One of our tasks, as we continue the process of forming Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends, is to decide where we fit in the Quaker family. We have chosen to be a yearly meeting; will we be affiliated with a larger body? The three larger bodies are: EFCI (Evangelical Friends Church International, with whom we were associated as Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church), FUM (Friends United Meeting, a global fellowship of Christ-centered yearly meetings, associations, and worship groups), and FGC (Friends General Conference, a group of yearly meetings in the U.S. and Canada). Of these three, we probably fit best with FUM, with some important caveats and considerations. Together, we can weigh the pros and cons of affiliating with a larger body, and the ways in which we feel led to express our sense of who we are in Christ in relation to those with whom we disagree. In light of that, I will begin with a brief introduction to the organization of FUM, followed by concerns surrounding FUM’s personnel policy, and important considerations for us to think about as we move forward in our mutual discernment regarding possible affiliation.
(Friends World Committee for Consultation [FWCC] is an international Friends organization that brings together Friends for relationship building and community, but which does not require decisions to be made together. Friends from all the umbrella organizations, or no umbrella organization, can be part of FWCC.)
Friends United Meeting (FUM) is an umbrella organization currently comprised of 34 Yearly Meetings and Associations (the New Association and WARSF). Of these, four of the North American YMs are dually-affiliated with Friends General Conference (Baltimore, New York, New England, and Canadian). The vast numeric majority of FUM (and Quakers in general) is non-North American. 20 FUM yearly meetings are from East Africa, and two are in the Caribbean (Cuba and Jamaica). There are also member worship groups in Belize, Palestine and Mexico. FUM is a global fellowship made up of mutually-supportive, equal members, rather than being a North American mission.
NWYM (called Oregon Yearly Meeting at the time) left FUM (Five Years Meeting at the time) in 1926, desiring a stronger focus on evangelism over social causes.
FUM’s Personnel Policy
FUM has a personnel policy that contradicts the minute on inclusion of LGBTQ+ ministers we approved at annual sessions in July 2017. The policy includes the following:
FUM Policy on Personal Ethics
FUM’s purpose is to extend the Body of Christ and to energize and equip the Religious Society of Friends to gather people into Christian fellowships. It is therefore imperative, both for the integrity of our programs and for the sake of our relationships with our constituency, that Friends United Meeting’s employees evidence a Christian motivation and that they are members of the Society of Friends or have a sympathetic acquaintance with Friends.
Friends United Meeting holds to the traditional Friends testimonies of peace (nonviolence), simplicity, truth speaking, community, gender and racial equality, chastity, and fidelity in marriage. It is expected that the lifestyle of all staff and volunteer appointees of Friends United Meeting will be in accordance with these testimonies.
Friends United Meeting affirms the civil rights of all people. Staff and volunteer appointments and promotions are made without regard to sex, race, national origin, age, physical disability, or sexual orientation. It is expected however that intimate sexual behavior should be confined to traditional marriage, understood to be between one man and one woman.
(The Policy on Personal Ethics was approved by the General Board of Friends United Meeting, Minute 88-GB-52)
An additional minute, attached to this section in October 2012, reads:
The General Board did not find unity regarding the section on Personal Ethics in section 4, but acknowledged that the policy had been approved by the General Board in 1988 with minute 88-GB-52 and remained in effect.
While this policy directly contradicts our own position on LGBTQ+ people in ministry, there are a number of welcoming and affirming yearly meetings who remain affiliated with FUM, desiring to connect with the global community of Friends, and to continue to speak to other Friends on this topic. Some individual LGBTQ+ Friends in meetings such as Baltimore and New England have expressed their wish to stay with FUM for these reasons, laboring with FUM toward changing their policy.
For Our Discernment
The process of discerning our affiliation with the larger Friends community will likely be long, and we don’t need to make a decision anytime soon. Here are some items to be aware of as we work through this process, as well as some queries for us to ponder as we think and pray around this topic.
- The Friends from the Western Association of the Religious Society of Friends (WARSF) who are thinking about joining SCYMF are affiliated with FUM.
- We don’t know who is part of SCYMF yet, so we have a choice of making a decision about affiliating with a broader organization such as FUM and then seeing who wants to join “us,” or waiting to see who wants to be part of “us” and then making a decision together about affiliation with other Friends groups.
- The personnel policy brings up competing justice considerations: LGBTQ+ ministry, and colonialism. The Western Church is just waking up to the destructive ways we’ve forced our culture and ideology on other cultures in the name of Jesus. As SCYMF, we presumably do not want to participate in coercive and controlling forms of Christianity. At the same time, we do not want to allow the imperialistic ideologies taught to other cultures by previous generations of our forbears to limit the ways that the Spirit can be at work in our denomination today.
- What is important to me about being part of something larger among Friends, and what concerns me about this idea?
- What is the line between humility and integrity?
- As Friends in the majority world, what is our role in worldwide Friends conversations, and in the worldwide church?
- What is the role of the yearly meeting and any umbrella organizations we associate with in holding us accountable and providing authority? How do we hold ourselves accountable to the Spirit’s leading while remaining open to the Spirit leading us in seemingly different directions?
- How do we trust one another and value one another’s truths while also speaking prophetically from our own experience and discernment?
- If we don’t feel clear to join with any of the existing Friends umbrella organizations, what might our responsibility be to facilitate something new among Friends more broadly?