Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Quakers and Homosexuality

In my local meetings, people are committed to honoring loving same-sex relationships.  I would like to tell people that Friends collectively support the human rights of all persons regardless of sexuality.  Sadly, I cannot do this.  I am seriously bummed out by NY's dual affiliation status and I am unwilling to accept that those who accept FUM's policies or who indicate that homosexuality is a sin are members of the same faith community as myself.  I am not interested in sharing community with those who are hateful enough to allow sloppy interpretations of ancient texts (a hermeneutics of bigotry?) to justify condemnation of human beings.  When asked to choose between the rights of LGBT people and the religious sensibilities of homophobic Friends, I'll turn my back on conservative*** Quakers every single time.  Without exception. Make no mistake.  Opposition to gay rights is every bit as ugly, inhumane, and backwards as racism and sexism.

There is no rational or intellectual justification for bigotry.  Not ever. 

  The ancient perceptions of human sexuality are so dramatically different from our own that it becomes nonsensical to apply their reactions to various sex acts to our modern context.  Scholars of the Hellenistic world indicate a starkly different organization of sexuality than what we understand as a gay sexual relationships.  Pederasty, male prostitution, and the hierarchal relationships between a powerful adult male and a passive younger male are not in the least bit the same as a healthy sexual relationship between consenting adults who love each other as equals.  Hellenistic people did not see people as gay or straight but as powerful and not powerful.  Powerful men had sexual access to adolescents, younger men, slaves and women.  Younger people (both male and female), slaves, and all women were expected to submit and older men were expected to dominate.  Their sexual models were vertical rather than horizontal.  Pauline emphasis on reciprocity in sexual partnership challenges such a vertical construct.  This is just one of many arguments surrounding the changing patterns of gender and sexuality over time that require our attention before we arrogantly assume we understood ancient people's attitudes about sex.

Even if there were not great cultural and linguistic stumbling blocks to the application of biblical language to modern morality, I would not give a rat's ass about the bible's injunctions against homosexual relationships.  Common sense and human decency tell me that if someone loves another a human being and behaves toward their beloved with respect, joy, and tenderness, then that relationship is a blessing to the entire human family. To stand in the way of such a loving relationship is to stand on the side of injustice and intolerance.  It is to make oneself the enemy of the best humanity has to offer. 

I am proud that Quakers were ahead of the general population on such issues as pacifism, slavery, Civil Rights, and women's rights.  To be historically accurate, we must point out that in all these movements, a few radical Friends stuck their necks out and lots of them got themselves read out of meeting because they were quicker to perceive injustice than their brethren.  Progressive Friends in the nineteenth-century remain my models for appropriate discernment practice.  I cannot believe that divine justice could ever tolerate the destruction of families, the restriction of reciprocal love, or the mockery of rationalism.  How much discernment and revelation does it take to uhold the basic human rights of another human being?  How long must we wait?  A generation?  Two generations?  How many good people are we willing to hurt in the process?  How many of their children?  Seriously, what God asks us to be infernal, controlling, irrational, judgmental, busy-bodies until a discernment process tells us we no longer have the right to tell other adults who can stick what where?  (With so much misery in the world that needs our attention, why do so many people have such a perverse interest in other people's goodies?)

Bottom line:  When the Bible, the Church, or the Law oppose my heart's joyful response to another human heart, then I stand with my heart.  Let the Bible, the Church, and the Law be damned.

***In this case, I use the term "conservative" to indicate political and social conservatism as experienced in the United States. I do NOT mean "conservative" as in Conservative Friends who are conserving Friends' religious and traditional integrity. While conservative Friends may differ from me in that they tend to be far more Christ-centered than I am, there is not necessarily any profound difference in our understanding of social justice issues. My issue with conservative Friends is when they behave like so-called social conservatives. These terms are not synonymous and I apologize for the confusion this may cause.

For a continuation of my thoughts, albeit in a more wise-ass fashion, please refer to O Canada.


ellen abbott said...

I feel exactly the same way. Add to that that the ancient texts that the injunction against homosexuality is based on, the key words cannot be accurately translated. the truth is, scholars don't really know what that word means. Even so it has been used as justification for hatefulness and persecution. The same ancient texts also call Lot a righteous man for offering his virgin daughters to a stranger for sex and was saved from the destruction.

*Sandra* said...

Wow, Hystery, that's sticking it to 'em. I wish I had your way with words. And thank you!

Anonymous said...


I'm grateful for your courage in expressing your anger, and for your clear thinking and expression on this ugly topic.

