October 26, 2009

Home is where the limits are

Over on Plainly Pagan, Hystery has written about her stance against* becoming a member of a Quaker meeting that is affiliated with a larger body that has discriminatory policies against GLBTQ persons.

I began to leave a long comment to her post that drifted from her reflections into some of my own, so I'm continuing my train of thought below.

At one point in her post, Hystery asks a question that I myself had been thinking, regarding her experience among Friends.  She writes:

Is it possible that my reaction to FUM is different than other liberals within the Quaker fold because I am so new? I honestly did not know that NY had affiliations with a religious organization that had anti-gay language.
I begin my comment by affirming that yes, I would say that this is very likely, since as convinced Friends our connections with our monthly meeting often provides our primary understanding of and initial exposure to what Quakerism is (or isn't) about.

And that understanding often is incredibly limited--and limiting.  We base our understanding and build relationships with the Friends in the meeting and then we unknowingly internalize the thought that all Quakers must be like this.

After all, I continue explaining to her, "you are certainly not alone among the many attenders who don't find out for years after worshiping with Friends that there are other branches of Friends out there! I was among those attenders, and you have (1) good reason to be shocked at the way things are in New York Yearly Meeting; and (2) no reason to fear that "you should have known better." Chalk it up to Quakerism's quietist behavior."

After sharing that comment, though, I began to consider my early ignorance as an attender at Quaker meetings with my Jewish upbringing.

On the one hand, I readily understood how it was I gained a very early awareness about Judaism:

I grew up knowing there were (back then) three main branches of Judaism because my Jewish education as a child made sure I knew it. And because I had in my family Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews, and Reform Jews.

On the other hand, how could I have been among Friends for months if not years before learning that Quakerism also has its splits and branches?  Why was that?  Why hadn't I learned that sooner, within my first 12 months of attending worship? 

The question concerns me because I came to Quakerism twice:  once as a college student (I attended worship twice a week but did absolutely no reading about the faith and no traveling among Friends, either), and again when I was 30.

It took me maybe a year or more to feel comfortable as a 30-something before I started going to Adult First Day School, and that's probably where I first heard about the other Quakers, the ones who had programmed worship and about the evangelical Friends...  And then later, I participated in a Quakerism 101 session and learned about the historic splits and schisms.

Some of that late learning is my own fault.  I didn't seek out adult education among Friends for quite some time.  Some of the problem--maybe much of it, for non-pastored meetings--rests with the meeting itself.  Are we too focused on worship, social justice, and welcoming families that we dedicate too few resources to "bringing worshipers into the fold" by offering regular book groups, Bible study, and adult education?

It would probably be different if I lived or worked as an adult in a Quaker hub while also attending meeting.  If I had lived in Greensboro, North Carolina or in Plainfield, Indiana, or Des Moines, Iowa, I think I would have had a better chance of discovering at least two worlds of Quakerism:  programmed and unprogrammed.  Maybe I would have discovered Conservative, Liberal, and Evangelical Friends, too.

But with Hystery's experience as an example, it worries me to see new attenders, seekers, and young families come into our meetinghouses, maybe even get involved in the life of the meeting--the person's "home meeting"--without some early integration of the awareness of just who makes up the Religious Society of Friends.

(Not to mention that it isn't solely or even originally or primarily an American religion, but we do better in pointing out that Quakerism's roots are in Europe and the largest portion of today's Quakers are in Africa.)

I don't know if adults who, out of the blue, start attending Shabbat services necessarily know that there are such distinct branches among Jews, but I've heard that adults who begin to attend services are usually steered into taking Judaica classes to learn about the Jewish faith.

It's clear to me that something's amiss among American Quaker meetings and how we talk about today's Quakerism with new attenders.  What do we tell them after we've invited them to have coffee and join in the fellowship hour...?


*Shortly after seeing Hystery's comment below, I imagine the phrase "stance against" would have been more accurate had I written "struggle about." Apologies to you, Hystery...


Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Liz,
From the perspective/bias of a retired teacher, I would say that the Society of Friends throughout the world has lessened, for the most part, in being a movement of unity and power because of the lack of meeting inspired education.

