Things heat up. NEYM – Part 3
No sooner were the words out of my mouth and a Friend stood and asked the clerk again when the threshing on FUM was going to begin. Once again, the clerk said that this was the time to bring up any issues that might be on people's hearts. This brought forth a series of speakers with concerns about the FUM personnel policy, the perceived homophobia of FUM and how people could not see their money going to support this organization any longer. There was a lot of pain and anger expressed. At least one person got up and read a brief extract from the Richmond Declaration and part of the General Board minute from February, 2007 which reaffirmed it. He used this to support his position that NEYM should withdraw from FUM. As he read the minute, my first reaction surprised me a bit. I found myself saying to myself, “Hey, I wrote that minute-don't read it back to me and tell me what it means.” Fortunately I had spent the week or two before sessions began recalling James 1:19-20, “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness.” Sometimes I think that these words should be projected on a screen above the clerk's head at every business session everywhere.
Towards the end of the meeting I was able to speak to remind Friends that FUM was more than just a personnel policy. It includes people who, when faced with violence in their own communities, sheltered and protected people in their own homes, brought food and blankets to the displaced, and helped facilitate reconciliation when displaced people returned to the communities they had fled. They had thought that the peace testimony did not apply to them because they lived in a peaceful country but when they needed to, they rose to a witness in their lives, at considerable risk, that we in America would be hard pressed to match. I spoke of the need to remain in dialog. I spoke of the need for spiritual hospitality. I encouraged people to look to see whether their need to maintain their own purity in not associating with the homophobes of FUM was not prompted in part by the same spirit that caused Friends elsewhere to not want to associate with the sinful homosexuals. Based on later comments, I don't think that suggestion gained much traction among Friends.
In the evening we heard the reports from the Quarterly Meetings on their consideration of the minute of commitment and how they had begun the process of exploring their understanding of sexual ethics. There was more discussion of all the issues at that time as well. Sylvia Graves, FUM General Secretary, arrived fresh from Western Yearly Meeting, in time for the evening session. She remained with us for the rest of our sessions. I do not remember many specifics of that session. My memories of some of the details is already getting a little hazy. One thing I do know was that by this point I had a number of appointments to discuss these issues over meals later on.
Monday morning my wife and I skipped the business session and went for a bike ride. The weather was sunny, dry and not too warm. It was the most enjoyable part of sessions for me. Monday night was the first presentation of the budget. This was where people started talking about wanting a mechanism so that they could contribute to the Yearly Meeting but not have their contributions go to FUM. The budget issue I found myself speaking to was the elimination of the representatives travel budget. I am fortunate enough that I can afford the extra expense that this would mean for me. I was concerned that this restriction would limit who would be able to serve the Yearly Meeting as a representative to the larger Quaker bodies. I also felt that it was changing the terms under which I had accepted a three year appointment last year. The hardest part for me was that it felt like the Finance Committee was devaluing the work of the various representatives. More precisely, they were setting a value of $0 for all of the time and energy I have put into being one of the representatives to the General Board. I described the job to some friends like this: “I go to the FUM General Board meetings and say things that some people there don't want to hear and then I come back to New England and say things that people here don't want to hear.” I am getting an increasing appreciation for the work of mediators and diplomats.
More to come.