I was proud when we at Homewood Meeting approved ceremonies of commitment for "homosexual couples" in 1985 and then five years later approved a minute stating that "The same term, marriage, will be utilized to designate the celebrations of commitment for both heterosexual and homosexual couples." But I was also sad that it had taken so long. And I was unhappy that, also having dual membership, we continued to send money to people who were practicing and indoctrinating others in bible-based bigotry.

Whatever Paul's ancient perspective on sexuality, no one has the right to use his writings to lay down laws for anyone. As Paul himself tells us, we are free of the written law, for the letter kills. It kills the spirits of those who live by it, and too often it kills, even physically, the victims of their "righteousness."

And then there's the blasphemy of equating the prejudices of a formerly (?) murderous religious zealot with the judgments of God -- the God who, according to Jesus, won't give a rat's ass about what you did while naked but will be very interested in whether you clothed the naked poor.

Lone Star Ma said...

I completely agree. Down around here, what few Friends there are are almost all FGC anyway (even thought the geography covered by South Central Yearly Meeting could hardly be described as a progressive or tolerant part of the country). What I have heard, though, is that many meetings in other places have chosen not to sever their ties with FUM because of crucial life-or-death work they are doing with starving, war-ravaged people in other countries - and that they hope to influence FUM to change their homophobic ways with love from within. I don't really know, though - I'm way out here. I'm glad my meeting believes in equality for everyone.

Hystery said...

That's what people around here say about FUM and I can see the argument although I do not share it. I prefer to engage in secular institutions that alleviate the consequences of violence in the world. A religious organization that holds attitudes that are contrary to human decency may work to decrease violence in the form of wars but, by its very attitudes of intolerance, will fail to protect individuals from violence and intolerance whether those individuals are living in North America or in Africa. FGC's alliance with FUM gives tacit approval to homophobia which I find entirely unacceptable.

Anonymous said...


I sat here nodding my head in agreement with all that you expressed and thank you for doing so.

Everything is impermanent, everything changes but humans are so dang slow in doing so.

But to uphold hate and bigotry for any reason should be outdated in this day. *sigh*

Your writings are powerful expressions...I hope you recognize that in yourself and please continue forth in doing so.


Daniel Wilcox said...

Dear Hystery,

I support equal rights for everyone. And equal rights must focus on marriage for those adults who choose to be a couple. After all, marriage is a center-most ideal of Truth for all who choose not to remain celibate (as in cases such as Jesus, St. Francis, etc.).

Where states or countries refuse to recognize that all humans are created equal, individuals can/should covenant together in a non-legal marriage for life (through their church, synagogue, mosque).

Where I differ (have we ever done so before?;-) is that I don't think FUM's opposition against same sexual marriage is necessarily homophobic or prejudiced.

If I understand FUM's view correctly, they struggle with reconciling their commitment to equal rights inherent in God's creativity and eternal love vs. their understanding of God's revelation of sexuality.

They also are faced with strongly opposing the secular world's standard--where sexuality isn't considered a sacred holy life-long relationship but a physical act one can engage in with a series of individuals, (or as I even saw on one website where a Quaker said sex could be fun like potato chips:-(

Tragically, many modern claims of "love" (for both same sexual and opposite sexual individuals) are really more a case of sexual lust than of giving life-long commitment.

As I explained in a response to your July 12 post "John Woolman, Gay Rights, and Quakers," I also struggle in understanding the truth and ideal in this area. I have studied this heartfelt issue for many years and am still seeking further guidance in the Light of God.

The New Testament witness is against any form of sexual fulfillment other than between a man and a woman for life (as Jesus says). For in the Bible sexual fidelity is a metaphor for fidelity to God. That is why purity is so important, not only because of a romantic ideal, and because of all the hurt, suffering, and pain that immoral sexual relations create, but because in Judaism and Christianity, sexuality represents God's relationship to each human.

There are also physical, psychological, and philosophical issues.

Yet, when it comes to equal rights and love for others, same sexual people and opposite sexual people are one in God's Spirit.

Maybe what same sexual Friends could do is request a clearness committee meeting with the FUM leadership. Does FUM understand that same sexual Quakers aren't supporting worldly standards?

Secondly, maybe same sexual Friends could give their sense of identity a sacred (non-secular) term. Instead of claiming the identities of "gay" or "GLBTQ" (which in the eyes of many people of faith including FUM seem related to sexual promiscuity)
same sexual individuals could name themselves in such a way that others would understand that they are committed to celibacy until in a covenanted relationship and that they live in the Light of God and are convinced God created them same sexual.

