Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Share each other's burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.- Galatians 6:1-2

My last two posts about Eldering got me into no small amount of trouble with my committee. This account is not intended to speak in anger or in retribution, but to discuss my feelings in greater detail. I have written about this topic specifically to fill a void in discourse. Like far too much Quaker theology, Eldering is often discussed in a vacuum, only in intellectual, hypothetical terms. It is rarely expressed as events unfold in real life. It is for this reason that I opened a discussion about this concept that did not resort to abstraction. 

I regret that a heated disagreement broke out in meeting. Order was quickly restored, but for a few intense minutes, something close to shouting and yelling took place. In retrospect, I believe that the emotional display I saw was a result of the committee not addressing very difficult subjects until, strained to the breaking point, tempers flared. As Quakers, we have been known to suppress our true feelings until conflict arises. I am not entirely sure what others saw as objectionable in my words, though I have tried to take their perspective into account.

My guess is that some on my committee felt that my actions to Elder a wayward Friend had been conducted in their name without their consent. I believed I had permission to go forward with what I felt needed to take place though it had surely never been implemented fully as established policy. Though I disagree with a few of my committee members, I can say for certain that I wasn't intending to go about my work like a lone wolf, deliberately misrepresenting my credentials along the way.

Conflict itself is not unhealthy. Every Monthly Meeting struggles with it themselves from time to time. In fact, I would say that not having conflict is unhealthy, not the other way around, as we sometimes think. In the same way, relationship partners who do not fight from time to time show much greater problems well beyond the unwillingness to be confrontational.     

Thus ends the play-by-play. I have little desire to begin pointing fingers or laying blame. I'm more interested in going deeper with my analysis. When people are angry, it is easy for them to wrongly characterize the remarks of others. In so doing, one focuses only on the objectionable language, taking the intended message entirely out of context.

I wrote honestly, but I also tried to balance my criticisms. I used statements that let readers know that I was aware of the complexities and dynamics of human relationships within larger groups of people. You can be the judge of that, should you wish to read (or have read already) what I earlier posted.   

The issue I would strive to put aside first and foremost is the idea that Eldering can only be used as the final straw for some grievous injury. Eldering, in my mind, is mostly about gentle guidance and loving correction. Only in rare occasions should it be used to mete out discipline.

I'm not eager to Elder anyone again when it comes down to vocal ministry. I expected and wanted to extend the possibility for greater conversation, but the Friend I Eldered broke communication with me mid-sentence. In so doing, he denied us further opportunities to iron out the creases. Now, he has ceased to attend Meeting for Worship altogether, at least for a while. I am sad that he has chosen this path, but if our ways crossed once again, I'd want him to know I never intended our face-to-face talk to proceed this way.  

In my own recent past, I posted a couple times to an LGBT Quaker listserve. I put up something serious and weighty, and was taken aback by how strongly my words were rejected and judged. A friend of mine took the time to explain to me that the listserve was designed to be light and conversational, not heavy.

Her dialogue with me was a very different example of Eldering, one I wish each of us would contemplate using more often. The practice doesn't have to be conducted like an outbreak of hostilities between two warring parties. People who have been Eldered often fear that they must have done something truly terrible for the Meeting to need to resort to it. When we do not take the time to correct minor concerns, we end up having to come forward with guns blazing later, when matters have grown far worse.    

If we took care of the little things, the big things would be far less daunting. A healthy community practices nurturing, makes others feel welcome and included, and offers wisdom and guidance. Eldering is not an admonishment for wrongdoing. But without a stable history of tough love and frequent communication, it is easy to perceive of the practice as some sort of nuclear option. When we express dissatisfaction with Eldering, we're really speaking about a lack of community and committee transparency.  

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