|Eve of yearly meeting sessions.|
Northwest Yearly Meeting's 2014 sessions, our annual church conference for Evangelical Friends in the Pacific Northwest USA, concluded this evening with a salute to Hal and Nancy Thomas, who retired after four decades of international service. The evening program also included the commissioning of our three new recorded ministers. This celebration brought our sessions to a close on a high and joyful note.
Nancy's blog post from the beginning of yearly meeting summarizes the controversies and anxieties that burdened some of us at the opening of the sessions last Sunday. It didn't help that George Fox University, our affiliated Quaker college, was in the media spotlight over a controversy regarding a transgender student and the school's housing policy.
Our yearly meeting sessions were probably not as dramatic as reporters might have hoped, but in a spiritual sense they were very dramatic indeed. Controversies over sexual minorities have cut a swath through many Christian denominations. Maybe our little Quaker body has not yet felt the full force of this storm, but my interim report is that we are firmly resisting the polarizing forces, even as the underlying divisions quite clearly continue to exist.
The basic divisions remained more or less the same as last year, and once again we were considering a revision to our book of discipline. The mandate of the revision drafters was to preserve the substance of our yearly meeting's teaching on "Christian Witness to Human Sexuality" while seasoning it with grace. Rather than grouping homosexuality with other forms of "sexual perversion," the new text referred to "same-sex sexual acts" as one of several "distortions of sexual intimacy" that "contribute to brokenness of the individual and the community." Again there was no unity on adopting the new text. Many appreciated the effort to restate traditional teachings more gracefully, but some felt that the original text was clearer and more faithful to Scripture while others rejected the revision because they fundamentally did not agree that same-sex acts necessarily contributed to brokenness.
Everyone spoke tenderly and respectfully. Nobody charged that the differences in the yearly meeting rose to the level of being unequally yoked. I felt once again that the center held, and that its voice was very strong. We minuted, without sugarcoating, our inability to find unity on a new wording for Faith and Practice. I believe that, although we may not have succeeded in putting a more gracious formulation into the book, our minutes will bear evidence that there is widespread discontent with the present wording.
Our guest speaker for three evening sessions was Noah Baker Merrill, New England Yearly Meeting's secretary. He addressed the yearly meeting's theme "Hope and a Future" (Jeremiah 29:11; context) with a constant challenge to believe God's promise that "things can be different." On the first night, Noah gave a vivid image of hope he gained from an interview he made with an Iraqi refugee. The refugee was a Christian man who (in the upheavals resulting from the American invasion) was captured, tortured, and literally crucified--hung on a wall. In his agony he had an image of Jesus coming into the room. Before he lost consciousness, he realized that Jesus was not taking him off the wall; instead, Jesus climbed up and hung on the wall beside him. Having heard this account, Noah was distracted by rage and confusion over the cause of this ordeal. The refugee had to point out what was, for him, the amazing central point: "But did you hear that he came and that I am alive!" Noah went on: "And I saw the joy and the light in his eyes and I saw the hope in his heart. And that hope, which was the presence of Christ in him awakened the hope in me, and I knew that, yes, this was the hope that the world needs."
Our yearly meeting's epistle ("slightly rough draft") summarizes Noah's second and third evenings:
In his second talk, Noah spoke of the tension of living in the "and" in our theme by sharing how Jeremiah prepared the people of God for exile and all the tumult, chaos, and confusion that was about to destroy their way of being. Noah gave us much needed encouragement to endure our time of exile while we live the gospel without easy answers in our quick-fix world. On his final night of speaking, Noah created for us an image of our future. Reminding us the exile ends, we will find the quiet center again even while we now feel the heat of the potter's kiln. As the heat fades, the lovingly crafted, shaped, and fired vessel is brought out to display NWYM's beauty and we will be used for God's wonderful purpose. Even now, there are countless seeds of hope for our future Noah witnessed among us. Through it all, we were reminded of the Iraqi Christian's extraordinary words and the truth they hold for us as we live in the tension of our conflicted present and yearning towards our future.Whether we feel trapped between Jerusalem and Babylon, or between internal uncertainty and external culture wars, we can believe that there is hope and a future. "When the people of God pray, things happen--marvelous things." Evidently, a lot of prayer was going on during our yearly meeting sessions.
Unified Front is a game of cooperation in a world at war. The nations of the world have fractured--treaties are being broken, nations formerly united have become hostile, and the world is on the brink of the greatest war it has ever seen. You--a team of diplomats, activists, and peacekeepers--are one of its last hopes. Travel the world, unite its people, and spread peace.With the help of a grant from the Yearly Meeting, the game has been published, and every cluster of local churches has its own copy to circulate. (Update: you can get your own game set here.)
Christianity and politics in Russia and Ukraine: Martin E. Marty. A Ukrainian/Catholic view. Bill Yoder cautions against convenient correlations.
BBC: "Voices from the Tennessee Death Penalty Debate." From a conservative death penalty opponent: "I think you have to give any policy what I call the conservative litmus test: you have to ask whether it is constitutional, pro-life, whether it is fiscally responsible and whether it is limited government. And the death penalty is inconsistent with at least three of those."
Eric Bibb, "The Needed Time."