What about the other options?

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:

  1. Membership decisions are the province of local monthly meetings (this is stated clearly in Faith and Practice)
  2. 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
  3. Recorded ministers are recorded by the yearly meeting in session, and as a practical matter ministers must be acceptable everywhere among Friends
  4.  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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.


18 Responses to “What about the other options?”

  1. 1 Shawn July 11, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Groups of people will always have their differences. We cannot allow our differences to polarize us. Look what it has done with the U.S. Congress. We must get past our differences, finding what we have in common, then moving forward into the future. Ask the question: Are our differences enough to die for? A Spirit of Discernment is needed in this situation.

  2. 2 Howard Brod July 11, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    I can’t comprehend how any meeting that states it will not discriminate against gay and lesbian Friends, could then turn around and refuse to marry a same sex couple. That contradiction does not seem to be Quakerly. It’s not acting in a spirit of truth.

    Your proposal in this regard does not seem to be “agreeing to disagree”.

    I see West Richmond as embracing a God-led calling to minister to gay Friends. Why can’t the yearly meeting just respect that without judgement?

    Jesus blessed and embraced people that society called “sinners”. I wonder if he identifies more with West Richmond or those who would ostracize that meeting.

    • 3 Diane July 13, 2012 at 8:28 am

      Thank you Howard for raising very valid and honest points. It appears to me that WRMM took a stand and now is backing down and I don’t understand why you are now willing to compromise what you saw then as worth standing for.

      • 4 joshuakbrown July 13, 2012 at 9:37 am

        Dear Howard and Diane — please remember that in this blog I am sharing my own thoughts and opinions. I don’t speak for my meeting. West Richmond has not “taken a stand and is now backing down”. I’m trying to suggest a possible way that the yearly meeting can back away from its decision to divide, which would allow both sides to maintain their integrity.

        I know that many Friends meetings (some as much as 20-30 years ago) began holding marriages/union ceremonies, even when the laws of their state did not make provision for it. A few Friends meetings in Indiana have taken this route. West Richmond considered this, but did not reach unity on this point. Our minute was and is an attempt to state clearly what we ARE united on at this time.

        You can read the full text of West Richmond’s minute on our web site at http://www.westrichmondfriends.org/affirming.htm.

  3. 5 Walter Webb July 11, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    I am imagining a historical precedent where Quakers in the mid-19th Century might say, “Let’s not harbor any runaway slaves within our meeting until the state of Indiana abolishes slavery.” You know how that worked out. You will be waiting for another generation for Indiana, and the Conservatives among you, to see the light. I would do the right thing: push the issue. Let the conservatives go their way. In a hundred years, they will catch up. Have faith. Work for marriage equality in a firm but positive manner.

    • 6 Will Carter July 14, 2012 at 11:50 am

      Friends were divided over the harboring of escaped slaves. As a matter of fact many Friends went to the great personal cost to preserve their integrity by forming a society to purchase slaves and free them. This was a noble effort, but Friends and others who insisted on forcing slaveholders to give up their slaves gratis pushed so far that two amazing things happened: 1) the manumission society was discredited by the Quaker participation in the radical abolitionist movement, and 2) southerners who didn’t own slaves and resented those who did became bound together because they recognized a general threat to both factions from the aggressiveness of the northerners. Thus Quakers are significantly responsible for the Civil War and all its evils notwithstanding the self-congratulatory pridefullness we have about ending slavery. We had a way to end it peaceably, and we chose to go about it a different way.

      • 7 Will Carter July 14, 2012 at 11:55 am

        Oops. I meant that southerners who didn’t own slaves and resented those who did were bound together with the slaveholders against the common enemy. I just didn’t notice that when I previewed it before posting.

  4. 8 Isabel Penraeth July 11, 2012 at 9:30 pm


    I like what thee is proposing here, but that is easy for me to do since I am not an Indiana Friend. It seems to me thee is accomplishing what Dan Kahan (http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/) calls “expressive overdeterminism” which is a communication technique he has been exploring in his efforts to solve the “science communication” problem (where scientific information only serves to polarize pre-existing opinions and not bring people to unity on even the facts much less a course of action, e.g., climate change). What is called for in highly polarized situations, he argues, is that everyone’s values need to be affirmed.

    I am a little surprised to read Friend Howard taking what I would call the purity path, where elsewhere I have perceived he was arguing for Friends to place unity over difference. He argues, as all those seeking separation will, that there is only one moral path to take, and it is pure and unadulterated by compromise. As thee, Joshua, recognizes, reaching out to the “other” side does not work by saying come meet me where I am. If there is a path to unity and not separation, I think it is in something close to what thee so reasonably offers.

