Ultimatum in Northwest Yearly Meeting?? (Yawn.)

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 <2017wayforward@nullgmail.com>
Date: Fri, Jan 6, 2017 at 10:04 AM
Subject: Friends of NWYM

January 6, 2017

Dear Friends,

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 2017wayforward@nullgmail.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.


26 thoughts on “Ultimatum in Northwest Yearly Meeting?? (Yawn.)”

  1. Your report that we in NWYM are in conflict over issues around human sexuality is correct in a large, obvious sense, but some pertinent details are incorrect or misleading. This next weekend is the meeting of our Administrative Council. The following weekend is the mid-year meeting of boards and of representatives from local meetings. The “Way Forward” document came from somewhere and has been in process for who knows how long. But it does include names of those who endorse it. It is not an official document from a recognized NWYM group, as I understand it. And from what I have read, I do not expect that the document will be considered by the AC or passed along to the mid-year meetings of the representatives. Personally, I’m hopeful that we’ll find suitable ways to live in unity in the midst of disagreement. Please pray for us and, for now, please take less delight in our struggle. Thanks.

    1. Howard, I appreciate your expansion on the NWYM meeting schedule for later this month. And I share your hope thst a way can be found for NWYM, or as much of it as possible, to get through this ordeal together. However, if you think I take delight in all this, you found something in the post that I did not put there. Rather, the protracted spectacle has become a quite tedious, unedifying distraction from much bigger and more portentous matters. This sense was coming on anyway last summer, but crystallized when I read some issues of the journal, “The American Friend,” from the early 1920s. The back & forth of letters & articles was slower, and the specifics were other than LGBT, but the tropes and the frames, the ultimatums & demands, the tendentious prooftexting — all were so depressingly familiar. After ninety years of these recurrent fevers, has nothing more or better been learned? Certainly not the ability to read the signs of the times.

  2. I appreciate Howard Macy’s comments. I take no delight in the struggles taking place in NWYM. All of the persons involved in trying to find a right decision are forgiven sinners, and mutual love and humility will greatly aid their work. My prayers are with them. All of them.

  3. I’ve been following this unfolding drama from the UK.

    Seems to me the issues are about who is going to be in control. If that’s the case your are on the road to ruin. Look at Aleppo and Syria.

    If God is Love why are humans exercising themselves over who loves who? If consenting adults fall in love surely that is cause for celebration.

    1. Control. You’ve nailed it. There is nothing emanating from West Hills Friends that impedes other churches in the yearly meeting from practicing as they see fit. West Hills certainly has not sought to impose a requirement that all Northwest Yearly Meeting churches welcome LGBTQs.

      Nothing in West Hills’ practice could prove fatal to the structure of the Yearly Meeting. What might, instead, prove fatal are the persistent efforts of several control-freak preachers to impose a “surgical separation” on any congregation with whom they disagree.

      The Yearly Meeting board has already ruled that it will not impose any financial penalty on West Hills Friends, if it leaves, because West Hills has patiently and quietly attempted to remain in unity with NWYM through these years of continual harrassment. And because its “sin” has been to love its neighbors as itself.

      I do not know whether the board has promised something similar to churches who choose to take their balls and go home, because they don’t like playing with some of the other kids on their their team.
      If those churches want to leave, then the yearly meeting should consider the terms that they propose.

      1. Thanks, Lynsley. For emphasis, let me repeat that the talk of imminent “disintegration” of NWYM came from the “Way Forward” letter, not from any of my analysis or reflections. I also made no predictions about NWYM’s fate, except for a highly qualified one about the path taken by many of those issuing similar ultimata elsewhere. Ihave other experience with such expressions in similar controversies, though, and such talk has typically been part of manipulative/abusive behavior, and I’m not shy about calling it such.

      2. Thanks, Lynsley. For emphasis, let me repeat that the talk of imminent “disintegration” of NWYM came from the “Way Forward” letter, not from any of my analysis or reflections. I also made no predictions about NWYM’s fate, except for a highly qualified one about the path taken by many of those issuing similar ultimata elsewhere. I have other experience with such expressions in similar controversies, though, and such talk has typically been part of manipulative/abusive behavior, and I’m not shy about calling it such.

  4. I understand why Howard Macy would assume there is some “delight” expressed in Friend Fager’s writings — I can feel the schadenfreude. I suspect, however, that it is more a matter of Friend Fager’s writing style than actual delight in our (yes, I’m from NWYM) struggles.

    What Friend Fager cannot know, what very few can know because they haven’t been present, is the very real shift in tone of these difficult meetings for worship for business. They started off back in 2012 or 2013 as rancorous, angry, distrustful, painful. The shift has been a softening to more sorrow and confusion. Most recently (during annual sessions 2016 and at the December called meeting of Reps) there has been palpable a lot of love. [Yes, of course there are individuals on the extremes who are still angry, but I’m talking about the center, which still holds.]

