“Unfortunately, They Have Led You Astray.”
Blowback & A Blink After the Carolina Expulsions
It hasn’t been a quiet week in Quake wobegon (North Carolina Yearly Meeting-FUM).
When it began, many Friends were still in shock at the news that three of its meetings had been abruptly expelled (“released” is the unconvincing official term) by the YM Executive Committee, after an unannounced meeting on August 20.
But the shock soon wore off. And after that, came the reaction. It was strong and loud, and hasn’t let up.
The Executive Committee’s hand-delivered letter said their action “may be appealed to and is subordinate to the North Carolina Yearly Meeting at its next annual session.” That session begins in less than a week, on September 4.
The pastor of Poplar Ridge Friends, one of the expellees, told me they were not yet sure what they were going to do.
Other Meetings are planning hurry-up business sessions to consider the dramatic news.
Mary Louise Smith, the Clerk of another of the expelled groups, New Garden Friends Meeting (NGFM), told me she had heard from “at least thirty people” this week, about the matter. And NGFM will hold a called business meeting Sunday August 30, to begin consideration of an appeal.
And some are doing more than mulling it over. One was Max Carter, interviewed here on August 26. That conversation has circulated very widely.
Another was former NCYM Clerk Bill Eagles, also of New Garden, and an attorney. He wrote to the Executive Committee Clerk, urging the group to “please correct this error now.” [Emphasis in original] Eagles emailed many copies of his appeal. Eagles told me he had heard back from even very conservative Friends endorsing his main points.
Meantime, Yearly Meeting officials kept mum about this feedback.
They did, that is, until Thursday, August 27. Then another missive arrived at the expelled meetings, from NCYM Superintendent Don Farlow.
Another day, another shocker.
This email announced that, contrary to the Executive Committee’s letter, NO appeals would be considered at the impending annual sessions. Instead, any appeals would be heard at the YM’s next Representative Body sessions, either in November 2015 or March 2016.
In addition, members of New Garden who were planning to attend the annual sessions were privately advised they were welcome to be there for “fellowship,” but could not speak or otherwise take part in the business.
Why the abrupt change? Farlow wrote in reply to my inquiry that, “Concerns were expressed regarding the time available for the released meetings to consider their decision regarding appeal, time available for meetings that elect to appeal to prepare that appeal and the agenda for Annual Sessions was already established.”
It’s interesting to note that both Farlow and the NCYM Clerk, Michael Fulp, Sr., were part of the Executive Committee session on August 20; presumably they would have been informed about the state of the annual sessions agenda at that time.
So could the feedback have been a factor? Well, let’s consider some of the points that have been raised.
Here is a relevant part of the Bill Eagles letter. Noting the broad authority given the Representative Body by the NCYM Faith and Practice, he asserts:
No such broad language empowers the Executive Committee; it acted outside its authority.
Jesus taught us all to go to the person who we believe has done wrong, first alone and then with others, giving that person at least two chances to correct and make amends. Matt. 18:15-17. These [Executive Committee] actions are not only without authority, they are against the Biblical instruction.
I understand that the Executive Committee may have seen itself in a difficult position, but making up rules to kick meetings out without any authority and against Biblical teachings does not create a stronger, more stable, more effective organization.
I do not know what my Meeting or the other two Meetings involved are going to do about any invited appeal. If nothing is done, Yearly Meeting will have been co-opted and its processes mangled. I beseech you to call a meeting of the Executive Committee and correct this grievous error before this matter takes over Yearly Meeting sessions and does damage that outlasts us all.
I have a great deal of respect for your motives. Unfortunately they have led you astray. It’s a wonder any of God’s work gets done by we mere mortals.
While I can’t yet confirm it, I strongly suspect NCYM officials heard many similar heartfelt outcries this past week. (By the way, Bill Eagles’s letter raised several issues beyond that quoted here; we’ll take up these other points in due time.) The sudden change in the appeals schedule they themselves had set points to no other conclusion.
For that matter, the justification for treating the three meetings alike is looking shakier and shakier.
It’s worth recalling briefly how we got here. As their efforts to “unify” (i.e., purge “liberals” from the YM) have faltered, the two expelled evangelical churches, Holly Spring and Poplar Ridge, have been holding meetings with some other pastors and supporters, aimed at establishing a rival body more in tune with their doctrinal views, and predicting a mass exodus of “like-minded” meetings.
But by midsummer, the talk had moved to action. Minutes obtained by the Executive Committee from Holly Spring for July, indicate that the meeting, with the concurrence of Poplar Ridge, has allocated $1500 per month to pay a pastor, Daniel Thames, to:
“. . . research and develop a path to setting up a new association. . . . [Holly Spring] Ministry and Counsel recommended supporting financially the effort of starting a new association by funding the consultant position in the amount of $1500 per month for a period of three to six months beginning August 3 . . . . The Meeting approved . . . .”