The key seems to be not to walk in the way of prejudiced religion nor in the way of the secular understanding of sexuality,
to live in the Light of God.


Mr. Bishop said...

I agree completely that there is no excuse for bigotry, and that intolerance of homosexuality is every bit as hateful and hurtful as racism.

That said, here are three--no, four--reasons for dual affiliated yearly meetings to stay affiliated with FUM.

1) There are gays and lesbians EVERYWHERE, including in places where they have to remain rigidly closeted. Breaking ties with FUM breaks ties with the GLBTQ members of FUM for whom dual affiliated meetings may be the only beacon of hope on their horizon, and will drive them deeper into the closet and deeper into shame and self-hatred.

2) For several years now, there have been strident calls from members of New England Yearly Meeting to withhold financial contributions to FUM or sever affiliation altogether. Consistently, the gay and lesbian members of NEYM have pointed out that such actions do NOTHING to help the actual GLBTQ members of NEYM sitting in the room with us, and actually distracts from initiatives that might do some positive good, like minuting our support of same-sex marriage.

3) The majority of FUM Quakers in the world (and the majority of Quakers of any kind) are in Africa--a world in some ways as different from comfortable white liberal America as Hellenic Greece is from modern society. Arguments among American Friends about homosexuality, gay rights, and same-sex marriage mean very little if they ignore the issues faced by African Friends.

4) Also, withholding funds from FUM means withholding it from the work of FUM Friends in Kenya. For us, living in the wealth of empire, to assuage our consciences by further impoverishing post-colonial Africa is just too absurd.

5) Finally, corporate discernment is at the heart of what makes us Quaker. Yes, in the abolitionist movement, there were Quakers who stuck their necks out and were read out of their meetings. But they stayed Quakers. If all you say is "Homophobia is wrong," then all you are is a splinter group, easily dismissed as one of those damn hippie liberals. But we say to FUM, "We, as Quakers, believe homophobia is wrong, AND we, as Quakers, are your brothers and sisters," and you DON'T GO AWAY, then you are a force that can bring about some real change in the world.

Hystery said...

Response to argument 1)

I am not impressed by this argument. I find it hard to believe that a closeted African Friend can take as much comfort in knowing that American liberal Friends, in the interest of providing him/her distant emotional support, are willing to continue to provide money to a religious organization that twists religion to justify homophobia. That's a pretty piss poor way to support gay rights.

It isn't like Friends are the only show in Africa. I would much rather work with secular organizations that are explicitly NOT homophobic to address the need for change than with a religious organization that promotes inequality. My great concern is that when FGC stands with FUM, even when we clearly say "No, we disagree" it is akin to helping an attacker hold a victim down while we say, "We really shouldn't be doing this but because I love you, I'll help you hold them down until you decide that attacking people is unChristian."

As a spiritual person, I am called to be very clear about my intentions. In my words, my gestures, and in my affiliations, I must be consistently intolerant of bigotry. Of that I have absolutely no doubt. The religious argument against homosexuality is one of the most powerful not because it is accurate or sensible (it is neither of those) but because it has the most power to debase and destroy as it feeds on an individual's deepest fears and hopes. Connecting sexual thoughts and acts with justification, salvation and connection to God has been the primary way societies have maintained such an obscene and ridiculous ban against a perfectly normal human behavior. To connect my name to an organization that makes a public witness of its prejudice is to make myself into a liar and a hypocrite.

I am not prepared to relinquish the stand that any use of religious language to promote inequality is wholly unacceptable to me. Not one cent out of my pocket will ever go to those who utilize their religious authority to support that bullshit.

If we who are affiliated with organizations with sane and compassionate perspectives on this topic find that there is need to provide hope in other parts of the world, then our duty is to discern our way to that goal without relying on an organization that is thwarting our efforts.

Why should I stand with FUM and more than I stand with any other manifestation of the Religious Right? I do not agree with their policy regarding gays. I do not share their theology, eschatology, soteriology, or christology. I find their hermeneutical approach offensive. I do not agree with their missionary efforts in Africa. I do not believe in their religious convictions. I am not impressed with their history. I do not share their religious practices. I do not think that they have much in common with the spiritual group to which I belong. It seems to me that reunification efforts are based on a fallacy of community where none truly exists. Again and again I see liberal Friends (like liberal Democrats) bending over backwards to accommodate themselves to community with persons who are in no way similarly tolerant of our deeply held spiritual and religious beliefs.

Hystery said...

