Saturday, October 3, 2009

O, Canada! (On gay rights and FUM)

Warning:  This post is not meant to be taken completely seriously.  Except when it is.  Also, I'm a complete ass.

In my last blog post regarding my strong feelings about FUM's policies regarding homosexuality, I was confronted with the interesting phenomenon of those who share my view that it is absolutely wrong to deny equality to all people but who also strongly oppose schism with FUM.  Now, these are people I happen to think are quite amazing people.  These are people who long ago proved themselves to me to be of the highest honor and most uncompromising loving nature.  So as argumentative as I am, I do not feel inclined to cast their words aside or to dismiss them lightly.  I begin to wonder why I cannot find myself in accord with these good people with whom I am almost always in agreement.  A curious thing.  Why don't I agree?  And by "why" I don't mean "What is wrong with them or their arguments?" or even "What is wrong with me and my arguments?" but "What does this expose about my personality and motivations that may deserve my contemplation?"

Perhaps it will be helpful for me to make a list of that which I know (or think I know) about myself within the context of this situation:

1.  I am raised from early childhood to be an advocate for the rights of all persons including GLBT people.
2.  My family has a large number of people who fit into this category.
3.  I give the highest priority to social and environmental justice. Committment to these defines my honor.
4.  My success as a human being is directly related to my ability to stand firm by my principles in the face of opposition.
5.  As far as possible, it has been my policy to boycott, denounce, or otherwise protest those organizations that have stubbornly clung to policies that I feel have no honor.
6.  I believe that I dishonor myself and shame my family if I fail to maintain committment to #3 through my practice outlined in #5. 
7.  I believe it is sinful to choose personal happiness, comfort, or popularity above one's principles.

On the other hand:

A.  I am fearful of war and have no confidence in our government's ability to keep us out of it.
B.  I do not want my children to be a party to war and I love my children more than my principles.
C.  I cannot move to Canada because I do not have enough money.
D.  I can be a Quaker and raise my children in a community that is historically acknowledged as a pacifist organization.
E.  Unitarian Universalists and Neo-Pagan communities annoy me.  (Sorry.  But there it is.)  Quaker communities also annoy me but less so.  (Lower Birkenstock to white sock ratio).
F.  I agree with every testimony liberal Friends share both in their simplistic manifestation as "S.P.I.C.E." and I also identify with and share an interest in conversations about how to understand these testimonies in a manner that is more transcendent, more demanding, more challenging, more broad, etc.  (I'm always looking for ways to challenge myself to a more demanding and austere life.)
G.  I am lonesome for community with people who share my spiritual orientation, philosophical tendencies, and principles who have the power to uphold me, correct me, sustain me, and nurture me.  I also have to believe they have to have the moral authority to do so.
H.  I am hungry for a community of people who both want and need my skills and offerings.
I.  I want my children to benefit from a spiritual community and I don't want them to be as lonely as I have been since I lost my religious community as a young adult.

Also to be considered:

a) I don't feel any community at all with FUM.  Not even a little.
b) I'm not sure why I would.
c) unless I spent more time at meetings beyond the local level where everyone I know is either non-Christian or nominally Christian.
d) but I can't go to meetings because I can't afford them.
e) because Quakers are unconsciously classist.
f) but that's another post.
g)) So it doesn't feel like schism when I resist community with people who could even entertain a policy specifically targeting homosexuality any more than it feels like schism when I resist community with the fundamentalist folks down the street
h)who are crazy.
i) And I don't mean to say that I resist greater community or that I fail to care for them as people since, as it turns out, a good portion of my extended family, almost my entire beloved village and region are conservatives and I love them to pieces.  Also my best friend since childhood goes to that crazy church and talks about possessions, Armegeddon, and biblical literalism and I respect and love her.
j) but holy shit. 
k) and that's pretty much what I feel about FUM's policies and christology.  Wow.  So not what I believe.

I can certainly be in love with conservatives.  I can love them and eat with them and cry and laugh and maintain loyalty to individuals.  But I cannot maintain affiliation with them.  There seems to me to be a very clear difference between loving individuals with whom I disagree on important matters and belonging to and financially supporting the organizations to which they belong.  Organizations have powers that individuals do not have.  One chooses one's political, religious and social affiliations carefully.  One does not join organizations who make public statements that are directly opposed to one's most cherished values.