To the Executive Committee, this was a “smoking gun,” which they interpreted as a concrete commitment to a different body. This move created a deep conflict of interest, the committee background document said; and:
“It is important, though, to acknowledge that this conflict arises at a time when Poplar Ridge and Holly Spring have been highly critical of the NC Yearly Meeting generally and several meetings specifically, to the point that they are actively and financially establishing a competing yearly meeting. While it is fully their right to do so, it is imperative that they not do so while their members serve in positions where they can control or influence the existence of the yearly meeting they are leaving.”
Moreover, the conflicts of interest are:
“. . . most pronounced in the month of September when Friends gather for their annual session and when planning and budgeting for the coming year commences in earnest.
This is not a situation that the NC Yearly Meeting has created, but it is a situation that the NC Yearly Meeting cannot ignore. Indeed, the timing and severity of this conflict require a response devoid of lengthy discussion and handwringing.”
The Committee accepted the conclusion that the committee should:
“act decisively and without delay, acknowledging that Poplar Ridge and Holly Spring have already proclaimed their decision to leave the NC Yearly Meeting and that they are hereby released from their membership in the NC Yearly Meeting so that they may complete the formation of the yearly meeting they have already started and funded. We should do this in full respect of their decision. Because their conflict occurs at a time when the NC Yearly Meeting’s future is being decided, they have neither purpose nor rightful claim to participate in the decision of the yearly meeting they are leaving. I therefore recommend that their release is effective immediately, and posit that there is no reasonable alternative.”
[At this point I’ll repeat that if an informed member of either of these meetings will prepare a post making their case against this action, space can be made for it on this blog.]
New Garden was included among the meetings highlighted for the Executive Committee because last March, as reported here, it had joined the new Piedmont Friends Yearly Meeting; indeed, it hosted the organizing session.
In the NCYM Executive Committee, the recommendation was only that “a diligent inquiry be made to determine the nature and status of other yearly meeting memberships held” by New Garden. Yet the Executive Committee decided to expel that meeting on the same basis as the other two.
What’s puzzling here is that it doesn’t take much diligent inquiry to cast strong doubts on the notion that the “nature and status”of New Garden’s course is at all parallel to the other two.
Take the matter of money. Holly Spring, reportedly with the support of Poplar Ridge, has committed up to $9000 to pay a pastor/organizer to lead “the effort of starting a new association. . . .”
So how much has New Garden committed and donated to the new Piedmont Friends Yearly Meeting?
My diligent inquiry (of about five minutes) turned up quite specific answers: The amounts pledged and donated by NGFM are the same:
That’s right: Zero Dollars.
This amount was confirmed by the New Garden Clerk.
Moreover, the new body, while a “Yearly Meeting,” hardly compares to what the other two meetings are setting up. Piedmont is more the germ or perhaps the seed of a yearly meeting — it has no staff, no property, not even any standing committees.
Crucially, the roster of officers on its website does not list a Treasurer.
Because there IS no Treasurer.
Moreover the PFYM Clerk, Marian Beane, confirmed to me that the body does not even have a bank account or a budget. All its efforts are expected to develop organically, over time, as they are led.
Moreover, rather than being seen as a rival or replacement to NCYM, New Garden representatives have frequently said they see it as an extension of their Quaker commitment to NCYM, not a substitute. It’s in the same category with New Garden’s connections to numerous other Quaker organizations– to many of which, by the way, they do make annual donations.
In short, the Executive Committee is left with what looks rather more like a “smokeLESS gun” when it comes to New Garden and Piedmont Yearly Meeting:
New Garden has not diverted a single penny from NCYM to PFYM. It has not joined the new group to get away from, or subvert, NCYM. It has not (and will not be) recruiting other meetings to leave NCYM.
Yet, as a knowledgeable insider remarked to me, the Executive Committee, in its single unannounced session, decided that any differences between New Garden and the others were “insignificant.” How these differences can be deemed “insignificant” is hard to understand, and so far unexplained.
It’s also hard to see in this any sign of the “diligent inquiry” recommended to it.
As another longtime NCYM Friend told me wearily, “I really do believe they had to throw New Garden under the bus to accomplish their primary task – and then hoped that NGFM would appeal so they could make amends.”
Maybe. NGFM is under the bus, regardless. Whether there’s any thought of making amends, we’ll see. But not for some months.
And let’s note also that at week’s end, also “under the bus” has gone one of the important parts of the original recommendation to the Executive Committee, that
“the timing and severity of this conflict require a response devoid of lengthy discussion and handwringing,” so they must “act decisively and without delay . . .”
Until Thursday, the time between the pronouncement of expulsion and the disposition of any appeals was to be less than three weeks. But now it is to stretch from three to seven months.
Moreover, the “handwringing” has already begun, and a sure-to-be “lengthy discussion” is well underway. Perhaps there might even be some “diligent inquiry” in the meantime. Who knows?
Yet mark: The Executive Committee’s resolve has been shaken. Its grip has measurably loosened.
In this now elongated interim, can its brazen decision stand, with its ramifications that extend far beyond the three meetings targeted? Can it retain the supreme and arbitrary authority it has seized?
And what other unexpected changes in plans can NCYM Friends anticipate?
PS. By the way, there are other important issues to be taken up at the NCYM annual sessions. We hope to report on the critical points as way opens.