22 September 2007

What is really wrong with FUM, part two: the Baltimore YM report

A few weeks ago, I posted an item, "What is really wrong with Friends United Meeting," in which I summarized my own assessment: neither core theology nor the policy-making process that produced the controversial personnel policy were defective aspects of FUM. Instead, I despair over its apparent lack of vision and passion in pursuing its own wonderful purpose: "... 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."

To my non-surprise, nobody has defended FUM from these charges, neither to me personally nor on my blog (or on any other that I've noticed), even though that post brought a large amount of traffic to my blog and was the number one outgoing link from quakerquaker.org for several days. I was content to leave it there, but today I find that quakerquaker.org has included a link to the Baltimore Yearly Meeting representatives' report that included charges of managerial dysfunction that had been circulating in partial form in many other places, including a Chuck Fager "bombshell" summary that someone forwarded to me.

I find this report very useful. In fact, it may be the most useful document ever produced by a member yearly meeting's representatives in my memory, but only under certain conditions:
  1. The report is appropriated for management and governance purposes, not mined for "bombshell" value or to reinforce prejudices.
  2. The document's users are willing to tease out management issues from theological issues. I would like to remind my fellow evangelicals who seek to dominate FUM governance that, even if our ideal level of theological purity were attained, fatal levels of dysfunction are still possible. In fact, without a loyal opposition, these flaws are pretty much guaranteed.
I do have some minor problems with the report. To associate problems at Kaimosi Hospital with FUM's decision to take over the governance of that hospital might be a bit overstated. We have no way of knowing whether the previous ruinous regime at that hospital would have led to even more suffering, but I think there is evidence that the FUM regime, with all its problems, has produced major improvements. The central role played by FUM staff--including Eden and Jim Grace of New England Yearly Meeting, one of the overlap yearly meetings--has not guaranteed an end to decades of cascading problems, but has made valuable improvements. I argued for this takeover back in 2000 in my last administrative visit to Kenya; the only alternative was to continue to dissociate Friends United Meeting entirely from health care in that region, and we believed (correctly, I still feel) that we could make a strategic difference and benefit many people, provided we had genuine oversight power. Of course, having that power means implementing it competently, which is why Baltimore YM's report is so relevant.

My second, and perhaps more important, quibble with the report is this: FUM often continues to be presented by its critics as a centralized organization, a mysterious black box, into which you make deposits of money and representatives and suggestions and complaints, and out of which come dubious policies and incomprehensible actions. 

At least this time, the outlines of the black box are more defined than in some other criticisms: "The FUM decision making process is very centered in the Presiding Clerk and a few other Board members. This process feels to us to be closed to new thoughts and persons." The authors of this report do list their attendance at FUM governance meetings--"... Richmond, IN (Oct. 2006), Kakamega, Kenya (Feb. 2007), and Plainfield, IN (July 2007). We also participated in a FUM Board tour in Kenya and Uganda, and a Board Retreat in Plainfield, IN."

What they don't say here, but what they or others may yet be able to tell us, is what they said and did at those meetings, and what they reported to Baltimore Friends upon each of those occasions. This is crucial: When did they intervene, when were they ignored, and what did they do about it? It is one thing for you to try valiantly and be squelched (or, for that matter, try valiantly and be overruled by a healthy process), and quite another simply to sit back and watch an organization engage in self-destructive behaviors while you quietly list all its mistakes for later use in criticism.

Of course these aren't the only two possibilities--it could be that the observers experienced a tipping point of disillusionment only recently--but these questions about the interaction between FUM, its representatives, and its constituency seem basic to any meaningful attempts to hold FUM accountable. FUM is not that Richmond, Indiana-based black box--it is the yearly meetings and their members, or at least those members who identify with "orthodox" Christian Quakerism.

In my last few years at FUM, Baltimore YM's Howard Fullerton was a central player in our struggles to achieve financial integrity, particularly in our attempts to exercise good stewardship around the artificial crisis of the supposed Y2K bug. I would like to think that similar expertise from any FUM yearly meeting would be available and fully used even today, but I just don't know.