None of us probably want fact-heavy instruction,and certainly not rote learning:-(, but a worldwide perspective/picture of who the Friends have been and are would help.

When I came into Friends for the second time (actually finally moved where a meeting existed:-), I was asked to lead a series of meeting discussions on Friends. It was inspiring and a lot of fun, but I must admit I was appalled at our members' lack of awareness of the most basic "ways" of Friends.

And by the way, here's my revised version of GPS ICE:
Worshiping In the Light Brings Unity, Love, Integrity, Peace,Patience, Purity, Humbleness, Equality, Community, Thankfulness.

God is our teacher; but often God uses human minds and voices and hands:-)
living centered in the Truth.

In the Light,

Liz Opp said...

....I dunno, Daniel: WILBULIPPPHECT looks an awful lot like a creed to me! smile

I appreciate the reminder that God relies on us fallible, flawed humans to do God's work, which includes sharing our faith and our faith traditions with one another.

That said, this morning I sent an email to the monthly meeting's Adult Ed committee, offering myself to do a session on less familiar Quaker concepts. I'll see how that goes.


Martin Kelley said...

Well, and sometimes when we hear about other types of Friends, we cover our ears and start shouting "lalalalala" hoping it will all go away. It's easy for newcomers to think that Friends are the perfect everything they've been looking for all their lives and be surprised that we can be just as messy and complex as any other group of humans.

Adult religious education gives us the intellectual knowledge of other Friends, but I'm not convinced that really helps much. I've taught introductory Quaker classes in a bunch of settings and it's easy for people to dismiss those others as "not really Friends anyway." The historical focus of most Quaker 101 courses makes it even worse.

I found that the best way to get past the stereotypes is intervisitation--physically, and sometimes now electronically. When we share our lives and our smiles and our faith we give insight to the seeming impossibility that there might be people who are just as "Quaker" as we are but who disagree with us on what we consider non-negotiable issues. Quakers are both a philosophy and a family, a tough combo to reconcile.

Hystery said...

I actually did know quite a bit about the splits among Friends since I was studying Friends academically at the same time I was a first attender. I knew about the programmed and unprogrammed and attended meetings of both varieties. I also knew there were christocentric and universalist historical strains among Friends. I studied all of this before I attended for the first time. I quickly learned about FUM and FGC when I became serious about being an attender. I didn't know about "the policy" until within my first year of attending. This has caused annoyance on top of outrage. It is outrageous to discover prejudice against any group of people. It is annoying that Friends in NY don't talk about it. Perhaps it embarrasses them. I know it does me.

Hystery said...

I also want to point out that I don't necessarily have a stance against joining my meeting. They aren't homophobic. I just need to find a way to be clear about my relationship with FUM. When I work that out, I will be more clear to join my meeting.

Mary Hopkins said...

Intervisitation is a wonderful idea. We've tried to do this in my meeting and quarter. It hasn't flown. I belong to a liberal dual-affiliated meeting, the Friends most available to be visited are Evangelical. There was an interesting mix of discomforts at work on both sides, and I'm still seeking the way through them.

We should note that, compared to Friends historical testimonies, and to the present testimonies of the Evangelical branch, FUM's policy is in fact fairly mild. That does not mean that I agree with it, but we do need to take into account that it isn't the extreme.

Liz Opp said...

Martin -

You raise a few good points that also jibe with my own experience, such as the attitude "not really Friends anyway" and the value of intervisitation.

My understanding of Friends--of the Religious Society of Friends--changed significantly and fairly quickly after having attended the annual sessions of one dually affiliated yearly meeting (Canada) and of two Conservative yearly meetings (Iowa and North Carolina).

Hystery -

First off, I'm sorry for inaccurately presenting the struggle you've been going through. I've added a note to the original post reflecting my error. Do let me know if there's anything more I can do, or if you prefer other wording.

I had forgotten about your academic study of Quakers before your first visit to a meeting. I wonder if you might write someday about how your "book learning" either prepared you better or interfered with your "direct experience" of what Quakers are like... Or maybe you already have and I have forgotten-- If so, please point me to where I can find your writing!

