What is not wrong with FUM as FUM is the controversial policy on hiring and personal ethics (which says that FUM personnel and volunteers should reserve sexual intimacy for heterosexual marriage). This is why: that policy is an accurate reflection of God's will as understood by the FUM board at the time the policy was adopted. Any other more "liberal" policy would have marginalized (and would still marginalize) the majority of the constituency, in favor of the preferences of Friends with arguably the least amount of love and care for FUM.
And the way some of FUM's recent critics have demonstrated casual attitudes toward history, their negative assumptions about FUM's narrowness, and the meanness of the way they have treated even FUM staff members (including non-Friends on the staff)--all that does not give the volunteer leadership of FUM much of an incentive to go back into the process of discussing those policies once again. When someone demonstrates little or no affection for an organization and its central purposes, why should that organization grant them power over its life and death?
The blunt reality: only by changing that majority will Friends succeed in changing FUM policies, and I see little likelihood that FUM's critics will invite African and Caribbean Quakers, not to mention Iowa Yearly Meeting, into a serious and costly and trustfully-conducted dialogue on sexuality and biblical ethics, with equal attention to the themes that their conversation partners also consider vitally important.
Here's the post on Quaker Pagan Reflections that set off these thoughts. I was so distracted by Peter's characterization of some attitudes toward FUM that my comments there, presented again here, did not include a proper thank-you for his gracious description of Eden Grace's presentation. Here's what I said:
I had a very hard time wrestling with these words: "We are outraged by what we feel is a narrow minded and hateful stance FUM has taken on sexual ethics, but we have never come to any unity ourselves—have never even considered—making a statement of our own about sexual ethics."I am not at all sure that biblical faithfulness requires the policy that FUM adopted, but I can verify that FUM did the process right. Just a few years earlier, I'd seen an anti-homosexual policy pushed through Indiana Yearly Meeting in the face of substantial and visible opposition, so I knew what bad process could look like. FUM's process was nothing like that.
I appreciate the candor of the statement, and realize that it is a general description, not a manifesto. But I was there when the FUM personnel policy was adopted, and there was nothing at all going on remotely similar to "taking a stance," nor was the context narrow-minded or hateful.
In fact, I keep wanting to challenge the apparent idea that "FUM" as an organization is somehow a black box in which narrow-minded, hateful things go on and "stances" are taken. What actually happened was that months of consultations and study led to a General Board meeting, clerked humbly and carefully by Paul Enyart, in which a decision was made almost regretfully by a roomful of people practicing mutual submission. Many people had to give up something desired by their home constituencies, including those Friends who still felt that homosexuality was criminal or should at least be socially disadvantaged. The actual policy goes directly against those points of view, and upholds the civil rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation. I don't remember how many New England YM Friends were at that meeting, but I do remember the one who said "This is as far as God has taken us at this time." (Not an exact quotation.)
My main point is that Friends United Meeting isn't an organization that takes actions by running roughshod over its members. It IS its members. You may know that in your head, but if people keep objectifying the connection point, pretty soon newcomers and outside observers can be excused for believing that the problem lies solely in that narrow-minded, hateful connection point.
If a YM breaks the tie with FUM, it's not the relationship with an organization that they're severing (formally), it's with the other Friends in other parts of the world for whom FUM was that connection point. We can certainly have ties only with Friends who never differ with us on anything that is important to us (and perhaps it is sufficient only to have bilateral connections with just one other yearly meeting at a time) but let's admit that that's what we're doing, not breaking ties with some mean-spirited group that doesn't, in any compact sense, actually exist.
Most of my adult life, I believed that Friends who were radically different in theology and culture could have fruitful dialogues, and could thereby create and model effective evangelism and peacemaking for the larger world. Not that every Friend would have such dialogues as their primary mission--evangelical Friends are right to say that the world's need for the Gospel should outweigh our internal fascinations. But it would always be useful for us to challenge each other to a more complete and faithful harvesting of our own three and a half centuries of discipleship.
But now the walls of suspicion may simply be too high for such dialogues to be institutionalized in organizations such as FUM. When significant groups of Friends in the more liberal yearly meetings use the language of money (as in threatening to cut off funding) to communicate with FUM, and when individual meetings in the more evangelical yearly meetings threaten to leave their yearly meeting if it doesn't cut ties with FUM, then it's time to be honest about the alienation we're witnessing. There were once substantial centrist groups that held FUM together, groups who believed that love is a bridge that doesn't require the opposite shore to be symmetrical to theirs. I don't know how much of that constituency still exists. From the liberal side, the most pro-FUM message that I hear seems to be that by staying engaged, "we" can change FUM. What qualifies them to change FUM is not specified--by all indications it's not passionate support for FUM's central goal, which is to energize and equip Friends for evangelism.
Here are some queries for Friends:
- When did our discussions of ethical ideals become subject to the veto of the most brittle or wounded or angry among us? Liberal communities sometimes don't want to discuss limitations on behavior that might affect someone in the room, or even affiliations that include the idea of limitations, because those people will object to being made invisible or disadvantaged. In some evangelical circles, there's often an almost irresistible compulsion not to say anything that might be mistaken for "liberal." In both cases, the truncated range of permissibility kills genuine dialogue, especially when people start trumping each other by comparing the pain they feel when their theology or their sexuality, or other aspects of their identity, are supposedly attacked. You mustn't compare pain, neither for therapeutic benefit nor for rhetorical advantage!
