“Shattering” Quakerism In the Northwest – Continued

“Shattering” Quakerism In the Northwest – Continued

Interview with Steve Angell  – PART TWO
[Part One of this conversation is here.]

Stephen Angell, Associate Editor of Quaker Theology, and  Professor of Quaker Studies at Earlham School of Religion, continues a conversation on his extensive report about the ongoing controversies over LGBT issues at George Fox University and in Northwest Yearly Meeting. [Hereafter GFU & NWYM] This struggle has resulted in the abrupt expulsion of one Meeting, loud protests from several others, and by many individual Friends there.  In Part One, Steve discussed issues at George Fox University. [CEF are the initials of Editor/blogger Chuck Fager.]

CEF: Now let’s turn to Northwest Yearly Meeting and the events that led to the expulsion of an LGBT welcoming meeting there.

Steve Angell with his newest book.

First of all, another reflection on terminology. Is “release” a satisfactory term for the decision on West Hills Friends [WHF]? The same term was used when three meetings in North Carolina YM were put out in mid-August, and that terms found to be so offensive that the YM in session loudly and successfully demanded reversal of the action. “There, at least, nothing less than “expulsion” seemed honest to Friends at large. Does this reaction resonate at all with what you learned from NWYM Friends? Or are they “comfortable” with it?

ANGELL: “Release” is not a satisfactory term. “Expulsion” or “disownment” is better. But it is complicated. For many Friends at West Hills, the expulsion does surprisingly feel like something of a release, but in spite of the yearly meeting elders, not because of them: frankly, West Hill Friends have been released from a highly unfair and onerous discipline process. Furthermore, they’re not going back. The only way that they will ever be members of NWYM again is if they are free to be themselves, without harassment or threats of discipline from the yearly meeting for their honestly held and painstakingly discerned leadings.

 CEF: We can’t leave words alone just yet. The expulsion of West Hills Meeting seemed to turn on a determination that their continued presence in NWYM would be “shattering” to the larger body.  Yet that term is not defined in the YM Faith & Practice or, as far as we know, anywhere else. Have you made any progress toward defining the term? 

WHF-Logo-ExpelledANGELL: Well, the short answer is that everyone expects that the term is being used because some of the larger churches in NWYM threatened to quit the yearly meeting, taking their assessment money with them, if West Hills Friends were not expelled from the yearly meeting. But no such threats have been made public, so if such threats have been made, the yearly meeting is tolerating them under the cover of anonymity. 

What I point out in the article is that “shattering” cuts both ways. In NWYM, Young adult Friends are not going to tolerate a yearly meeting, or monthly meetings, that does not allow for the possibility of welcoming and affirming LGBT Friends. And these young adults are the future of NWYM. The yearly meeting needs to stop worrying about “shattering,” because whatever stand is taken on these issues (and avoidance of taking a stand is also seen as a stand), some Friends are going to leave. It needs to figure out how to live with its present and future diversity in regard to LGBT issues.

CEF: Isn’t this fuzziness about “shattering” troubling, especially when such an undefined term can become the basis for expelling a whole meeting? Has there been any feedback or protest about this from NWYM meetings?

ANGELL: Yes, several monthly meetings have protested the use of the term “shattering” to justify the expulsion of West Hills Friends. Reedwood Friends in Portland has proposed that the term be clearly defined in Faith & Practice, or eliminated altogether from the document. Klamath Hill Friends says that the NWYM Elders should have given clear reasons for describing as “shattering”  an action by a meeting that the Elders themselves agree is “vibrant.”  

CEF: If eight meetings appealed the WHF expulsion, plus 230 individual Friends more who signed an unofficial appeal letter, what does this suggest about the state of thought and debate in NWYM on matters of sexuality generally, and LGBT inclusion in particular?

ANGELL: If you had asked this question two to five years ago, the answer would have to have been that the overwhelming majority of NWYM members opposed full inclusion of LGBT persons in their community, so the protests of individual Friends and individual meetings to the contrary would have availed little.

But you didn’t ask the question back then, at least to me; you’re asking it now. And the situation seems incredibly fluid. That eight meetings appealed the WHF expulsion, and 230 individual Friends also signed a letter of protest, suggests a growing groundswell of support for LGBT Friends within NWYM. I would predict that the groundswell will not be arrested soon. 


But another subtext in the article is an important one, and it relates back to the “shattering” issue. The supportive meetings are not randomly dispersed throughout the yearly meeting. The meetings that filed appeals were all located in Oregon and Washington; and it seems that the meetings that object to West Hills are located in the third state that is incorporated in NWYM, the more conservative state of Idaho. (All NWYM meetings are located in the three states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.) While some of the individual Friends who signed the letter were from Idaho, none of the meetings who filed appeals were from Idaho.