As for finding out about the FUM personnel policy within your first year of attending worship, I actually think that's pretty fast! Usually news, minutes, and controversy from the wider body (e.g. a quarterly meeting or a yearly meeting) takes some time to reach and be absorbed by the worshipers who hadn't themselves attended the sessions of that body.

But still: disillusionment and outrage cannot be ignored, and if Friends aren't talking about the conflict and the policy openly, my hope is that God is working on these Friends inwardly.

You certainly can approach a few trusted Friends--and it seems you in fact have few, sadly--and ask about the "culture" of the meeting and why it seems like no one is saying anything about the elephant in the living room. But it sounds frustrating and exasperating, nonetheless.

If nothing else, I can say I appreciate your steadfast advocacy for the GLBTQ community. Thank you...

Mary -

I think there is a difference between a planned intervisitation that has a hoped-for outcome and a Friend's or meeting's choice to be among new Friends without any agenda other than to be present, to share about our faith journey, and to worship together.

As for whether FUM's policy is "mild" or "extreme," I think I finally have learned that injustice is injustice; discrimination is discrimination. (I don't think you're saying that FUM's "mild" policy ISN'T wrong; I just think we're seeing the policy from two different places...)

Even the Friends who treated well the Africans that they enslaved were doing an unjust act, and they needed to be ministered to about this "fairly mild" form of oppression.

. . . . . .

Mary, I realize you and I don't know each other (at least, I don't think we do), so I must tell you that I write with a great deal of compassion for you and the perspective you bring.

I do what I can to respond to comments from a worshipful, respectful place, but if you find a sting in my words, I hope you'll say something. I can be reached by email at lizopp AT gmail DOT com as another option for contact.


anj said...

I'm not sure it is fair to say that Friends in NYYM don't talk about FUM's policy. Two summer sessions ago, there was a long and painful evening threshing session regarding the issue. I have eldered numerous regional threshing sessions to discuss the policy and our individual responses to it. Maybe there are regions or quarters or monthly meetings that are not openly addressing it, but I know quite a few traveling Friends in NYYM who have spent a lot of energy and time threshing and holding and discerning this issue with regional and monthly meetings. And it is my experience that NYYM leadership has asked those of us within the yearly meeting to sit with our feelings and responses about it.Our monthly meeting held a, I guess you could call it a discernment breakfast, to come to unity as a meeting. I seem to remember NYYM sending out a query surrounding FUM's language, asking meetings to sit with the query, which was the query we used for our discernment breakfast.And finally, Christopher Sammond, GS of NYYM, wrote an article in the 1-2/2009 issue of Quaker Life entitled "Jesus Wept" that is a good read for those of us in NYYM. Or anyone else, for that matter.

As for Quaker Adult Religious education, our meeting holds a breakfast forum monthly. We have invited Friends from other meetings to share their Quaker experiences, and we work through various Friends practices and Queries. I think part of the "hardness" surrounding this issue, is some meetings have resistance to focusing on Friends ways. It is my perception that for a long while, programmed Friends meetings were seen as a catch all of practices where anything goes as long as silence is kept a bit.

For me, in that environment, I feel a loss of the richness and beauty of Friends ways. But that is a whole 'nother story.

Anonymous said...

Hello! I've been discerning for the past year or so on whether or not my husband and I will bring our family into the Quaker faith. I feel fortunate as my first search on Amazon for books on Quakerism brought me to one that gave a good history of all the schisms. So I got myself into some good information "up front" (pretty much by chance).

Right now we're conservative leaning (possibly convergent would be a good fit). The only nearby meeting is liberal. They have a nice library, but I think a good addition would be a pamphlet with some "Quaker 101" info, including general information on the different Quaker groups, and some suggestions for further reading. Maybe a good idea for other meetings, too? It could be left in some obvious place for newcomers to find. Just an idea.

On the other topic, I am concerned that the meeting referenced above is affiliated with the NEYM, which is affiliated with FUM. One of the reasons I am likely to leave the Catholic faith is I'm slowly coming to the position that I can't raise my sons in a faith that discriminates against gay people. I thought I could continue as I've done - practice, pray for change, support those working for change - but I can't picture justifying this to them five, ten years from now. I have a gay brother, who has been with his partner for over 15 years. They are the boys' beloved uncles. It just seems wrong to stay in a church whose leader finds no moral value in their life together. So why would I move from a faith that discriminates against gay people to a group that...discriminates against gay people???

