23 August 2007

What is really wrong with Friends United Meeting

. . . but first, what is NOT wrong!

What is not wrong with FUM as FUM is the controversial policy on hiring and personal ethics (which says that FUM personnel and volunteers should reserve sexual intimacy for heterosexual marriage). This is why: that policy is an accurate reflection of God's will as understood by the FUM board at the time the policy was adopted. Any other more "liberal" policy would have marginalized (and would still marginalize) the majority of the constituency, in favor of the preferences of Friends with arguably the least amount of love and care for FUM.

And the way some of FUM's recent critics have demonstrated casual attitudes toward history, their negative assumptions about FUM's narrowness, and the meanness of the way they have treated even FUM staff members (including non-Friends on the staff)--all that does not give the volunteer leadership of FUM much of an incentive to go back into the process of discussing those policies once again. When someone demonstrates little or no affection for an organization and its central purposes, why should that organization grant them power over its life and death?

The blunt reality: only by changing that majority will Friends succeed in changing FUM policies, and I see little likelihood that FUM's critics will invite African and Caribbean Quakers, not to mention Iowa Yearly Meeting, into a serious and costly and trustfully-conducted dialogue on sexuality and biblical ethics, with equal attention to the themes that their conversation partners also consider vitally important.

Here's the post on Quaker Pagan Reflections that set off these thoughts. I was so distracted by Peter's characterization of some attitudes toward FUM that my comments there, presented again here, did not include a proper thank-you for his gracious description of Eden Grace's presentation. Here's what I said:
I had a very hard time wrestling with these words: "We are outraged by what we feel is a narrow minded and hateful stance FUM has taken on sexual ethics, but we have never come to any unity ourselves—have never even considered—making a statement of our own about sexual ethics."

I appreciate the candor of the statement, and realize that it is a general description, not a manifesto. But I was there when the FUM personnel policy was adopted, and there was nothing at all going on remotely similar to "taking a stance," nor was the context narrow-minded or hateful.

In fact, I keep wanting to challenge the apparent idea that "FUM" as an organization is somehow a black box in which narrow-minded, hateful things go on and "stances" are taken. What actually happened was that months of consultations and study led to a General Board meeting, clerked humbly and carefully by Paul Enyart, in which a decision was made almost regretfully by a roomful of people practicing mutual submission. Many people had to give up something desired by their home constituencies, including those Friends who still felt that homosexuality was criminal or should at least be socially disadvantaged. The actual policy goes directly against those points of view, and upholds the civil rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation. I don't remember how many New England YM Friends were at that meeting, but I do remember the one who said "This is as far as God has taken us at this time." (Not an exact quotation.)

My main point is that Friends United Meeting isn't an organization that takes actions by running roughshod over its members. It IS its members. You may know that in your head, but if people keep objectifying the connection point, pretty soon newcomers and outside observers can be excused for believing that the problem lies solely in that narrow-minded, hateful connection point.

If a YM breaks the tie with FUM, it's not the relationship with an organization that they're severing (formally), it's with the other Friends in other parts of the world for whom FUM was that connection point. We can certainly have ties only with Friends who never differ with us on anything that is important to us (and perhaps it is sufficient only to have bilateral connections with just one other yearly meeting at a time) but let's admit that that's what we're doing, not breaking ties with some mean-spirited group that doesn't, in any compact sense, actually exist.
I am not at all sure that biblical faithfulness requires the policy that FUM adopted, but I can verify that FUM did the process right. Just a few years earlier, I'd seen an anti-homosexual policy pushed through Indiana Yearly Meeting in the face of substantial and visible opposition, so I knew what bad process could look like. FUM's process was nothing like that.

Most of my adult life, I believed that Friends who were radically different in theology and culture could have fruitful dialogues, and could thereby create and model effective evangelism and peacemaking for the larger world. Not that every Friend would have such dialogues as their primary mission--evangelical Friends are right to say that the world's need for the Gospel should outweigh our internal fascinations. But it would always be useful for us to challenge each other to a more complete and faithful harvesting of our own three and a half centuries of discipleship.

But now the walls of suspicion may simply be too high for such dialogues to be institutionalized in organizations such as FUM. When significant groups of Friends in the more liberal yearly meetings use the language of money (as in threatening to cut off funding) to communicate with FUM, and when individual meetings in the more evangelical yearly meetings threaten to leave their yearly meeting if it doesn't cut ties with FUM, then it's time to be honest about the alienation we're witnessing.

There were once substantial centrist groups that held FUM together, groups who believed that love is a bridge that doesn't require the opposite shore to be symmetrical to theirs. I don't know how much of that constituency still exists. From the liberal side, the most pro-FUM message that I hear seems to be that by staying engaged, "we" can change FUM. What qualifies them to change FUM is not specified -- by all indications it's not passionate support for FUM's central goal, which is to energize and equip Friends for evangelism.