Now this is a question that comes out of innocence and newness not out of crankiness and bitchiness:  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.  Frankly, having grown up in the United Church of Christ, when I heard about FUM's policy I was blown away and I was enraged.  I felt betrayed by liberal Friends.  I felt that there had been a bait and switch.  Here I thought I was joining with a group of people about whom I could feel trust and pride and who had the moral authority to lead me and my family and then I hear about this policy which shows an utter and reprehensible lack of love.  When I speak to my liberal parents about my affiliation with Friends, it shames me to have to include information about FUM's policies and that NY has dual affiliation.  It feels worse than that time I had to walk into a Walmart with my fundamentalist friend for her to buy a meat product and baby formula.  God, how dirty that made me feel.

So I have not pursued membership because I am not clear that I want my name associated with FUM.  It would shame me and it would shame my family and it would undermine my principles.

So what will I do for my children?  I don't have enough money to get to Canada.


Poimandrea Alchemi said...

I don't want to add insult to injury (I will be linking this blog post on QitW as I did the earlier post you reference), but the Canadian Quakers are affiliated with FUM too.....

"FGC and FUM - Friends General Conference (Philadelphia) and Friends United Meeting (Richmond, Indiana). Two associations of Yearly Meetings in North America; CYM is affiliated with both."

Having grown up as a fundie Canadian, I can also assure you that the fundies north of the border are waaaaaaay more fundie than the ones south of the 49th.....Ai yi yi. You're not the only one questioning Quakerism right now.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Dear Donkey;-)

Thanks for the wise-ass post;-)

especially the good paragraph:

"I can certainly be in love with conservatives. I can love them and eat with them and cry and laugh and maintain loyalty to individuals. But I cannot maintain affiliation with them. There seems to me to be a very clear difference between loving individuals with whom I disagree on important matters and belonging to and financially supporting the organizations to which they belong. Organizations have powers that individuals do not have. One chooses one's political, religious and social affiliations carefully. One does not join organizations who make public statements that are directly opposed to one's most cherished values."

Thanks for the wise words.


Hystery said...

Dear Daniel,

"Wise" may not fit me well. "Wise-ass" is probably more accurate. But I will accept any compliment from you. Just as someone once told me they would not wish to be associated with any group that would include me as a member, your presence among Friends, even when we disagree on particulars makes me feel welcome.

Hystery said...

Poimandrea Alchemi,

I do not find it hard to believe that Canadian Friends are also affiliated with FUM. Such is life I guess. I do find it exceedingly hard to believe that Canadian fundamentalists can outdo our American right wing. At least Canada doesn't let them run the country.

If I could make it to Canada, I wouldn't bother with religious affiliation. But then the Canadians would put my kids in their public school system which I guess is better than living in the imperialist, militaristic police state where I currently reside. I give up on finding utopia. There is no justice anywhere human beings exist. I'd curse them myself but someone has obviously already beaten me to it.

Bright Crow (Mike Shell) said...

Dear One,

I love you!

You have just the enough sense of the absurd to keep Walhydra happy.

She, by the way, is cackling about having argued opposing positions, both of which she endorses in my two comments on your previous post.


Now you write:

"There seems to me to be a very clear difference between loving individuals with whom I disagree on important matters and belonging to and financially supporting the organizations to which they belong. Organizations have powers that individuals do not have. One chooses one's political, religious and social affiliations carefully. One does not join organizations who make public statements that are directly opposed to one's most cherished values."

I completely agree.

The solution is that there is no solution.

We are human beings dealing with human-made institutions, when the Divine One wants us to notice that...DUH!...we are already in the Kingdom and should behave accordingly.

As my dear Isle of Wight Virgo friend Molly used to say, "Ain't live a hoot?"

Love and
Blessed Be,
Michael Bright Crow

Hystery said...


I love you too.

If it weren't for absurdity, I would surely no longer be sharing this planet with all of you. Love and absurdity keep me alive. The world is very sad but also really ridiculous, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Dear Hystery,
You ask..what do I do with my children?
Exactly what you are doing.
Continue to be there prime example, live what you believe, teach them that others disagree etc.
When they mature they will come to their own conclusiosn because you are raising them to be free thinkers.