In any case, I truly appreciated reading the full report from the Baltimore Yearly Meeting representatives, because--given a commitment to Gospel order and good stewardship--it may well be one of the crowbars that opens up a badly-needed discussion: what is the strategic value of FUM as the central body of Orthodox Quakers in the world today, and with what organizational capacities do we intend to empower it to make that value real--"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."

I don't know what the best locations might be to host the conversation that might arise from the Baltimore Yearly Meeting report. The report itself, as hosted on the Yearly Meeting Website, doesn't include a comment facility. One reason I felt a need to write this morning's item was to provide a venue for reflection on the report, but I'd be glad to add a link here to other places where that conversation might be continuing--please let me know. I would also like to know what active steps were taken to circulate that report to the other yearly meetings and to FUM officers and staff.

For convenience, here's a link to all of my previous posts on FUM, some of which also have external links to other commentators.


LauraG said...

Hi Johan, de-lurking here to answer the question about the distribution of the BYM Representatives' report. During BYM's annual sessions, Friends approved distributing the report to the clerk of FUM's general board and also, I think, to all the other members of the board, although the part about other members of the board doesn't seem to have made it into the minutes. I think the delay is because the meeting wanted the clerk of the yearly meeting to write a cover letter "explaining our concerns about good governance and Quaker process in the General Board." I'm not sure the letter has actually been finalized yet. The intention is to send out the report as soon as possible.

Laura Goren

Johan Maurer said...

Thanks, Laura. I think that no careful cover letter is needed--the report speaks for itself, and is out there in the public realm; simple courtesy would dictate copying it to the people it criticizes at least as quickly as it is released to the public, along with a report on how the YM received it and what decisions were made. Ideally, the report's own writers, as board members of FUM, would have copied their report to the FUM board and staff as well--after all, their responsibilities are to FUM as a whole, not just to their own Yearly Meeting.

I do realize that FUM staff may well have been present at the Yearly Meeting sessions and may have been able to go home with a copy in their hands, having heard the report themselves in the context of YM discussion. I don't know whether that happened, but if it did, I can see how that might reduce the urgency that YM people felt about transmitting an "official" copy.

As I just wrote to an FUM board member, I hope that people inside and outside Baltimore YM don't just line up on one side or the other of the proposition that "FUM is badly run." The report itself may be right, partly right, or wrong--I just don't know. I hope instead that it is used to prompt a whole new commitment to transparency and full-spectrum adult communication, a commitment that I hope was the main product of the FUM identity retreat of July 16-18.

Anonymous said...

Dear Johan,
I have really appreciated the articles you have written on FUM. I moved to New England Yearly Meeting from North Carolina YM (Conservative) less than 2 years ago. I have found your posts helpful in coming to an understanding of the issues in FUM.

I have a few thoughts. One is that I am afraid (at least sometimes) that the dually affiliated yearly meetings desire to stay in FUM for the wrong reasons. One reason seems to be that they feel enriched and stretched by this affiliation. This is a good thing in and of itself. I am all for FWCC and their mission, which is about stretching beyond our differences and learning from each other, but this is not the mission of FUM. I am not sure that these meetings really want to be part of the mission of FUM. These meetings really need to ask if they are committed to the mission of FUM. You have expressed this view before. I think I might agree with it.

The second bad reason is that there is a deep cultural Quaker need for everyone to get along. We have a really difficult time letting Friends go different directions, even when there are real and deep differences. It seems that we feel that splitting is failure in our way of doing meeting for business and it goes against our peace testimony. Perhaps there is some truth in that, but we must remember that it is God that brings unity, not us. It may be that God is not ready to do this work amongst us. I am not opposed to divorce in marriages that fail and I don’t believe that I am opposed to splits when there are fundamental differences.

