Homosexuality Among Friends [Request for responses below]

Where are Quakers with the insistent question of homosexuality?

Are we welcoming and affirming? Or do we proclaim homosexuality a sin, asking that those with the ‘affliction’ renounce their desires. 

 Of course we are divided, some Yearly Meetings of one opinion and some Yearly Meetings of the other – though all Yearly Meetings with some dissenters from the prevailing opinion.  And nearly everywhere, wouldn’t you agree, we are inclined to silence, finding the topic too charged with the possibility of ugly conflict. 

 I’d like to puncture the silence and compile a more fine-grained picture.  I invite Friends across the continent to report on the state of the discussion of homosexuality in their Yearly Meeting. 

Here are the questions I’d like you to address.  Post your answers in the comments below.  Or, if you’d prefer, e-mail them to me at dougb@earlham.edu.  I won’t disclose to others who provided the account.  As a first comment, I’ll offer some answers for Indiana Yearly Meeting. 

 1.  Does your Yearly Meeting have an official statement about homosexuality, either in its Faith and Practice or in some other form?  Can you point us to a copy of the statement?  (If the statement is not available on the web, could you email me a copy?)

 2.  Can (and do) Monthly Meetings or Churches in the Yearly Meeting perform marriages between same sex couples?  Are such unions a topic of controversy in the Yearly Meeting? 

 3.  Can you describe the current state of discussion about homosexuality in your Yearly Meeting?  Is there active discussion? occasional awkward discussion? edgy silence? spirit-filled unity? 

 4.  Is there a group within the Yearly Meeting that actively promotes a welcoming and affirming posture among Friends?  Does it have formal recognition from the Yearly Meeting?  (Such a group might be a Yearly Meeting committee that has other concerns as well.)

 5.  Is there a group within the Yearly Meeting that gathers LGBTQ Friends for support and friendship?  Does it have formal recognition from the Yearly Meeting? 

 6.  What else should be said to give an accurate, current understanding of homosexuality among Friends in your Yearly Meeting? 

 I’ll appreciate the answers received regarding Yearly Meetings across North America. 

Views: 1982

Comment by Doug Bennett on 4th mo. 6, 2012 at 8:23am

Here is my understanding of the answers for Indiana Yearly Meeting. 

 1.  Yes, Indiana Yearly Meeting has a 1982 Minute on Homosexuality declaring it to be a sin.  The Minute reads, “"Indiana Yearly Meeting believes homosexual practices to be contrary to the intent and will of God for humankind. We believe the Holy Spirit and Scriptures witness to this (Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:21-32, I Corinthians 6:9-10, I Timothy 1:9-10).”   IYM also has a 1994 Ministry Statement.  Both are available at http://www.westrichmondfriends.org/iym%20statements.htm.

 2.  No churches in IYM currently perform marriages for same sex couples. 

 3.  Currently, homosexuality is a tension-filled, nearly taboo subject in Indiana Yearly Meeting.  I am not aware of any deliberate discussions of the matter since the 1994 Ministry Statement. 

 4.  West Richmond Friends, a meeting in IYM, declared itself a welcoming and affirming church in 2008.  The statement is available here: http://www.westrichmondfriends.org/affirming.htm.  I am not aware of any other group actively promoting a welcoming and affirming posture in IYM. 

 5.  I am not aware of any a group within IYM that gathers LGBTQ Friends for support and friendship. 

 6.  Indiana Yearly Meeting’s Representative Council approved a Minute in October calling for the Yearly Meeting to enter into a process of deliberative/collaborative reconfiguration – a separation.  The Minute references West Richmond’s Minute as a welcoming and affirming church, but refers to the disagreement about this matter as “a symptom of deeper disagreements in IYM,” especially disagreements about how Friends regard, interpret, and use Scripture, and about how various member regard the authority of the Yearly Meeting. 

 I will appreciate hearing about the issue of homosexuality among Friends in other Yearly Meetings. 