Response to argument 2)

So do both/and rather than either/or. Sounds like NEYM has a lot of work ahead of it. Whoever said that there was ever a single panacea for any complex social issue? To address a great injustice means that consistent and complex response is necessary. Abolitionists did not do just one thing to challenge slavery; they did several things. They petitioned. They protested. They helped individuals escape from slavery and they raised money to provide financial support to freed men and women. They educated themselves about the issue. They supported activists, public speakers, and authors. They showed up in courtrooms to give physical support to runaway slaves. They busted people out of jail. They gave goods, services and monetary support to Underground Railroad conductors and passengers. They published books and periodicals and wrote editorials. They founded and taught in schools and colleges open to African Americans. They studied African history. They left churches that continued to stand on the side of slavery and founded new churches that welcomed blacks and supported abolition.

Likewise, our response to homophobia around the world must be complicated, consistently passionate, and unrelenting. We can't muddy it by continuing to give money to homophobic organizations. There is only so much money in my account. When I have enough to share, I sure as hell am not going to give it to people who are working against my objectives.

Hystery said...

3) Response to argument 3)

To be perfectly blunt, my argument about Hellenistic sexuality was really less to point out cultural diversity than to point out that those who interpret the Bible as if it isn't some ancient, (and usually irrelevant document) are ignorant of current historical and biblical scholarship. Of course I know that African understanding of sexuality is different than American. The solution to this problem certainly cannot be to use some kind of default biblical (lame-ass) interpretation. So we learn more about African Friends, African approaches to sexuality, and we learn how to employ pressure and/or education to promote health and change. We find African groups already engaged in this work and we follow their lead. Our current approach is watered down and compromised by our affiliations with outwardly homophobic policies. We justify the opposing perspective by our patience with it. Now there are times when patience is laudable but not when in cases related to human rights abuse. It horrifies me to come from the U.C.C. to the Friends to find that I have stepped backwards into a religious community that has not yet achieved a scholarly standard that disallows interpretations of text that tolerate inequality. The intolerant stuff I've read from conservative Friends would be laughed out of the seminary I attended...and that was a Baptist seminary!

I am also concerned about gay rights among African Episcopalians but I am not called to stand in community with Episcopalians who stand in the way of gay rights. I am called to stand with gay Episcopalians, as a liberal Friend, on behalf of the rights of all humans. I will stand with any religious or secular group that shares the conviction that it is completely unacceptable to have any policy that even hints at a belief in inequality. I will not stand with any organization that fails this standard.

Hystery said...

Argument 4)

That's the easiest. There are multiple organizations that address the impoverishment in Africa that do not attack the rights of gays. I put my money where my mouth is (when I have money). I contributed money to end African impoverishment long before I even knew FUM existed. Turns out that they aren't the only game in town.

Argument 5)

As it turns out, your assessment of Progressive Friends is inaccurate. Their reputations among orthodox Friends was far worse than "damn, hippie, liberals." Given a choice between emulating radical Friends' courage and getting a bad name among people who already condemn everything I am is not a hard decision. Sticks and stones and all that. I think that maybe there is little we in FGC can do about those names until we are also willing to give up being neo-Pagan, Buddhist, non-theist, socialists. Do you really think that our statements that "Homosexuality is wrong" is what will win us the label of hippie?

The abolitionist and suffragist Friends who inspire me are not the ones who said, "I disagree with you but I'll stand with you." They were the ones who literally walked out of their meetings, (or were forced out). I think that it is likely that as a Pagan woman I would be read out of FUM if they had the ability to do so. I know that I was censored and pressured to leave Quaker Quaker and I know other people who were as well. And that was for my advocacy of communication. I think there are more problems between affiliation between FGC and FUM than will fit in this entire blog.

If there had been an FGC to join, I'm sure abolitionist Friends would have joined it and I'm sure they would have resisted FUM's influence over FGC's policies. They were read out of meeting because they were not willing to compromise. They took a stand that went against the rest of their meetings wishes and got their asses booted out. Or they left on their own to lead spiritual lives as solitaries or in other non-Quaker congregations (Susan B. Anthony and Martha Coffin Wright). Or they formed entirely new meetings as did the progressive Friends of Waterloo who went on to found the women's rights movement arising out of Seneca Falls. They remained Quaker because of their belief that human equality is key not because they honored discernment above equality. There has always been tension between the concepts of collective discernment among Friends and individual conscience. Among radical nineteenth century Friends, there was greater emphasis on individual conscience. When corporate discernment did not support human equality, they did not feel bound by it.

