest the dreaded curse of Fragilité blanche be added to their already limitless bill of indictment.
As you might have guessed, I was less than persuaded by this spectacle of self-abasement. It seems a near-total set up for abetting personal and institutional abuse and exploitation. If there is any connection between it and Quaker good order, I can’t find it.
Sharon Smith came to the sessions in pursuit of several ambitious goals. One was to commandeer the function of the Nominating Committee, and clear its list of any persons she deemed less than properly deferential to her.
She had announced this plan long before the session, in widely-circulated emails. The minor point that such premeditated vendetta purges are completely contrary to and violative of genuine Quaker process was of no consequence. And she succeeded: several such names were indeed struck at her behest.
She did not do so well with some of her other plans. Her assault on the plenary speaker, Harold Weaver of New England Yearly Meeting, did not stop him from speaking. The workshop she vilified staggered, and regrouped, but managed to happen.
Her major demand was for $10,000 from the SAYMA budget. She had obtained more than that two years ago, and upped the ante last year, insisting this annual amount (or more) be made a permanent stipend with no strings, the equivalent of a tenured university chair, with SAYMA’s bank account as its endowment. But in 2020, that demand, amidst the Coronavirus collapse, was refused.
This time, despite all the chaos, reliable reports advise that SAYMA’s budget for 2021-2022 was A) Approved; and B) Smith’s $10,000 was not in it.
But she’ll likely be back, as soon as this fall, determined to overturn the decision, or tap into SAYMA reserves instead.
That should be an interesting confrontation. SAYMA’s reported current budget figures were less than robust. This topline sample reveals most important numbers:
For the year 2019 (now The Good Old Days), SAYMA took in (rounded figures) $104,000; in 2020, under pandemic siege, it brought in just under half of that, $51,000.
For 2021, at two thirds of the way through its fiscal year, it has brought in not quite $28,000, which is a bit over one quarter of the projected total of $92,000. To reach balance, SAYMA may need to draw on its reserves.
There are many more budget lines, but in sum, SAYMA’s funds are very tight, and prospects are uncertain, even as the pandemic seems to be passing. (Is this an unusual plight? Hardly.) Nevertheless, Smith demanded $10,000 of it, with no strings, for her “anti-racism work.” She did not get it. (Yet.)
Also, in the roiling turmoil that accompanied her participation, another of her plans sank and drowned. It fell overboard from the new edition of SAYMA’s Faith & Practice (F&P). In the works for some years, the completed draft was brought forward by the Ad Hoc F&P Revision Committee. The revisions were approved — all but one. The exception was among a lengthy list of draft Queries, numbered as E18:
AdHoc Committee draft: How do we acknowledge and honor the Indigenous People whose land we occupy? How do we connect with and learn from Indigenous People whom we have impacted? How do we promote the healing of those impacted?
Smith objected loudly; the draft Query was not to her taste. And it was dropped. The Ad Hoc Committee’s Clerk then asked if she wanted to submit a revision. She did, an hour later. The AdHoc F&P Committee added it to the agenda of the closing business meeting. The Smith revision of the draft Query read:
How do we acknowledge Indigenous peoples whose ancestors were brutally murdered or enslaved for us to live on their stolen ancestral lands? How do we atone for the sins of our ancestors to their surviving descendants, those most impacted by our ongoing and relentless racial violence, genocide, land theft, and slavery?
But again, Smith was busy disrupting some other matters; thus, when the session finally adjourned, and with it the yearly meeting session, this item had not been reached and the replacement Query was not acted on.
With the close of the session, and acceptance of the rest of the revised Faith & Practice, the AdHoc F&P Committee was laid down (i.e., disbanded); and F&P specifies that the next revision will come in ten years. Meantime, there is no E18 Query at all in the new edition.
Does this make any difference? We shall see.
And not least, one of Smith’s other major goals was to have a purported entity she allegedly created a couple of years ago, which she calls the Paul Cuffee Worship Group, be taken directly “under the care” of SAYMA.
As noted in the previous post, “Smith said the new Cuffee attenders were ‘POC who wish to worship in the manner of Friends without having to deal with Quaker racism (i. e., SAYMA)‘ — no “dealings,” that is, except that Smith as their “clerk” remains determined to grab a big chunk of SAYMA’s “white racist” money.
Our last post also indicated there are good reasons to doubt that this “worship group” really exists, except as a cover for her raid on SAYMA’s treasury, and is a rerun of another fictional Cuffee group she claimed to have started in Massachusetts in 2006.
SAYMA’s Faith & Practice makes no provision for attaching such an informal entity to the Yearly Meeting; new worship groups are welcomed, but standard procedure is for them to affiliate with (and be “under the care of”) a nearby Monthly Meeting. Such arrangements are free of other red tape: they need not involve the yearly meeting at all.
But Smith will have none of that. But why not? Would a monthly meeting be too close? Ask too many questions? (like does it really exist?) Smith claims the group was begun because an unidentified number of POCs want to worship as Friends but SAYMA’s Meetings are too white and too racist to be borne.
Yet SAYMA is no more than the sum and nucleus of those local Meetings– so how is being attached to it going to provide any relief from this suffocating legacy of Manifest Destiny? (Well, one might note that “under the care of” the yearly meeting, which has no real physical location, no executive staff, no applicable procedure, and only gathers once annually, likely far away — such “care” would amount essentially to no “care” [aka “supervision”] at all.)
In any case, neither question, of SAYMA affiliation or whether Cuffee really exists, beyond its namesake whose remains lie in a quiet Cape Cod cemetery, was resolved. So expect more opportunities for SAYMA Friends to “accept” profanity-laced melodrama about this item too when its next Representative Meeting comes, expected in the fall.
Very few SAYMA Friends who have reported about this 2021 session came away expressing much optimism; rather quite the opposite. The annual Epistle, heavily tilted in Smith’s direction, summarized it this way:
We owe many thanks to the collaboration of an energetic community of Friends who pooled their diverse talents with great creativity, organizational and technical skill. Due to their efforts, all things technological ran smoothly, for the most part.
However, that is where the cooperative, harmonious and generous spirit ended. Our yearly meeting has spent five years laboring through deeply conflicting attitudes, understandings and behaviors concerning what white supremacy and colonialism are, how they show up in our meetings and what to do about it. We were deeply divided on these issues before this gathering, and we are deeply divided still.
The themes of love, compassion and Justice were consistently absent from our business sessions. . . .
This excerpt pretty much confirms Clerk McGahey’s initial forecast, notwithstanding its near-instant repudiation. (But that show-trial-like spectacle itself grimly corroborated it as well.) SAYMA’s annual sessions have become predictable rounds of chronically abusive behavior, enabled by some of the weakest clerking in memory.
These feed the delusions of a few that the resulting sadomasochistic sessions in any way resemble “Quaker process” or constructive “anti-racism.” While those delusions persist, it’s hard to see how the prospects for the yearly meeting will get any better.
SAYMA’s Destiny looks dismal, and it’s getting ever more Manifest.