I can make no comments on anything Quaker but I spent over 20 years in deep spiritual study of most of the major religions and even studied with a Holyman of my grandmothers people only to find that even tribally I did not fit.

To feel a misfit in a sea of Christians is more than difficult. And living in the midwest and not being conservative either...has been a trying lesson to compound it.

My mother always said...Take what you believe and ignore the rest but with good conscience, I have been unable to do so...sorry Mom.

So today, I live a quiet life in the woods, an eclectic woman who does not express her views unless asked. I smile, I respect, I meditate and I pray. My spiritual path is my own and has been that way since birth. Not a single group can contain me because I know the Universe to be too vast for that.

And you know what children have grown into spectacular, open minded adults whose spirutality is in living a good, clean, honest life.
They do not believe they are going to Hell as our neighbors told them because I was studying Buddhism and are stronger than I ever was by letting ignorance roll of their backs.

I doubt this fits into the conversation but so many times I read your posts and remember them as mine when I was a younger woman.

Living simply, living with the nature of earth, loving the best we can and forgiving others..that is my path today.

All will smooth out but until then keep questioning until peace is yours...


Poimandrea Alchemi said...

"I do find it exceedingly hard to believe that Canadian fundamentalists can outdo our American right wing. At least Canada doesn't let them run the country."

Well, we're TRYING not to let them run the country. I'm afraid we're failing spectacularly right now. (Harper and his cronies are all members of the Christian Missionary Alliance cult. Note, I am NOT a former member of this group.) I keep voting Liberal, in every election, and the culties keep getting back in. It's almost bad enough that I'm seriously considering either abstaining from the next election, or voting NDP. ****shudder****

Aaaaaaand we now return you to your regularly-scheduled American blog. :-)

Hystery said...


Spiritually, I am raising my children as part of a family apart from organized religion. I'd prefer not to be a part of any social group. The affiliation with Friends or Canadian citizenship comes from my deep (probably irrational) fear that my children will find themselves in war. I realize now that it was irresponsible for me to give birth in the United States. But then back in those days I was a little more hopeful about the future than I am now.

Liz Opp said...

I appreciate your complete honesty and self-awareness, whether tongue-in-cheek or not.

As I was reading your post, I found myself considering the very thing you yourself stumbled upon:

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 would say that this is very likely, since our connections with our monthly meeting (or worship group) provides our primary understanding of, and initial exposure to, what Quakerism is (or isn't) about.

And 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.

There's more I'd like to comment on, but as I was doing so here, I realized it was worthy of a separate post, since my other thoughts drift from your main point here.

Keep up the faithfulness to what you've been given, Hystery.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Bill said...

So you've discovered the Quaker bait and switch. Having experienced it coming from the other direction, I understand a little bit how you feel.

Diane said...


Thank you for your honesty and generosity. You are right. There is no perfection in this world, certainly not in its institutions. :)

While I have had almost no personal contact with FUM, I value them as a peace church and as a simplicity church and I also understand that the painful personnel policy is an attempt to try to cobble together something to satisfy groups on all ends of their spectrum--and I also understand that they're not likely to do what more liberal Friends want. And I'm OK with that because I'm not about coercion. So I am not going to beat them with the stick of their personnel policy. I don't think that is your concern either--you want to live with integrity and that is a worthy goal. But as someone on the "other side," I wanted to express my pov.

Hystery said...

Dear Diane,

Your comment shows your kindness. I do not think we are on opposite sides. You are right that my primary perspective is on maintaining my own sense of integrity and not in getting into a conflict.

However, I am compelled to speak truth to power. Whatever painful compromises folks in FUM had to make will go to waste if Friends acquiesce to the status quo. I am glad they showed a willingness to wrestle over this issue but clearly, so long as a group of people are excluded from the benefits of our testimony of equality by their policy, their wrestling is not at an end.

Carol said...

Hystery, before you consider joining the Religious Society of Friends through membership in your monthly meeting, you might want to learn more about the wider circle you'd become part of. It might help you with the "bait-and-switch" feelings.