While there are also some meetings in Washington and Oregon that oppose welcoming and affirming LGBT Friends, the major opposition seemed to be coming from Idaho. And two of the three Friends on the Elders’ Subcommittee were from Idaho. The third was the pastor of the North Seattle meeting in Washington, and WHF pastor Mike Huber found it significant that North Seattle Meeting was one of the eight meetings that filed an appeal of the WHF expulsion.

CEF: NWYM’s Superintendent has repeatedly appealed for quiet and a “moratorium” on discussion or efforts to revise the NWYM Faith and practice sections on sexuality, which are quite heteronormative and restrictive. Have these appeals succeeded, in your view?

ANGELL: No. I appreciate that Becky Thomas Ankeny, the Superintendent of NWYM, is in a difficult situation, and would like to have time to find some middle ground that could lead to a “sense of the meeting.” Whether, in our polarized American culture, middle ground is attainable, is a vexing question in and of itself.  One of the meetings protesting the expulsion of West Hills, Reedwood, referenced in its appeal a minute of the Portland Area Meeting that the Elders’ process “mirrors the political allegiances of the country rather than being characterized by the priorities of the upside-down kingdom” of Jesus.

So, if a sense of the meeting is attainable, it should not be some watered-down version of politics imported from somewhere on the very wide political spectrum. But that question aside, no one in NWYM seemed happy with the thought of not talking or doing anything about issues of human sexuality over a five-year moratorium period. Mike Huber says that if Ankeny was offering a deal to NWYM, “her deal had no buyers.”


CEF: What do you know about the timetable for dealing with the WHF appeals?

ANGELL: They seem to be taking their time with this. At their September 12 meeting, the NWYM Administrative Council met to establish a process for consideration of the WHF appeals. The Administrative Council will meet again this month (November). It has not yet established a timeline for its decision, although it has noted that West Hills will stay a part of NWYM until December 31, 2015.

I would expect a decision from the Administrative Council before the end of 2015.

CEF: I want to ask you about the future — which of course none of us knows. But educated guesses are permitted. 
So, first, what’s your sense of the odds that the expulsion of WHF will be reversed? Or do you think it’s likely to be upheld?

ANGELL: Nobody on the Administrative Council has been talking to me about this. I really don’t know what they’ll do.

CEF: If the expulsion were reversed, what are the odds, as you see it, that West Hills  would be willing to return to NWYM?

ANGELL: This is really the key question. I do not think that West Hills Friends will be willing to return to NWYM. One member tells me that the only way that they would seriously consider returning was that if they were released from the disciplinary process altogether and they were accepted as they are, with the LGBT welcoming and affirming process that they have already discerned. The possibility that the Administrative Council will come up with any proposal like this, frankly, seems to me to be slim or none.

Thus, what really seems to be underway, best as I can make out, is an amicable attempt to sort out all the property and other issues, resulting in a friendly separation of NWYM and West Hill Friends late in 2015 or early in 2016.

CEF: If the expulsion of WHF is upheld, what in your view are the odds that there will be more expulsions from among the meetings that were supportive of West Hills?

ANGELL: I share [WHF pastor] Mike Huber’s hope that this will lower the temperature in NWYM and lead to more productive conversations in the yearly meeting over issues of human sexuality. I really don’t like what I’m about to say, but, on these issues, timing may be everything. The prophetic meeting that speaks out too soon gets hammered. Those who follow more calmly in the wake of this traumatic event may be able to work out some meaningful institutional change.

Benjamin Lay, eccentric radical early Quaker antislavery activist. He was disowned for being too assertive, and died in 1759.

Quakers have seen this  kind of dynamic play out over the issue of slavery 250 years ago. Most early opponents of slavery, such as Robert Southby and Benjamin Lay, who spoke out before their meetings were ready to condemn slavery, were disowned for publishing their views without the permission of the meeting. But in the wake of Southby and Lay, came anti-slavery reformers like Anthony Benezet and John Woolman, able to fashion a sense of the meeting to strengthen the discipline as it dealt with slaveholding. And they did obtain permission to publish their writings.

The Elders of NWYM may have had this dynamic in mind, when they stated their hope for a possible reconciliation of WHF and NWYM some time in the future.

CEF: And finally, did you get a sense that some of the more traditional/evangelical meetings are getting ready to leave NWYM, as several have left North Carolina recently?

