The (Formerly) Silenced Discussion Re: Wichita YAF Conference


There’s been more discussion of the Wichita YAF Conference and its framework/dress code issues than you might think, if you looked to the self-styled “convergent Quaker” website, from which critical messages have been banned. That reaction is a telling one; and in the age of the internet, a largely futile one as well.

While some points below are made rather pungently, the overall message is simple enough: lighten up, planners. Let go of this fiction of “welcoming” everyone inside a sectarian and discriminatory frame. Get over this immature business of banning anyone who questions you.

But let these Friends speak for themselves: Here are several comments that have come to me, with a few brief responses.

CAUTION! There are images and language below that would not be permitted at the YAF Conference. I also suspect that at least one of these folks was wearing a Speedo when they wrote.

Friends are advised.

Hi Chuck,

I recently met you for the first time at the QUIP conference in Richmond, IN. I’ve been reading up on your postings about the Wichita YAF conference and you really speak my mind, Friend. Thank you for publicly writing about the expectations put forward by the conference planners, I don’t see anyone else doing it.

I am going to the conference, along with other “liberal” YAFs from my Quaker college. We aren’t going to be dissenters but to help to develop a mix of voices and perspectives at the table and to take part in the conversation.

I think Emma Goldman said it best when she said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution.” To me this means if I can’t be my true self (be that a LGBTQ, Liberal, Non-Christian or Non-theist YAF etc.), I don’t want to be a part of your movement.

In Peace,
(name withheld on request)

Emma Goldman. Her clothes might pass muster, but she’s still not invited. The problem? No interest in volleyball; and she insists on dancing.


From Deb Fuller:

First of all, I am saddened that I am now too old to be considered a “YAF”. :(

Rules like the ones posted for the YAF conference really burn my cookies. It reminds me of the young adult retreats my old fundie church used to try to get me to go to. I thought those rules were ridiculous back then too. Adults need to be treated like adults. It’s one thing if the site doesn’t allow alcohol or sex but it’s another to impose it on a group of adults, esp. Quakers.

Burnt cookies. Sorry, Deb. We all have to compromise somewhere.

These little tidbits really got to me, “We’ll need clear boundaries, self-discipline, and accountability to each other,” and “We do have to hold each other accountable.”

That is “fundy-speak” or “Christianese”. I’ve never heard Quakers use these words before in this type of context. Accountable to whom? For what? This is not an AA meeting.

Also, if I was going to this conference, it would make me wonder how much I was going to be preached at. If they are telling me that I can’t wear certain clothes, drink certain drinks, or carry out relations with a committed partner in the privacy of our own room, what else are they going to try and impose on me? It just sets a bad tone for the whole conference.

It’s not the person but the act of questioning. They’re in control. How dare anyone question their rules?

After poking around on the Friends U website, it is very much a “Christian” college and doesn’t sound anything like a Quaker college any more. Friends U just screams “WE’RE CHRISTIAN”. People who wear their Christianity on their sleeve tend to be very insecure underneath it all. Insecurity breeds control issues and stupid rules. Making those rules is essentially a powerplay. The organizers want to be in control. Being a Quaker gathering, it is hard to gain control given our lack of dogma so they make stupid rules to control behavior.

So anyone who is going to challenge those rules is in essence, challenging their control. Insecure people will never be rational in their response to being challenged. They’ll either just quote Bible verses out of context or if they can’t quote Bible verses, they’ll prove that they’re in control by cutting the offending person out in whichever way they can, i.e. deleting posts, asking people to leave or otherwise cutting them out entirely. Sadly, seen it happen way too many times.

Oh and after reading your post again and Chuck’s post, I can honestly say that I can dress someone like a total skank and totally stay within the YAF conference guidelines. Just sayin’.

Jesus and leper
“Not in that skanky getup, dude. Talk to me after the YAF Conference. Nothing personal, man — just holding you accountable.”