- Do you believe that Christians should have boundaries on behavior, and that those boundaries should be derived from, or at least not be in conflict with, the Bible? Do you believe that those boundaries should ever actually involve the behavior of people present at your yearly meeting sessions, or should those boundaries only involve people who are at a safe distance from your deliberations? Do you believe that you should or should not have meaningful organizational connections with Friends who disagree with you on issues of behavioral boundaries?
- Should FUM give up its ancient conceit of being a denomination (complete with responsibility for maintaining a denominational identity), and simply stick to being a program and resource network for evangelism? Those yearly meetings who need a wider association for identity purposes would still have Evangelical Friends International to affiliate with, and (in North America at least) Friends General Conference. And the great Quaker post office, Friends World Committee for Consultation, would remain available for worldwide communication and ... well ... consultation. Those yearly meetings whose members are simply too prickly to behave themselves in a larger context of mutual accountability would have to get used to life without the FUM scapegoat.
This proposal is different from the old realignment controversy in that FUM would not be broken apart in favor of the other associations; it would remain active, and maybe even grow stronger, but with only the participation of those who actually care about its core mission. There would still be controversies--perhaps even some of the same ones--but they would be controversies among people voluntarily connected by an overarching priority.
- Do you personally believe that FUM's purpose is valid? How has your agreement or lack of agreement with FUM's purpose played a role in how you've supported, criticized, or ignored FUM? If you agree with the importance of FUM's purpose, but don't agree with the policy on hiring and personal ethics, is there another wider affiliation for your yearly meeting that would better serve this purpose of energizing and equipping Friends for evangelism?
- Regardless of your beliefs about sexuality, if your yearly meeting is in FUM but does not share FUM's purpose, then why is it in FUM? Would your yearly meeting allow FUM (that is, those members of FUM who do support its purpose) to challenge your yearly meeting's understanding of Quaker priorities as strongly as your yearly meeting would like to challenge those pro-FUM Friends on FUM's policies?
- Do social, cultural, or political prejudices cause some in your yearly meeting to hold FUM to higher standards than they hold their own yearly meeting or their local meeting or church?
- Most of Friends United Meeting's long-time supporters have overvalued old-fashioned denominational loyalty, and underestimated FUM's need to earn its right to exist by virtue of creatively designed and ardently advocated programming. There's been a huge shift in the larger culture, especially in North America, away from uncritical denominational loyalty--and one evidence of this is the rapid decline in the numbers of Friends in the FUM-only yearly meetings.
In 1993, FUM adopted the present excellent purpose statement. That purpose statement should be not only the core of FUM's programming, but FUM's public voice should be consistently implementing, defending and promoting this purpose in season and out of season. As it is now, much of the North American constituency of FUM isn't even on board with the purpose statement. As for FUM's vital international work, much of it probably relates to the purpose statement but it is almost exclusively described in terms of maintenance. For example, Kenya absorbs a huge amount of FUM's attention, but Kenya is a highly evangelized country. How does FUM's work there reflect FUM's purpose? I think it does in many ways, but I can't point to evidence of this in Quaker Life or on the FUM Web site.
- A related point: FUM's traditional loyalists have feared controversy. When the realignment controversy first erupted around 1990, many of them did their best to smother it, right before my very eyes. (In those years I was Midwest field staff for Friends World Committee for Consultation and attended many FUM Board meetings.) Quaker Life acted as if this life-and-death issue didn't exist. Pro-realignment dissidents operated mostly in secrecy. When they conducted a conference on realignment, FUM's entire leadership caste should have embraced the event as a vital conversation on the future of "Orthodox" Quakerism. Rather than being cynical about the motives of the conference organizers (and a certain amount of cynicism might have been justified), they should have rejoiced that long-suppressed tensions and resentments were finally being vented and could at last be addressed.
Even earlier, when Kara Newell ended her service at FUM in the mid-1980's, she challenged the board with the "lie" of the word "United" in the name "Friends United Meeting." The untruthfulness of that word has been a huge flaw in the organization--an irritant to those who believed that they were "unequally yoked" with unbelievers through the affiliation of overlap yearly meetings, and a constant incentive to smooth over the awkward truth through bland happy-talk at the leadership level. Bland happy-talk is still in fashion: earlier this year I received fundraising materials in the mail that used the tagline, "United? Yes! To Learn. To Care. To Love. To Serve." It came into my mailbox around the time of the divisive Board meeting in Kenya and the subsequent withdrawal of Southeastern Yearly Meeting. You can't just assert a claim, you have to demonstrate that the claim is (a) worth making, and (b) true. The claim of unity is simply not true.