Here are some queries for Friends:
  • When did our discussions of ethical ideals become subject to the veto of the most brittle or wounded or angry among us? Liberal communities sometimes don't want to discuss limitations on behavior that might affect someone in the room, or even affiliations that include the idea of limitations, because those people will object to being made invisible or disadvantaged. In some evangelical circles, there's often an almost irresistible compulsion not to say anything that might be mistaken for "liberal." In both cases, the truncated range of permissibility kills genuine dialogue, especially when people start trumping each other by comparing the pain they feel when their theology or their sexuality, or other aspects of their identity, are supposedly attacked. You mustn't compare pain, neither for therapeutic benefit nor for rhetorical advantage!
  • Do you believe that Christians should have boundaries on behavior, and that those boundaries should be derived from, or at least not be in conflict with, the Bible? Do you believe that those boundaries should ever actually involve the behavior of people present at your yearly meeting sessions, or should those boundaries only involve people who are at a safe distance from your deliberations? Do you believe that you should or should not have meaningful organizational connections with Friends who disagree with you on issues of behavioral boundaries?
  • Should FUM give up its ancient conceit of being a denomination (complete with responsibility for maintaining a denominational identity), and simply stick to being a program and resource network for evangelism? Those yearly meetings who need a wider association for identity purposes would still have Evangelical Friends International to affiliate with, and (in North America at least) Friends General Conference. And the great Quaker post office, Friends World Committee for Consultation, would remain available for worldwide communication and ... well ... consultation. Those yearly meetings whose members are simply too prickly to behave themselves in a larger context of mutual accountability would have to get used to life without the FUM scapegoat.

    This proposal is different from the old realignment controversy in that FUM would not be broken apart in favor of the other associations; it would remain active, and maybe even grow stronger, but with only the participation of those who actually care about its core mission. There would still be controversies--perhaps even some of the same ones--but they would be controversies among people voluntarily connected by an overarching priority.
  • Do you personally believe that FUM's purpose is valid? How has your agreement or lack of agreement with FUM's purpose played a role in how you've supported, criticized, or ignored FUM? If you agree with the importance of FUM's purpose, but don't agree with the policy on hiring and personal ethics, is there another wider affiliation for your yearly meeting that would better serve this purpose of energizing and equipping Friends for evangelism?
  • Regardless of your beliefs about sexuality, if your yearly meeting is in FUM but does not share FUM's purpose, then why is it in FUM? Would your yearly meeting allow FUM (that is, those members of FUM who do support its purpose) to challenge your yearly meeting's understanding of Quaker priorities as strongly as your yearly meeting would like to challenge those pro-FUM Friends on FUM's policies?
  • Do social, cultural, or political prejudices cause some in your yearly meeting to hold FUM to higher standards than they hold their own yearly meeting or their local meeting or church?
One more list--here are some aspects of what I think is really wrong with FUM--its frustrating passivity and maintenance mentality:
  • Most of Friends United Meeting's long-time supporters have overvalued old-fashioned denominational loyalty, and underestimated FUM's need to earn its right to exist by virtue of creatively designed and ardently advocated programming. There's been a huge shift in the larger culture, especially in North America, away from uncritical denominational loyalty--and one evidence of this is the rapid decline in the numbers of Friends in the FUM-only yearly meetings.

    In 1993, FUM adopted the present excellent purpose statement. That purpose statement should be not only the core of FUM's programming, but FUM's public voice should be consistently implementing, defending and promoting this purpose in season and out of season. As it is now, much of the North American constituency of FUM isn't even on board with the purpose statement. As for FUM's vital international work, much of it probably relates to the purpose statement but it is almost exclusively described in terms of maintenance. For example, Kenya absorbs a huge amount of FUM's attention, but Kenya is a highly evangelized country. How does FUM's work there reflect FUM's purpose? I think it does in many ways, but I can't point to evidence of this in Quaker Life or on the FUM Web site.
  • A related point: FUM's traditional loyalists have feared controversy. When the realignment controversy first erupted around 1990, many of them did their best to smother it, right before my very eyes. (In those years I was Midwest field staff for Friends World Committee for Consultation and attended many FUM Board meetings.) Quaker Life acted as if this life-and-death issue didn't exist. Pro-realignment dissidents operated mostly in secrecy. When they conducted a conference on realignment, FUM's entire leadership caste should have embraced the event as a vital conversation on the future of "Orthodox" Quakerism. Rather than being cynical about the motives of the conference organizers (and a certain amount of cynicism might have been justified), they should have rejoiced that long-suppressed tensions and resentments were finally being vented and could at last be addressed.