Ben Schultz:

I read your post on a friendly letter.
Shit Chuck —–
Will you marry me?
( In a literary sort of way)
Thank you from the bottom of my heart or any other organ you might think of, for bothering to stand up for me, for bothering to do it so gently. With such rigor and panache….
Is someone paying you for this?
It’s priceless work. We mustn’t cheat ourselves.
All right I’ll buy the dang books.

Love Ben Schultz
La Jolla Meeting

Okay, Ben – but only in a literary way . . . . And you gotta buy the books FIRST, because alas, nobody is paying me for this.

Hitched-best-01-Banners-Lejeune 017

Subject: Re: yaf gathering is addicted to sin?

2010/5/10 From: Julian Brelsford

Chuck Fager,

My name’s Julian Brelsford. I’m a member of Central Philadelphia Quaker meeting, and a young adult planning to attend the Wichita, KS YAF gathering this year.

I was hearing a few different people talk about your recent blog posts on this topic. I resonate with your admonition to liberal quakers to avoid being spineless. Too often we are vague and indecisive when it comes to addressing violence and injustice.

It appears that the liberal Quakers planning this conference have been a little too spineless and indecisive about the topic of affirming gays and lesbians, and treating young adults like we are adults, doesn’t it?

There’s some phrases that a lot of people on the more conservative side of Quakerism like, [one is] about being addicted to sin. This is a real problem – treatment of gays, lesbians, and young people in many ways mirrors addiction. It’s bad, a lot of people know it’s bad, and the folks who are in the thick of it can’t think straight and can’t give up their addictions.

What they need is contact with folks who can help them get over their addiction. We wouldn’t approach an alcoholic about addiction by telling him how bad he is.

Let’s approach these folks by talking to them about acknowledging the hurt they are causing, and how stuck they are in their ways, and THEN focusing not on the bad but on the good – how can we approach things differently? How can we love our enemies, and how can they love their enemies?

Never be spineless, but have peace like a river in your soul,

Julian Brelsford

Wichita YAF Conference 2010 fantasy

2 thoughts on “The (Formerly) Silenced Discussion Re: Wichita YAF Conference”

  1. Note from Chuck: These comments are duplicated in reply to the post about “One Seriously Angry Dude,” and there I offer some response; interested readers should check there for that full response.


    My name is Ervin Stanley — I teach math at Friends University, am a member of University Friends Meeting (and thus, Great Plains Yearly Meeting & Evangelical Friends Church—Mid-America Yearly Meeting), and grew up in New York, New England, and Western Yearly Meetings, so I’ve been around a lot of different kinds of Quakers.

    I’d gently like to clarify a few facts about the YAF Gathering, University Friends Meeting, and Friends University:

    [Note from Chuck: the statements Ervin replies to here were quoted by me, but made by someone else. I don’t claim them as mine, and did not express views about FU as an institution in my blog posts; just for the record.]

    (1) Friends University was not a sponsor of the YAFG; rather, the YAFG had a contract with Friends University that was strictly for housing.

    (2) Among Friends University’s rules are these two: (a) The possession or use of alcoholic beverages or illegal substances is prohibited, and (b) Cohabitation and sexual relations between unmarried individuals/couples is not allowed. These rules (and all other university rules) apply to any group that uses the Friends University campus.

    (3a) You are correct that Friends University is no longer a Quaker college. You made the statement that “Friends U just screams ‘WE’RE CHRISTIAN’. People who wear their Christianity on their sleeve tend to be very insecure underneath it all. Insecurity breeds control issues and stupid rules. Making those rules is essentially a powerplay. The organizers want to be in control.” It appears that you assumed that there was some sort of connection between Friends University and the YAFG planning committee; however, there was no such connection — at the request of the planning committee, I made the initial contact with the Director of Residence Life and the Vice President of Student Affairs at Friends U, requesting housing for the YAFG. Once such was approved, I got one person on the planning committee in contact with the Vice President, and the two parties completed a housing contract. To my knowledge, there was no other communication between the planning committee and the university – in fact, very few Friends University employees would have had any idea that anybody was being housed on campus, let alone what group it was.