I think you'd really savor the scholarship, evenhandedness, and clarity of Tom Hamm, a Quaker historian in Indiana. He's written two books that I'd commend to your attention: The Quakers in America, which describes the different branches of Quakerism, and The Transformation of American Quakerism, which describes how pastors came into being among Friends.

As a member of the FUM board since 2002, I can tell you that the board is divided about the personnel policy. I can also tell you that the staff finds it noisome. But the policy was arrived at in the early 1990s, by all reports from those who were in the room, at a prayerful, well-clerked meeting for worship with a concern for business.

I have yet to confirm this but I believe that New York Yearly Meeting was represented at the time by Miriam Brush and Joe Vlaskamp. Joe was the general secretary of NYYM. (He died in 2001.) Miriam now lives at Medford Leas, and she is quite simply one of the clearest, weightiest Friends I have met. New York Friends had strong voices speaking in the meeting for worship that arrived at the decision.

It is not something that was foisted upon Friends by corporate bureaucrats.

As of 2009, the FUM board--which now includes an out gay man--is not in unity about the personnel policy. Faithful Friends seeking to lead lives obedient to the promptings of the Light find, in those promptings and in their study of the Bible, guidance on marriage that differs from what other faithful Friends on the board find as a result of their promptings and study of the Bible. When Friends are not in unity, the decision that has been made stays in place until God moves all to a new place. That is where the FUM board is now. The board is waiting.

In Quaker life, that is one of the deepest, most demanding places one can be.

Hystery said...


Thank you for your informative response including the book suggestions.

I have studied the history of Friends for several years but my research thus far has focused on liberal and radical Friends' history. I am not as well-versed on pastoral meetings. However, I am finding that my research interest is taking me in that direction as I find myself intrigued by the influence of 19th century evangelical Protestantism on the divergence within Friends' communities. Interesting stuff.

I am aware that the personnel policy is not the result of "corporate bureaucrats." Actually, my knowledge that Friends came to this decision after prayerful deliberation in the manner of Friends is of greater concern to me than if the decision were clearly hierarchical in manner.

I think that beyond my concern about this particular issue of social justice is my increasing discomfort with the manner in which Friends with profoundly different spiritual orientations are thrust together. The elephant in the room seems to be that we may not be a good marriage. I find enormous tensions among blogging Friends regarding scripture, universalism, theism, and civil rights that strike me as evidence of incompatibility that distracts us from our important work.

It is not even possible for me to believe that anyone listening to any "God" I would recognize could possibly come to the conclusion that LGBTQ folks should be singled out in this harmful and even hateful manner any more than it would be possible for me to believe that a policy tolerating race segregation could be God-led. I cannot believe that any person with any kind of reputable education in biblical studies could come to this conclusion. Certainly decades of information on this issue from archaeologists, historians, and biblical scholars should put this issue to rest. But perhaps that's too intellectual-I realize that not all Friends are interested in scholarly biblical interpretation. I also cannot understand how anyone can believe in equality and justice and still believe that "God" wants us to put limits on the spiritual calling and service of LGBTQ people. Whatever spiritual process that belief/action requires is so far outside of my spiritual experience and belief in the equality of all humanity that I cannot even wrap my mind around it.

I am left with the idea that certain Friends, under the guise of biblical interpretation (disregarding that it is a backwards and entirely ignorant form of interpretation) cannot come to terms with their homophobia and have shamefully used our Society as a means of harming other human beings. This has resulted in the need for Friends of good heart to compromise, deliberate, and otherwise betray the concept of equality they hold dear in an effort to keep the family together. It is intolerable, it is unjust, and it is tragic.

I apologize for the fact that this last statement cannot be other than inflammatory, controversial, and easily misunderstood. This requires another blog post to expand the thought and set it within a context. That will have to come later.

Johan said...

Hello! As former head bureaucrat for Friends United Meeting, I'm always ready for a conversation on FUM's history and future. I've written far too much about FUM on my own blog to start doing lots of uninvited commenting now, but instead I'll just wave and say hello.

Johan said...

PS: The Christian and Missionary Alliance is not a cult, to pounce on a term used by one of the commenters. Their arguably most famous pastor and writer, A.W. Tozer, was an admirer of Friends and a thoughtful author of many valuable devotional books.

Given that Friends are being described as a cult by some, with unkind intention, I'm very cautious about that word.

