December 6, 2017

Requiring membership dues?! and a minute on racism and white supremacy

NOTE: This post is based on something I put in a Facebook group in Eleventh Month 2017. 

For weeks, I have been shaking my head in sadness and disbelief at the fact that at least two monthly meetings in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting have insensitively sent letters to low-income Friends, asking (telling?) them that they owe membership dues of several hundred dollars or more. How is this in keeping with the practice of not requiring tithes?

Then I went looking for the "dues" of Abington Meeting, since that is one meeting where I've heard of these letters going out. (I don't know if these fees are called "dues" or something else.)

Before I found what I was looking for on the meeting's website, I had to click on the link about Benjamin Lay. I was so glad to see an excerpt from an approved minute from Quakers in North London in the U.K., naming racism and white supremacy! Such minutes are a start.

Once we name an injustice, we can see the injustice--and vice versa. Once we name and see an injustice, we can begin to respond to it. Once we respond to an injustice, we can begin to work to prevent it. Once we prevent an injustice, we can work toward healing. As we work toward healing, we can build the treasured multiracial community we yearn for.

  • See injustice --> Name it
  • Name the injustice --> Respond to it
  • Respond to injustice --> Work to prevent similar injustice
  • Prevent similar injustice --> Work toward healing 
  • See, name, and build on the healing --> Build multiracial community

But if we are conditioned by our Quaker communities and by the wider society to ignore or make invisible an injustice, let alone never name it and to stay silent around it, we will have lost a bit of our shared humanity.

Here's the language of the minute from North London Area Quakers.

"In the UK, the North London Area Meeting minute, Agreed on 18 November 2017 reads as follows:
Quakers are proud of the times in history we have been ahead of our time on progressive social issues – but preceding those moments, there have often been long periods when we have not walked the path we would later understand to be the just one. At a time when racism seems as present and ugly as ever – both globally and nationally – and the structures of white supremacy are being defended and strengthened by powerful forces in our societies, this seems a timely moment for North London Area Meeting to reflect on its involvement in the struggle for racial justice.
"North London Area Meeting recognises Benjamin Lay’s dedication to equality – and his willingness to repeatedly speak his messages of Truth. We also recognise Benjamin Lay as being a Friend of the Truth – and as being in unity with the spirit of our Area Meeting. We ask our Clerking team to write to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Abington Monthly Meeting and Southern East Anglia Area Meeting (successor to Colchester; Coggeshall Monthly Meeting) to clarify that Lay is in good standing with North London Area Meeting (successor to Devonshire House Monthly Meeting).”


A little more digging turns up the "Basic guidelines for giving" at Abington Meeting. That said, this is such a clear case of good intention ("for the upkeep and continued vitality" of the meeting) and harmful impact (lower income Friends feeling either pressured to give beyond their means or feeling/believing that if they cannot contribute at the "suggested" level, their membership could be revoked--if already a member--or blocked/slowed if they wish to pursue membership in the future.)

It is not lost on me that one meeting within Philadelphia Yearly Meeting listed as an excuse that they terminated its only Friend of Color's membership in part because the Friend didn't contribute financially to the meeting. That sounds to me like requiring a form of tithes, which Friends have eschewed; it goes against the Quakerism I have practiced in the midwestern United States; and it goes against the oft-quoted Scripture about how we are all of one body, and all that we bring to the community are gifts of the Spirit.

The more I see and name injustices, such as implying that members of our meetings "ought" to contribute financially at a certain level, the more I see how Friends carry out injustice in a manner that is not so very different from what occurs outside of our Quaker communities.