    I do take issue with Friend Fager’s characterization of our upcoming MidYear Boards (other Friends would probably call this their “half-yearly meeting”) as anything but what it is: the normal gathering of our committees, boards, and Council of Reps. What IS unusual is the representation of our YM youth: during annual sessions a majority of the Young Friends Meeting chose to skip their day at the Oregon coast to attend the final day of business. They asked to be included in the further discernment, and so approximately one high-schooler from each of our 8 quarters labored with us in December and will join us again at MidYear Boards.

    Well, I could go on, but I’ll draw this to a close.

    I am glad that Friend Fager and others are paying attention, and that he is informing our Society of what is happening here and in other YMs. That matters. We should care about each other in the larger Quaker world. Thank you.

    Please, also, start or continue to hold us in the Light. All the Friends in NWYM want to be faithful followers of our Inward Teacher. We need to hear clearly; sometimes I wish there would be another episode of handwriting on the wall — tho’ that didn’t turn out very well for the audience at the time.

    1. Julie Wrote: “What Friend Fager cannot know, what very few can know because they haven’t been present, is the very real shift in tone of these difficult meetings for worship for business. They started off back in 2012 or 2013 as rancorous, angry, distrustful, painful. The shift has been a softening to more sorrow and confusion. Most recently (during annual sessions 2016 and at the December called meeting of Reps) there has been palpable a lot of love.”
      I like the sound of this, but it is also a testament to just how closed the overall NWYM culture is that it only begins to dribble out in the comments section of a blog based on the other side of the country. I encourage you and others to do more, and more openly, to tell this story, for the benefit of many beyond your “borders.” Though I believe there are still other aspects of it which may not fit the “loving center” model.

      1. I would offer a word of caution to those not directly involved who might be tempted to advise Friend Julie and others doing the hard work involved in these meetings. To suggest that they do more of something, or do things differently, seems to imply a dissatisfaction with some aspect of the work they’re doing—work that cannot be seen by those who aren’t in the meetings, but which from my perspective has been, and is being, done with great compassion and wisdom. The burden on their shoulders is a heavy one—one that would have crushed many of us. As someone who is near to, but by no means at the center of, what is unfolding, I can tell you that this difficult, time-consuming work is being done selflessly, with astounding diligence, thoughtfulness and love by extremely wise and caring Friends from WHF. The desire many of us have to know more is great. But tremendous effort has been made by representatives of WHF to minimize drama, to extend grace, to treat fellow Friends with tremendous care and respect, and to give God time to work. I am thankful that those who are doing this hard work are more cautious and circumspect than I would have the ability to be!

        1. Shari, I’ve been able to add to my Google Translate function an app that renders Orwellian New(berg)Speak into something approximating plain English. Putting your comment through it, the plain summary emerged as: “Why don’t you shut the he** up!”
          Well, I respect what some folks are doing out there, and I’ll take that advice under advisement, but probably won’t follow it.

          1. Now, now Friend Fager — I think your translator didn’t get it right this time! Mine gave the plain summary as, “The Friends doing the actual work right now might not have the time or energy to write about it just yet; nor are those caught up in the emotional wringer necessarily in the best position to write Truth-fully.”

          2. Thanks, Julie, and shorter is much better. Has thee noticed that “Plain Soeech,” once an explicit Testimony, is pretty much gone with the Quaker wind? Not just out there, but far & wide. And it was not really about simply saying “Thee” & “Thou,” quaint & cute as these can be. Today, alas, I think the RSOF could contend even with the Pentagon for euphemization. (Tho I admit it’s hard to beat “collateral damage” and “enhanced interrogation.”) But have you ever felt a shiver go down your back when a Clerk stood up, after a difficult episode, folded his/her hands, bowed the head, and then intoned (now that the bodies were buried, the victims silenced or banished, the facts stuffed under the rug, and the cover story agreed to), “Friends, Let The Healing Begin.”
            That’s the most chilling sentence in my Quaker experience.

          3. “Plain speech”

            Couldn’t agree with you more, Chuck, (I’ll presume to use first names, since I’m am quite happy to be called “Julie”!) and would love to have a conversation about how we use language. Right now I must needs turn my fingers away from the keyboard, but I’ll leave you with this gem from the past, if you care to read it. Not EXACTLY on point but I suspect you’ll see the connection: http://www.nytimes.com/1985/02/10/magazine/sunday-observer-the-processing-process.html

          4. Chuck Fager, that’s not what I was saying. I’m simply a long-time attender of WHF who feels a bit mama bearish on behalf of our members who are doing the hard work involved in this process and who trusts that they will speak as publicly as is appropriate each step of the way. I don’t attend meeting in Newberg, I have no ties to Newberg, and after all this mess, I don’t want to. I am thankful for Julie and other WHF leaders who are, through their graciousness and faithfulness, showing what spiritual maturity, compassion, and thoughtful leadership look like.