Those Quakers who led the nineteenth century human rights movements were Friends who were the most irritating and obnoxious to other Friends. People like Susan B. Anthony, Amy and Isaac Post, Martha Coffin Wright,and the M'Clintock and Hunt families were far less concerned with discernment and unity within their original meetings than they were with their principles and their fierce belief in equality. Remember- these were people who walked out of Hicksite meetings because the Hicksites were too conservative! And they were, by the way, the Friends who were associated with folks like Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who attended one of these radical meetings), Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Samuel May, and Jermaine Loguen. The orthodox and Hicksite Friends from which they split did nothing remotely comparable in the name of human rights.

Liz Opp said...

A tangent, but only because I cringe when Friends misrepresent FGC.

FGC doesn't set policy for yearly or monthly meetings. Unlike FUM or EFI, FGC is a completely separate institution from any and all yearly meetings, whether affiliated or not.

Staff persons who work for yearly meetings and monthly meetings follow policy set by that YM or MM, not any FGC policy.

Unfortunately, individuals and meetings mistakenly represent FGC as having control over those who identify as "an FGC Friend" or as "an FGC meeting" [i.e. a Liberal Friend/meeting]--when in fact, if Friends and meetings identify with FGC's work, it's more likely because FGC has been a witness to progressive values and principles that align with Liberal Friends. But not all progressive Friends are FGC Friends.

I can say this because of my service on FGC's Central Committee and looking closely at its Long Term Plan and Statement of Purpose. In fact, while serving, there were a handful of occasions when we reminded one another that FGC does not and cannot set meeting policy: that is up to each monthly and yearly meeting to do.

All that aside, I appreciate your frankness and plain speaking about this topic.

Thanks for letting me clarify.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Michael said...

Dear One,

Thanks so much for this. You speak my mind.

"[Hellenistic people's] sexual models were vertical rather than horizontal. Pauline emphasis on reciprocity in sexual partnership challenges such a vertical construct."

That pretty much sums it up.

As to the "how long?" question, Martin Luther King answered that in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

Thank you, again, for speaking this.

Blessed Be,

Hystery said...

Thank you, Michael. I have been thinking of this quotation from this Letter to the Public byWilliam Lloyd Garrison,

"On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hand of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; -- but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD."

Hystery said...


Thank you for that corrective information. It is greatly appreciated. I am struggling with my desire to join my meeting and my desire to keep myself clear of association with FUM's policy. Friends' organizational structures remain confusing to me so I appreciate that there are those with knowledge to make my way more clear.

Anonymous said...

If I may add to the response to reason #5, I have two comments.

First, some reading in the primary texts will reveal that the heart of Quaker identity is not corporate discernment but justification: our transformation, through the working of the light of love in the heart, into spirit-led and therefore just persons here and now. Further, corporate discernment outside of the light of love is but the agreement of already-formed opinions; it may befit a synod, but for light-led Quakers it is merely evidence of apostasy.

Second, I've been around long enough to remember my meeting's protest to FUM about its bible-based homophobia, reflected in the termination of a worker, 20 or more years ago. I remember a much more recent incident as well. We respectfully call such Friends back to the light, we continue in fellowship and continue to help fund their "ministry," and nothing changes. But if we offer to stay around but not provide funding until love is accorded primacy, something that many of us may be willing to do, will that offer be accepted?

Michael said...

On the other hand....

I wrote above about the divine now which says we cannot wait on the matter of sacred justice for sexual minorities.

However, I reject the notion of disaffiliation with FUM, because it isn't about the money.

Like it or not, we are all together in the Kingdom now.

The schismatic sentiment is rife across the denominations over the issue of homosexuality.

However, in the Presbyterian, Episcopal and Lutheran churches, it is not the "welcoming" congregations which are pushing for disaffiliation. Yes, some of them have been forced out, just as some prophetic 19th century Friends were forced out of their more conservative meetings. But it is the congregations which cannot yet see the wholeness of their LGBT siblings which are talking schism in those churches.

Like it or not, we are all in the same family. We cannot escape. We cannot jettison anyone else. We cannot erase kinship or hold it at a distance.

It's not a matter of "standing with" FUM...or a matter of funding their activities or not funding them.

It's a matter of sitting with them, refusing to leave unless we are forced out.

And it's a matter of holding their fear of sexuality...their own puzzled, confounded sexuality...in the Light.

As a man who has been out of the closet for almost forty years, I steadfastly disagree with the sexual ideology of FUM.

But I cannot disaffiliate with the people of FUM.

Blessed Be,

Joanna Hoyt said...