    Even earlier, when Kara Newell ended her service at FUM in the mid-1980's, she challenged the board with the "lie" of the word "United" in the name "Friends United Meeting." The untruthfulness of that word has been a huge flaw in the organization--an irritant to those who believed that they were "unequally yoked" with unbelievers through the affiliation of overlap yearly meetings, and a constant incentive to smooth over the awkward truth through bland happy-talk at the leadership level. Bland happy-talk is still in fashion: earlier this year I received fundraising materials in the mail that used the tagline, "United? Yes! To Learn. To Care. To Love. To Serve." It came into my mailbox around the time of the divisive Board meeting in Kenya and the subsequent withdrawal of Southeastern Yearly Meeting. You can't just assert a claim, you have to demonstrate that the claim is (a) worth making, and (b) true. The claim of unity is simply not true.
  • The dead hand of fearful loyalty continues to suppress open conversations about FUM's errors and encounters with corruption. We tried to break through some of those inhibitions when (during Ben Richmond's and my stewardship of Quaker Life) we reported on (for example) the collapse of the National Friends Insurance Trust and the Productions Plus scheme, and the visa sales scam operated by some Nairobi Yearly Meeting leaders back in 1999, but by and large FUM has not operated with the kind of transparency that befits the "Children of the Light." In some cases, FUM has confronted corruption successfully but has never publicly told the story and has therefore never received the credit (along with the awkward questions that should be welcomed as evidence of an engaged constituency).
A re-engaged constituency, attracted by lively advocacy and good purposeful programming, is FUM's only chance at revival. Come to think of it, that is probably true for every one of the 19th-century and early 20th-century organizations still claiming our resources. When our whole world-wide constituency amounts to the Catholic population of Philadelphia, it doesn't become any of us to look at any of our institutions with a one-upping spirit.

Over the past year, I've written a number of posts about FUM on this weblog, and a number of related comments on others' weblogs. For those of you who have no interest at all in this area of Quaker politics or history, these comments must seem strangely gnarly and trivial in comparison to the great themes of the Christian good news and Quaker discipleship. For me, it's a matter of stewardship of a long heritage of relationships and ministry, but I know this isn't true for everyone. And I admit my ego is mixed in here, too; I poured seven years into being the head of the FUM staff, and my highest priority in that job--trying to restore trust between organization and constituency--was only very partially achieved. Anyway, if you've gotten this far, thanks for your patience!

For convenience, here's the purpose statement of FUM, dating back to 1993:
Friends United Meeting commits itself to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.
And here's the FUM policy on hiring and personal ethics, as stated at the time I left the staff in 2000. (If it has changed, I hope someone will provide the revision.)
Friends United Meeting holds to the traditional Friends testimonies of peace (nonviolence), simplicity, truth speaking, community, gender and racial equality, chastity, and fidelity in marriage. It is expected that the lifestyle of all staff and volunteer appointees of Friends United Meeting will be in accordance with these testimonies.

Friends United Meeting affirms the civil rights of all people. Staff and volunteer appointments and promotions are made without regard to sex, race, national origin, age, physical disability, or sexual orientation. It is expected that intimate sexual behavior should be confined to marriage, understood to be between one man and one woman.

Righteous links:

Mark Keiley's courteous meditation, "In defense of the institutional church," is a pleasure to read. Interestingly, he doesn't himself attend an institutional church.

The convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, to an outsider like me, has seemed more like a conference of Veterans of False Dichotomies. Two days ago, almost-candidate Fred Thompson was reported to have said, "We know that Iraq is an important front in this war. We also know if we appear to be divided and weak in this nation, it will enable the enemy and make our country more dangerous, and therefore the world more dangerous, than ever before." So: when a democracy is genuinely divided, that's a sign of weakness? Maybe it's a sign that a bad policy has caused dissension--which is a sign of strength! The world is arguably more dangerous when a superpower lets a provably flawed leadership team do its thinking for it.

And while we're arguing flawed historical analogies, Juan Cole cites the interesting analogy of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt. Here's a scary teaser:
From the time of Bonaparte to that of Bush, the use of the rhetoric of liberty versus tyranny, of uplift versus decadence, appears to have been a constant among imperialists from republics -- and has remained domestically effective in rallying support for colonial wars. The despotism (but also the weakness) of the Mamluks and of Saddam Hussein proved sirens practically calling out for Western interventions. According to the rhetoric of liberal imperialism, tyrannical regimes are always at least potentially threats to the Republic, and so can always be fruitfully overthrown in favor of rule by a Western military. After all, that military is invariably imagined as closer to liberty since it serves an elected government. (Intervention is even easier to justify if the despots can be portrayed, however implausibly, as allied with an enemy of the republic.)

For both Bush and Bonaparte, the genteel diction of liberation, rights, and prosperity served to obscure or justify a major invasion and occupation of a Middle Eastern land, involving the unleashing of slaughter and terror against its people. Military action would leave towns destroyed, families displaced, and countless dead. Given the ongoing carnage in Iraq, President Bush's boast that, with "new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians," now seems not just hollow but macabre. The equation of a foreign military occupation with liberty and prosperity is, in the cold light of day, no less bizarre than the promise of war with virtually no civilian casualties.

Mark Lilla, in his otherwise useful NYT article on "The Politics of God," provokes major frustration when he says, "Reading a letter like Ahmadinejad’s [letter to George Bush], we fall mute, like explorers coming upon an ancient inscription written in hieroglyphics." Give me a break; the letter was not that strange. What was strange was that Bush and his colleagues did not have the elemental courtesy, not to mention strategic sagacity, to take the letter seriously and use the occasion to reply, both to the truths and to the perceived errors in the Iranian president's letter.

Instead, our administration continues to treat Iran as a semi-pariah, criticizing them for "meddling" in the affairs of the country with whom they share a risky border (implying that we would never meddle in another country's affairs?) and lecturing our allies with public condescension when they dare say Iran is a friend of theirs: "Now if the signal [from Maliki] is that Iran is constructive, I will have to have a heart to heart with my friend the prime minister, because I don't believe they are constructive." [source]

One more item from Tom Engelhardt's site: "American on the downward slope," by Dilip Hiro. I don't welcome news of the USA's decreasing influence worldwide. The world still needs our ideals; it's our arrogance it can do without.