ANGELL: No, any rumors relating to this have been kept under wraps, at least as much as I can find out from a couple thousand miles of distance. My sense is that Ankeny and the Elders, with their concerns about “shattering,” have been doing everything in their power to prevent more departures. After West Hills leaves, they very much want to see no other meeting leave. Whether they will be successful in this endeavor remains to be seen, of course.

Steve’s complete report on events in Northwest YM is in this issue of Quaker Theology.

10 thoughts on ““Shattering” Quakerism In the Northwest – Continued”

  1. I believe there is (at least) one error here, which is that WHF will be part of NWYM until at least December 2016.

    Also, it feels fairly rude to me that you are having this conversation in this manner in public about NWYM from mainly hearsay. Why not ask the people directly involved? Or why not ask them to share their opinions or understanding themselves in their own time and way? What you have here, quite frankly, comes across as a gossip column or inflammatory talk show. I personally would appreciate if you would use discernment and grace, allowing us to listen to Christ together (and with you!). This is a very one-sided and fairly inaccurate representation of what is going on. Many of us wanted to do what Becky suggested and felt it to be a wise course of action. Many of us would like to work out a way for our yearly meeting to overcome this in a way that leads to unity, including Idaho. This post feels like it only encourages spitefulness and division.

    1. Hi Cherie Bock,
      I will ask Steve Angell to check on the matter of WHF and 2016, and if it is in error, it will be corrected.
      As for the rest, you’re entitled to your opinion about the conversation. And I wonder if perhaps you overlooked the rather extensive account in Part One of Steve’s process of discernment and prayer as he considered whether to undertake this project. You can mock that as “gossip” if you like, but it hardly does you credit; “rude” is a word that comes to mind, more than fairly too.
      Here are two other points to consider: First, when it comes to what I call “transparency,” the officials and staff of Northwest YM are about as “transparent” as the CIA; that is, basically not at all. I invite you to read over the eight appeals, and note the many complaints in them about information not available, opaque process, secrecy, and other stonewalling from above. This kind of non-transparency is by no means a Christian virtue, and I invite you to face up to the damage it does to Northwest’s corporate witness. To put it more plainly, NWYM officialdom has shown it can’t be trusted to speak accountably, and when it does speak, it can’t be counted on to tell the truth. Maybe only an outsider can speak that bluntly.
      The other point is that if it has not occurred to you before, now would be a good time to realize that NWYM is a part of an international Quaker community, in which many Friends outside the Northwest are keenly interested in the matters at issue there. There has been plenty of talk about it in many places besides this forum; and probably will be more. Unlike you, I believe that scrutiny and conversation “in public” is a good thing. And whether you believe it or not, Steve Angell is a very careful and moderate writer, keenly concerned for accuracy. I invite you to read the full report he prepared for “Quaker Theology” #27, and see the long list of references and sources it lists for what he wrote. The same goes for the earlier article about Northwest and these issues in “Quaker Theology” #24, which I worked on with a NWYM Friend.
      As far as “allowing” you to “listen to Christ together,” go for it: we can’t and don’t want to inhibit that. Likewise for “sharing your own opinions” in your own way: no one here is stopping you. In fact, if you want to prepare a detailed response to the reports about NWYM in “Quaker Theology,” we would be very interested to read it. After all, it takes at least two to be more than “one-sided.” And when the appeals are acted on, many will be watching that, and the local reaction, and perhaps talking about it some more. If that “feels” evil to you, I invite you to consider that your “feelings” are yours– but they are not thereby made facts, or truth.

      1. Chuck, you will note that I was one of the main authors of the general appeal that we turned in with 200+ signatures that you discuss in this piece, and several of us put together the NWYM Unity site that gathered all the appeals (http://nwymunity.com/. Now the NWYM site also has them, as well as letters in support of the elders’ decision, http://nwfriends.org/elders-decision-regarding-west-hills/).

        Regarding the Administrative Committee’s current statement and the fact that WHF will be part of NWYM until Dec. 2016, see this page on the NWYM site: http://nwfriends.org/administrative-council-progress-report/.

        I am very aware that we are part of an international community of Friends. I was on the planning committee for the World Gathering of Young Friends in 2005 and met and worshiped with Friends from all over the world there, and I’ve been involved in FWCC events. When I lived in New Jersey I worshiped with FGC/FUM folks there for several years. I am grateful for these connections and this wider conversation, and for my Friends heritage and the accountability expressed in love that we can receive from one another. I hope that the actions of NWYM will be discussed around the world and it will prompt others to listen to how God is calling them and their meetings, and hopefully they will do a better job than we are currently doing!

