Breaking up is hard to do

This is not the first time Friends in the Midwest have been talking about realignment. Back in the late 1980’s there was a similar push to separate the sheep from the goats. The impetus at that time came from a handful of pastors and leaders, and was spearheaded by the general secretary of Friends United Meeting.

The idea then was to purify FUM of all of the yearly meetings which are dually-affiliated with both Friends United Meeting and Friends General Conference. The remaining yearly meetings would remain as a core of a renewed, theologically correct FUM – or possibly join forces with Evangelical Friends International. This latter vision would have removed any kind of middle ground for Friends in North America, leaving only a right wing and a left wing.

The realignment movement failed back then, but the idea remained alive in the minds of a number of Quakers. It’s come back to life again, and Indiana Yearly Meeting is currently in the process of “realigning” itself by dividing into two new bodies.

The realignment of Indiana Yearly Meeting is causing many Friends to ask themselves, “Is there any place left for us?” These folks don’t see themselves as either evangelical/holiness Quakers or as liberal, unprogrammed Friends. They are used to seeing themselves as being firmly in the middle – as Christian Quakers in the pastoral tradition, but open to a good deal of friendly discussion from many points of view and deeply committed to Jesus’ great commandment to love God and serve their neighbors throughout the world.

As Indiana Yearly Meeting has moved toward harder positions less tolerant of diversity, the push is on to make Friends in the middle choose sides, whether they want to do so or not. As the division proceeds, Friends who have no heart for taking part in disputes are less likely to be involved with the yearly meeting than they have been in the past. The result of the realignment is likely to be two smaller yearly meetings, with a large number of Friends who feel unaligned or disaligned with either group.

A related, serious question is whether either or both of the new yearly meetings will align with Friends United Meeting. None of the architects of realignment have suggested that they want to leave FUM. Is there an assumption on the part of evangelical/holiness Friends that they alone have the right to membership and participation in Friends United Meeting, and that those “other” Friends will just go somewhere else?

Most Friends in Indiana are enthusiastic supporters of Quaker mission work, and have contributed leadership, funds and missionaries to the work of Friends United Meeting for over 100 years. It’s likely that all Friends in Indiana Yearly Meeting, however the realignment proceeds, will want to continue their relationship with FUM.

This could make things pretty awkward for Friends United Meeting. Will FUM recognize one of the new yearly meetings, but not the other? Or will FUM say, “Keep your divisions to yourselves. Fight your battles someplace else. If you are in unity with the mission statement of Friends United Meeting and are willing to contribute to the work, you’re welcome here.” Other Quakers shouldn’t be forced to take up sides, just because Quakers in Indiana can’t get along with each other.


10 Responses to “Breaking up is hard to do”

  1. 1 Shawn Leonard December 16, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    wow. it would appear that once again people are focused on their differences. How can we come together as the Body of Christ if we keep looking at our differences and not focusing on Jesus. We have way to much work to do to be dividing and quarreling. How does any of this division glorify God and help to further the Kingdom?

    • 2 joshuakbrown December 18, 2011 at 7:42 am

      My thoughts exactly. I can live with our differences and celebrate the faithfulness of Friends whose love for Jesus is expressed in different ways than my own. I’ve spent the last 25+ years trying to build and unite Friends, and this spirit of divisiveness breaks my heart. If we could still find a way to stay together with integrity, I would gladly do so. I do not believe that this division is the will of God. However, many Friends in our area are determined to divide. Under the circumstances, I hope that we can try to envision how we can live as Friends in the early 21st century. This blog is one effort among many to find that vision.

  2. 3 Benjamin Pressley December 17, 2011 at 8:27 am

    I have been following this process off and on and it saddens me, too. It is unfortunate that friends who try to be middle ground people are treated as radicals. There was for a long time an important place at the table, as you say, for the modernist Christian programmed Quaker, but their numbers seem to be dwindling due to situations like this. I can think of one meeting here in North Carolina that still fits that description, and I hope it survives. God bless you and West Richmond as you endeavor to move forward.

  3. 4 Steven Davison December 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    Joshua, I’ve only just now caught up with your blog and in fact with the news of Indiana Yearly Meeting’s division. I see that you still have the compassion and common sense that I admired when you were in New York Yearly Meeting.