Anonymous said...

Johan, I had wanted to respond to your comments when they appeared on Peter and Cat's blog, and I'd held back only because I felt it would detract from Peter's own purpose. This seems like a much better place to respond, so I'm glad you re-posted your comments here!

You wrote that the FUM personnel policy was crafted as "a decision ... made almost regretfully by a roomful of people practicing mutual submission." That is fine as far as it goes, but "mutual submission" is only the horizontal arm of the cross, and the vertical arm — truly channeling the intentions of our loving Father — is often much harder to hold to, especially in relation to issues this debatable.

Moreover, when human society is really off kilter about something, the horizontal arm of "mutual submission" may be centered very far away from the vertical axis of God's will. And at such a time, "mutual submission" may actually become a force pulling us away, not toward, full obedience to the divine. One of the questions that is being debated here in the Quaker world has to do with precisely that question — has the horizontal arm drifted dangerously far away from the vertical pole, and if so, in which direction has it drifted?

As long as that question remains unsettled, I'm afraid that "mutual submission" will remain a principle of questionable value in the eyes of Friends on both sides.

I agree with you, dear friend, when you write that it is time to be honest about the alienation in our ranks. In fact, I'd go farther: in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, I would say that we should perhaps not dare to approach the altar (of meeting for worship) again until we have effected a truer reconciliation amongst ourselves. Maybe it should only be the reconciliation of an agreement to love one another and collaborate as best we can while disagreeing about the rights of homosexuals, at least until such time as we are all granted clearer understanding. But this alienation is no good for us, no good for anyone really, no good at all.

I do believe FUM's stated purpose is a good one, though I have my doubts about the rightness of FUM's behavior as a means of pursuing that purpose.

Thank you for your continued witness on this issue. As long as people don't start turning a deaf ear to what you say, I believe you are doing some good here.

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you, Marshall.

You say, "I do believe FUM's stated purpose is a good one, though I have my doubts about the rightness of FUM's behavior as a means of pursuing that purpose." What behavior? Whose exactly? I'm going to start asking people to be far more precise when naming the defects of others in public.

You also said, "'mutual submission' is only the horizontal arm of the cross, and the vertical arm — truly channeling the intentions of our loving Father — is often much harder to hold to, especially in relation to issues this debatable." Are you saying that the assembled FUM Board members were not attentive to that vertical dimension? I certainly didn't intend to say that; I was addressing the issue of FUM's supposed narrowness and hatefulness, and trying to introduce a human dimension to the whole process of deciding that policy.

I've yet to hear anyone suggest either an outcome or a process that FUM should have followed, other than "make it align with what I (or we) agree with." How?? I suggest that this is beyond the power of a constituency-driven organization. It is not beyond God's power, but God chose not to act in a plenary way during that Board meeting.

I also believe that any diverse group of people, no matter how well they combine both deep piety and capacity for nuanced thinking, may continue to disagree on important issues. It is true that they may also vary in their ability to hear and trust God. But there's no human formula that guarantees unity or allows us to diagnose exactly who is failing to hear. All we can decide for sure is our individual and communal abilities to treat each other with love and forbearance when we disagree, and continue to be in conversation about our differences and our collaborations.

Maybe it's time for those of us willing to do this to stand up and say so--with openness about our disagreements and uncertainties, but with equal openness about how much we love one another, and why we're continuing to stay friends/Friends. Maybe it is already happening. One thing is clear to me after years as a reluctant Quaker politician: we shouldn't wait for our organizations to do this for us. They're too often limited in their freedoms by the angriest or weariest among them.

I wonder what you meant when you said, "As long as people don't start turning a deaf ear to what you say, I believe you are doing some good here." Maybe I'm being a bit oversensitive. I tend to rise to FUM's defense every time I hear an unfair criticism, which is pretty often, but one thing I realize that the criticism keeps coming back because the issues are completely new to some people. They hear a partial account, and are shocked that in 2007, a Friends organization could ask unmarried people (by traditional definition) not to engage in sex, and married people (by traditional definition) not to have sex outside of marriage. (Or, from the other end of the spectrum, they're shocked that it could ever have been an issue at all!) I will admit that I'm a bit discouraged that so few FUM voices have joined me in trying to keep this discussion fertile and positive and grounded in actual facts.

In any case, I'd like to think that I can now lay down this theme, at least for a while. But not because I'm afraid of people turning a deaf ear. That's up to them, not me.

Bill Samuel said...

Thank you, Johan, for your analysis and your frankness.

I've been pushing over and over the idea that the central question should be purpose. I appreciate what you had to say about that. Friends should be willing to struggle together over very difficult issues lovingly, but it needs to be in the context of common purpose. If they are truly brothers and sisters laboring together in the vineyard, this should be possible.

