The question of the relationship of Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) and Friends United Meeting (FUM) is being raised within the Yearly Meeting. As a former BYM Representative to the FUM General Board and someone who deeply supports the Purpose Statement of FUM, this is naturally of some interest to me.
On March 7, 2004, Baltimore Monthly Meeting, Stony Run, minuted that it "is not in unity with Friends United Meeting (FUM) with respect to its policy toward gays and lesbians . . ." The Meeting went on to "recommend that Baltimore Yearly Meeting withdraw all its financial support from FUM while continuing to maintain a dialogue in the hope of change in FUM's position." It has forwarded this minute to Chesapeake Quarterly Meeting and the BYM Interim Meeting. The long held position of FUM is that ultimate sexual expression is only appropriate within the confines of marriage between a man and a woman.
FUM is composed of constituent yearly meetings around the world. In a large majority of those yearly meetings, the FUM position is also a formal position of the yearly meeting or a matter in which a contrary position seems unimaginable to most members. Therefore, it seems quite clear that FUM's position will not change unless the position of a large number of those member yearly meetings also changes, as it is representatives of member yearly meetings who make decisions for FUM. Therefore it seems to me that efforts at the overall FUM level to change FUM's policy on this issue to one with which Stony Run Friends would be comfortable can not be expected to produce any such change, and are more likely to be an irritant than to result in any serious consideration of the change desired. BYM Friends wishing to dialogue with FUM Friends on the issue would be better to engage in the dialogue at a lower level than the FUM level.
In addition to the practical consideration of FUM's position being widely supported by member yearly meetings, there is the problem of the lack of unity on FUM's purpose which means there is not a sufficient spiritual basis for a good dialogue. FUM's purpose statement is: "Friends United Meeting commits itself to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord." Within BYM there is no unity on this purpose. A wide variety of views about Jesus Christ are accepted. Probably the majority of BYM Friends do not know and obey Jesus Christ as Lord, and many are suspicious of evangelical outreach centered around Jesus Christ. While the individuals named to represent BYM on FUM's General Board may support FUM's purpose, FUM Friends know they do not represent a yearly meeting which does. Therefore, the difference on the particular issue will be viewed as just another indication that BYM is out of unity with most FUM Friends.
The approach of withdrawing all financial support while remaining a formal member of FUM and expecting to participate in its decision making also has real problems. BYM will lose standing in the eyes of many Friends by not financially participating in FUM. It will look like an effort to influence by other than spiritual means, and some may even view it as attempting to buy BYM's way on an issue. I think this is not in good order.
Many Friends in BYM will probably be inclined to oppose Stony Run's suggested approach, and instead favor continued full participation in FUM while continuing to bring up the issue of same-gender relationships at FUM. However, I don't think this is well considered either. It is quite clear that large numbers of BYM Friends are seriously uncomfortable with FUM because of the differences on this issue, and for many Friends, much broader differences as well. While I think Stony Run's position is ill considered, it does reflect in a larger sense that the relationship between BYM and FUM has become increasingly untenable. So I think it is very appropriate to seriously consider it.
BYM Friends are very far from being united in support of FUM's purpose, and a substantial number feel very strongly about the specific issue cited in the Stony Run minute in which FUM's position is at odds with the direction BYM Friends have been moving. The idea of recognizing the validity of FUM's general approach within the Quaker tradition, which I think is a major reason why many BYM Friends favor continued affiliation with FUM, is good but it may be time to reconsider how to express that. My concern is that it raises a question of integrity when a body is a member of a larger body when it is not in corporate unity with the purpose of that larger body.
IMHO, it compromises the ability of FUM to fulfill its purpose when it has member bodies which are not united in it, even though those member bodies respect it as FUM's position and do not challenge it. Practically, FUM carries out this purpose in areas covered by member yearly meetings through those yearly meetings. Where the member yearly meeting does not share the sense of call expressed in the purpose statement, it raises an obstacle to carrying out that purpose within its area. My own experience in seeking to work with others to fulfill FUM's purpose shows that the obstacle can be very real. What we have is FUM's purpose and FUM's organization being in conflict with one another.
Objections have been raised to BYM disaffiliation with FUM that it will isolate Friends within BYM who are FUM oriented and separate BYM Friends from ministries of FUM they support. I don't think these objections have much validity. FUM has always been very willing to work with Friends who are not formally affiliated with FUM. Most FUM programs and activities are open to non-FUM Friends, both as individuals and as meetings. Meetings with a tradition of support of Ramallah Friends Schools, or the FUM Chain of Prayer, or participation in the Quaker Life Every Home Plan should be able to continue these involvements. Many individuals who serve with FUM in the field or even on central office staff come from non-FUM meetings.
There may be a couple of monthly meetings within BYM who do resonate with FUM's purpose and approach. These would be meetings not very comfortable with the direction of BYM. They might be better off affiliating with another FUM yearly meeting than working to keep BYM within FUM.
More than a decade ago, a few Friends tried to prompt a wholesale realignment within Friends. The effort flopped. It can't be forced that way. But what we have been seeing is a slow realignment. Tensions build in smaller arenas to the point where something has to give. Several monthly meetings that were dually affiliated have lost one affiliation over the years, and one yearly meeting has changed affiliations in the last 15 years. I think this gradual process will continue. Will BYM be the next body to change affiliation status? We'll have to wait and see. But I wonder whether continued BYM affiliation with FUM is really in the best interests of either body at this point.ADDENDUM: On May 17, 2004, two BYM staff members wrote a letter supporting the removal of financial support from BYM. The other four BYM staff members responded uniting with them. It seems quite clear that there is little real support for FUM and BYM, and for BYM to continue as a member of FUM would be hypocritical.
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