I’ve been hearing a lot of sentiment in minutes and posts on the IYM Facebook discussion page, asking why Friends can’t “agree to disagree”. This option never really had a chance to be threshed out by the yearly meeting as a whole last summer.
Maybe now, after a year of anxiety, Friends who feel cowed might be willing to speak up in favor of this option. I think it still might work, especially if it were formalized in some way, with the boundaries stated clearly. I think there is great sentiment in favor of Friends working together on things we agree on — Quaker missions, for example.
A minute might be adopted which states that:
- Membership decisions are the province of local monthly meetings (this is stated clearly in Faith and Practice)
- Meetings which remain in IYM will not conduct same-sex marriages, and we will not raise the issue formally again unless such marriages become legal in Indiana
- Recorded ministers are recorded by the yearly meeting in session, and as a practical matter ministers must be acceptable everywhere among Friends
- Pastors in Indiana Yearly Meeting agree to abide by and to work within IYM Faith and Practice
Another alternative which was never given serious consideration at Yearly Meeting last summer was that some form of discipline or censure might be taken against West Richmond. What might that look like?
A lot might turn on what kind of disciplinary action could be taken both towards West Richmond and towards monthly meetings which want to practice baptism and communion. There’s no practical way to “spank” an entire monthly meeting, but there are still some things which could be done. I envision some kind of a formal statement which is agreed to by both sides.
- The yearly meeting can clearly state that Faith and Practice has not been changed, and that minutes which have been approved in the past still stand.
- A monthly meeting which is not in unity with Faith and Practice on a particular point of belief should make a minute to that effect, and the yearly meeting should make a minute stating that it is not in unity with the position taken by that monthly meeting. Their minutes should also state clearly that they wish to remain in fellowship with the yearly meeting, and the yearly meeting’s minute should state clearly its desire to remain in fellowship with the dissenting local meeting.
- The local meeting should agree that any teaching, preaching, or public communication on the subject states clearly and fairly what the position of IYM is, and that though they are in disagreement on this point, that they remain in fellowship with IYM and that they support without reservation support its programs, missions and leadership.
- Meetings which dissent from the yearly meeting pledge on a matter of conscience agree to pay their proportional share of the yearly meeting’s expenses in full, and not threaten to withhold financial support when they disagree. (West Richmond has never done so, by the way.)
- The disciplinary action should plan for checking back with the monthly meeting at a stated interval (perhaps 1-3 years) to see whether any further resolution can take place.
Could this work? It all depends on whether Friends in Indiana Yearly Meeting think it’s better to try to stay together or split. Enough Friends are still asking this question that I hope we can try to stay together. As I’ve said before, I don’t believe that division is the will of God. If it isn’t, we should try something different.