Back from Africa with a broken heart
I arrived back from Kenya on Tuesday evening. That night we had our first significant snowfall of the year here in the Boston area. Except it wasn't just snow, it was ice and rain and sleet and a couple of things like grapple (little ice balls) that I had never heard of before. It was very heavy stuff to shovel. I was glad for our neighborhood snowblower. Wednesday night the weather turned cold. It was 11 degrees in the morning and what had been plowed into the end of our driveway during the night had turned into something resembling rock. So another hour of wrestling with the snowblower to clean it up so we could get to work, and to clean up the driveway of our elderly neighbor. So much for a gentle re-entry.
It was wonderful to go back to Africa after 36 years. I couldn't believe how much Nairobi had changed. In 1970 there were maybe 3 high rise buildings. The New Stanley Hotel, the Intercontinental and maybe one more. Now the entire downtown was high rises. We got in on Saturday night, attended the service at the Friends International Center on Ngong Road and then went right to the airport for our flight to Kisumu where the FUM Africa office is. Monday and Tuesday we visited the hospitals at Lugulu and Kaimosi, spending the night at the Bishop Stam Conference Center in Kakamega, which was where the Board Meetings were to be held on the weekend. We also got a chance to visit the Kakamega orphanage started by Dorothy Selebwa and sponsored by USFW (United Society of Friends Women). On Wednesday and Thursday we traveled into Uganda and visited 4 schools. There are stories to be told about all of these visits. I also have a lot of pictures but they are still in the camera.
Friday was devoted to working on a strategic plan for FUM and Saturday was the General Board meeting itself. I look at what I wrote before I left about Friends learning about reconciliation among themselves. That is not what happened. On Sunday at Ngong Road and again during the opening devotions of the General Board meeting itself, we were treated to sermons denouncing homosexuality as evil. On Friday I was in the group looking at how FUM can deal with its identity issues. In October we had felt God working among us and there had been a sense of tenderness toward each other, even when we disagreed significantly. This spirit was not present in February. Led by the Superintendents of Iowa, Indiana and Western Yearly Meetings and supported by the representatives of the African yearly meetings, there was a clear sentiment expressed that even looking at these issues was keeping them from doing the work of FUM. In the morning we did some work on discussing our plans for an identity retreat before the June General Board Meeting. In the afternoon we discussed how to address the issues of our theology, Christology, and the source of our authority. We made no progress in finding common ground and at the end, the only recommendation was that the General Board reaffirm the Richmond Declaration as a statement of faith of FUM. Christopher Sammonds, General Secretary of New York Yearly Meeting, was the co-clerk of this session and he felt it was the sense of that meeting, even though he could not unite with it.
On Saturday, the proposal to affirm the Richmond Declaration came to the General Board. Every representative present from the dual-affiliated yearly meetings spoke against the proposal. Everyone else who spoke was in favor of it and the presiding clerk, Brent McKinney of North Carolina said that the recommendation was approved. All of the representatives of the dual-affiliated yearly meetings were recorded as standing aside. This did not feel like a sense of the meeting, it felt like a vote. It felt as though the yearly meetings with dual affiliations were being told that their understandings and opinions did not matter to FUM. For me it was the most painful experience I have ever had among Friends. I do not know how New England Yearly Meeting or any of the other dual-affiliated yearly meetings will react to this. I do not know what this means for the future of FUM. I do know that it is not a step towards finding unity among Friends. This action makes it clear that there are Friends who care more for theological purity than they do for unity. Meanwhile my heart grieves for the Society of Friends.