Update on North Carolina Yearly Meeting – II

In my last post, I gave you the bottom line – North Carolina Yearly Meeting, after 318 years of more-or-less unity, have decided that separation is inevitable. Depending on your perspective, this is cause for either grief or relief. According to some Friends, the bickering and fighting have been building up for the last 20 or 30 years.

It looks like the breakup may actually be happening now. There’s a lot of pressure for meetings to choose sides, even though the “sides” are poorly defined. Some meetings still don’t want to choose, or are still longing for a way to stay together.

The wedge issue which is seldom mentioned out loud but which has been effectively used to break up the yearly meeting is homosexuality. Problems with this issue aren’t unique to North Carolina Yearly Meeting or to Friends in general; churches across the United States have been trying to find ways to unite or divide.

The pressure is on for the yearly meeting to split into just two groups, and for monthly meetings to choose sides if they haven’t done so already. From many conversations with Quaker leaders, I think that the reality is that there are really three groups, which is making things more complicated.

To draw the picture with a very broad brush, though, here’s my view of the groups in North Carolina Friends.

Group A – meetings which were basically satisfied with what they see as a “traditional” yearly meeting. I’d call them the “centrist” group – many of these meetings have LGBT members but they’re basically keeping quiet and not making an issue of it.

Group B – meetings which embrace a more liberal theology; some are openly and enthusiastically accepting of LGBT members and are willing to hold marriages under their care without regard to sexual orientation.

Group C – meetings which want a much more evangelical statement of faith and want the yearly meeting to have both the ability and the resolve to kick out meetings and pastors which don’t agree with them. These meetings strongly reject homosexual practice and do not want to associate with Friends who tolerate or accept it.

Many of the meetings which were most outspoken in Group C withdrew early from the yearly meeting. Group B have mostly hung in, which has caused more Group C’s to withdraw or threaten to do so.

Originally, Group C wanted to kick out Group B, and drag the A’s along into their camp. A lot of the stridency in Group C appears to be coming from a fairly small group of pastors, while a lot of the cohesiveness in Group A and B seems to be rooted in the rank-and-file membership.

As this same kind of struggle has played out in other yearly meetings, the division has worked out differently, and a lot of the time it’s been a battle for the soul of the center. In Western Yearly Meeting a few years ago, some of the most outspoken meetings on both the liberal and evangelical sides left, and the center mostly held together.

In Indiana, about 60% of the members from the right and right-of-center managed to claim the title of “Indiana Yearly Meeting”, about 35% became the New Association of Friends, and about 5% of the membership wound up becoming independent.

Here in North Carolina, it’s unclear to me at this point how the numbers will work out. If monthly meetings were truly left to themselves to decide their own future, my guess is that Group A might be 40-50% of the membership, Group B might be 10%-20%, Group C might be 40%, and at least 10% might go independent.

Whether meetings will be allowed honestly to choose for themselves is still an open question. Most Friends are talking only in terms of 2 groups, not 3 (or more).

If Group A (the centrists) can agree to make acceptance of homosexuality a matter for local meetings to decide, or at least take it off the front burner, they could probably combine successfully with most of Group B for a while.

If Group C succeeds in making homosexuality the litmus test for the entire group, they may drag a few more of the Group A meetings along with them.

Most of the leaders I have spoken with from Group B meetings seem sincere in their desire not to split the yearly meeting. Their meetings’ support and acceptance of LGBT people is a matter of conscience and conviction, and many of these Group B leaders are widely respected outside their own monthly meetings.

Meanwhile, almost every time two Quakers from North Carolina get together, the question they can’t resist asking is, “What way is your meeting going to go?”

I believe in unity among Friends, to the greatest degree it’s possible to obtain, and I’ve spent most of my working career trying to bring Friends together. I’m still a newcomer to North Carolina, but I’ve seen similar struggles among Quakers from all across the United States, and they sadden me tremendously, almost beyond my ability to bear.

In my next post, I’ll be talking about the cost of separation – something which Friends only whisper about, but which deserves closer examination.

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7 Responses to “Update on North Carolina Yearly Meeting – II”


  1. 1 Colin June 16, 2016 at 2:07 am

    I am very sorry to hear this. My thoughts and prayers are with.

  2. 2 Helene Pollock June 16, 2016 at 6:17 am

    You say: “I’ve seen similar struggles . . . ., and they sadden me tremendously, almost beyond my ability to bear.” This pain is familiar to me, though the circumstances are different. It is central in my way of being a Friend. I have come to see it as a certain kind of “calling” — certainly a heavy burden. I will support you (and others who carry the same burden) in prayer. Let me know if you’d like a f/Friendly listening ear. –Helene Pollock, [reluctant] independent Friend living in Philadelphia. pollockhelene@yahoo.com

  3. 3 Pam Ferguson June 16, 2016 at 10:24 am

    Thank you, Josh, for such a consise report of what it happening. I, too, am “saddened….almost beyond my ability to bear.” This should not happen. There is life after a yearly meeting and we have been thankful for the years to heal and prosper after the chaos and bitterness of IYM’s split. A wise Friend from our meeting asked us these queries in the midst of the IYM split: “Do we need to be under the umbrella of IYM to function? Does the yearly meeting pay any of our expenses? Do they send any of our youth to camp? Are they our only source of mission outreach? Just because IYM chooses to divide because it can’t function with its diversity – does that mean that we have to choose to divide? We acknowledge within our church we may have diversity, but we are finding a way to work with and around this diversity. We acknowledge and respect all those within our faith community and feel we are making a difference in our community. Does our community care whether we belong to IYM or are they more interested in the love of God that we share?”

    These years without a yearly meeting have been freeing and healing. They have forced us to be more accountable to the wider body of Quakers, it hasn’t made a difference in our support of the work of Quakers or our ministry within our community. We live in a world that is polarized politically and religiously and hatred rules our treatment of those who do not agree with us. I grieve a Quaker community that looks more like the world than it does Christ. God help us.

    • 4 Helene Pollock June 16, 2016 at 2:51 pm

      We don’t know each other, but I sense the wisdom and authenticity in what you say. It is healing and hopeful to me.

  4. 5 germwarrior June 16, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    It sounds as THOUGH YOUR EXPERIENCE at WRFM and IYM MAY HAVE BEEN FORTUITOUS FOR THIS MOVE. I regret that this is the situation you are in again.

    Thank you for this update and continue to purser.

  5. 6 michaeldavidjay June 17, 2016 at 12:14 am

    I’m sorry you are facing this again — once was more than enough for me.

  6. 7 kwixote January 10, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Just discovered (probably re-discovered, since I got an email notice about your last post) this blog. And I too sense the wisdom and caring in your words. Thank you.

    Just one note. You say “318 years of more-or-less unity,” but this leaves out the early twentieth-century split, which resulted in two North Carolina Yearly Meetings — NCYM (FUM) and NCYM (Conservative). Of course, we at NCYM-C represent by far the smaller body. We are saddened and disturbed by the trouble our sister YM has been experiencing — we have many F/friends there — and we keep them in our prayers. Hopefully, they will listen well to Divine Will and find their way in unity.


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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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