Hystery said...


It is good to have people here who know much more about FUM in its entirety than I know. While in this blog I am writing as an individual moving through a personal discernment process, I sincerely appreciate all instructional comments. I also appreciate challenging comments. I don't like them, but I appreciate them. :-)

Thank you for alerting me to your blog's contents. I'm sure they will be of great use to me as I continue to educate myself regarding the context of this issue.

Anonymous said...

I'm gay and was married in meeting to my partner of 20 years,just this past 7th Mo. and I'm a member of the Canadian Yearly Meeting. I'm a bit familiar with the debate with FUM, through the CYM sessions and discussions. I used to feel very strongly that leaving FUM was the only reasonable alternative for CYM. Several things happened to me to change my mind. First was personal. I have friends, a heterosexual couple, who are very evangelical, and much to my surprise they attended my marriage meeting. And after the certificate was read, we settled into silence, and my friend got up and gave ministry, tears rolling down his face, Light-filled, and he said he didn't know much about same sex marriage, but he know Love was present in the meetinghouse and God was with us. And when I thought about this afterwards, it was clear to me that if this man, who grew up in the ruralest parts of rural Ontario in the 1950s and a lifeline Pentacostal could say this at a gay meeting for worship for marriage, that there is hope for FUM... which is not to say that road won't be hard, to labour in love and in Light with them over the issue, but I think it will be worth it.

The other perspective I got was at the Yearly Meeting sessions this past August where the strongest opposition to to disaffiliating with FUM came from Young Friends, who are extremely eager to work with more evangelical/Gurneyite on issues that affect them.

Which is to say,the issue is hugely more complicated and opinion within Friends very diverse.

I might add that, as a gay Friend firmly in the Hicksite tradition, I sometimes get a little weary of the self-righteous indignation some liberal Friends work themselves into over this issue.

A Canadian Friend

Bill Samuel said...

I don't believe FUM has "anti-gay language." In fact, the personnel policy prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. FUM understands marriage as being between one man and one woman. That's a positive statement of what it believes. It doesn't have negative language on gays, although of course it does mean that a gay couple (legally married or not) does not fit within the policy.

I was on one of the Commissions when the policy was first adopted. I was on the Executive Committee (which functioned as the Personnel Committee) when the handbook regarding personnel was updated to properly include the policy.

I was on the Board when the Purpose Statement (which doesn't mention this issue) was adopted, and it has been important to me. FUM has also played an important role in my spiritual development. In fact, it eventually led to my leaving Friends, as Friends in my area (although nominally members of FUM) do not generally agree with the Purpose Statement.

I think both your experience and my experience well demonstrate why there has been a movement over many years for organizational separation of different types of Quakers. FUM is not a body designed for consultation and working out of things among Quakers with fundamentally different faith outlooks. We have FWCC for that.

Forget the marriage issue for the moment. Doesn't it make sense that an association should be made up of those who are committed to its purpose? The dually affiliated YMs are not, as corporate bodies. That those bringing the marriage issue up are largely from bodies that don't agree with the Purpose of FUM has made the dialogue very difficult, IMHO. It confuses different issues in a destructive way.

Hystery said...

Bill, a belief that only heterosexual couples should be married is prejudiced.

Anonymous, your story of your evangelical Friends is important. I understand that you grow weary of "self-righteous indignation" from liberals. I do think that making that statement here on this blog was hurtful. You do not know me. You make assumptions about me and you insult who I am, what I believe, and the individuals I love by making a statement that indicates that I do this to show off how liberal I am. If you think I've enjoyed this or that I need to score any liberal points, you're way off.

anj said...

Hystery - Have you read John Woolman's journal? He was a man who worked to expose slavery as the evil it was, and yet found a way to maintain relationship with those who kept slaves and spoke truth to power with great integrity and compassion. It is my belief that his work was a primary reason why Friends were able to take a stance against slavery before the culture did, and without a bloody Civil War. I found it informative and enlightening when I was, for myself, discerning this issue and when I elder or clerk threshing sessions for monthly or regional meetings in NYYM regarding FUM's policy.

Hystery said...

I have read John Woolman's journal and have blogged about it. I have also read other abolitionist Friends' work and lives. Thank you.

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