Having said all that, I want FUM to hold together. It is my hope that dually-affiliated meetings can grow into the right reasons to stay affiliated with FUM. In order for this to be possible, I believe that dually affilitated yearly meetings need to remove the personel policy from the issues on the table of the FUM General Board. Those of us who believe this is a form of discrimination need to accept that this change will not come for many years. We also need to work actively to challenge the theology and cultural bias that leads to this discrimination. This work needs to be done through persistent and Spirit-led intervisitation and on-going dialogue at the monthly meeting and yearly meeting levels. Particularly, work should be done to establish a presence that can evidence Christ’s love for young people of homosexual orientation in Quaker communities that do not accept their gifts. But this change is not going to come at the FUM level. The FUM General Board has other important work to be doing as you (Johan have pointed-out in your post).

I also believe that dually-affiliated yearly meetings need to see FUM as a body that can teach us as surely as we have gifts to offer them. Part of what FUM has to teach us will come from wrestling to genuinely understand and accept the FUM mission statement. This does not mean that all Friends will find this statement to be stated in their proffered language, it means that we can understand it and live with it and commit to it.

But I really think that the Richmond Declaration is just not a document that can help dually-affiliated meetings to find a home in FUM. It is just too long, as well as too densely packed with proof-text Bible quotes and orthodox theology. I can hardly get through it myself and I am very interested in this kind of stuff. I can genuinely say that I completely respect that many Friends find this declaration of faith to enrich them and strengthen their communities of faith, but it is not a document that speaks to unprogramed Friends, even those toward the center of Quakerism.

Sorry for such a long comment. Andrew

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Johan, for providing a place to respond to the report of the BYM representatives to FUM.

As one of New York Yearly Meeting's representatives to the FUM general board since 2002 and having been at some of the same board meetings as John Smallwood and Rachel Stacy (and some that they were not), I have some concerns with the report.

In describing the FUM board's weakness in allowing narrow leadership to make decisions, the report states For example, the FUM Executive Committee agreed to assume the management of the deteriorating Kaimosi Hospital in Kenya. This characterization was so at odds with my memory of how FUM came to assume the management of the hospital that I did a very quick search of my minutes.

I find that in June 2004, board members were provided with a copy of a letter from East Africa Yearly Meeting requesting that FUM establish a structure to develop and manage Kaimosi Hospital and to hold the property in trust.

Minute 04-GB-32 (June 2004) reports on receipt of this letter (identified as Appendix A in the minute) and says that the clerk of FUM, the general secretary of FUM, and the director of Global Ministries had met with the clerks of East Africa Yearly Meeting for discussion and that explorations of next steps would continue to take place.

I have a copy of the March 2005 minutes of the General Board, Africa, meeting. (These were probably distributed to all board members at the Des Moines triennial in July 2005.) Minute GB/A05-23 titled "Kaimosi Friends Hospital" is a 2-page minute (in 8-point type) that describes the "Basis of Agreement" laid out by Colin South, director of Global Ministries for FUM. The minute goes on to describe the outline of a proposed constitution for the hospital, in addition to a list of the revisions that came forward in the discussion. And it concludes with the naming of a governing board.

Minute 05-GB-14 (February 2005)records that the board approved the plan laid out in a report by Colin South identified as Appendix J in the minute. This board approval was not, in my memory, a rubber-stamp action. There was discussion in which concerns were voiced. Indeed, very grave concerns were voiced by one highly respected trustee. Nevertheless, the board's discernment was to approve.

In 2006 the clerk of FUM signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding Kaimosi Hospital.

Taking over the management of Kaimosi Hospital from East Africa Yearly Meeting was not a decision made by FUM's Executive Committee. It was a decision that I, and the other members of the FUM general boards in Africa and North America, made--before John Smallwood and Rachel Stacy joined the board.

The Baltimore Yearly Meeting representatives listed as present on both the June 2004 and February 2005 minutes are Howard Fullerton, Richard Liversidge, and Walt Fry.

sailheaven said...