Comment by Mackenzie on 4th mo. 6, 2012 at 11:48am

 1.  From Baltimore Yearly Meeting's 1988 Faith & Practice:

Friends have a loving concern for the varieties of supportive relationships that exist. We realize that the range of long-term mutual commitments is now wider than traditionally accepted. Our Meeting communities now include persons living alone, two-parent families, single-parent families, married and unmarried couples, homosexual and heterosexual couples, single adults or extended families sharing a household, and larger communal groups. At present Friends are divided on the wisdom or rightness of some of these relationships. Nevertheless, we recognize that there are many kinds of domestic living situations in which individuals have made long-term commitments to each other and in which a caring, sharing, supportive relationship can grow. We are all called to make our primary relationships responsible, loving, mutually enabling, and spiritually enriching.

I could find no mention of homosexuality in the updated F&P draft.

 2.  Yes, the meeting I attend started doing same sex unions in 1992 and changed the language to be "same sex marriage" in 1998. Faith & Practice states:

Meetings that extend marriage under the care of the Meeting to same-sex couples are advised to acquaint themselves with the laws of their state in order to ensure that the couple has taken necessary steps to protect their relationship to the
extent possible. A couple that is not married in the eyes of the State needs to pay special attention to the preparation of wills, powers of attorney for health care, and durable powers of attorney, for example.

Not all meetings are in agreement about having same sex unions, but it seems to be accepted that different monthly meetings do things differently.  Below I have linked a PDF of minutes from half-year/quarterly/monthly meetings and committees within Baltimore YM. A quick count shows:

  • 31 monthly meetings are united in support of same sex unions or same sex marriages (was 32, but a meeting was laid down)
  • 5 are not in union with a minute issued by the now-laid-down Virginia Half-Years Meeting regarding welcoming same sex unions/marriages (was 6, but one was laid down)
  • 1 meeting I had trouble categorizing. They're unsure about same sex "sacred marriage," but if it came up, they'd go through the Clearness Committee process with the couple and figure things out that way.
  • All minutes expressing disunity with allowing same sex unions were issued a decade(-ish...fine, one of them was 9 years and 7 months) or more ago
  • 2 new monthly meetings have been created since discussions began, but they have not issued minutes either direction, at least as of August 2011

I noted that one meeting felt that their diversity as traditional sorts of people was being disrespected by those seeking to educate them as to accepting the diversity of non-traditional relationships.

 3.  I've not attended YM gathering before, so I cannot speak from experience about discussions there. 

There is (long) PDF of minutes from committees and meetings in BYM - Interesting to me is on pdf-page-29/numbered-page-26 it seems the reason I found no mention of homosexuality in the draft F&P is because instead the committee chose to rewrite everything relating to relationships as gender-neutral. (There is one minute in there expressing opposition to that change)

Skimming through there, I see a minute was issued from the YM against a proposed Constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage, on the basis that whether we have unity on our allowing same sex marriage or not, we do have unity that the state should not codify a specific religious position.

 4.  There is the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Ad-Hoc Committee on Gender and Sexual Diversity Concerns

 5.  I don't know of any for BYM. Some monthly meetings may have a time set aside worship with a special welcome toward LGBTQ folks.

 6.  Geographically interesting: 3 of the 5 monthly meetings opposed to same sex unions are in Pennsylvania (one in Maryland, one in Virginia).

Comment by Doug Bennett on 4th mo. 6, 2012 at 1:39pm

From a Friend in Pacific Yearly Meeting -- poignant:

Of course, in a Liberal Friendist yearly Meeting. The way this worked out here:

When Anne & I started attending there were a few regulars who happened to be gay but not saying much about it. And either then, or soon after, someone who was pretty definite, an attender, there all the time & being very involved... & someone had a gay marriage minute, but One Old Member just couldn't... and our attender went away. A little while later it was someone else. We went through quite a number of these people until the day when

One Old Member's wife just showed up at business meeting without him. So the thing passed. We actually married a nice young lesbian couple, whom we see from time to time but not at Meeting. The Yearly Meeting took a strong stand in favor at roughly the same time.

My feeling about all this is that we've lost some pretty worthwhile prospective members to disgusted impatience & hurt feelings.

