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, March 14, 2011

FUM General Board, February 2011

What follows is a lightly edited version of the report I submitted to New England Yearly Meeting about the February meeting of the FUM General Board.   Since I originally wrote this, one of the things that keeps coming back to my mind is the point Robert Barclay makes to the effect that we are required to follow our conscience, even if our conscience is mistaken.  In other words, we are required to be faithful to the Light we have been given.  It is a help to remember this whenever there is profound disagreement.  It reminds us to respect the integrity of those we disagree with and to always consider that we may be the ones with the mistaken conscience.  It is only the bonds of love that can hold us together


General Board Report
February 2011

This was the final FUM General Board Meeting that I will attend in my current term of service. I have served as the NEYM representative for five years. It has been a challenging, difficult and also rewarding experience. I have learned a lot about FUM and about myself. I have been able to build relationships with people I would not have otherwise met.

FUM finances seem to be improving somewhat but current operations are still spreading the current staff too thin. It is not clear how much longer this can continue. The Board approved the appointment of Colin Saxton to be the new General Secretary beginning in January. We also made arrangements for Sylvia Graves to carry over on an interim basis until Colin can start. I was impressed by Colin and everyone I spoke to seemed to be excited that he was led to this position. He brings new energy to the position and I think he will be able to speak with and listen to a wide range of the membership of FUM.

The Executive Committee had received the minute that the FUM committee of New England Yearly Meeting had sent to the General Board in respone to the murder of David Kato in Uganda, asking it to reaffirm it's minute condemning violence against gays. They expanded the scope of the minute to include other incidents of violence but left in the specific reference to violence against gay men and lesbian women. The General Board approved this minute and it will be sent to the meetings of FUM.

The other major issue on the agenda was consideration of the Personnel Manual. Sylvia Graves had undertaken a major revision of this to bring it into line with Indiana labor law. Most of the changes were fairly straightforward and did not draw forth any discussion. The sticking point was the policy on sexual ethics. It was clear that the General Board would not be able to find unity on this section and, in the course of consideration it was clear that there was little interest in even discussing the substance of the issue. Instead the discussion focused almost entirely on how to approve the policy manual and still respect the conscience of those who could not approve the sexual ethics portion. We ended up approving all of the rest of the manual and noting that we could not find unity on the section on sexual ethics. Neither was there unity is removing it. Because the sexual ethics policy had been approved by the General Board in 1988 it remains in effect and the new manual will indicate that approval and that the current board cannot find unity on it.

In our worship on Saturday morning Doug Shoemaker from Indiana Yearly Meeting led the devotions speaking from Matthew 21 which includes the account of Jesus driving the money changers from the temple, his cursing the fig tree and the parable of the evil tenants and the vineyard. In it he said that he is sometimes challenged by this because much of this teaching is aimed at those who are protectors of the religious status quo. During the open worship that followed I gave a message asking who are we keeping away in our desire to maintain our understanding of purity. What gifts are we refusing? In some ways this seemed like a bookend because I gave a similar message at the Friends Church at Ngong Road in Nairobi on our arrival for the first combined General Board Meeting in Kenya in 2007

I am sometimes a slow learner. It has taken me five years but I am starting to really understand that I have no words that will change hearts on the matter of acceptance of gay men and lesbian women in the orthodox yearly meetings. I don't know that there is anything anyone from New England YM can say that will help with this. The changing of hearts is God's work and not ours. But we can remain in fellowship with these yearly meetings. We can be true to the truth that we have been led to. We can learn to listen in humility to Friends we disagree with in the faith that the power and the love of the Lord is over all.


Blessings to all,

Will T

7 Comments:

Blogger Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Will,

Thanks for these words especially: It reminds us to respect the integrity of those we disagree with and to always consider that we may be the ones with the mistaken conscience. It is only the bonds of love that can hold us together."

Friends and the world (such as Palestine/Israel) would be so much closer to the Truth of God, if we learned to listen, especially when we strongly disagree.

As for the issue of same sexuality and Friends, I think it would help, at least as a start, if Friends who are same sexual and who emphasize inclusion would use "non-worldly" terms when speaking of same sexuality.

This might help orthodox Friends begin to understand.

Keep in mind that for many people in general including many Friends, the connotative meaning of words such as "gay" and "lesbian" have negative moral connotations such as sexual promiscuity.

If gay and lesbian Friends chose new terms which emphasized their faith in God and monogamy, this might begin a new dialog.

That's how the name "Friends" came to be, to emphasize a new awareness of God's love in the midst of all of the religious hatred of the 16th century.

Just a thought,

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

March 15, 2011 12:11 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 15, 2011 2:30 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Will,
Thank you for that update from FUM.

The Second Hour-adult re group in my Meeting is studying Exploring Quakerism.Great curriculum for Quaker Meetings.This week's chapter was on Quakers and Diversity.One of the queries for worship sharing was, how do you define Quakerism?

Just prior to this discussion I had been doing some reading on the historical and theological development of elizabethan settlement. Under Queen Elizabeth the 1st. There was a great deal of theological diversity in the Church England in the sixteenth century. The main point for the elizabethan settlement was to find a common ground. The common ground they found was that while we may differ in theology and dogma are unity is found in worship.