I heard the start of this at NEYM after BYM took it's stand on the FUM policy. There was no confirmation for me that any of the discussion as brought forward was Spirit led. Nay, it was all a kind of political fervor, and those that stood aside were the ones I knew were grappling with the spirituality, and the need to minister to the weaker and the passionate. I missed the threshing session the following year because I was more concerned with the war, but maybe sometimes I think I was needed there to stand in the way. But God will have it as it is meant to be.
There's little use trying to stop what is going to happen in this world because of the passions of the committed social reformers. But I see the true hypocracy of this debate because I link it to the same hypocracy of those that came to Friends saying that they would grow in the way of Friends but truly just brought in their own prejudices, even their own religions, and rising in the faces of Friends are essentially shouting "you must tolerate me!"
So it is we do. However, Friends are truly by and large Christian with a capital C, and in Christian obedience we have suffered greatly. To the chagrin of many more than should react, I must say that I can not grasp what a Friend is when a Friend is not Christian. I personally don't mind when Friends marry their own sex, but I do mind when Friends lose sight of the fact that they need to be obedient to something greater than their own conscience.
When a Friend says, "I am a Buddhist Friend," or "I am a Pagan Friend," etc., I think only, "You are a Buddhist," and "You are a Pagan," and I say, "When are you going to be honorable enough to go be a real Buddhist, or a real Pagan?" and stop throwing your own ideas around a house where we are waiting expectently for a word from higher up?
If FUM cannot stand for what it's stated purpose is without this wholesale and brutal condemnation that I hear again and again levied against it, then I say what hypocrates we are for allowing this and that and everything under the sun to abide with us, but we shall not allow the Christians any comfort.
The truth is, they, as the scriptures rightly say, "with their there own mouths they will," and they have.
There may be a breaking, and a parting, but it shall not be forced by the Christian Friends. We were here first, and we'll be here when it ends. The great, great majority of the martyred Friends had a vision of Christ with them. Oh, I know, some of us have come so far beyond that.
Forgive me my limitations. I need FUM just the way it is. I'm not quick to say, "Hey, what do those Kenyans know?" And if my YM starts to consider withdrawing support because of FUM policies, I'll have to go back to my YM and join the group that stands in the way.
Longsuffering is a fruit of the Spirit. I don't see that fruit displayed. There's a rush, and it's driven, and it's not of the Spirit either. Money is a part of it. But we don't need money from compromise. In fact, so much of this is political that it makes me think I'm Anglican. Honestly, there are some that would be better served at NEYM to join the Unitarians. Why all the push to throw out Christ, and all mention of him, and to ridicule those that would try to follow him?

Linda J Wilk said...

Johann, and other Friends, thank you for this ongoing dialogue. As a member of BYM who was present as this report was led, and who has been laboring under this concern for quite some time, I have read and reread your reports Johann, knowing that I wanted to comment, but not quite being able to state my feelings.

I am a liberal Friend, who does believe that we are all one body of Christ, though I admit that we all have many definitions of what that means. It was not until I read that simple sentence in the beginning of sailheaven's comment, "There was no confirmation for me that any of the discussion as brought forward was Spirit led, " that I was able to find words for what is stirring inside of me.

What if the indwelling Spirit IS calling us to join and mend the schism between us, but in that mending we must all call into question the very common habits of our everyday existence as Friends. What if we are called to deep worship with one another, in order to see where God is leading us to a new place.

In my own understanding, the main difference between a "liberal" and "conservative" Friend is the question of who is saved. I know I am putting myself out on a limb here, and I welcome comments (I will post this comment on my own blog as well for that purpose).

What if, as Philip Gulley says, God saves all people? What if it is time to put the biblical tennents that the personnel policies of FUM are founded on, that certain behaviors are sin, to the test of worship as one body? What if this is truly a matter of where God is leading us to TODAY, which may be very different that what we assume is TRUTH?

Are we open to that test of faith? I have had to ask myself that question. If I ask my Friends of all persuasions to sit in worship with me, seeking direction, can I face that the answer might not be what I THINK is right? I believe so, though I cannot say this with total certainty.

Often when I have felt a leading, I have lead myself off course when my own ego and intellect intercepted my vision before it had time to season. How many of us are prey to that?

Please Friends, return to silence and the indwelling Spirit. Consider the possibility of something new, that may be different than we all can see with our limited minds.