Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
There are many Friends in our Meeting who have no frame of reference as to homosexuality. They are of a generation and/or upbringing in which such things were and are not spoken of. I'm certain they have no idea that several members of our meeting are gay. The prospect of becoming a welcoming meeting is thriving in our meeting but when a wisp of such conversation appears, they refuse to engage. It is just too far from their comfort zone. Perhaps our meeting represents the one place where they are "safe" from the rest of the world and all that suggests. We are deeply afraid that if we suggest a minute in Monthly Meeting, they would not stand aside nor would they stand in the way. They would just leave the meeting. And we're talking Friends who have been in the meeting for sixty years. As the welcoming church and same-sex marriage conversation continues, we stand firm that if we don't move together on this, we will not move at all. Losing just one member is not an option. We welcome all insight into how other meetings have taken this up, and all advice on how we can proceed with love.
I am sorry to hear about this struggle, and know that sexuality is something many communities struggle to come to discuss. I think often issues of homosexuality or LGBTQ identities become the focal point for ALL of sexuality, and this can make it even harder for communities to discuss the welcoming of diverse sexual and gender identities. What is also hard is knowing where to go for support in opening these conversations. Are there any weighty Friends/elders in the meeting who support welcoming LGBTQ folks? Is there a space for sustained dialogue over time about issues of concern? Because sexuality is so personal and so much about who we are as people, it's important to have support for all involved in taking action in community. I know that for myself taking risks into these conversations is often harder than I can handle on my own.
I think there are many precedents for welcoming in Friends' history and practice. I also think that time is a good tool for sitting with difficult issues. I would welcome conversation with you as a supportive seeker and someone who has worked with religious communities on conflict and growth.
I have found that relationships, patience and perseverance are essential to moving forward together. As a gay man, I was advised early on that I needed to give others time to adjust. For many of us, we had years to adjust to accepting ourselves, and it can be unrealistic to expect others to adjust any quicker. Now, I am not saying this is how it should be, but just being realistic. I also think that, for those of us who are glbt, we should not just look to others to change, but to look within ourselves how we might be more present but less demanding.
I have also found that what helps facilitate these conversations, when they do emerge, is to listen for the role that love often plays - buried deep beneath the fear and hurt. Like Tevi in Fiddler on the Roof, when one seems forced to choose between tradition and change, it is extremely difficult. Rather than increasing the pressure to decide, sometimes when we just sit lovingly, that can make a difference. This is a tall order, especially when we are feeling defensive and hurt ourselves, but when we can stay in that loving place, I have seen some amazing things happen.
Finally, there are some good resources. "In Praise of Doubt: How to Hold Convictions without being a Fanatic" is a great read for ways to stay open and seeking rather than arguing. "No More Goodbyes" is by Carolyn Pearson, a Mormon woman who lost her husband to AIDS (and wrote about that in "Goodbye. I Love You".) "No More Goodbyes" is mostly a collection of stories about the pain that rejection and condemnation causes. There is a brief period of preachiness, but for the most part, the real human tales of love, pain and loss can move us to the level of talking about how we want to be as members of community. I find it useful to remember that none of us speaks for God, nor are the final authority of whether being gay is a sin or not. We may have strongly held beliefs, but God is the real final authority. What we can say with great authority are two things: being gay is not a choice (acknowledging that we may not really know why we are different, but we do know we did not choose this), and that the condemnation causes great pain, for some so much that they cannot live with it. Love seems to be the greatest salve.
In my own experience I have carried with me in my Quaker belief a descension from family relations with my Mother and Brother. I have embraced our call to separate from each other as a milestone that may some day overturn the guilt and shame attached to freedom of choice. Yet the roots of my own LGBT family cause me to feel that their maybe a benefit in feeling this may be the proper resolve. I feel the question as a study can be seen in this light. In the 15th street meeting there are a number of followers who are self proclaimed atheists. If The Gay community is not included in theological practices of everykind, it maybe presumed they are forced into a life style that is also atheist. We keep the doors open and welcome the LGBT community into our service of worship for the very fact that they are called to be Quakers and not atheists. It is by this understanding that we see that being gay can have very different forms of cause and effect in term of faith, values, economic status, and personal beliefs.
I am fortunate enough to participate in a very affirming meeting. My partner is Episcopal and because of that I am involved with Grace Episcopal Church LGBT outreach. I suggested they have a "Queery night," Where everyone from the congregation was to bring questions written or typed on slips of paper and placed anonymously in a box. Then the LGBTQ members of the church would have an open panel discussion, giving insight into those questions people have. Often time resistance and ill will come from lack of understanding.
Another softer and more Quaker approach could be to include more community and equality minded queries in your meeting's worship. The topic of LGBTQ individuals and being a more open meeting is one which touches both testimonies very well. Do you exclude people who are different from your community? How can we embrace differences among us to nourish a stronger community? How can we look past differences to see equal light in every one? How can we learn more about others who are unlike ourselves?
Good luck with opening the conversation.
I particularly am moved by Brad's comments, above, in response to this dilemma. He speaks as if there is no goal or topic but simply that the universal breadth and depth of being human is affecting us all and that we must speak to that in moving forward in this topic. (I don't know if this summation makes any sense but I hope so.)
I am part of a very liberal meeting, but my impression is that the meetings that are more FUM-oriented, or conservative Friends anyway, are really quite amazing at dealing with this and holding the ground of shared seeking of the Light in these matters. It seems to require everyone of all opinions and perspectives on the matter to be willing to sit in the uncomfortable places and not go anywhere...just sit there, as Brad suggests.
I have a partner who grew up in the evangelical branch of Quakerism and for me it was a crazy and hard experience when we were initially together to discover that she made no claims about which side of this issue God was on. I found that excruciating.
To me the only right thing to do was to move forward in gay-friendly justice...but to her being divinely open was continuing to always return to a personal view of "I don't speak for God in this matter."
To me that sounded like saying "God is judging us and I'm not sure our relationship is okay" and I felt like then I was wrong to keep her in it... It's very hard for us liberals to get our minds around that particular sort of neutral openness to God deciding these matters. It's easy to feel clear that we know the answer and God is already telling us that.
I've been humbled and enriched by the years of journeying with that...and have slowly become more more able to find both Light and freedom and love in that stance of not answering these questions myself but allowing myself to sit with my own suffering about them and keep giving that pain to God. I'm sure these words of mine won't convince anyone who feels as I used to feel about this...a convicted liberal. I still am a convicted liberal but I've gotten comfortable with recognizing that God gets to do all kinds of things that don't fit in my personal theology...and that my theology and God's get to be two different things. Ultimately there's a lot of freedom in that, about this and many other topics.
Not that you need to hear this...I don't know that. But I'm moved to share it in case you do. (and I say all this with just as much clarity as ever about what's the right thing to go ahead and do! but just knowing that my way never brought anyone along and also was less deepening for me, in ways I needed to deepen spiritually.)
It seems clear that Quaker LGBt and Protestant LGBT is bridging the gap on a lot of faith issues. I am still waiting for all the institutions of religion to be gay friendly. I believe when we live in more liberal areas it is easy to see how we form a part of our identity as gay Christians and Jews with those of our present day cultural values. Yet it still may be despairing to some in less populated areas that LGBT faith can be dismissed by theological conservatives. I agree the gay race is it's own theology, and we have to go so far as to accept the similarities and differences with the old established conservativism before we can mend the differences that give to LGBT the calling of their own inner spirit.