I've been a little better able to see it with poor people... One shows up, is welcomed... and then somebody just says something utterly clueless (poverty not really being a matter of thoughtful concern to them.) Sometimes it's just hard to know why someone doesn't come back.

A certain black friend... again, impatience. One can't expect uninvolved people, with troubles of their own, to take on every just cause as their personal Life Work...

and people who've suffered a lot of social injury, for whatever reason, aren't easily satisfied with any less than that.

Comment by Doug Bennett on 4th mo. 6, 2012 at 2:32pm

From Mitchell Santine Gould, curator, LeavesOfGrass.Org

 

"6. What else should be said to give an accurate, current understanding of homosexuality among Friends in your Yearly Meeting?"

What I believe should be said is that we should adopt some respectful mindfulness of the giants of the past, who have articulated the core theological issues better than any of us are doing today.

http://leavesofgrass.org/noteforfriends.html

http://www.scribd.com/doc/26090652/Walt-Whitman-s-Quaker-Paradox

Ciao,
Mitchell Santine Gould, curator, LeavesOfGrass.Org
member, LGBTRAN Project on LGBT Quaker History

Comment by Howard Brod on 4th mo. 8, 2012 at 8:23pm

Midlothian Friends Meeting (my meeting) is a monthly meeting within Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM), located in the greater Richmond, Virginia area.  The following minute was approved in July, 1993:

 

“Midlothian Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends welcomes committed, intimate relationships to be under its care either through a Marriage Ceremony, which is a formal and public display of that commitment with an accompanying certificate; or through a Celebration of Commitment, which is a more informal, yet public verbal display of that commitment.  These two vehicles for recognizing committed, intimate relationships are open to all couples where either party is associated with Midlothian Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, regardless of the gender of either person within that relationship.”

 

I think many meetings within BYM have similar minutes, and for many BYM meetings this has been a non-issue for decades. My general impression is that nearly all monthly meetings in BYM do support same sex marriage and perhaps all would be welcoming to gay Friends (although, it could be argued how genuinely welcoming can a meeting be if it doesn't support a core issue such as gay marriage).  There are a few meetings who have not reached a unified sense of the meeting on this issue - likely due to a few "hold-outs" within their meeting.  I would also say that BYM does encourage monthly meetings to periodically consider this issue.  There has been concern in the past within the yearly meeting over the position of FUM towards gay Friends (at a yearly meeting level BYM is associated with both FUM and FGC, although Midlothian Friends Meeting identifies itself only with FGC).  For a number of years, BYM suspended its financial support of FUM due to its position regarding exclusion of gay Friends at various levels.  Recently, that support from BYM to FUM was reinstated (if my memory is correct).

 

Of particular interest is that in the southern part of Virginia there is a conservative Quaker Meeting that is not part of BYM, but is part of North Carolina Conservative Yearly Meeting.  They too have approved same sex marriage some years ago.  So I wonder if the trend is that eastern U.S. meetings (whether north or south, liberal or conservative) tend to support same sex marriage?  Perhaps other regions (like the West) also routinely offer their support?  Is it a geographical trend more than a yearly meeting trend?  Is the mid-west just not there yet, but will be one day?

Comment by Doug Bennett on 4th mo. 10, 2012 at 10:48am
A Friend writes:
I was once part of the Evangelical Friends Eastern Region and Faith and Practice describes homosexuality as sin. Here's the statement:  
"Evangelical Friends are firm in the conviction that the Scriptures make abundantly clear the sinfulness of all homosexual and deviant sexual acts (Leviticus 18; Romans 1:18-32; I Corinthians 6:9-20).  We believe that homosexual tendencies may be overcome by the grace of God.  We also believe that forgiveness for deviant acts may be obtained by sincere repentance and faith in Christ (Romans 3:22-24; Titus 3:4-7; I John 1:9)."  http://www.efcer.org/media/1/9/Faith&Practice2011-Portrait.pdf
As an elder, when someone approached us about membership but could not affirm that homosexuality was sin, the overseers did not even want to proceed with an interview.  This individual was not homosexual.  She felt she had done the right thing by being honest about her feelings and what she got in return, she felt, was rejection.  
I left the church last April and prior to my leaving, there was not, to my knowledge, discussion in the meeting about homosexuality, although one pastor's son who left the church did eventually come out of the closet.  Again, it was not widely talked about, so I resonate with your statement that some are "inclined to silence".  
For this particular meeting to give an accurate and current understanding of the topic, they are going to have to wrestle and work through their own feelings first and I fear that is going to take a while.  What pains me, is the people who will be turned away while they are trying to figure out their stance.  In fact, one lesbian couple stopped attending after being told by someone that they would be "prayed for".  This couple ironically is now attending the American Baptist church that I'm also attending, which happens to be an open and affirming church.  
 