        But this piece does not seem like that kind of a piece to me. As much as I appreciate you attempting to get the word out about what’s going on, and as much as I generally appreciate Stephen Angell’s words and writing, this piece comes across as two people gossiping and spreading rumors they have not very well substantiated. When you say things like, “West Hills Friends is not going back,” for one thing you are speaking for a whole group of people who I assume you have not spoken to all of personally. For another thing, you seem to be closing the door on reconciliation. I do not mean to say that WHF will “go back” on their convictions on this issue, but Friends from WHF I have talked to are open to “going back” to NWYM if we can reach some sort of consensus and reconciliation.

        If you talk to people on the Faith & Practice committee, they state that the term “shattering” was intentionally left ambiguous. You may disagree with their reasoning, but it still would have been better to go to someone with some knowledge of why this term was chosen before speaking about it in such ways.

        Your speculation about Idaho meetings is possibly the most potentially damaging. In my opinion, our job is reconciliation in the love of God. Our role is not to judge others as not worthy of being part of “us” because they are at a different place theologically. I hope that Friends in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho can listen together and learn to trust and love one another. What you’ve done here feels like drawing up battle lines on the “side” of West Hills to the exclusion of Friends who are trying to be faithful in their own way, but who so far have come to a different conclusion. This approach is likely to lead to divisiveness rather than unity.

        I don’t want to attain unity that is so watered down that it is meaningless, but I also don’t want to be divided over meaningless theological differences and rumors. (In some ways, every theological difference is meaningless because it is INTENSELY important in a given generation and not a big deal in another generation, so I don’t mean to suggest that this issue is not a big deal or doesn’t hurt people, but that dividing over this issue is unnecessary.)

        I have already commented on what you said about Becky Ankeny’s idea of taking five years to let this discussion season. She did not give it as an official directive. No one said we were bound by this. At the same time, many of us thought this was a good idea and were attempting to live it out.

        What you say about Mike Huber’s words that maybe this will help lower the temperature of the debate so we can listen clearly seems completely counter to what you have been doing in this post. Please listen to his wisdom, and allow the process to unfold as it will. I would love for you to be cheering for us from the sidelines and speaking any wisdom you have for us humbly and respectfully. But this is not your immediate community. You are not here. I would greatly appreciate it if in the future you attempt to get information from the source, from those experiencing this situation and providing leadership within it. People in NWYM are very nice and will likely want to help you out, if your site is seen as a safe place to share our views in a way that leads to unity and understanding.

        1. Thanks for the links; it’s always good to have a definite place to go for checking.
          And I applaud your work on making room for the 200-plus individual Friends to gain a kind of voice in the appeal process.
          Yet again, I need to say that how this blog interview, and the heavily-researched reports from which it arises, “seem” and “feel” to you are your impressions, indisputably yours, but no more than that. Moreover, Steve and I (and many others) have as much prerogative to “speculate” about how things might turn out in NWYM as anyone else; even you. It doesn’t just “seem” so. It doesn’t just “feel” so. It is so. And there are other ways to deal with that evidently uncomfortable fact besides trashing our motives, character, and spirituality; I invite you to explore some.
 So might West Hills return to NWYM at some point? Steve’s speculation is that it’s unlikely. Yours is — what? — That if people like us stop talking about it, especially in any way that “seems” or “feels” unpleasant to you, then all will be well? Please. Further, as a prophet I highly revere, Yogi Berra, put it, “Predictions are hard. Especially about the future,” a truth which was affirmed in the post in different words. Thus if some of our speculative predictions differ from some of yours, well so be it; we’ll see how they turn out. Oh, and by the way, it was West Hills pastor Mike Huber who said of Superintendent Becky Ankeny’s proposal to keep quiet about it all for five years, “her deal had no buyers.” And among the most significant non-buyers were the elders who expelled West Hills with no warning just as NWYM Friends were heading home from annual session. That, and not any blog post, is what created the situation NWYM faces today. I wish you the best in dealing with that, even if you feel that I can’t possibly seem to mean it.
          UPDATE: Well, it looks like NWYM’s “Shattering” has happened. How close did our “speculation” come there? We’ll probably have some thoughts on that in due time.
          Further UPDATE: Steve has made his inquiries, and we have corrected the text of Part Two of his interview to say that WHF will be part of NWYM until the end of 2015, and not longer. (Unless plans change.)

  2. My point is not that you don’t have a right to speculate about what is going on, but that the way you are going about it feels more divisive to me than upbuilding and reconciling. You may think that how it “seems” to me or how it “feels” are less important than the right you have to express your opinion, but I would suggest that how your words come across and how it makes people involved in the situation feel are things that are very valid. Even the way you stated, in your last comment, “And there are other ways to deal with that evidently uncomfortable fact besides trashing our motives, character, and spirituality; I invite you to explore some,” feels like it is specifically designed to passive aggressively jab at me, to make me feel defensive and argumentative, rather than speaking in a way that perhaps I could hear as constructive. I don’t see that I have attacked your motives, character, or spirituality, but rather your communication style.

