Releasing Raccoons to the Wild: An Update on the Schism in Indiana

           “Set off” is the phrase used in the recently released proposal to carry through a schism in Indiana Yearly Meeting.  “IYM (the organization) will remain intact and those meetings choosing option B will continue to be part of this body.” … Meetings choosing option A “will be set off from IYM into a newly created ‘yearly meeting’ or equivalent association.”  So reads the proposal.  (You can read the proposal here, as well as the cover letter, the FAQ, and the proposed timeline.) 

            Please read all that follows with recognition that the proposal is still just a proposal, to be considered for approval at IYM’s Representative Council on September 29. 

            “Intact” seems like a curious phrase for what will be left when a number of meetings are “set off” (would I still be intact after my leg is amputated?), but “set off” is a euphemism for something less pleasant.  In substance what is proposed is more like the deportation of aliens, or something one does to pesky raccoons: trap them, take them to the edge of town and release them to the wild. The image seems all the more apt when one reads further that those meetings who refuse to choose either option and who are unwilling to affirm the orthodoxy of the new IYM (option B) “will be released from the yearly meeting.”  At least Quakers don’t excommunicate. 

            The premise of IYM’s reconfiguration process was that the yearly meeting had already pulled apart into two camps; the reconfiguration would simply ratify this.  The promise was that it would be a “deliberative/collaborative” process.  A Task Force charged at a fall 2011 Representative Council meeting was asked to develop a proposal around which the yearly meeting could reach unity.  It was to be a proposal that, in the words of the minute establishing the Task Force, would “honor each other's consciences and understandings of scriptural guidance,” and would be “life-giving for all our monthly meetings.”

            The Task Force proceeded by first sketching two alternative yearly meetings (“A” and “B”, descriptions here and here) between which meetings might choose, and then inviting each meeting to opt for one or the other.  By September 4, 2012 letters had been received from 52 of the 62 meetings in IYM.

            The proposal from the Task Force, read in conjunction with the letters (available here), displays considerable disunity around the idea of any reconfiguration.  It fails to honor the consciences of IYM members, and certainly will not be life-giving for all meetings.  A detailed examination of the letters is available in a preview copy of an article in Quaker Theology # 21 by ESR’s Prof. Stephen Angell. 

            Though the question was never asked by the Task Force, 19 of the 52 letters received (Angell’s count) voice some opposition to the idea of reconfiguration – about a third of both the meetings and the members in IYM.  And yet the Task Force went ahead and submitted its proposal for schism.  Why? The Task Force tells us “we continue to believe that some division of the yearly meeting is inevitable.” They acknowledge, “We understand the deep desires of some Friends for reconciliation and preservation of the current yearly meeting structure, but we have not found or seen any proposal to do that that honors the consciences of all Friends in Indiana Yearly Meeting.” 

            Apparently worldly “inevitability” is trumps here.  We should frustrate the consciences of those who seek unity in favor of the consciences of those who insist on separating from others. 

            What is revealed is the falseness of the original premise.  We have not already pulled apart, mutually, into two camps.  Rather, a group has coalesced that insists on purification or cleansing of the yearly meeting.  Some of the letters from meetings choosing “B” strongly state that they view “B” as the real, true Indiana Yearly Meeting.  Says one, “It is also our desire to remain under the current yearly meeting structure.  It does not seem necessary to discontinue Indiana Yearly Meeting.”  The sad irony is that hardly anyone wants to “break away” from IYM (only four meetings of the 52 chose “A”); there is only the push from some that others should be “set off” or “released.” 

            What is the orthodoxy around which this purification is to be carried through? Three things, principally define it:  (a) conviction that the Bible is the one, true revelation, and relatively straightforward to understand; (b) comfort with creedal statements that set forth what one should believe; and (c) insistence on organizational hierarchy to enforce discipline on those with leadings to move outside established, Biblical/creedal strictures.

            Lost in this assertion of orthodoxy is a confidence that God speaks to us today. Lost is a humility that God’s mystery and majesty go beyond our pale understandings. Lost is a willingness to learn from others, confidant that they, too, can hear God.  Lost is a living faith.  All these things, too, are being “released” and “set off.”


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Comment by Isabel Penraeth on 9th mo. 13, 2012 at 3:08pm

I confess that it is difficult to respond to thee, as thee seems so angry I am more than a little concerned that thee will respond to me with personal anger. But I will, with some trepidation, persist.

I feel strongly that compassion is warranted on both sides, and that it is a good exercise to place oneself in the shoes of Friends on the other side of this issue (and those uncomfortable taking a side). We're all human. Neither side has all the good while the other has all the bad. That just isn't what is happening here, though that is something of the picture thee paints. It is unhelpfully inaccurate to imagine that either side is motivated by anything other than the best intentions. Without knowing a one of them, I am confident that the Friends thee is so unhappy with are nonetheless good people with good intentions. For if they aren't good people, why in the world would anyone want to keep in fellowship with them? They are good people with a different perspective from thee, different concerns from thee, different ideas about what is right for the yearly meeting and its future. That doesn't make them awful wrong-hearted meanies and it doesn't even necessarily make them wrong.