Comment by Howard Brod on 4th mo. 10, 2012 at 1:37pm
I just heard from someone on QuakerQuaker who indicated that Iowa yearly meeting conservative and North Carolina yearly meeting conservative are for the most part welcoming to gay Friends and same sex marriage. So might it be that unprogrammed worship might be the common denominator that permits the Spirit to flow more freely without artificial constraints, and is more conducive to progressive revelation - whether the tradition is conservative or liberal.
Comment by Paul Landskroener on 4th mo. 11, 2012 at 12:41am

1.  Does your Yearly Meeting have an official statement about homosexuality, either in its Faith and Practice or in some other form?  Can you point us to a copy of the statement?  (If the statement is not available on the web, could you email me a copy?)

Northern Yearly Meeting’s approved chapter on Marriage (approved May 2008) includes these paragraphs:

Several individual monthly meetings within NYM have prepared minutes affirming marriage regardless of sexual orientation.. One of the earliest is: “Twin Cities Friends Meeting, joyfully recognizing the diversity of sexual orientation within our religious community, affirms the goodness of committed, loving relationships that endure, are unselfish, and that provide mutual support and tenderness… We intend to follow the same customary and careful process of arriving at clearness for any couple, regardless of sexual orientation, who should wish to unite under our care….” – Twin Cities Friends Meeting of Friends, October 1986.

Our yearly meeting comes together in this affirmation with the following minute: “Our experience confirms that all people are equal before God and equally loved by God. In witnessing the truth of God’s love to the wider community, we support full and equal inclusion of gays and lesbians in enjoying the rights and privileges afforded any citizen.” – Northern Yearly Meeting, May 2006.

Two suggested queries for marriage clearness committees specifically address same sex couples:

If you cannot or choose not to obtain legal recognition of your marriage, have you made appropriate legal arrangements that protect you and any children, to the extent possible?

If you are of the same sex, what will you do to provide positive role models of the opposite (other) sex for your children?

The entire chapter is here: http://www.northernyearlymeeting.org/article/marriage-nym-faith-and...

2.  Can (and do) Monthly Meetings or Churches in the Yearly Meeting perform marriages between same sex couples?  Are such unions a topic of controversy in the Yearly Meeting? 

See the above minute. I do not believe that same sex marriages are controversial within our Yearly Meeting, but see the answer to the next question for an example of how monthly meetings may differ in one aspect to a marriage equality testimony.

3.  Can you describe the current state of discussion about homosexuality in your Yearly Meeting?  Is there active discussion? occasional awkward discussion? edgy silence? spirit-filled unity? 

In September 2009, Twin Cities Friends Meeting approved a minute saying that it would no longer participate in legalizing marriages until it can do so for all marriages witnessed by the meeting and taken under its care. (I was clerk of TCFM at the time, and still am.) Twin Cities Friends have brought its minute to Northern YM asking that monthly meetings consider taking the same step, and several have, though others have not seen their way to take this step.

Most of the discussion about homosexuality in my observation at yearly meeting is about (a) organizing political opposition to anti-marriage and support for pro-marriage legislation; and (b) a pastoral concern for the vulnerability that same sex couples and their children feel in an uncertain and sometimes hostile political and legal environment. (Minnesota will vote on a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage in November 2012; Wisconsin enacted such an amendment several years ago; Iowa has same sex marriage by judicial decision, but organized opposition has defeated three of the judges who voted for it.)