I'm not aware that any of the dually affiliated YMs have wrestled with FUM's purpose statement. My sense is that they think it is enough not to directly challenge the purpose. I disagree. The apparent disagreement with FUM's purpose, which one can see from statements of Friends in other contexts, by large numbers of Friends in those YMs is a real obstacle to those YMs being true partners in FUM.

The reasons often given within those YMs seem to me to often not be good reasons. And I'm not thinking only of the reason of changing FUM into their image. I'm thinking of such reasons as that there is a minority in the YM who do identify with FUM and the historical connections (it's not coincidence that the only YM without such historical ties is the only one that quickly dropped out after the controversial Kenya Board meeting). Affiliation needs to be on the basis of current unity by the body as a whole with the larger body.

I'm not sure how your idea of moving away from being a denomination would work in practice. I don't see FGC or EFI being an alternative for those who want a denomination, since neither of them are set up as a denomination. But FUM has downsized considerably over the years, and a more in-depth, no holds barred look at how it should be organized in the future is advisable. But I think it needs to get beyond the current internal struggles for it really to be able to do that. I think YMs not wholeheartedly united with its purpose dropping out would facilitate that.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your continued witness and ministry in this prickly and painful arena of Friends. I am so very glad to hear someone being honest, open and educated about what has been/continues to happen regarding the FUM debate that is so present in our Society. I am grateful for a voice that is speaking so fully out of love and concern. I believe we all come to this conversations with our own history with this subject (even if that history is one of not understanding or knowing the details) - and too often among Friends does that background go unacknowledged - which leads to people's egos getting invisibly tied up with trying to find Way forward.

Having just come from a summer of initiating those dialogues about the diversity of Friends while traveling in the ministry, I have found many people open to the idea of exploring this issue gently (much like dipping one toe into cold water). At Canadian Yearly Meeting, I witnessed a lot of heartache about both the hiring policy and the reaffirmation of the Richmond Declaration, a thirst for true understanding/information about what is actually going on, and a deep, searching for Way forward with FUM. What stands out in my mind most, though, is the overwhelming response that it would not be in accordance to God's Will to sever ties with FUM - and when withholding funding was put forward as a suggestion of how their pain could be communicated, there were many in the group who felt like attempting to "discipline" FUM in this way would also be more harmful than helpful.

I believe we *are* moving forward - albeit very, very slowly towards trying to understand each other and love each other for where we stand. I believe that this is one of the hardest lessons that we are being offered - to truly see "that of God" within the "Other" and love them for the measure of Light that they carry. We are being challenged to truly become a "Religious Society of Friends." It is not an easy task, nor one that will happen quickly - no matter what our human will wants.

What an incredible ministry you continue to offer the Religious Society of Friends when you speak t(T)ruth into this confusing situation! Thank you, Friend, for being so faithful.

Anonymous said...

"If your yearly meeting is in FUM but does not share FUM's purpose, then why is it in FUM?"

Baltimore Yearly Meeting is the oldest YM in the Americas and was a founding member of Five-Years Meeting. BYM never affirmed the Richmond Declaration (even though a BYM member was on the committee that drafted the accursed document), and BYM remained in faithful relationship with FYM in spite of its doctrinal differences. We're not going to storm out now just because things are rough.

Anonymous said...

I should add that the personnel policy is not the primary reason for BYM's tension with FUM right now, although it is a concern (as FUM members from its inception, I think BYM's voice should not be sidelined on this matter; denying that relationship would demonstrate a very casual attitude toward history).

Our tension with FUM is more aptly stated thus:
"FUM’s projects create environments such as schools, hospitals, orphanages, and churches where Friends from around the world come and entrust their lives. Despite the valiant efforts of the overworked, underappreciated FUM staff, the lack of funding and inadequate corporate decisions for these projects results in dangerous environments such as failed hospitals, starvation, and untimely death."

Cat C-B (and/or Peter B) said...

Hi, Johan,

I know that Peter is working on a much more complete and thorough reply, because he read me his first response (a journal entry) and we spent almost an hour reading and rereading it and your original blog post, and discussing it between us.

If you don't eventually hear from Peter, it will mean that the new school year has swallowed him whole; that can happen to us both, unfortunately. You should know, though, that your remarks have been heard and taken very seriously, and hopefully Peter's slower writing process won't lose the race to the tsunami of a fresh year of teaching!

I'll try not to speak for him, but I do want to pass along a couple of things that have come out pretty strongly for me, from the points you raise here.

The first is that the passage you quoted, from Quaker Pagan Reflections, was in fact yet another slip into us/them thinking. I recognized it as soon as you pointed it out, regret it, and am at least trying to remember that this is an us/us scenario--nobody here but us Friends. I need to remember that and speak from that place of Quakers together.

Please bear with me when I fail to be a model of that. I'm trying to do better.

You also raise a number of sets of queries. I'm going to leave most of them aside--partly because I know Peter is laboring hard to find the words to speak his heart on them, and partly because I was surprised by my own answer to one set:

"Do you personally believe that FUM's purpose is valid? How has your agreement or lack of agreement with FUM's purpose played a role in how you've supported, criticized, or ignored FUM?"

