I’m not sure what committee(s) drafted the minute on the BYM-FUM issue that came to BYM’s annual sessions in 2010 and now will be considered at BYM’s autumn Interim Meeting. But its spirit is drastically different from the call to celebrate the achievements of that witness voiced here in the first post.
Indeed, the proposed minute reads more like an apology, a retraction, an abject mea culpa, almost a plea for forgiveness.
So as you might expect, I have some problems with it.
My difficulties are distinct from its bottom line proposal to resume membership payments to FUM. We’ll set that aside for now. Because, pay or no pay, should we be begging absolution for the witness since 2004?
Not just no, Friends, but HELL NO!
Pardon my warmth; didn’t mean to shout. But to see why feelings run high, let’s review a bit:
First, how did we come to suspend membership payments in 2004? The draft minute speaks of it this way:
<<< For a number of years BYM has struggled to discern our role as a member of Friends United Meeting. In 1988, the FUM General Board, with BYM representatives present, adopted a personnel policy which set the expectation that its staff and volunteers would restrict their intimate sexual relations to marriage, understood to be between one man and one woman. Many BYM Friends find this policy, effectively excluding same-gender relationships, to be offensive and discriminatory. As a consequence, in 2004, BYM continued its membership and continued to send Board members, but withheld our contributions to FUM while we sought discernment. >>>
When I read this, my eyebrows almost jumped off my forehead in amazement. “As a consequence . . .” ?? Had the drafters completely forgotten how this matter came to a head in 2004?
Well if they don’t remember, I do. In part that’s because I was one of the lone voices raising questions about paying for homophobia in FUM for several years before then; and I know how isolated and ignored those protests were. (But don’t cry for me, Argentina.) There was no “struggle” then.
So what changed in 2004? It happened in two parts: in 2003, our Clerk, in whom we were well pleased, went to Kenya for an FUM event, along with several eminent BYM Friends. There he was treated shockingly, shabbily, and shamefully — right in front of God and everybody–because he is known to be gay. Among those who witnessed this spectacle were some weighty folks who had long been pooh-poohing the concerns raised about FUM policies and practice. But now, even they could not deny how it produced dehumanizing and disgraceful behavior.
That was part one.
Part two happened, so far as I know, spontaneously, and crested at the 2004 annual sessions: when they opened, Friends were presented with eight — count ‘em, EIGHT – Monthly Meeting minutes. All the minutes demanded concrete action to challenge and change the policies which permitted such treatment of our members or anyone else in dealings with FUM.
I, for one, was astounded; I’d never seen anything like it.
In the ensuing discussion, there were calls for us to leave FUM. I opposed that idea, which put me in the novel stance of being a moderate compromiser. I felt we should stay in and bear witness — but bear it in actions, not merely in handwringing or indignant, impotent epistles. Many others felt similarly, and the decision to suspend payments to FUM was the result.
Some call this action a matter of “failing to reach unity.” That’s not how I recall it. We approved all the other budget items; we did not approve the line with funds for FUM. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a decision, and in 2004 it was clear and strongly felt.
That’s not just my opinion. Here’s what our 2004 “Epistle Regarding FUM’s Personnel Policy” said:
“BYM has been greatly enriched over the years by the Spirit-guided leadership of many Friends who could not be hired nor hold leadership volunteer positions with this [FUM] policy. We have felt the power of their ministry; we have rejoiced in their love. As members of FUM, we cannot agree to have their voices silenced in our name. This policy has already caused great pain for many Friends in FUM, including some of BYM’s most revered and Christ-centered leaders.”
Amen! Strong and clear, yes; but not universally supported.
This “lack of unity” since 2004 has often been deplored. In my view, these laments come from two main sources: on the one hand, from those who dislike the decision and have attempted, year by year, to reverse it. There has indeed been a “lack of unity” to do so thus far.
And on the other hand, I hear in them the anxiety of the conflict-avoiders: those who find the fact of visible, voiced conflict among us embarrassing, even humiliating, and certainly something to get out of sight and out of mind, ASAP and at almost any cost in internal cohesion.
The years since 2004 have indeed been difficult ones for both tendencies. But I have little sympathy with either view. Conflict-avoidance is a vice among Friends, not a virtue. And whether we resume payments to FUM should depend on whether there has been enough positive change there to satisfy those in BYM who were unwilling to put up with the previous compromised status quo any longer — not whether some can’t bear to have an open division of view among us.
It is not only very disappointing that the draft minute completely bypasses the events that brought about this witness. This neglect lacks integrity, and smacks of historical airbrushing. But 2004 was not just a number on the calendar: it was the outcome of real, repugnant events that dropped the scales from many eyes.
Let this history not be forgotten or silenced or written out of our records. And whatever we do about FUM payments, apologizing and hanging our heads better not be part of it.
This stance shapes my response to the minute’s comment on the reported reactions from other YMs:
North American Yearly Meetings of FUM do not understand how a Yearly Meeting can continue to send members to serve on the General Board of FUM while refusing to pay any administrative costs. This includes Yearly Meetings that agree with our stance against discrimination. >>
This comment is presented as if it somehow unanswerably demolishes our witness. But that to me simply shows a lack of resolve, or an unwillingness to speak up for it.
Here’s an alternate response to the questioners, those who supposedly deplore the homophobia in FUM, but have still been paying for it all along:
How can BYM stay in FUM and send members to the board while refusing to pay?
“Simple: watch us. We not only can do it, we’ve been doing it, and our board reps have played very valuable roles in FUM’s rapid evolution since 2004.
“You say you don’t understand? Well, there are names for such behavior, Friends. One is ‘refusing to be victims anymore.’ Another is ‘leadership.’
“You got a problem with that?”
Which brings us to what the draft minute calls:
<< Our witness on the use of money >>
And this will also get us to the “bottom line” of the proposed minute, and requires some line-by-line scrutiny. Which it will receive in the third post of this series.