Why are we dividing?

The division of Indiana Yearly Meeting is being moved forward, in spite of calls by meetings on both sides to turn back and find another way to deal with our disagreement. 

Surprisingly, there have been no public calls, on either side, for major revisions to Faith and Practice. This may be because Faith and Practice is no longer a living document used regularly by ordinary Friends, or perhaps because both sides are basically in agreement with it. It’s strange that a quarrel in which Friends on both sides have dug in and “drawn the line” so strongly does not seem to involve Faith and Practice.

Once again, this raises the question, if we aren’t arguing over Faith and Practice, do we really need to divide? If Friends on all sides are willing to live with the same basic document, shouldn’t we be trying to find ways to “do cooperatively the tasks which can best be done together”? (IYM Statement of Purpose, 1991)

Years ago, while studying the minutes and decisions which created the Orthodox/Hicksite Separation, someone commented that “the whole division could have been avoided if eight or ten key Friends had kept their big mouths shut.” Every time I have told this story, either to liberal or conservative Quaker groups, the response has been laughter – and rueful agreement.

The division in Indiana Yearly Meeting is, in my opinion, not driven by theology or by dislike of one meeting for another. It’s driven much more by suspicion of each others’ motives and agendas, and it’s made worse by the creaking antiquity of procedures and the lack of open communication among all the Friends concerned.

The neutrality of leaders and committees has been sharply questioned, and old arguments have been brought up about whether decisions made by the yearly meeting in the past were done in good order.

In spite of warnings by the yearly meeting clerk that long speeches and sermons would not be allowed during business sessions, conservative pastors have been allowed to get on their soap boxes and spend hours of time trying to sway the opinion of the body. This has contributed to a strong perception of bias of the yearly meeting leadership among more liberal Friends.

Several years ago, when a handful of meetings in Indiana wanted the freedom to hold baptisms and serve communion, the yearly meeting was unable to agree on an effective response. Many of the Friends who counseled moderation at that time seem to be the loudest ones now calling for the expulsion of West Richmond Friends and any meetings which sympathize with them.

It is these things, rather than basic disagreement over Faith and Practice, which are driving us apart. If we really wanted to get along with each other, we could do so fairly easily. But enough key leaders have grown tired of the culture wars, or just want their side to prevail, that they are pressing relentlessly now for division.

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7 Responses to “Why are we dividing?”


  1. 1 Colin South June 30, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    I suppose the arguement for division is that outreach and service to the community can better be achieved if everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet and therefore particular behaviours and beliefs are so signficant as to necessitate division if different…..but unity and/in diversity are strong themes among Friends. It is possible, I think, to have unity and to think differently and to have different outcomes to the movement of the Spriit in our lives than is any accepted norm…our unity is not about difference in thought or outcomes in behaviour but is about trusting and testing an historical and continuing process in opening ourselves to the movement of the Spirit of Christ among us and our unity is also about the universaltiy of access to the Spirit of Chirst and thus in our belief that God can be recognised and acknowledged among us and within us in our acts and deeds and words but it is not in the specifics or the detail of these, or necessarily in any successful outcome of these but in the Spirit in which they are engaged and provided and the care with which we relate to each other. Division can result from a lack of understanding of the way in which God works among us and, in my view, this is just what is happening in IYM. My thoughts and prayers are with you all..and thank you for your thoughtful blog.

  2. 2 Ben Pressley June 30, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    I am saddened to hear that such division continues to be the order of the day in IYM, Josh. Too bad there seem to be so few Allen Jay-types left to keep things on an even keel.

  3. 3 Howard Brod June 30, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    I remember years ago when my wife and I had severe marital problems due to years of brewing, unspoken lack of respect for each other’s perception of reality. We were focusing on our own notions – to use an old Quaker expression – rather than the nine fruits of the Spirit listed in Galations 5:22-24.

    When we began to focus on those nine spiritual qualities, “love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,and moderation” as the barometer of our own behaviors instead of using them to judge the other, saving our marriage became easy. We soon came to the realization that it really isn’t very spiritual to judge each other using these qualities as a stick. Once we focused on using them to clean up each of our own acts, our relationship itself began to exhibit these nine spiritual qualities. And we were lifted up together to a better place. As a result, a marriage was saved and it became stronger than ever. And worrying about each others’ notions of right or wrong seems petty to us now and simply pales when compared to our relationship that is a living exhibition of those nine fruits of the spirit.

    This personal experience of mine leads me to think that Indiana Yearly Meeting is indeed losing sight of the spiritual relationship that should be binding Friends together no matter what individual meetings decide to do in order to exhibit those nine fruits of the Spirit. I would hope the Yearly Meeting would simply decide to do nothing in the hopes that Friends come to their spiritual senses. Just letting time go by can be a great healer once all the words have been spoken.

    • 4 Howard Brod July 3, 2012 at 7:17 am

      I just noticed that I inadvertently left out perhaps the most important Fruits of the Spirit for Indiana Yearly Meeting’s struggles: patience.

  4. 5 Harry Selby July 1, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    Does scripture forbid it or classify it as Sin? I think not. If it is not sin we are free to move in the direction that God leads us. The focus should be on scripture and its truth not tradition. If scripture is followed we would have no divisions other than the ones created by our own view of what we think the scripture is saying. Let the Holy spirit instruct us in the meaning of the scripture.

  5. 6 Howard Brod July 7, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    I think Jesus said the focus should be on love of God and love of neighbor. I see no evidence that he emphasized scripture as our barometer – likely because it is so open to interpretation.

  6. 7 Bill Samuel July 7, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    It is sad. I have seen no evidence that the differences – if you look at the multi-meeting level – are great enough to justify a division. And it seems clear that there are a number of congregations which don’t feel themselves to be in either camp. The main difference identified officially is on polity, and that doesn’t seem to me a good enough reason to split. And, has been hinted in other comments, there isn’t as much consistency on polity questions on either side as is claimed. It often depends on whose ox seems to be getting gored.

    If Friends really sat together in open worship fully open to the Spirit, laying aside their personal views as Friends have traditionally felt was needed, I’m inclined to think the result would be different.


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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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