    I can see why some think of thee as liberal and some as conservative. I hope Friends find a way to hear thee.


  5. 9 Keith Esch July 12, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    Should we really be governed by what the state of Indiana allows? That seems not be standing in our truth.

    Factual correction – West Richmond, did withhold assessments for a period of time. I was part of a delegation (with Richard Powell) sent to meet with IYM to witness to why we were doing so which was due to our sense of distance between us and IYM. It may be that eventually we paid our back dues.

    • 10 joshuakbrown July 13, 2012 at 9:29 am

      Thanks for the correction, Keith. The delegation you were a part of must have acted before I came to West Richmond in 1993. During the whole time I have been here, the meeting has always paid its share to the yearly meeting in full and on time.

  6. 11 Andy Bonnell July 12, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    This whole discussion strikes me as unreal. The last time I looked at the balance sheets and membership statistics, it looked like IYM had its work cut out for it if it was to sustain a headquarters operation, missions budget, etc. Sustaining two sets of expenses like that from the resources currently available to the meetings in IYM is simply out of the question. For a group of monthly meetings loosely associated in the freewheeling manner suggested in the task force’s “Model A,” that might be all right. The whole staff could be a volunteer clerk with a small expense account whose mailing address is his or her local meetinghouse, and the only other budget item could be the money raised by special offerings to help pay for the expense of hosting Yearly Meeting. But that structure wouldn’t cut it for Friends who want a denominational authority that can discipline errant meetings.

    Some might say that a split might help increase membership and funding, and therefore make it possible for a more centralized yearly meeting to go on. Clarity of message might attract a following, especially among young people. Maybe so. But I doubt it. Two things that most definitely do not appeal to young people are denominational boundaries and anti-gay crusades. If a group seems to be drawing a new denominational boundary in order to facilitate an anti-gay crusade, that group is seeking a future in the wilderness. Far be it from me to deny that the voice of prophecy often comes as a voice in the wilderness; for all I know, God may be calling us to the wilderness. But a group that heeds such a call won’t be able to meet the expenses of the denominational structure envisioned by task force model B. Any structure it does maintain will be at least as decentralized as the proposed model A.

  7. 14 Howard Brod July 12, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    I indeed have argued for unity among Friends by beginning closer association and the sharing of perspectives among various branches of Friends – not by expecting one group to turn on their own principles for the sake of unity.

    If I have not been clear about that, I do apologize. All must be free to live by their principles.

  8. 15 Keith Esch July 13, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Addendum to my yesterday’s post. I stated my a disagreement with Josh’s one point. What I did not do is to be clear that I fully agree with Josh’s main point which is to “agree to disagree.” While at some level it would seem easier for us at West Richmond to allow ourselves to be separated from those who so adamantly oppose equal rights for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, at the same time I know that splits yield nothing of lasting value.

    Apologies to Josh with gratitude for your thoughtful posts.


  9. 16 joshuakbrown July 13, 2012 at 9:42 am

    This post has generated more comments and discussion than any so far. It’s probably time for me to think up a new one, so that other readers won’t be bewildered by the length of the thread.

    I also notice that many of the Friends who have made comments to this post are from outside of Indiana Yearly Meeting. Speaking for myself, thanks for your thoughts and prayerful support. Friends in Indiana are in a difficult place, with many Friends trying to stay centered and not get riled up at each other.

    It would be easy — very easy! — to keep raising the level of rhetoric on this issue until division becomes inevitable and reconciliation becomes impossible. Truth usually suffers when this happens.

    My goal is to keep working for both truth AND reconciliation, which some Friends believe is impossible. I know that a lot of Quakers in Indiana read this blog and the ongoing IYM discussion page on Facebook. It takes a certain amount of courage to speak out, and it also takes a lot of love to keep hoping that we can find a way to stay together.


    – Josh Brown

  10. 17 Wayne Cox July 14, 2012 at 9:45 am

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Josh. They are greatly appreciated. I wish the focus would shift from reconfiguration to how does God want us to minister to others. While I don’t share the same interpretation of scripture on this, I am encouraged by West Richmond and their willingness to minister to different group so people.

  1. 1 Update on Indiana Yearly Meeting Breakup | Friends Journal Trackback on September 11, 2013 at 12:36 pm

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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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