Update-Northwest YM Gay Expulsion: The Power In Posing The Question

Update-Northwest YM Gay Expulsion: The Power In Posing The Question

How does a group in power get what it wants from a divided Quaker body, given the practice of seeking “unity” or a near-unanimous “consensus” for action?

It’s not hard, and we’ll get to how it can be done in a moment. First, some background:

As reported in our October 22 post, there’s movement in Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM), on the case of the expulsion of West Hills Friends (WHF) in Portland OR, by the NWYM Elders, in July 2015. West Hills is a LGBT-welcoming meeting.


The NWYM Administrative Council recently proposed that a joint statement be issued by both West Hills and NWYM, in which West Hills would agree to accept its expulsion. (Full text of the proposed statement is here.)

West Hills Friends took up this  proposal at its September and October business sessions. There was no unity on whether to go along with it; and in its October session, WHF decided to seek input from the Portland Area association (like a Quarterly Meeting) of NWYM meetings.

The Portland Area session took place on October 21, and there was no agreement in the discussion to accept the joint statement. With neither West Hills nor its area association ready to accept the statement, one experienced observer suggested to us that little more is expected to be heard about the joint statement idea. 

The joint statement proposal was floated by the Administrative Council in an effort to find a way out of an impasse it has faced since the expulsion decision landed in its lap after NWYM’s 2015 annual session.

WHF-Expelled-AppealThe impasse developed in the face of appeals from the expulsion decision, some quite elegant and forceful, filed by eight local meetings, in accordance with NWYM rules. Along with the “official” appeals, the YM received an informal letter of protest signed by more than 220 Friends, including a large number of younger Quakers.

According to NWYM’s Faith & Practice, 

 “Upon receipt of the appeal by the Presiding Clerk of the Administrative Council, any action approved by the Board of Elders will be deferred pending further determination . . . .”

This provision meant an automatic “stay of execution” for the expulsion of West Hills. But then the Administrative Council was unable to agree either to accept or reject the appeals.

The impasse lasted until this past summer, when the council referred  it to the 2016 annual session. But there was no unity on it there either; the deadlock has remained on the Administrative Council’s agenda, now for fifteen months.

In the meantime, NWYM’s largest meeting/church, Anthem Friends in Idaho, quit the yearly meeting in late 2015. Anthem’s letter announcing its departure insisted their action was not in response to “the homosexuality issue”.  Instead, it said, this is an authority of scripture/interpretation of scripture/orthodoxy issue for us.”   Perhaps so, but the timing, and the fact that many evangelicals argue that issues of sexuality are in essence of a biblical character, suggest  there was at least significant overlap.


Others in NWYM have strongly hinted that more local groups would leave NWYM unless West Hills — and any other meetings that follow West Hills’ example in “welcoming” LGBTs.

With the trial balloon of a joint statement being shot full of holes; the Administrative Council met on October 13, and set December 9-10 for a special meeting of meeting representatives (to include one “young Friend” from each group)  to deal with the matter. 

And at this point, we come back to the opening question about how what is called “Quaker process” can be, er, managed.

Basically, it’s quite simple, and based on this precedent: once a decision has been made, to change or repeal it requires that the body “reach unity” to do so.

So the technique comes down to how the decision is presented.

The Case of Pumpkin Spice Cake

For instance: suppose a meeting decided at one business session to serve pumpkin spice cake at the Fall Festival. But then at the next business meeting, some said they couldn’t stand pumpkin spice anything. To remove the pumpkin spice cake, the meeting would need to “reach unity” to reverse its earlier decision.

But what if the Clerk was a big fan of pumpkin spice cake, and wanted to make sure it stayed on the menu?  

And what if the Clerk knew there were strong divided feelings about the matter?

Then the Clerk could pose the question in a way that would ensure her desired outcome. How?

Simple:  The Clerk could ask:

“Does the meeting wish to RESCIND the decision to have pumpkin spice cake?”

[The ensuing discussion is divided.]

Clerk: “It’s clear there is NO UNITY to change the menu.”

[Ergo, Pumpkin Spice cake stays.]

How some in NWYM (& elsewhere among Friends) view the surfacing of the issue of welcoming LGBTs.

Vice versa, the question could be put this way: “Does the meeting wish to UPHOLD the decision to have pumpkin spice cake?”

[The ensuing discussion is divided.]

Clerk: It’s clear there is NO UNITY to uphold the decision. 

[Ergo, pumpkin Spice cake goes.]

Do such things actually happen in Quaker business meetings? Um, yes; though no particular accusing fingers are being pointed here.

Nevertheless, after more than two years of controversy, two aspects of this situation are almost for sure:  first, Northwest YM is “not in unity” about its stance on welcoming LGBTs, or disciplining meetings which do so; and second, that those in authority are desperate to get rid of the West Hills welcoming/expulsion hot potato.  The December 9-10 meeting will be their second attempt to pass it off to the yearly Meeting, or some subsidiary body.


Will they escape this time? The Administrative Council has not indicated exactly what question it will pose to the called meeting for December 9-10.  Or what it will do if — as seems almost certain — there is “no unity” about it.

Stay tuned.





2 thoughts on “Update-Northwest YM Gay Expulsion: The Power In Posing The Question”

  1. And thus what happens (inevitably, it seems, it just takes longer sometimes) when the primacy of direct revelation is rejected. When such is accepted then unity, true unity, is the only rational method of moving forward: otherwise we are denying “that of Spirit” in others. Yes, it gets messy. We have to “labor” with each other at times. And that’s how we learn enough from each other to stay together.


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