April 30, 2006

An unexpected opportunity

About two or three weeks ago, I was asked by a Friend to serve on a panel during the Rainbow Families Conference in Minnesota. The topic would be about how to pursue "equal civil marriage" peacefully among people of faith. Two or three weeks ago, I had plans to be out of town during that event, but I said if my plans changed, I'd let the Friend--also serving as the panel's facilitator--know.

Three days before I was to head out of town, my plans changed. They now included an evening get-together in town with a fFriend who had just learned she needed surgery; and a morning birthday party for the two-year-old son of other fFriends.

I called the panel's facilitator and said, "My plans changed." I found out the panel would be in the afternoon--how perfect!--and that the conference was being held in the totally opposite end of town.

Fine, I thought: I'll leave lots of time to catch a bus.

I look at the bus schedule. Basically, there's no way to get from here to there by bus. On a weekend.

I call the Friend, explain the situation, and ask half-heartedly, "Any chance you know of anyone who would be going to the second part of the conference who I could catch a ride from?"

The Friend says, "Actually, one of the other panelists is coming in only for the panel, like you are... And he lives in your part of town. Let me give you his name and number..."

Now that's what I call Way opening!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Well, the panel--put together by Minnesota's Faith, Family, Fairness Alliance--is over now, and I've been reflecting a bit about how things went.

The short answer is, I feel as though I was faithful.

The longer, more specific comments I can make are these:

1. I don't recall the last time I was part of a group where we intentionally spoke about our faith and faith tradition, and where I was the only Quaker. So I was "pleasantly uncomfortable" with hearing the panelists introduce themselves as "Reverend" and speaking about the ministry of "their" church, congregation, or program. I am grateful that I was the 4th of five panelists to offer introductions, so I was able to acknowledge the difficulty of how to frame Quakerism and my place in it in a way that paralleled what had already been offered.

2. I was surprised to hear myself speak about John Woolman ("Love is the first motion") and how he labored initially with individuals around the concern of holding slaves. I don't recall what the question was that led me into that sharing, but I do recall that leading up to that particular comment, I had been talking about the importance of being yoked to one another; that we remember that we are brothers and sisters to one another; that we must be willing to stay in relationship with one another as we struggle with our different beliefs, understandings, and experiences.

3. I will say that the language and image of speaking with dignity with and about "our brothers and sisters" who might not agree with us is language that some within Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns have modeled and lifted up for me. So in a very real way, they all were with me yesterday afternoon, too.

4. The most significant question of the afternoon, I think, was the one that came from a young man. Referring back to specific language that another panelist had used to summarize the polarization over the issue of same-sex marriage, he asked:

So if the conversation is basically between "perverts and bigots," how do I even begin to step into the middle of that and start talking to anyone?
Yes indeed: How DO we start talking to one another when such hateful, hurtful judgments precede any sort of real and respectful dialogue?



Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Liz, I'm delighted to learn that you are engaged in this kind of work, and very pleased indeed to see your point #2, about the importance of being yoked to one another, and staying yoked as we struggle with our differences. That is remarkable language, since it so clearly invokes and responds to Paul's charge to the early Christians not to let themselves be yoked unequally with unbelievers (II Corinthians 6:14).

It is Paul, you will recall, whom the Christian Right always quotes as condemning homosexual activity. So by saying to members of the Christian Right, "We are yoked to you, and this is too important to let go of," you are simultaneously (1) showing that you respect the same historical authorities, (2) showing that you regard yourselves as committed members of the same faith, (3) asserting that you want to keep that unity alive, and (4) declaring that you want to keep talking it through. Not a bad set of points to be making simultaneously -- no, not at all!

Your final question matters a great deal to me, too. Indeed, it's something that has been much on my mind ever since the brouhaha began over the rĂ´le of gays and lesbians within Friends United Meeting.