Dear Hystery,

I was glad to be present when my Meeting married two women, and I wish such marriages were more widely recognized among Friends. I also wish that a covenantal rather than casual understanding of sexuality was more widespread among Friends. Both these changes would be deeply countercultural, and, I think, deeply healing. So I find cause for grieving and rejoicing in FUM"s personnel policy.

I understand your objection to condemning or disowning people on the basis of their (non-abusive) sexual behavior. But I don't see why it is helpful to condemn and disown people who hold a different sense of sexual ethics.

I think we need to acknowledge that all of us, liberal and conservative, carry deep sexual wounds, and too often we (on both sides) address issues of sexual ethics out of our pain and fear, not out of our love.

Hystery said...


Condemning those who agree with FUM's personnel policy is not remotely what I'm talking about. I'm talking about is deciding not to become a member of an organization that tolerates that kind of bigotry. What I'm talking about is serious conversations individual meetings need to have about where they send their money and to what policies and organizations they give their support. I guess I'm a congregationalist at heart.

As I said in my post, I love me some conservative people. I'll warrant that I have intense love and deep relationship with folks so conservative they would shock most Friends (even the ones without a problem with FUM). Oh yeah. You don't live in rural America without being in community with extremely intolerant people. There are neighbors, family members and students who believe things so racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, war-mongering, and hateful that it should make a good person vomit to hear it. Yet, I still manage to love them, live side by side with them, and teach them. But I don't join their hunting clubs, country clubs, political parties or churches. See the difference? I can love the snot out of the people in favor of FUM's policy but when I fail to make my position against that policy explicit then the implication of my inaction is that I agree with the policy.

Anonymous said...

As a Lesbian and Quagan (Quaker Pagan), I appreciate your post. For two years I was part of Baltimore Yearly Meeting's Intervisitation program. I visited Western Yearly Meeting. I felt a leading to speak about the FUM personnel policy in response to a sermon I heard on the last day of WYM's annual session in 2008. Many Friends, including some in BYM, didn't like my message so I'm no longer part of the Intervisitation.
As much as FUM's policy makes me hopping mad, I made a point in my letter to Friends that it is a problem that all of us who are members of FUM must face (and, so long as I'm a BYM member and BYM is an FUM member, I share some responsibility for this policy).
I guess my stand is that we have to keep talking about this policy in order to change it and that means we're going to have to talk to those who disagree with us, as well as those who agree with us but just don't want to make waves.
I see this as a challenge to all of us, even me, to not give up, even when faced with difficulty. Nor can I use others' opposition as an excuse to get lazy.
Dang! The Divine sure doesn't make it easy on us when we get a Leading.

Joanna Hoyt said...

If I read you right, you're saying to the personnel policy's authors and supporters "I love you, but I consider this behavior of yours to be destructive, and I cannot be in fellowship with a group that condones this behavior." Which is, I think, what the personnel policy's authors and supporters are saying to people who enter into sexual relationships that are not heterosexual and monogamous. I think it's a fair message. I don't see how it makes the group to whom you object intolerant, any more than it makes you intolerant.

Will T said...

I have so much that I could say to this but I don't have a lot of time, since I have to get up early in the morning to go to a meeting of the FUM General Board.

Like FGC, FUM is an association of Yearly Meetings. It does not dictate to the Yearly Meetings. Even when the General Board reaffirmed the Richmond Declaration, it specifically said that this was not binding on the Yearly Meetings. FUM tried in the past to create a common discipline but that effort failed in about 1950. Individuals do not belong to FUM, only Yearly Meetings.

I cannot spead for how things are in NYYM now but I know that in my yearly meting, New England, there are people who identify deeply with FUM. For NEYM to withdraw from FUM would not only hurt FUM but also NEYM.

FUM is not some monolithic, homophobic "them" out there in the midwest. It is us. It is liberals who cannot provide corporate guidance to our children on sexual ethics and relationships. It is Friends Churches in North Carolina and Indiana who are wanting to announce themselves as open and affirming to gays and lesbians but are finding resistance from their yearly meetings. It is yearly meetings which are watching their membership drop sharply and are afraid of what the future holds.

If our neighbor has fallen into a ditch, wouldn't we stay around and try to help them out? Some of our Quaker neighbors have fallen into the ditch of homophobia, do we walk away from them or do we try to help them out? If the latter, how do we best do that? Love, compassion and humility seem to me to be what is needed.

I believe that the sexual ethics portion of the FUM personnel policy is deeply flawed for a number of reasons, and not just because of the discrimination against gays and lesbians. It is just bad policy in many ways but it has become so politicized on all sizes that it has become more difficult than it should be to change it.

