Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The All-New Hampshire Gathering

Last Saturday I attended the All New Hampshire Gathering of Friends. This is an annual meeting for all Friends in New Hampshire. There is no one Quarterly Meeting for the state so it is a meeting for fellowship and discussion of common issues. This year they chose to explore the area of sexual ethics. One of the outcomes of the discussions of the sexual ethics portion of the FUM personnel policy has been a realization that New England Friends have not engaged in an exploration of the nature of their sexual ethics in at least the last half-century. While many Friends are opposed to the sexual ethics embodied in the FUM personnel policy, as a corporate body, NEYM has no statement on the matter. Although a number of monthly and quarterly meetings have taken positions and meetings have conducted many same-sex marriages, especially since they became legal in Massachusetts, the matter has never come before the yearly meeting for a decision. We have also not addressed issues of heterosexual ethics although our Young Friends and Young Adult Friends have asked for guidance in this area. Two years ago, more or less, the Yearly Meeting asked the local meetings to start a consideration of their sexual ethics with the idea that out of this the Yearly Meeting might come to some unity on the subject. This gathering was part of that process.

The keynote speaker was Gene Robinson, the bishop of the Episcopal diocese of New Hampshire. He discussed the difficulties that the Anglican communion is having over issues surrounding acceptance of gays and lesbians. He, of course, has been a lightning rod for this controversy since he is the first openly gay bishop. Even though he was discussing the Episcopal Church, it sounded very much like the situation among Friends.

In the afternoon I led a discussion on homosexuality and the Bible. (You can find my posts on the subject here) There were questions about the so-called “terrible texts” or the clobber verses. These are the 6 passages in the Bible that are the basis of the Biblical case against accepting gays and lesbians. I explained how the context for most of them is not homosexuality as it is practiced in today's society but male temple prostitution in Canaanite religion. I also presented material on the places in the Bible where same sex relationships are portrayed in a positive light.

Another set of questions people had revolved around how to talk about these issues with people who seem them so differently. I stressed that there is nothing in any of these verses that have changed anyone's mind on the issue, in either direction. My beliefs in equality for gays and lesbians are deeply held and would not be easily changed. People who don't agree with me on this are also expressing deeply held beliefs. In any discussion like this we need to assume an equal level of sincerity, conviction and desire to be faithful on all sides. The problem is, what to do when you have sincere, faithful and deeply convicted people who disagree. I wish I knew the answer.. At the workshop I said, this is where miracles happen. On Thursday night I am flying out to Richmond, Indiana, for the FUM General Board meeting. The sexual ethics issue will come up as part of a larger consideration of the entire personnel manual. I am hoping and praying for a miracle.

Blessings to all,

Will T


Blogger RichardM said...


I agree that the Society of Friends does not have clearness about the spiritual significance of sex. The biggest obstacle to clearness is an oppositional spirit that afflicts some on both sides. Those afflicted by this spirit are convinced that they are completely right and the other side is completely wrong. Both sides should realize that that cannot be the case since neither can articulate a clear and complete sexual morality.

The liberals who have hardened their hearts against the conservatives should heed the voice that is whispering in their hearts that sex without commitment is wrong. The conservatives who have hardened their hearts against the liberals should heed the voice that is whispering in their hearts that gays fall in love and that this love is also from God. I remain convinced that God speaks in one voice and that it is we humans who are hard of hearing.

February 11, 2009 10:46 PM  
Blogger Hystery said...

An analysis of what our ultimate authority is in the formulation of a sexual morality seems critical. Is it going to be heterosexist and patriarchal or is it going to be a devotion to human dignity, gentleness and faithfulness?

Additionally, I greatly appreciate careful biblical criticism. These texts are too powerful to be approached without discipline. However, given that not all Friends acknowledge the Bible as the ultimate authority, we should be especially mindful of our process of discerning what other sources of authority may be providing us inspiration or hardening our hearts.

February 12, 2009 4:54 AM  
Blogger John said...

Will T,

Friend speaks my mind!

Thank you for posting this. Hopefully, Friends will use the words of John Woolman as their guide: "Let Love be the first motion."

I will also be hoping and praying that the Light will soften hearts and change minds within FUM-that would truly be a “miracle”.



February 12, 2009 2:13 PM  
Blogger John said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 12, 2009 2:13 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

"Our experience has been that spiritual gifts are not distributed with regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. Our experience has been that our Gatherings and Central Committee work have been immeasurably enriched over the years by the full participation and Spirit-guided leadership of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer Friends. We will never go back to silencing those voices or suppressing those gifts. Our experience confirms that we are all equal before God, as God made us, and we feel blessed to be engaged in the work of FGC together."

The above words were the impetus for Friends General Conference to distribute an epistle to its affiliated yearly and monthly meetings.

The entire epistle is an important document that is a testament to the experience of the FGC body that is its Central Committee.

Another Woolman maxim [my paraphrase]: We were changed men ourselves before we sought to change others.

I myself am a believer that the Spirit changes people when they are brought into relationship with the very people they are speaking out against. The film that portrays Harvey Milk's career as an activist politician and as a political activist makes that point clear when he urges people in California--back in the day--to come out to everyone they know.

When I came out to my family in 1998 as being bisexual and in love with a woman, my mother--who had thought gay and lesbian people were "sick" (mentally ill in some way)--began her own process of coming out, of accepting the daughter she loves as being in love with someone who isn't the same gender as the person she herself loves.

From the epistle again:

"God’s love is abundant; God’s sharing of spiritual gifts is unrestricted... When there is an opening through which the Light touches us unexpectedly, showing us the way forward, we need to bear witness outwardly to the truth that we have experienced inwardly."

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

P.S. I understand that for a while after the FGC epistle was distributed, some affiliated yearly meetings and some of those monthly meetings that are directly affiliated with FGC did endorse the epistle and/or sent in their own minute to FGC. Presumably FGC would continue to welcome any such endorsements and minutes...

February 14, 2009 11:18 AM  

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