    (3b) Friends University is indeed a Christian college (with a little bit of remaining Quaker influence), although your characterization of it is not at all accurate. Friends University is not a fundamentalist Christian college; rather it is very eclectic – we have students who are evangelical Christians, fundamentalist Christians, mainline Protestant Christians, Catholic Christians, non-Christians who are interested in a place that has smaller class sizes than a state university, zoo science majors who come from all over the country for this unique major, some athletes who care little about academics, many athletes who do care about academics, very few Quakers, and many students who fall into more than one of the aforementioned categories. Our board of trustees is still required to have at least 25% Quakers. Most of the members of the administration, faculty, and staff are Christians, although it is not required; however, they must be willing to be supportive of our mission statement: “Friends University exists to provide high-quality undergraduate and graduate education that incorporates liberal arts instruction and professional studies within the context of the Christian faith.” Among the many employees who are Christians, there is great variety — evangelicals, fundamentalists, mainline Protestants, and Catholics.

    (4) Although I’m not aware of any written rule prohibiting alcoholic beverages at University Friends Meeting, there is certainly an unwritten rule prohibiting such in the meetinghouse and on the grounds. Even though there are, no doubt, various members of the meeting who drink alcoholic beverages, it would never even be a topic of discussion to allow it at the meetinghouse or at any UFM-sponsored event.

    In addition, the following are only my opinions:

    (1) I suspect that the YAFG planning committee felt that they were led by God, in a process of corporate discernment, to establish the rules for the gathering. It appears to me that the prohibiting of sexual activity, even for married couples, was an attempt to acknowledge that some Friends believe that committed gay and lesbian relationships are fine, whereas other Friends believe that they are inherently sinful. It appears that the “dress code” might have been an appreciation of the traditions of Conservative Friends, and surely the dress code was not truly difficult for anyone – t-shirts and shorts were perfectly fine.

    (2) It would guess that the intent of the planning committee in establishing the rules was to try to attract as many young adult Friends from the widest spectrum possible. Obviously you and some other Friends considered some of the rules to be outrageously restrictive; however, I think it might be valuable for those of you who felt that way to try for a moment to stand in the shoes of the members of the planning committee: the previous YAF gatherings had attracted many less evangelical Friends than it had middle-of-the-road Friends and liberal Friends. If they were going to get more of the spectrum of Friends involved, there probably had to be an agreement that gay & lesbian issues were not going to be a dominant theme of the gathering. Whether we agree with it or not, it’s a fact that most evangelical Friends and fundamentalist Friends wouldn’t even think about attending a conference where gay & lesbian issues might be a theme. For some of them, even being in a group where out-of-the-closet gay people and lesbian people are present is a very new experience. This may be shocking to liberal folks, and even surprising to middle-of-the-road folks, but it is probably true for most fundamentalist folks and some evangelical folks. Thus, I would suspect that the planning committee was hoping that the gathering would focus on what the participants could do in good conscience together, for the Society of Friends, and for the glory of God.

    (3) Most fundamentalist Friends and some evangelical Friends do not value theological diversity or lifestyle diversity at all. In fact, in some circles, it is probably considered sinful to believe something different than what they consider to be the truth. Thus, even if you and some other Friends believe that the rules made this YAFG unwelcoming to certain Friends, may I ask you to consider that the rules indeed made some Friends feel welcome, who would have felt unwelcome otherwise? May I also ask you to consider extending a measure of grace to the Friends on the planning committee, who no doubt were honestly seeking God’s will, and trying to be inclusive?

    I don’t claim to have the answers; in all of this, we – you and I, the members of the planning committee, all Quakers, all Christians, everyone – are finite human beings, and thus, “for now we see through a glass, dimly…”

    Ervin Stanley

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