Today the spirit of the elizabethan settlement still largely determines the character and ethos of the Anglican Church worldwide. The primary locus of unity is the Book of Common Prayer.

When we read the history of the Religious Society of Friends we do not find at any given time a unity of beliefs or practice per se among Quakers. What we do find is,when some weighty Quakers tried to get other Quakers to toe the line around beliefs or practice. Many of these friends were disown.

We have also experienced split after split for over for the past three hundred sixty years.We’ve known joy and pain,struggle trying live together as Quakers.

The one saving grace I believe that has help us stay together as Quakers has been our way of worship. Our worship stands at the center of who we are and who we are becoming as a people of faith.

So my answer to friends on Sunday what defines Quakerism is our experience together with God in worship.

The lack of unity on sexual ethics in FUM. I believe is rooted in the fact that there is no theological unity among Quakers in FUM or FGC!

I think we need to stop trying to find unity around words. Do what we do best.Worship! While we may differ in theology,dogma and sexual ethics are unity is found in our blest communion with the divine.In your words Will."The changing of hearts is God's work and not ours".

I also love these words from sociologist of religion and episcopalian ,Robert N. Bellah who says,"shared values and principles don't necessarily motivate people to do anything; whereas a vital experience of common worship can send a congregation out into the world with a determination to see that those values and principles are put into practice."

Paul

PS I find it very interesting that FUM can condemn violence towards
GLBT folks. But cannot see that discrimination in the work place is also another form of hatred, and even violence.

March 15, 2011 2:37 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Daniel,
I am not sure what "non-worldly" terms you would suggest for discussing acceptance of gays and lesbians. There is one word that they have been using a lot lately that emphasizes monogamy and faith in God, and that is marriage. But many Friends are unwilling to accept that.

Paul,
Although the discussion among Friends about the acceptance of gay men and lesbian women has been carried on in theological terms, I think that this is as much a cultural and generational issue as it is a theological one. I think that there has been a fair amount of adopting theological arguments to bolster beliefs and prejudices (and prejudice is present on both sides of this issue) that people have already held. Issues of sexuality touch us at a very deep level and it is very difficult for us to examine. I don't know if we can really make progress until we can feel safe enough to talk openly and honestly about our wounds and our fears.

Will T

March 15, 2011 8:48 PM  
Anonymous Jim Schultz said...

Many years ago the Holy Spirit gave me a revelation that Love overrides your conscience. When given a choice to follow your conscience, right or wrong, or follow the path of Love, you should follow the path of Love, as in Agape. I pray everyone can receive such a revelation.

March 18, 2011 3:44 PM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

I do think there is a strong tendency for people in faith communities to put proper theological cover on their positions, even though the theological overcoat may not be the real reason for their position. This can become accentuated when there is a major disagreement.

This has been seen in the debates over same-sex relationships among Friends (and in the same debates in other denominations). We need to recognize that this does not affect just one side. For example, I have noted a number of statements upholding same-sex relationships from bodies which are not strongly Christian carefully use Christian language.

We also need to recognize that some people are using the theological language because that genuinely is the source for their position.

We also need to recognize that some issues become marker issues. That is, they become symbols to represent a deeper difference. This has been true of the same sex issue among Friends, IMHO. In the early days (not quite as true today), those on either side of the question mostly also came from different sides of the question of the role of Jesus Christ. So this issue became the battlefront, even tho I think some of those involved weren't really strongly invested personally in the issue. For FUM, it became an arena to fight the issue of Orthodox Quakerism vs. the approach to Quakerism more commonly held among FGC Friends.

I remain convinced that the lack of unity on FUM's purpose statement within several yearly meetings remains a big underlying problem. I think that if there was true unity on it, it would be much easier to have dialogue on the same sex issue.

March 18, 2011 5:41 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

The letter below is email I sent out to my Quaker Meeting yesterday.
The letter speak to injustice to amend the Indiana State Constitution to exclude GLBT families from any legal recognition.
Paul
PS Conservative religious groups have already started to funnel human and financial resources into the State to support the ban.

Friends,
As many of you know there is a growing movement in our state to amend the constitution to ban "gay marriage" in Indiana.. Many businesses and universities, who feared it would bar their existing policies that allow for health insurance for a same-sex partner and void any other domestic partnership policies.

Once again we have a movement that is also using religion to justify its fear and bigotry towards a minority group. I love these word from our Quaker faith and practice. "Jesus lived a life of love. He taught that love it the motive power of life, and that its application is the solution of all the problems of life. To the challenge of this way of life the spirit within us responds. We accept and make the ideals of Jesus our own. We accept the application of the principle of love as the practical way of life and the perfect goal short of which we cannot be satisfied. The bond of our religious fellowship is an experience in the soul that God is love."

At the core of religion is love! You cannot nicely wrap love in a holy book, creed, liturgy or a constitutional amendment. Love is live through simple acts of service and kindness toward others with no strings attached. Our Quaker testimonies (peace,equality, simplicity integrity,) bear witness to the
centrality of love. Working for peace, affirming the equal worth of every person,speaking our truth and to living simply that others may simply live.

Paul

March 20, 2011 4:17 PM  

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