What is the orthodoxy around which this purification is to be carried through? Three things, principally define it:  (a) conviction that the Bible is the one, true revelation, and relatively straightforward to understand; (b) comfort with creedal statements that set forth what one should believe; and (c) insistence on organizational hierarchy to enforce discipline on those with leadings to move outside established, Biblical/creedal strictures.

I am a little baffled by this list in that it is what is normative in all sorts of Friends congregations and a number of yearly meetings. Is any of this a change for IYM? I can't imagine that it is. And are all Friends who adhere to this sort of Quakerism in terrible error? That would be a great many Friends to condemn, far beyond Indiana Yearly Meeting. Frankly, thee seems to be saying that Gurneyite Friends should never have followed Gurney, and in fact should renounce even the prior-to-Gurney Orthodox split, and now adopt the faith and organizational structure of their twice-removed Hicksite Quaker cousins.

I am grateful for the full fabric of Quakerism, but each corner of Quakerism ends up being a self-contained unit because of essential and real differences. Each accomplishes good that the others cannot, and things that make a certain sort of good possible in one way of being a Friend seem impossibly awful and condemnable elsewhere. I have seen how more hierarchical structures and statements of faith allow for more openness: they can absorb the addict, the hurting, the sick with more open arms. They can be more open to the theologically different visitor because that visitor will either conform to their theology or remain a visitor. Places without much in the way of hierarchical structures or statements of faith struggle to be as open, as the very openness of their structure paradoxically causes them to fear who will walk through that door: because whatever that person brings can effect the functioning faith and practice of the entirety of the meeting. Still, Friends without strong structures and creeds are clearly spiritual refuges for people fleeing from structures and creeds.

A slightly different sort of example: the local Friends church has a number of Friends who are active in foster-care, some particularly fostering children with special needs, and also, through fostering, local adoption. The local Friends meetinghouse has a number of Friends who adopted from abroad. I know of no children adopted from abroad in the Friends church and I know of no Friends in the meetinghouse active with fostering or who have adopted locally. Which is the greater good? Or is a greater good accomplished because both sorts of Friends exist? Should Friends of Indiana Yearly Meeting abandon their hierarchical structures and their statements of faith to become a more comfortable place for Friends at West Richmond Meeting? Or should West Richmond set aside their desire for change and wait until it can be more openly received by their brothers and sisters in the yearly meeting? 

Perhaps it is simply true that the Lord wants to broaden what good can be accomplished, and that these Friends will be freed to accomplish greater good when their hearts and minds are focused on things besides the errors of those other Friends in the yearly meeting.

Comment by Bruce R. Arnold on 9th mo. 13, 2012 at 11:14pm

Friend Isabel has some good points. God can, and does, redeem any situation.

I am less convinced than she that your main attitude is one of anger. I have been more aware of sorrow in the material you've posted so far -- this one, and others that preceded it. Perhaps it is because sorrow is my main response, so I naturally look for it. In any case, thank you for keeping us updated on the news of this event. 

Comment by Brent Bill on 9th mo. 14, 2012 at 8:36am

"I confess that it is difficult to respond to thee, as thee seems so angry I am more than a little concerned that thee will respond to me with personal anger." Wow. Talk about a perfect example of what I call "Pacifist-Aggressive" writing. How can one even begin to respond to what Friend Isabel has written without being charged wit "responding with personal anger"?

I think to read anger into Doug Bennett's pieces is a huge piece of assumption. He admits he's curious. He seems concerned. Maybe even frustrated -- which is hardly the same as anger. And I accept that he writing from his good intentions -- and I don't see any condemnation of Indiana "B" Friends (those who desire YMtg authority). What I see is concern about the process. Friend Isabel's saying, "Is any of this a change for IYM? I can't imagine that it is" reveals, I think, how little she knows and how much she assumes.

As someone who has been affiliated in one way or another since 1978, I can say that the discussion or orthodoxy/non-orthodoxy has a long history there and that there are (as Friend Isabel suggests)good, kind, thoughtful, faithful people on both sides. But IYM and its local meetings/churches is no monolith of a particular type of thinking. There is variation of theological thought there and always has been.

The point I read in Doug's piece is a concern about process. While Friend Isabel states, "Without knowing a one of them, I am confident that the Friends thee is so unhappy with are nonetheless good people with good intentions." Well, I do more than one of them and I can agree that the ones I know on the task force are good people with good intentions." But, as the old saw says, the road to Hades is paved with good intentions.

This issue I hear Doug declaiming is the "push" for a solution. I happen to disagree with the proposed solution, but that's not my concern. My concern is why, if we believe (depending on one's language) that Christ is our present teacher and the God's will can be known and obeyed, why does the IYM Task Force persist in presenting proposals when there is no clear sense of unity on the part of the entire body of Friends in Indiana Yearly Meeting? Where is the trust that God will lead God's people Himself? Perhaps another tack should be taken. Which is to say, "We have labored faithfully at the task we were charged with. You all hear the tension and concern expressed by our people -- on all sides of this matter. We, therefore, as servants of the living Christ, will not offer any more solutions/ideas. We have discharged our duties. We return the matter to the Yearly Meeting and its members. Let us endeavor to listen to the voice and will of God and labor until we have unity."