As abhorrent as the policy is to some of us now, when it was adopted 20 years ago, it was seen by some as a step forward because it does acknowledge the civil rights of gays and lesbians to equal employment rights in secular organizations. This was the first time that FUM went on record in favor of rights for gays and lesbians. The attitudes of liberal Quakers have undergone significant changes in this area over the last 20 years. This change happened, in part, because people in meetings stayed involved with each other and were able, over time, to change hearts.

Will T

Hystery said...


Thank you so much for taking time to comment and to help correct any misunderstandings I have. There is so much I don't understand about how Friends operate at the institutional level. As I have stated, I'm new to the organization end of Friends and I deeply appreciate comments and corrections that help me understand better.

I begin to understand many of the comments made here although I still don't agree. I think it is important to point out that I can't agree (now) because I am still an outsider with an outsider's perspective. I'm trying to figure out if I should be here, if this commitment, though years into the deal, can be sustained.

I keep saying that I am standing against a policy and I am saying I will not give financial or moral support to the organization that upholds it. I'll give all the support I can give to individuals who feel connected to FUM (regardless of their views on homosexuality) but only when they are in turn supporting what I understand as humane and sane actions. Feed the hungry. Fine. Stand against war. Great. Condemn gay sex as immoral. Nope. Not going there. I keep hearing it framed as though I am rejecting Friends who disagree with me and though I keep saying I am not, there are some who won't believe it. That's fine, I guess.

I was raised by people who let me know that discrimination against gays and lesbians is as unacceptable as racism. I was reared in a Christian denomination that called itself "open and affirming." I was reared to adulthood within the understanding that religious homophobia was a product of the past, a failure to understand biblical and historical scholarship, a failure to understand our place in the moral evolution of a society. Likewise, I became a Neo-Pagan in a tradition that strongly embraces the holiness of non-heterosexual relationships.

I'm trying to decide if I should pursue membership in my meeting and I am baffled by references to a policy that to me sounds like it comes out of right wing Christianity. What am I to do with it? Really, I don't know. Worse is my feeling that I don't know what to do with liberal folk who don't act as upset by homophobia as I am.

This blog is part of my struggling. It is part of my personal discernment. Reading your responses to me- your challenges, cautions, corrections, encouragement, and even your condemnation is part of what I need to make this make sense. I wrote this because I had to write it and because I had to hear you speak to me.

Liz Opp said...

Hystery, in your recent comment you wrote in part: I'm trying to decide if I should pursue membership in my meeting and I am baffled by references to a policy that to me sounds like it comes out of right wing Christianity. What am I to do with it?...

I have two responses that rise up in me.

One: Give the question "What am I to do with it?" over to God and listen for God's reply.

Two: Part of the membership clearness process IS about struggling with things in Quakerism--in the monthly meeting or the yearly meeting or the larger body/bodies of the Religious Society of Friends--that don't fit for us at an individual level.

While it seems to be that most (or many) attenders who request membership already have reached a degree of clearness by then, I have heard that it's been worthwhile to the committee and to the Friend who has brought the struggle INTO the clearness process as part of the discernment of whether membership at that time is in good order.

I am truly glad that you are taking the time you are with this issue. It may be that at some point, the issue will be better placed in the hands of the meeting where you attend, as uncomfortable as that may be, whether or not you are pursuing membership there.

I support you in your conviction about speaking out against homophobia and heterosexism. Continue to walk in the Light...

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Hystery said...

Joanna, you wrote:
"If I read you right, you're saying to the personnel policy's authors and supporters "I love you, but I consider this behavior of yours to be destructive, and I cannot be in fellowship with a group that condones this behavior." Which is, I think, what the personnel policy's authors and supporters are saying to people who enter into sexual relationships that are not heterosexual and monogamous. I think it's a fair message. I don't see how it makes the group to whom you object intolerant, any more than it makes you intolerant."

Sort of. I will not provide support to the organization with funds and I feel obligated to continue to make my feelings about the policy clear and public. This does not mean that I cannot love and seek communion with individuals who think homophobia is tolerable. I would be in favor of open dialog, education programs, and other fellowship that increased awareness, aired concerns, and provided space to introduce people to the topic. I think we are NOT talking about this enough as individuals or as a group. Fellowship is necessary for such discourse. What I'm not down with is fellowship in which I pretend everything is OK just to maintain the polite niceties of Quaker community.