- The dead hand of fearful loyalty continues to suppress open conversations about FUM's errors and encounters with corruption. We tried to break through some of those inhibitions when (during Ben Richmond's and my stewardship of Quaker Life) we reported on (for example) the collapse of the National Friends Insurance Trust and the Productions Plus scheme, and the visa sales scam operated by some Nairobi Yearly Meeting leaders back in 1999, but by and large FUM has not operated with the kind of transparency that befits the "Children of the Light." In some cases, FUM has confronted corruption successfully but has never publicly told the story and has therefore never received the credit (along with the awkward questions that should be welcomed as evidence of an engaged constituency).
Over the past year, I've written a number of posts about FUM on this weblog, and a number of related comments on others' weblogs. For those of you who have no interest at all in this area of Quaker politics or history, these comments must seem strangely gnarly and trivial in comparison to the great themes of the Christian good news and Quaker discipleship. For me, it's a matter of stewardship of a long heritage of relationships and ministry, but I know this isn't true for everyone. And I admit my ego is mixed in here, too; I poured seven years into being the head of the FUM staff, and my highest priority in that job--trying to restore trust between organization and constituency--was only very partially achieved. Anyway, if you've gotten this far, thanks for your patience!
For convenience, here's the purpose statement of FUM, dating back to 1993:
Friends United Meeting commits itself to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.And here's the FUM policy on hiring and personal ethics, as stated at the time I left the staff in 2000. (If it has changed, I hope someone will provide the revision.)
Friends United Meeting holds to the traditional Friends testimonies of peace (nonviolence), simplicity, truth speaking, community, gender and racial equality, chastity, and fidelity in marriage. It is expected that the lifestyle of all staff and volunteer appointees of Friends United Meeting will be in accordance with these testimonies.
Friends United Meeting affirms the civil rights of all people. Staff and volunteer appointments and promotions are made without regard to sex, race, national origin, age, physical disability, or sexual orientation. It is expected that intimate sexual behavior should be confined to marriage, understood to be between one man and one woman.
Mark Keiley's courteous meditation, "In defense of the institutional church," is a pleasure to read. Interestingly, he doesn't himself attend an institutional church.
The convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, to an outsider like me, has seemed more like a conference of Veterans of False Dichotomies. Two days ago, almost-candidate Fred Thompson was reported to have said, "We know that Iraq is an important front in this war. We also know if we appear to be divided and weak in this nation, it will enable the enemy and make our country more dangerous, and therefore the world more dangerous, than ever before." So: when a democracy is genuinely divided, that's a sign of weakness? Maybe it's a sign that a bad policy has caused dissension--which is a sign of strength! The world is arguably more dangerous when a superpower lets a provably flawed leadership team do its thinking for it.
And while we're arguing flawed historical analogies, Juan Cole cites the interesting analogy of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt. Here's a scary teaser:
From the time of Bonaparte to that of Bush, the use of the rhetoric of liberty versus tyranny, of uplift versus decadence, appears to have been a constant among imperialists from republics -- and has remained domestically effective in rallying support for colonial wars. The despotism (but also the weakness) of the Mamluks and of Saddam Hussein proved sirens practically calling out for Western interventions. According to the rhetoric of liberal imperialism, tyrannical regimes are always at least potentially threats to the Republic, and so can always be fruitfully overthrown in favor of rule by a Western military. After all, that military is invariably imagined as closer to liberty since it serves an elected government. (Intervention is even easier to justify if the despots can be portrayed, however implausibly, as allied with an enemy of the republic.)
For both Bush and Bonaparte, the genteel diction of liberation, rights, and prosperity served to obscure or justify a major invasion and occupation of a Middle Eastern land, involving the unleashing of slaughter and terror against its people. Military action would leave towns destroyed, families displaced, and countless dead. Given the ongoing carnage in Iraq, President Bush's boast that, with "new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians," now seems not just hollow but macabre. The equation of a foreign military occupation with liberty and prosperity is, in the cold light of day, no less bizarre than the promise of war with virtually no civilian casualties.
Mark Lilla, in his otherwise useful NYT article on "The Politics of God," provokes major frustration when he says, "Reading a letter like Ahmadinejad’s [letter to George Bush], we fall mute, like explorers coming upon an ancient inscription written in hieroglyphics." Give me a break; the letter was not that strange. What was strange was that Bush and his colleagues did not have the elemental courtesy, not to mention strategic sagacity, to take the letter seriously and use the occasion to reply, both to the truths and to the perceived errors in the Iranian president's letter.
Instead, our administration continues to treat Iran as a semi-pariah, criticizing them for "meddling" in the affairs of the country with whom they share a risky border (implying that we would never meddle in another country's affairs?) and lecturing our allies with public condescension when they dare say Iran is a friend of theirs: "Now if the signal [from Maliki] is that Iran is constructive, I will have to have a heart to heart with my friend the prime minister, because I don't believe they are constructive." [source]
One more item from Tom Engelhardt's site: "American on the downward slope," by Dilip Hiro. I don't welcome news of the USA's decreasing influence worldwide. The world still needs our ideals; it's our arrogance it can do without.
Just to end on a high note, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee reassure us that "The sun's going to shine in my back door someday."
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee - Sun Gonna by Suchablog