What greater spiritual exercise, and model of Christian discernment and faithfulness, could there be?

Comment by Doug Bennett on 9th mo. 14, 2012 at 11:40am

Angry? Yes, I suppose.  Sad, too, definitely.  These are real emotions and I don’t seek to deny them or even to disguise them from others.  It does matter how I express these emotions and I strive for a civil, respectful tone.  A loving tone?  Yes, even that, but I believe that love, sometimes, asks us to speak plainly and directly.  I trust that nearly everyone is acting out of good intentions, but good intentions can be wrong and harmful in effect. 

I do not begin to understand (and do not believe I ever will) how God acts in this world.  It doew not square with my experience that “everything happens for a (Godly) reason “ or that “it’s all part of God’s plan.”  I believe God gives us substantial human freedom to take action, sometimes glorious and sometimes badly mistaken, however good our intentions. 

Yes, as Brent Bill saysm I have concerns about the process being followed.  I also have concerns that efforts to exclude, to narrow, Friends serve to weaken us, not strengthen us, not lead to greater vitality.

I believe we are in the midst of making big mistakes, both in process and in goal.


Comment by David Bundrick on 9th mo. 14, 2012 at 11:46am

I am distressed, and disillusioned, to learn that there are Quakers who would discriminate against anyone. I must live a sheltered existence. In our meeting, not only are all welcomed, but same sex couples can and do enter into the same commitment as different sex couples, and they have the marriage certificate witnessed by attending Friends.  Same sex marriage is not legal in our state (yet), but we have always been on the cutting  edge of human rights questions. Perhaps the dissenters in Indiana would be more comfortable if they merged with a neighboring evangelical organization. This is not said in a mean-spirited way; it's just that their position seems so at odds with what I thought Quakerism was; they seem m0re aligned with the most right-wing Protestants. I frankly do not see how they and the Quakers I know can possibly both call themselves  Quakers. We are as different as Buddhists and Muslims.

Comment by Mackenzie on 9th mo. 14, 2012 at 12:30pm


If you go back about 150 years, Quakerism split between the Orthodox and the Hicksites.

The Hicksites take revelation through listening to the Spirit ahead of how they'd been taught to interpret Bible, believing that their understanding of the Bible must have been in err if the Spirit gave a contradicting leading. And it is not uncommon to, after having such a leading, go back to the scripture and find that another interpretation than the traditional is available. You seem to have only been in contact with Hicksites.

Orthodox Friends stick to a traditional understanding of the Bible, and hold that if a leading does not fit the Bible, the leading must not be a true one. I don't know if there's an opinion on whether it's Satan, the person's own ego, or what, but that it is not from God. Orthodox Friends are strictly Christian, and yes, fall more in line with Mainline Protestant traditions in terms of Biblical interpretation.

I don't fully understand how the old schisms went that resulted in Evangelical Friends, but I think they branched off from the Orthodox Friends some time after the Hicksite split. As the name suggests, they are more similar to other Evangelical denominations. Many have "hireling ministers" and worship out loud.

Comment by Mackenzie on 9th mo. 14, 2012 at 12:32pm

(I also find this report of the "tug of war" going on disappointing. It sounds like they need to go back several steps and do more worship-sharing and discernment before choosing a path.)

Comment by David Bundrick on 9th mo. 14, 2012 at 1:22pm

Yes, I know the history of the schisms,but I didn't know any Quakers could be that extreme. I know no "branch" is likely to surrender its Quaker identity, so the existence of two or three totally different groups calling themselves "Quaker" must be very confusing to others.  I think of the Orthodox Quakers in the same was as I do Catholics, Baptists, or Muslims - all rivers flow into the sea, but their way is not mine.

Comment by Mackenzie on 9th mo. 14, 2012 at 1:31pm

I guess I don't see it as extreme, since it's pretty common among Christian denominations to refuse to accept as members (which in most cases means baptize) or as ministers those who are gay. I agree with your view that it's discriminatory, but I think it's too common to call extreme.

Comment by Howard Brod on 9th mo. 14, 2012 at 2:16pm
In my monthly meeting, when we don't have a unified sense on how to proceed, we keep to Quaker business practice of waiting and laboring together until unity of Spirit becomes manifest - even if it takes years (which has actually happened). My yearly meeting operates similarly, gaining unity from all constituent monthly meetings before proceeding on a yearly meeting position or policy or action. If we can't reach unity at the yearly meeting level, individual monthly meetings operate on that issue as the Spirit witnesses to them. Meanwhile dialogue and sharing continue endlessly and our spiritual unity is not broken.

I am mindful that throughout history, this congenial and spiritual approach has not always occurred. But, without it, schism after schism is bound to happen.

This Quaker process is the only way to keep spiritual unity while respecting the individual conscience of constituent monthly meetings.


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