This policy is not a theoretical thing we can avoid. It has real consequences on real people. It is all well and good to say "in due time" when you are not gay or if you don't really love a gay person. It is quite another to live, day after day, with the realization that the spiritual body to which you belong rejects a key part of who you are as a human being or rejects your beloved for who they are.

Tell me not to swear or drink or gamble. Fine. Tell me not to have sex with the soul who is my partner in this life? No. Tell me that if I do then I am unacceptable? That I'm hurting the world? Who am I hurting when I have sex with my beloved?

I stand against a policy and refuse to lend organizational support to those who will continue to implement this policy. You say this is intolerance on my part but I wonder if the same would be said of me if I was now taking a stand against a policy limiting the roles of African Americans, women, or persons with handicapping conditions. I've never bought the argument that those who stand against bigotry are just as bad as the bigots themselves.

I do not know what is to come of all this. Thanks to many here, especially Liz, I have a clearer idea of how I might work with this issue with my meeting. I do know that it is our responsibility to stand in the way of hatred, ignorance, and intolerance wherever we find it-- not just out in the world but among those we love and who love us.

I know that it will be uncomfortable and even hurtful for people to have to confront their understanding of sexuality. However difficult this might be, it is nothing compared to the indignity of continuing to be a religious body that discriminates against non-heterosexual people.

Homophobia is not just discrimination against people's choices. It is about discrimination against people's bodies. Not just our minds but our bodies are engaged in desire, love, and family. What right do we have to say that one body's desire to love is normal and another body's desire is sinful?

The limitation of sexuality to male/female relationships twists the natural sexuality of healthy people. It insists on gender norms and sexual patterns that simply do not work for too many people who have the right to experience sexual love and relationship without condemnation and prejudice. Homophobia injures all people. Friends don't let Friends stay homophobic. ;-)

Joanna Hoyt said...

Dear Hystery,

I'm sorry I came across as condemning you and calling you intolerant. I didn't mean to do that. I'm working on writing more clearly.

I do hear and value what you say about loving individuals with whom you disagree. I think this is vital, and I know it's hard to do (for me at least.) I believe many FUM personnel policy supporters also love the people who do not abide by the policy's requirements. They simply are unwilling, as you are, to be publicly associated with/represented by a group which doesn't share their sense of sexual ethics. I don't fully share their sense of sexual ethics either, but I don't see this as bigotry or hatefulness on their part. Or on yours. I might make the same decision if I agreed with a large group about sexual ethics; as it is if I wasn't willing to be fellowship with those who disagreed with me on this issue I'd be pretty lonely.

Thank you for your openness. May way open for you.

Hystery said...


Thank you for the clarification. However, I still am having trouble understanding how prejudice against homosexuality can be called "sexual ethics." How is bigotry ethical?

Joanna Hoyt said...

Perhaps I haven't understood what you're objecting to. I presumed that it was the policy requiring persons holding leadership roles in FUM to abstain from sexual relationships other than heterosexual marriage. That seems to me like a statement of sexual ethics, and not a statement exclusively about gays and lesbians. If FUM were mobilizing to repeal hate-crimes protection for gays and lesbians, or even to repeal equal-opportunity hiring requirements for secular organizations, I would understand your calling that bigotry.

Hystery said...

See also Bishop Shelby Spong's post Here

Shawna said...

"On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. …. I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD."

Thank you so much for this quote. I am saving it in my "quotes to be re-heartened with" file. I am entering into this discussion a bit late, I'm afraid... I am uneven in my online presence.

Here are some thoughts for you that I hope are helpful. It is ok to be angry at injustice. As a matter of fact, it is vital to be angry at injustice. Injustice is wrong. It is part of our job on this earth to work for justice in all things. But it is also vital to find a way to stand in a place of reconciliation, and not of retribution. Retribution ends up being a part of the injustice of the world, no matter how good we think our intentions are; Reconciliation brings not only justice, but mercy and love pouring down like waters.

John Woolman is a good model to consider. He believed that slavery was wrong, and that it damaged both slave and slave owner. And he worked patiently in love to tell people that, both corporately and one-on-one. And he won.

So…. Hang on to that sense you have that there is injustice in this place. And sit with it awhile, until you can see the tragedy on all the sides of the issue, and you can weep for everyone who is broken and incomplete because of it, oppressed and oppressor……

And then the Spirit will give you a job to do, and your path will become clearer. Not the whole thing, by any means! But the first step. You’ll know what to do. You may be surprised. The Spirit sends us into places we never would have dreamed we’d go. S’Alright… they say even the Gates of Hell can’t stand against us, when we get a bee in our bonnet.

Finally Spring

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