What a difference an earthquake makes.
Yes, on November 8th many foundations were shaken. Received knowledge was proved ignorance: conventional wisdom unmasked as folly.
Now a great many of us are warily counting down the days til we have answers to a set of unavoidable, unnerving questions:
— Which of the several wars called for by the new rulers will we be thrust into first? And then?
— How many millions of people will be seized off our streets and cast into what outer darkness?
— What can we expect from a “Justice” Department run by a relentless foe of every recent advance in civil rights, women’s and gender equality, voting protections and criminal justice reform?
— How much of the remaining health and social safety net for seniors, the poor, sick, and disabled, is to be shredded right before our eyes?
The anxiety over these and more (a green light for global climate destruction?) is widespread, palpable, and constant.
But enough of such trivia.
Let’s get back to Topic A of the Good Old Days of a year ago, when the most burning question was (wait for it):
Will Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends (NWYM) expel its local meetings which have announced, or are inching toward, affirming LGBT folks?
I mean, who gives a fig about blatant Russian hacking & corruption of a presidential election, when we can obsess some more over whether a Friends church or two in NWYM might actually marry a samesex couple, or even change a couple of restroom signs?
And in the nick of time, here it comes again — another Oregon ultimatum: pull the trigger to stop that, or else!
The occasion is the mid-year session of NWYM, set for this weekend (January 13-14, 2017), a conclave like unto the Roman college of cardinals, with attendance strictly limited to the properly-credentialed.
And high on its agenda will be the question that has smoldered and flared unbanked now through more than eighteen months, two yearly meeting sessions, several closed meetings in between, and yet another specially called, carefully vetted assembly last month: will NWYM carry out the decision to expel West Hills Friends in Portland. And then will it follow up by purging Camas Friends, which has recently adopted its own affirming stance? Plus impose firm order on any others who go wobbly?
The initial decision to expel West HIlls was made in midsummer 2015. But then appeals from it were filed formally by eight meetings, and via petition by more than 200, mostly younger Friends. Ever since, the NWYM Administrative Committee has been unable to agree to act on the appeals; the 2016 Annual Session couldn’t either. So West HIlls still is under sentence of expulsion, but the actual lever has yet to be pulled.
So next weekend will bring another try. And in the resumed debate, there will be a new petition, one demanding an end to the waffling, a purge of those who have “gone soft” on the official homophobic policies, and the restoration of the petitioners’ sense of order.
This petition was emailed out selectively last week, encouraging signers to add names, for compilation and “mass” presentation to the YM authorities.
Then on Friday, on the listerve for NWYM pastors, it was mentioned by the Clerk, as if it were universally known. This was not so: many said they had not received it. But, cover blown, now they did. And discussion was, shall we say, both vigorous, and –as before — inconclusive.
The full text of this petition is copied below. Note that it is mostly phrased in the peculiar Orwellian New(berg)Speak of NWYM politics. That is, the authors write as if they are proposing to do the targeted meetings a great favor (the term here is “opportunity”) by pushing them out.
However, the letter’s essentially abusive frame is evident in this passage: “some of our churches and their members are finding their ability to be fully functional in carrying out their mission has been damaged because of their present connection with other local churches.”
That is, it is the fault of the affirming groups that their presence is intolerable to “some of our churches”; those who can’t bear the fact of difference thereby claim to have become the victims. They insist they can’t be the right kind of Christians unless the others they differ with are removed.
Read on to the end, and the ultimatum cat jumps out of the glossy bag: “We believe that further delay in taking this necessary action,” they declare, “will result in the disintegration of NWYM.”
These tropes and rhetorical frames are by now familiar from similar recent struggles in at least two other YMs, Indiana & North Carolina. (These have been reported on in the journal, Quaker Theology, and often on this blog.) Even the petition’s motto “Way forward” was used last year in one of the failed purge attempts in North Carolina. In Indiana, there was not much overt resistance to a similar homophobic putsch, yet in the end a campaign to purge a single affirming Meeting culminated in more than fifteen “voting with their feet” and joining it on the way out.
In North Carolina, the purge drive ran into stiff resistance: many of the targeted handful of “liberal” meetings pushed back and argued eloquently on their behalf. Only one of them left. Then, as the purge drive faltered, the meetings that couldn’t face the fact of difference peeled off, one or two at a time, opting for independent status.
Those that stayed are now subdividing into two sub-associations under the one North Carolina YM umbrella, with a handful of “wildcard” meetings declining to join either group. The YM will become a barebones “holding company” for YM real estate & designated endowment funds. Each sub-association will pursue its own programs in its own style. While the details are still being worked out, the rancor of the past two years seems to have faded; the Yearly Meeting persists, the hardliners have their turf, and the “liberal” meetings have not been purged.
These two cases don’t predict the outcome for Northwest, except perhaps in one respect. Much or even most of the struggle there can be summed up in a proverb: “There are two kinds of people: those who divide people into two kinds, and those who don’t.”
That is, for the pastors & churches that insist on their version of uniformity, the outcome is either victory & a purge, or exodus. Those willing to live through this struggle will likely stay, unless forced out. And if they stand firm for what they believe, as the Northwest record shows til now, they are hard to get rid of.
In tomorrow’s post we’ll sample the pastors’ debate, to see what light it sheds on this possibly climactic moment.