The first movement of my heretic heart (of course) was the predictable one. "Gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord?" Uh... you're kidding, right? Jesus Christ, Lord, evangelism... all words that provoke strong and painful responses in one who has never termed herself Christian, exactly as you would expect.

But, you know, Johan, I do believe that there is one fountain of Spirit at the root of the world. And I do believe that it is that Spirit that I listen for on First Days... and that it is the Spirit you are listening for, too. I'm sure as I can be that it's the Spirit I saw shining from Eden and Jim Grace's eyes at their workshop at Sessions this year, and that it the Spirit that shook me so hard during the Bible half-hours, too.

When I listen to the FUM purpose statement as, "Friends United Meeting commits itself to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where the Light is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord," and I ask myself if I believe this purpose is valid, my answer is a resounding yes, and when I ask myself if this purpose has anything to do with my current support for and criticism of FUM, I say yes again.

I see FUM doing things in the world that spread Spirit and gather people together to know and love that Spirit, and that is work I want to support. Yep.

I also see FUM not yet hearing clearly what I (and my yearly meeting) firmly believe are leadings from that Spirit regarding right relationship with GLBT Friends. And I believe it is going to be a long, hard road for us all (you see that I am including myself here) to learn to listen humbly and together for a unity, not merely in "mutual submission" to one another, but in mutual submission to that Teacher and Lord.

I don't know how to say that in a way that doesn't sound like I arrogantly believe I know a truth that others in FUM do not. I'm not fluent enough in Quaker to know how to word it in a way that isn't prickly. But I do believe that Spirit is challenging FUM to look at the place of GLBT Friends in our meetings, and work toward some changes that will come harder in some parts of the Quaker world than in others.

I also intellectually believe that there are leadings of Spirit that will challenge me, and the perhaps stereotypically liberally Eastern US Friends I spend most of my time with, to other painful changes--that there are Truths of Spirit that other Friends in FUM outside my local orbit have to share with me that I won't very much enjoy hearing. Will the regard chastity and fidelity? Maybe. Jesus Christ? Maybe. I'm putting my money on Right Sharing of Resources myself, but, hey, it's still an intellectual exercise. I don't yet know--I haven't yet felt the stirrings of Spirit on this one.

But is it arrogant to keep raising a concern that is a stirring of Spirit, simply because I don't yet feel the openings that others have and I do not? Surely the job is not for me, as a liberal member of FUM, to keep quiet about this concern, as it is to express it as led, while working hard to remain open to the leadings others have and I do not?

I'll probably slip into arrogance from time to time, because I'm one of those people who needs to be a Quaker, rather than one who was born with anything like a Quakerly nature. Sorry--I'll try not to do it too much. But perhaps, if FUM is willing to embrace me back, I am one piece of "a re-engaged constituency," and though I'm not coming in by the door I was invited through, if nobody forcibly ejects me, I will try to stay and be Gathered.

I think of John Woolman a lot--how it took the Quakers almost 100 years to figure out that slavery was simply unacceptable, but that still put Friends about 100 years ahead of everybody else. Maybe it will take us 100 years to hear what God is trying to say to us all here, though our arrogance and our certainty and our prickliness.

But, well, I don't know as I've got anything better to do in this incarnation. You?

Will T said...

I am sorry that you were distracted by Peter's characterization of some attitudes that you also missed an important piece of work that was done at NEYM and is a partial answer to your queries.

We decided to ask the quarterly and monthly meetings to consider a minute on same-sex marriage and to send back recommendations and comments with the idea of dealing with the minute at sessions next year. The significance is that, until now, NEYM has not taken a position on same-sex marriage. This means that we will be undertaking to do the work that other yearly meetings would also have to undertake for their to be a change in the personnel policy. Individual meetings have minuted a variety of positions on this subject over the past 15 years. It is not clear what will come forward next year.

The second thing we committed ourselves to do is to support the work of the working party on sexual ethics and sexuality. One of the issues involved is, of course, the question of what is the appropriate role of the meeting in establishing sexual ethics. The traditional answer is clear but the idea that the meeting might have something to say runs counter to the common cultural attitude that what a person does in the privacy of their bedroom is solely the business of them and their partner as long as they are consenting adults and no one gets hurt.

Both of these things are cases in which we have said that we need to work on the lumber in our own eyes before we start helping others with their specks.

As for your question as whether FUM's critics will invite African and Caribbean Quakers into a serious dialog, I can only say that since 1991 NEYM has been in the sister Yearly Meeting of Cuba Yearly Meeting. There has been a steady stream of intervisitation between the meetings over the intervening years. The primary goal has been to get to know each other and to build a bridge of love between the two yearly meetings. Out of respect for our Cuban Friends, we have not sent gay couples to Cuba. At the same time, we do not hide who we are from the Cubans when they come to visit us. I don't know if we are at the point where we can have a trustfully conducted dialog on sexual ethics but I do know that we are closer to being able to do that than we were 16 years ago.

It seems to me that God is at work in NEYM and in FUM and we do not yet know where we are being led. I am certainly more hopeful than I was when I came back from Kenya in February.

Will Taber

Peter Bishop said...


A quick note is all I can manage today. Like Cat said, the upcoming school year is looming over me sort of like an advancing tidal wave. I just wanted to say that I have read your post, am continuing to read it, and am writing about it in ways that will (soon, I hope) lead to an open-hearted and spirit-led response.