      2. “…how closed the overall NWYM culture is…”

        That is such an intriguing comment, because I myself have noticed that most NWYM Friends have minimal concern or awareness about being part of a larger Society. Our local meeting members are, for the most part, only peripherally aware of the Quarterly and Yearly Meetings — until something Big comes along to stir their interest.

        I think the problem is particularly strong among Evangelical Friends. When I was a very young Evangelical Lutheran, my friends and I would say that we weren’t really Lutherans, because that didn’t matter. We were Christians, and had more in common with other Evangelicals of any/all denominations than with other “carnal” Lutherans. It didn’t cross our minds to seek out other Lutheran churches in our area, or to get involved higher-up-the-hierarchy in our synod.

        Have I drifted too much away from the content of your original blog post? I don’t do this “comment” stuff often, nor do I have a blog. I don’t “tweet” and I don’t comment about sensitive YM matters on Facebook. But I have followed the material and info available about the struggles at NCYM (David Hobson, FWCC-connection, keeps me in the loop with links to documents and minutes).

        So I will take your encouragement to “tell this story” to heart. To date it has not been my gift or calling to write such things. As I consider it, my heart seems to say, “Here am I! Now please send Aaron…” [That’s an old joke, in case it seems odd/confusing.] After all, I so appreciate your and Stephen Angell’s work in documenting these tragic splits happening in our day — even when it makes me wince.

        1. Julie, thee’s right about the insularity. But it’s not confined to NWYM nor to evangelicals among Friends. For instance, I know many Quakers in the liberal unprogrammed Carolina meetings near me, who haven’t the foggiest idea that there are LOTS of other Friends in North Carolina, many just a county or two away, with a 300-year plus history, distinctive ways, and of late, intense controversies of their own.
          Why the ignorance? Among the liberals, the answer is quite simple: if they hadn’t heard about it on NPR/PBS, it didn’t happen. That monocultural bubble is well-nigh impenetrable. (Some renegades read this blog and have thus gotten clues at least about NCYM’s existence & struggles; but too many don’t.)
          Wiser writers than me have pointed out that such bubble-ization is increasingly characteristic of our culture at large, and I increasingly believe it. What to do? Let’s talk about it.

  5. Lynsley,
    For what it’s worth, a church chose to leave the YM last year and the elders opted to let them keep their property. They felt it more appropriate to let them leave without contention. This has been a mess in the Methodist church, some conferences suing congregations who wish to leave. I hope we see that nasty behavior and continue to think better of how we treat those who wish to leave.

    1. Krissi, your comment is right on, and it makes me chuckle. It appears that NWYM’s policy about reclaiming property from a church that leaves is very firm — except when it isn’t.
      Now, why were the elders so generous as to make an exception for the church that quit?
      Well, let me put on my cynical church reporter’s hat and speculate a bit.
      Consider: the church that quit was large: 800-plus members, as I recall. With that many members, a church likely has a pretty hefty bank account. Such bank accounts can be tapped for a variety of exigencies. One such exigency could be hiring lawyers to go to court to fend off the confiscation of their property.
      Now, maybe the church would lose their case. But in the meantime, such lawsuits can be very expensive (for both contending parties); they can drag on for years; they can get ugly; and (this is very important in NWYM, I believe) they are PUBLIC. Wide open for the nosey unwashed & unsaved, down to and including bloggers, to observe, pick over & write about.
      But you know, of course, that I’m just being cynical & speculative here. No doubt the hearts of the NWYM elders were moved only by the purest and tenderest sentiments of steadfast Christian love and forbearance, etc., etc.

  6. I have followed Chuck’s “missives’ on NWYM with great interest. Having gone through some very trying experiences 17-18 years ago when my wife was hired to start Portland Friends School. When she was hired she was told that the school would have the support of Reedwood Friends and Multnomah Friends. That in itself was reason for our being excited to begin. Cooperation of a Beanite Meeting and an EFCI Church working together. However, when we arrived in Portland we were told that Reedwood would in no way be assisting or cooperating in the school because of its “welcoming” attitude to LGBT families and Board members. Eventually PFS found a “home” at West Hills Friends and greatly appreciated their assistance, especially that of the pastor/minister Mike. I had proposed writing a book about our experiences, but time and health issues have erased that from my “bucket list.”

    1. Hope you can put thst book back on your bucket list. Or at least an extended article. Stories need to be told & preserved. Remember in Orwell about the “Memory Hole,” down which inconvenient pieces of truth were flushed, and disappeared from history. It’s part of the pathology there.

  7. Thought someone should note the specificity of the legal terms in the original statement. Could this be a stage in separation grief?
    If So, I hope a lawyer somewhere is getting paid.

  8. After years of discussion the sole observation I have in regards to the clear and obvious schism that is slowly rending in twain NWYM is that the Meetings desirous of including all people into their worship circles are not the Meetings issuing ultimatums that other need to leave NWYM because their actions are considered intolerable. To me this is telling when related to Christ’s teachings as I understand them.

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