4.  Is there a group within the Yearly Meeting that actively promotes a welcoming and affirming posture among Friends?  Does it have formal recognition from the Yearly Meeting?  (Such a group might be a Yearly Meeting committee that has other concerns as well.)

I’m not aware of any such group within Northern YM.

 5.  Is there a group within the Yearly Meeting that gathers LGBTQ Friends for support and friendship?  Does it have formal recognition from the Yearly Meeting? 

I’m not aware of any such formal group within Northern YM, though many participate in the national FLGBTQ Concerns organization and there are certainly informal networks of same sex couples within the Yearly Meeting.

 6.  What else should be said to give an accurate, current understanding of homosexuality among Friends in your Yearly Meeting? 

 From my perspective (as a married straight man who is very active in the monthly meeting and fairly active in the yearly meeting), Northern YM Friends fully welcome and accept gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons fully into its monthly and yearly meetings without hesitation, and accept their sexuality as a God-given gift on the same basis as heterosexuality. GLBT Friends serve in leadership roles at all levels of the Yearly Meeting. (Of course, a GLBT Friend may be more sensitive to unspoken slights and lack of support than I might be aware of, and I don't pretend to speak for any of them who may have a different perspective.)

I believe that GLBT Friends are so integrated into our monthly and yearly meeting structure that if a monthly meeting refused as a matter of policy to witness the marriage of same sex couples, it is likely that the Yearly Meeting would take steps to discipline the monthly meeting, at least to admonish it. It's about the only failure to conform with Yearly Meeting norms that I can imagine would result in such discipline. 

 

Comment by Doug Bennett on 4th mo. 11, 2012 at 11:03am

Pacific Yearly Meeting provides the following in its Faith and Practice

(http://www.pacificyearlymeeting.org/faith-and-practice/):

Marriage

Marriage and Gender

 Although Monthly Meetings vary in belief and practice regarding same-gender marriage, there is a growing acceptance of the principle that gender and sexual orientation should not influence Friends’ decision to take a marriage under its care.† It is consistent with Quakers’ historical faith and testimonies that Friends practice a single standard of treatment for all couples who wish to marry. The same level of careful discernment should be used in interviewing a gay or lesbian couple as a heterosexual couple. All such ceremonies should be blessed occasions where life partners join together in the presence of God.

Junior Yearly Meeting has reached unity in supporting same sex marriages. We reached this conclusion at a business Meeting after two hours of deep worship-sharing. In our decision of unity, Junior Yearly Meeting urges Pacific Yearly Meeting to support the loving bond of marriage between two people regardless of their gender.

pacific yearly meeting, 1996,
minutes of plenary vii

† Some Meetings are not comfortable calling a same-gender union a marriage. However, some will take under their care ceremonies of commitment for homosexual couples.

Comment by Doug Bennett on 4th mo. 11, 2012 at 2:15pm

Rocky Mountain Yearly Meeting has the following statement in its Faith and Practice:

H. Human Sexuality

God as Creator, created male and female in His image. According to Scripture, sexuality is a symbol of the relationship between God and the Church, the Bride of Christ.

Friends in Rocky Mountain Yearly Meeting believe there is an objective truth regarding homosexuality. This truth may be found in Scripture and from various sources which do not conflict with the Bible. Appropriate sexuality is to be expressed through the joining of one man and one woman in marriage. Any other expression of eroticized sexuality is considered inappropriate, outside of God's will, and therefore sinful.

Human beings as fallen creatures, manifest their sinfulness in many ways including within the expression of their sexuality. The provision of forgiveness and grace is available for all people, regardless of their sin, dependent only on their relationship with Jesus Christ. Therefore, lesbians, homosexuals, and bisexuals are to be welcomed into our fellowships and offered the ministry of discipleship and reconciliation as it is offered to any other person. Any lesser treatment of these persons is to judge and condemn God's creation, which is also outside of God's will and therefore sinful. All sexual sin separates from God and cannot be endorsed.

http://www.rmym.org/attachments/File/Faith_and_Practice/Part_1/c3_s...

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