Like Will Taber said, NEYM has committed itself to this dialog. As one member pointed out towards the end of sessions, if we cannot stay engaged in loving dialog on this issue amongst ourselves, then how dare we call ourselves peacemakers?

More later.

Peter Bishop

Anonymous said...

I'm very glad to read the posts of the NEYM Friends and of Erin.These are encouraging.

Shifting the tone a bit, John of BYM says--
Our tension with FUM is more aptly stated thus:
"FUM’s projects create environments such as schools, hospitals, orphanages, and churches where Friends from around the world come and entrust their lives. Despite the valiant efforts of the overworked, underappreciated FUM staff, the lack of funding and inadequate corporate decisions for these projects results in dangerous environments such as failed hospitals, starvation, and untimely death."

--and I'd like to ask John what he is quoting from in his post. Who is the author? What instances of starvation is the author referring to? What untimely deaths? What failed hospitals, specifically?

Anonymous said...

I left the Catholic Church 20 years ago because they treated me like I was Satan Spawn. I had not attended any church of any sort in 20 years for the same reason. Last month I attended my first Quaker Meeting (PYM), felt loved and welcomed, and have taken to it like a fish to water. If my first experience with Quakers had been with FUM, I would have once again felt like they thought I was Satan Spawn, and would have never had anything to do with Quakers of any sort ever again. This is not theory; this is reality. There are millions of people who reject God because "Christians" tell them that God has rejected them. They feel a void in their soul and want to fill it with God, but can't because they believe they are unlovable.

Spirits that promote hate and fear are spirits of antichrist. I see the devistating effects of such policies every day. I, and millions like me, will have nothing to do with organizations that have these policies.

Johan Maurer said...

Greetings to all from Idaho, where I'm ending a wonderful visit to Greenleaf Friends Church. It was amazing to visit a meeting that has had such an impact on the Quaker world and the larger world, all from a home base consisting of a town of 852 people.

Anonymous: I'm trying not to interpret your rhetoric as a version of "my pain is worse than yours, therefore I'm entitled to charge organizations with being the spirit of antichrist." I know many churches and meetings within Friends United Meeting where nobody is treated as Satan Spawn. That's not to deny that those so-called churches who HAVE treated you and others this way might have a lot of explaining to do on judgment day.

Peter and Cat: Speaking for myself, it is gratifying and healing to witness the seriousness with which you treated my somewhat despondent post.

Carol and John: Absolutely, we need details of those serious charges concerning FUM-related outreach. Have those charges been made to FUM administration, with relevant details? Have they been presented at board meetings, where policies may or could have been developed to respond?

Corruption has definitely occurred in corners of the Quaker world related to FUM, but not necessarily on FUM's watch. It is important to remember that, at least in recent years, FUM hasn't supplied funding or personnel to any program where we didn't also have involvement and safeguards at the management level. FUM staff and volunteer leaders have also taken strong stands in situations where we have had moral responsibility but no management responsibility, such as the near-dictatorial leadership styles we found in some yearly meetings. One example: When we received complaints about the quality of care in the children's homes in Jamaica, we found a way to get reconnected organizationally with those homes and worked with Jamaican Friends to restore accountability to those programs.

There was a time when FUM seemed to tolerate mismanagement of programs on what used to be called the "mission field," and we also were too passive in the face of complaints about programs we had started but which were under non-FUM management. That era has long been over--or at least I thought so. Part of the maturing of the post-colonial relationships with former missions and the internationalization of FUM management has been a new spirit of direct mutual consultation and, when necessary, confrontation. I have no doubt that things will break down, but let's attend to them directly and quickly and transparently, not deploying them later as vague charges to degrade reputations.

Where have hospitals failed or where has anyone starved as a result of inadequate FUM decisions or funding? Who failed to hold FUM accountable?

Bill, Erin, Will, thanks for your encouragement and patience.

Bill Samuel said...

John of BYM, it is true that the report of BYM Representatives to the last annual sessions did not focus primarily on the personnel policy, but on internal issues of FUM's operations. However, wasn't the 2005 BYM decision to stop funding BYM based on objections to that policy? From my discussions with a number of BYM Friends, including FUM Representatives and Friends in the intervisitation program, and what I have read in the Interchange (the BYM NL) and MM newsletters, FUM's policies as they relate to same-sex couples has been central to the drive in BYM to de-fund and by some to disaffiliate from FUM.

I think you would find it very hard to find many Friends active in BYM at the YM level who would maintain that the YM would have cut off funding for FUM and that there would have been the same questions about continued affiliation had FUM policies and actions with regard to the same-sex issue been in line with the general sentiment in BYM.

The disgraceful BYM staff lobbying effort within BYM against FUM back 2-3 years was based on the same-sex relationships issue.

Johan Maurer said...