    I have two things on my mind. The first is a question about the spiritual character of the meeting that decided on the split. Was it gathered or scattered? Did even two or three people feel the presence of the Holy Spirit moving the body in that direction? I would think that, with a decision as important, costly and hurtful in its potential outcomes, the body would want to truly wait on the Teacher’s guidance.

    The other is a little more trivial—the names of the yearly meetings. We have traditionally named our yearly meetings after the political entities involved either cities or states. I know that FUM has been rather slaggard in its response to God’s call for earth stewardship, but I want to make a case for a truly bioregional name, rather than a historical/political one. This is a special opportunity for Indiana YM because it already has a tradition of what I call spiritual ecology.

    You folks settled in Richmond because (if I’ve got it right) it was as far away (that is, as far west) as you could get from slavery and still be within the boundaries of the Greenville Treaty, regarded at the time by Friends as a fair and just cession of land to European Americans by some indigenous nations of North America—and at the same time, settle on a river suitable for a mill—the Whitewater.

    This is spiritual ecology: a relationship with one’s landbase that is grounded in religious experience. Of all the yearly meetings in North America, Indiana is most suited to choose a new name that recognizes the spiritual ecology of its origins.

    Bioregions typically are defined by watersheds. It may be that the Whitewater has too small a watershed to properly represent the bioregion of present-day Indiana Yearly Meeting. But it has eco-religious history going for it. Whitewater River Yearly Meeting? or Whitewater YM?

    • 5 joshuakbrown December 18, 2011 at 7:35 am

      Your idea for “bioregional” names for the new yearly meetings is very thought-provoking. Using watersheds for the new names rather than theological tags also seems less divisive. I wonder how other Friends feel about this idea? We already have an Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting next door, and Lake Erie Yearly Meeting to the north of us.

  4. 6 Roger Dreisbach-Williams December 18, 2011 at 7:24 am

    This is an opportunity for FUM to follow the commandment of love. Jesus presides over a fractious table [hey, they couldn’t agree on ONE Gospel – so we have four, plus Paul]. I pray that FUM accepts both Indiana Yearly Meetings in the love and fellowship of our savior.

  5. 7 William F Rushby December 18, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    I think that the proposed “realignment” is probably a creative response to genuinely different understandings of the Gospel. It happens frequently in the Anabaptist tradition, and seems to contribute to long term viability and growth.

    The important thing is to move beyond the wrangling which precipitated the split, and get on with the work of Christ.

  6. 8 Cotswold Quaker December 20, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    The euphemistic language used here to describe ‘The Realignment’ of Indiana Friends betrays the institutional hatred that clearly exists between Friends there. ‘separate the sheep from the goats’? ‘spearheaded by the general secretary’? ‘to purify FUM’? such language is reminiscent of 20th century fascism not 21st century Quakerism. Talk of left, right and middle is the language of division. Maybe these Friends could be offered AVP workshops and reflect on the practice of friendship rather who has god on their side?

  7. 10 Airlie Rose January 15, 2012 at 9:15 am

    I have been away from Indiana for a long time (left in the mid 90s), but I first became a Friend as a member of Bloomington Friends Meeting. Western Yearly Meeting, at the time, was a mix of unprogrammed and programmed meetings that included the Chicago and Bloomington unprogrammed meetings as well as many small, more rural programmed meetings. The Yearly Meeting suffered intense tension-pressure as a result of Bloomington’s spirit led decision to marry two men under the care of the meeting. At the time, due to my evangelical Christian background, I did my best to play a role as “translator” as these tremendously inspiring men and others traveled from one small meeting to the next in fellowship, trying to explain the unprogrammed decision making process to the concerned meetings. Our group was called the Western Yearly Meeting Relations Committee. One of my earliest and most vivid experiences as a Friend was being part of a gathering somewhere in the flatlands of Indiana where some members were accusing our group of being influenced by Satan. There was fear and hatred in the room, and then there was the palpable wash of the Holy Spirit. The room was transformed by love. You could almost see the movement in people’s faces. The congregation’s ears-hearts were opened and they were able to hear our message. It was one of the most powerful demonstrations of Holy Spirit I’ve ever witnessed. My prayer is that Indiana will open itself to the movement of that Spirit and find a way forward that is a “motion of love.”

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All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.



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