Gays, lesbians, etc., desire full acceptance in the Quaker world, and very understandably so. But name-calling ("bigot", "homophobe", etc.) and denigrating mind-reading (e.g., public assertions that "they oppose gay relationships because they are afraid of their own feelings toward other men") do not usually help open doors to such acceptance. We see a lot of such name-calling and mind-reading in the Quaker world. What does this say about us?

Liz Opp said...


Thanks for your comment and encouragement. I want to address some assumptions you make, though.

You should know that I consider myself "Biblically illiterate." I have never read Paul or any other Gospel in its entirety--not even close. I have read only the smallest bit of the Hebrew Scriptures. My "reading of the Bible" comes mainly from other Friends' posts and specific passages they quote or refer to. After that, I may or may not use a Bible search engine to look at the text surrounding the quote or passage.

The language and metaphor of being yoked together emerged for me as a direct result of Deborah Fisch's sharing during IYM(C)'s Midyear Meeting a month ago. When I returned home, I used the search engine to look at various passages about the yoke, in addition to the phrase "My yoke is easy" and found that there was Life and Power in some of what I was reading.

Also, it seems you make an assumption that I was speaking about being yoked to "members of the Christian Right." Actually, I was thinking about Friends in the monthly meeting who are uneasy with transgendered/gender-queer Friends; and about my parents who have come so far but have so much farther to go.

Frankly, I don't feel mine is the place to engage with people of faith who are part of the religious right. But that doesn't mean that I won't be called there in the future.

Anyway, I hadn't planned on speaking about "being yoked together" during the panel, but I made it clear to the folks assembled there that I considered myself both Biblically and politically illiterate. All that having been said, it seems that you simply have taken a bit further that which I felt led to share, and for that I am grateful. I learn from you as well.

I also would make a request, Marshall, regarding the use of the phrase "gays, lesbians, etc." Such a phrase puts me in the "et cetera" group, and it stings. I feel invisible rather than included (and here we run into "intention" versus "impact"). Alternate ways of being inclusive include either identifying all of us--gays, lesbians, bisexuals, people who are transgendered and queer--or using a phrase such as "Those Friends who identify as GLBT..."

Well, clearly there is more to be written about all of this--the yoke, the name-calling, the inclusiveness of language. I'll stop for now, though.


Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Hi, Liz! Thank you for your kind words, and for clarifying what you are trying to do.

I would say that you are engaged with the Christian Right, whether you see signs of it or not. You've appeared on a panel, you've posted to the Web: such things put your views in the public eye and add them to the public conversation. We really are all yoked together once we get on that public stage and join that public conversation, whether we intend to be or not. Your contributions to the public conversation have not, so far as I've seen, been anything to be ashamed of.

As for your feeling of being overlooked and excluded by my choice of words: I wasn't overlooking you, but as I understand it, the brouhaha in Friends United Meeting (FUM) has been, at least here in North America, very specifically about gays and lesbians in active homosexual relations. Other forms of non-conventional sexuality are not, so far as I know, being debated there at this present time. (This of course may change.)

So since I was specifically referring to the FUM situation, I felt it was more truthful to speak of the groups that are actually under attack there at this time, and not confuse the picture I was painting with mentions of others that are not under attack. Thus my choice of language. There was no intention on my part to slight other categories of folks.

Robin M. said...

One of the problems with this is the sometimes fluid nature of gender. I can think of a number of individuals in my Meeting who would more or less identify as bisexual, who are currently in heterosexual relationships, but would feel clearly that their current relationship does not fully define their sexuality - i.e. they would still feel personally discriminated against by the policy of excluding same sex couples from employment, since they know that it could have been them, or could be in the future. And we don't always know who would consider themselves bisexual, because we don't usually ask people about it, we make assumptions based on what we see.

Anther problem is that because of our changing understanding of gender, there is often an "etc." implicit in any listing of categories, even LGBTQ, because there are some folks who don't quite fit any of those labels. I can understand that it stings to be in the "etc." group on your own blog, but this is a longer term discussion, amongst Friends and the wider society.

These comments probably also underscore the limits, or rather the extent of my own ignorance. Please forgive my unintentional errors.