Will--I forgot to acknowledge the Bridge of Love between New England Yearly Meeting and Cuba Yearly Meeting, which I was aware of right from its inception, and worked to encourage. This relationship is an amazing blessing in many ways, but I know enough about it (though less recently) to avoid romanticizing it. I'm fascinated that some (repeat, some) Friends will endure a full-bore Christian witness from one source, in this case Cuba, while resisting the same witness from more familiar sources. That's not necessarily a bad thing--I do believe that Cuban Friends, by virtue of what they've gone through in staying faithful, may bear more credibility for some USA audiences than others closer to home, whose actual faith may be equally strong.

John, Bill, and others: I would like to know more about what was reported about FUM at the Baltimore Yearly Meeting sessions. If I understand correctly, the BYM sessions followed the FUM Board meeting last month in Plainfield, Indiana. Baltimore YM Friends were present. (I was present as well, for the pre-meeting retreat, and for the first session of the Board meeting itself.) Issues of FUM's corporate failings and consequent fatalities were not raised in my hearing. Were they raised at the FUM Board meeting after I left?

I will defend FUM when I feel it deserves defending, but I also advocate a far more open discussion about what constitutes mission, organizational capacity and ethics, and true mutual accountability, than we've had in the past. Eden Grace, who was mentioned in Peter's original post, made a contribution last year by publicizing the "On giving and receiving" statement from the Quaker Peace Network--East Africa, last year.

Nancy A said...

Thanks, Johan, for a deep and thoughtful post.

Ironically, if you have substituted "FYM" for every instance of "FUM" and tinkered with a few other words, the whole blog would have had equal validity. I wonder if we could have substituted any denomination's name. Is it just FUM Quakers, or is it everyone in Christendom?

I sometimes wonder if Quakers got the wrong name. Back in the 1600s, when the Seekers, Diggers, Ranters, Shakers, etc. were milling around trying to settle on a central identity, we ended up with the name "Quakers," when I really think we deserve something more like "Muddlers." We muddle through, rather badly on the whole. It has been this way for centuries--just read Fell's old letters.

The "denominational loyalty" you spoke of is a fierce thing. It's as if we're cheering for our home basketball team, instead of trying to bring about the Spirit-based life on earth. Instead of "my country, right or wrong" it's "my religion, right or wrong." Which is kind of like saying "my parents, stoned or straight" -- just the fact that you have this idea already means something is deeply wrong!

I sometimes call dehominational loyalty the "museum mentality" -- that the goal of religion is to keep is to keep it like a museum. Going to church or meeting is sometimes far, far too much like visiting a museum. We try to crush the present back into the past. It's a fear of change.

And yet... and yet... somehow the Spirit manages to work through us. It's as if the Spirit works not *because* of what we do, but in *spite* of what we do.

Perhaps at the next FUM meeting (or FYM or CYM meeting), we should all be required to wear clown costumes-- complete with big red nose, floppy shoes, and cauliflower hair. We need to see ourselves as we are. It might provoke some tender humility among us.

Bill Samuel said...

You can read the report of BYM Representatives Concerning FUM. Clearly the Representatives were disappointed by the July Board meeting. The report is much more negative than the reports each of them wrote after the Kenya Board meeting (those reports are not public, but I saw them). I have not yet talked to either Representative about this, although I do expect to talk with one of them soon.

Like NEYM & NYYM, BYM did not consider the affiliation question at its annual sessions because no proposal had time to be properly seasoned before then, and did make needed appointments to FUM. Efforts are underway to activate the BYM special committee supposed to consider the question of funding FUM, which has not met since 2005 (BYM has withheld its FUM contribution since 2005).

A member of the BYM Epistle Committee told me that there is quite a bit about the relationship to FUM in the Epistle. That Epistle is not yet available. He also told me that the BYM General Secretary, a gay man in a relationship, reported that he is well received by FUM folks and helped to tamp down some of the anti-FUM emotions in BYM which have been based on an incorrect assumption of rampant homophobia among the FUM staff and leadership.

Anonymous said...

Bill's comments are mostly consistent with my experience, although I wouldn't call our witness regarding same-sex relationships disgraceful.

The item I was quoting from was a plainspoken letter from one of our FUM representatives tendered with their report at BYM annual sessions this year.

Josh Riley said...

Very thoughtful and useful responses, all.

It's been five years since there have been any comments on this thread, but, to clarify, John Comma, the disgraceful letter Bill Samuel (hi Bill!) refers to above was a letter written by another openly gay BYM staff member and I in which we wrote about our experience with all of this.

Our response, in part, was born out of the challenging role that yearly meeting (or Friends in general) staff occupy. Johan, I suspect, would agree. We serve you, and we are also expected, to some extent, to lead you, and to be ministers. These roles are implicit, if not explicit, and yet are diminished or minimized by the structure of the institution. In many ways this is probably okay, and most of us know we're getting a healthy dose of responsibility with just a tiny side order or authority when we sign on to do this work, serving you, but it can be wearing.

When do we speak as staff vs. speak for ourselves, as members and participants in corporate work and worship? Perhaps the most appropriate thing, as staff, would be to remain silent, but we are also members of the body. How can we be silent? Navigating this is very very challenging. It felt difficult to participate in the conversation, particularly feeling hurt and angry. As staff we felt our motives would be questioned (mission accomplished!) or our contribution diminished. Writing the letter (truly) felt like the best neutral response we could make.