Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
“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.”