But as we do so, those ominous rumblings you hear in the distance — yes, they do portend events that should and likely will overshadow whatever happens, or doesn’t, in Newberg, Oregon this weekend.
But never mind. For now.
The Petition & Cover Letter:
From: Friends of NWYM <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Fri, Jan 6, 2017 at 10:04 AM
Subject: Friends of NWYM
January 6, 2017
The future of our Friends churches in Idaho, Oregon and Washington is at risk. Several churches have decided that they can no longer support one or more sections of “What Friends Believe” in our Faith and Practice. Scripture and common sense teach us that an organization divided against itself cannot stand.
Below, you will find a proposed solution which we plan to present to NWYM’s Administrative Council on January 12, 2017. Please read it carefully and prayerfully.
If you agree that this approach does offer a “way forward,” all you need to do is click “REPLY” and copy “I give you permission to add my name to those who support “Way Forward” into the text box. Then add your name and the name of the local church where your membership is held and click “SEND”.
We will then add your name to the “Way Forward” document which will be presented to the NWYM Administrative Council members for consideration at their scheduled January 13-14, 2016 meeting.
Please encourage others at your meeting to join in this effort. If they didn’t receive this email, they can still join by sending their name and permission to email@example.com
Thanks for caring and praying about the future of NWYM!
Phil Lamm, member of Woodland Friends, in the Inland Area
Judy Woolsey, member of Newberg Friends, in the Newberg Area
Brian Morse, member of Clackamas Park Friends, in the Portland Area
Jon Fodge, member of Peninsula Friends, in the Puget Sound Area
Bill Kelly, member of Rosedale Friends, in the Salem Area
Don Brown, member of Caldwell Friends, in the Southern Idaho Area
Syd Wyncoop. member of Talent Friends, in the Southern Oregon Area
Arden Kinser, member of Cherry Grove Friends, in the Southwest Washington Area
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
January 12, 2016
TO: NWYM Administrative Council
FROM: Friends of NWYM
SUBJECT: Way Forward
Many of us left July’s Yearly Meeting discouraged by our inability to find agreement concerning biblical authority and how to apply its teaching in our decisions. There seemed to be no “way forward” which would allow us to resolve our differences and refocus on Kingdom work. Our concern has been increased by the inability of the December meeting of NWYM Representatives, which was called specifically to resolve one of the problems caused by this issue, to reach agreement.
As you evaluate the following suggested solution as a possible “way forward,” please understand that this is not a legal document which includes all the necessary details. It is simply an effort to provide a framework for moving forward.
First, consider how conjoined twins present unique and perplexing difficulties caused by their physical connection – a connection which inhibits their ability to be fully functioning individuals. Surgical separation is usually desired but often life-threatening to one or both of the twins.
NWYM finds itself in a somewhat similar situation, although one of a difficult social and spiritual connection rather than one which is physical. The result, however, is similar in that some of our churches and their members are finding their ability to be fully functional in carrying out their mission has been damaged because of their present connection with other local churches.
In contrast to the connection binding conjoined twins together, most Friends believe that our social and spiritual connection is designed to be life-giving rather than life-threatening. Sadly, our connection has become life-threatening due to crucially different understandings of biblical teaching which lead to disputes about such things as which behaviors are sins requiring repentance. A faith community which does not share basic beliefs is not a community which can maintain unity.
For example, it now quite clear that no Yearly Meeting-wide agreement will be reached concerning our Faith and Practice statement on Human Sexuality. Continued indecision on this matter will lead to further withdrawals from NWYM of both individual members and churches. This situation is proving to be spiritually damaging to individuals and churches as well as life-threatening to NWYM.
We believe that those individuals and churches which find NWYM’s beliefs unacceptable, as currently stated in our Faith and Practice, should be offered an opportunity to separate from NWYM with minimal financial cost. This will enable them to pursue their own understanding of God’s leading on these and other currently divisive issues.
We suggest that those churches which choose to act on this opportunity prior to January 1, 2018 (or some other appropriate date established by the A.C.), will gain title to their buildings and the grounds on which they are situated, if those titles are now held by NWYM, under the following conditions: payment to NWYM of ten percent (10%) of the appraised value of their building and grounds; settlement of any outstanding debts; forfeiture of any financial share in the resources of NWYM or related organizations, such as Quaker Hill and Twin Rocks camps.
To make this title transfer possible, the Section under “Organizational Transitions,” found on page 33 of our Faith and Practice, which states “Upon discontinuance of a church or the discontinuance of its association with Northwest Yearly Meeting any owned real or personal property shall be transferred to the Yearly Meeting.”, will have to be temporarily suspended or amended.
The relationship of these separated churches to NWYM will then be on the same basis as any other unrelated religious group. If, however, any of these separated churches cease to operate as a local church prior to January 1, 2023 (or some other appropriate date established by the A.C.), ownership of the buildings and grounds will return to NWYM.
Churches choosing to remain with NWYM by adhering to its Faith and Practice statement of beliefs will retain the sole use of the name Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church. Only individuals who are active members of these remaining churches will be eligible for appointment by NWYM to serve in any capacity with related organizations, such as George Fox University, Quaker Hill and Twin Rocks camps.
We believe that further delay in taking this necessary action will result in the disintegration of NWYM.
In His service,
[names added alphabetically, as permission received]
Please pass this message on.