    I am not upset THAT you are discussing this issue, but with the way you are communicating it.

    I understand that you are communicating a quote from Mike Huber about Becky Ankeny’s suggestion having “no buyers.” I am saying that she was not actually making a policy that others were required to follow, and also that even if that is his opinion, it is not the only way of looking at the situation.

    Also, your characterization that the elders expelled WHF “with no warning” is not really fair. It may not have been the best timing and it may have been a flawed process, but it was not without warning. It was actually at the request of WHF, that if the elders came to consensus before the official two years was up in September, that the elders would share their conclusion directly, rather than waiting a couple of months. It is errors like this that I am frustrated about, that you seem to be gleaning some partial information from some places on the Internets and from some conversations. It is not leading to better accuracy of sharing information, but instead sharing misinformation that is from a certain “side” rather than leading toward reconciliation.

    The main problem is the divisiveness that this kind of speculation engenders. Many of us are working very hard in NWYM to listen to one another and build trust, to not give up on one another, and to try to see that of God in each other. We are trying to be open and transparent about how we’re feeling and what is going on, but in a spirit of love and respect for one another, rather than as a way of dividing one group of us from another. We are trying to get beyond political and cultural divisions and work toward unity and reconciliation as a full body of Christ, rather than dividing into segments of likeminded people who will then only be able to perform one function (to extend the body analogy). I hope that you can recognize this trajectory of how we are attempting to work together, rather than using your words to further divide and make us enemies of one another.

    If my comments feel like personal attacks of your character or spirituality, please accept my apology. That was not my intention. I hope that you see that I am all for transparency and information sharing, and making sure that we hold one another accountable. But I think making predictions about what we think will happen can become self-fulfilling prophecies. What if we imagined what reconciliation would look like and focused on that possibility? What if we thought about how God can bring about miraculous healing in our lives and communities and we attempt to speak about one another in ways that lead to bridging partisan divides rather than exacerbating them?

    1. “My point is not that you don’t have a right to speculate about what is going on, but that the way you are going about it feels more divisive to me than upbuilding and reconciling.”

      Got it. You “feel” different about it. Okay.

  3. Yes, I suppose that would be one way of putting it. And I also am not going to let you invalidate my “feelings” by putting them in quotation marks, or by passive aggressively making it sound like I’m unintelligent. I would rather continue this conversation over the phone, because I am actually a nice and intelligent person with a valid understanding of reality, and if you would like to participate in finding meaning in Quakerism and in this whole WHF situation with me, I feel like the conversation may be more productive and understandable in person (at least in vocal person). Email me and we can set up a time.

    1. Maybe after the WHS appeal decision comes down. Meantime, I’m already pretty involved with participating in finding meaning in Quakerism, as way opens.

      1. Chuck, it would seem to me that when an invitation to deeper connection and understanding is extended, waiting until after an event that could make the connection and understanding more difficult would be missing a opportunity for growth for all parties involved. As you can see, I certainly don’t need to speak on behave of my daughter-in-law. She is quite capable to speak for herself. But I have been watching this conversation with interest. You questioned the NWYM elders timing of how they handled the situation. I wonder about your timing of putting off having a phone conversation with Cherice until after the decision comes down. Cherice is someone who has challenged me in many ways, but she is also a very loving and open-minded person. I would highly encourage you to talk with her as soon as possible, if for no other reason than to make a new friend that could help you understand a broader perspective of NWYM. And before it maybe suggested that I am biased in my opinions of Cherice and her perspective of the landscape of NWYM, I admit guilt. Blessings to you, Chuck.

  4. Cherice,

    First, I want to thank you for your thoughtful comments. Second, although the words you object to are posted on Chuck’s blog, most or all of the words in the main piece that you object to, are mine, not Chuck’s. For me to ask Chuck to defend them is unfair. Third, I agree with many of your points. I have been trying to cover the conversation from two thousand miles away, and I am sure that I have missed many points.

    Chuck is correct that all of us will know more when the Administrative Council hands down a decision, whenever that is. Obviously, I was mistaken when I stated above that a resolution of the issues could happen in late 2015. It can’t, and won’t. To expect that there might be some sort of resolution some time in 2016 is more realistic.

    I apologize for that error. If any of my speculation has been hurtful to you, I am sorry about that, too.

    Finally, I am willing to talk to you by phone. Feel free to contact me through the Earlham School of Religion, and we can set up a time to talk.

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