I am glad to read that Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) came out with a strong statement in support of gay people. Sadly, we live far from Iowa. Perhaps we will see about being distance members and working from there.

- Steph

Anonymous said...

Oh! I hand't realized before, Liz, you are affiliated with Iowa Yearly Conference? (I saw your name in the minutes from your last YM.)

I think IYM Conservative is affiliated with FGC, is that right? Does FGC have a specific policy regarding homosexuality, or is it left to the individual yearly meetings? Any insight appreciated by this newcomer.

- Steph

Anonymous said...

I mean, Iowa Yearly Meeting.



Liz Opp said...

Anj -

Thanks for offering your own experience. It's easy to extrapolate from what does or doesn't happen in a monthly meeting and suddenly make it all about the yearly meeting instead. It's much harder for me to stay disciplined enough to say, "In my own meeting..." or "I've heard from some Friends..."

My experience serving on FGC's Central Committee points to the fact that some meetings are in close contact with FGC's work and initiatives, while other meetings aren't--and don't seem to care, one way or the other.

As to NYYM and its efforts to "thresh, hold, and discern" the way forward around FUM's personnel policy, dual affiliation with FUM and FGC, etc., I'm glad to know that much has been happening.

I also know that when I was a relatively new attender, I probably heard about these events--yearly meeting, Gathering, quarterly meeting, called sessions--without knowing what they were and without knowing if I should ask about them. So the events stayed "invisible" to me until someone finally personally invited me to think about going.

And I agree, that some Friends seem to stop being interested in "focusing on Friends ways," which can be a barrier to other Friends who yearn for the More that Quakerism can offer.

Anonymous Steph -

Thanks for taking the time to write! You've clearly done some good research about the possibilities of Friends meetings in the U.S.

A number of libraries and reading rooms within Quaker meetinghouses do have these sorts of materials within easy reach: pamphlets about beliefs or about history and such. In order to know what sort of material should find its way into whose hands, though, Friends need to take extra time to speak with visitors and new attenders.

I have to admit, I'm often so caught up in conversation, I don't always remember to direct visitors to material that might be useful to them...

I also want to say, don't lump all Liberal Friends together. Some Liberal Friends are closer to the Conservative tradition than they might realize, and I have a fond place in my heart for certain meetings within NEYM, given the quality and caring of Friends who I know who are members within that yearly meeting.

I wish you well on your journey, wherever it may take you. While it sometimes makes it easier to seek Truth when connected to a faith community--and sometimes harder--the central concern is that we continue to listen for God's guidance and to watch for fruits of the Spirit.


Liz Opp said...

Just to follow up, Steph --

I tell people that I have an affinity for Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). I don't worship with a Conservative monthly meeting because I don't live near one (never have), so my membership cannot be held within that yearly meeting at this time.

(The worship group where I'm active is still holding the question of affiliation, as is explained on our website...)

But I have attended their yearly meeting sessions lately (had to skip this past year) and am drawn by their Quaker discipline and by their spiritual hospitality and care for one another.

I can tell you that IYMC is NOT affiliated with any larger body--nor is any Conservative yearly meeting at this time--though Friends from these yearly meetings do participate in some of FGC's events, including the Gathering and some small weekend retreats.

As for any sort of "policy" that FGC has, FGC doesn't dictate policy for the meetings that are formally affiliated with it. I can tell you that FGC employs Friends who identify all along the continuum, from straight to queer, and all the alphabet in-between.

I can also point you to an epistle that FGC sent to its affiliated meetings, acknowledging that FGC cannot dictate to meetings what they can or can't do, but also affirming that FGC can speak TO its constituent meetings, including things like affirming the gifts of all people, regardless of gender and sexual identity.

Hope that helps answer your questions.


P.S. To read more about my experience with Iowa Friends, clicking here will take you to all the posts I've written about IYMC.