Looking at North American Friends and theological hotspots

Over on Friends Jour­nal site, some recent stats on Friends most­ly in the US and Cana­da. Writ­ten by Mar­garet Fras­er, the head of FWCC, a group that tries to unite the dif­fer­ent bod­ies of Friends, it’s a bit of cold water for most of us. Offi­cial num­bers are down in most places despite what­ev­er offi­cial opti­mism might exist. Favorite line: “Per­haps those who leave are noticed less.” I’m sure P.R. hacks in var­i­ous Quak­er orga­ni­za­tions are burn­ing the mid­night oil writ­ing response let­ters to the edi­tor spin­ning the num­bers to say things are look­ing up.

She points to a sad decline both in year­ly meet­ings affil­i­at­ed with Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing and in those affil­i­at­ed with Friends Gen­er­al Con­fer­ence. A curios­i­ty is that this decline is not seen in three of the four year­ly meet­ings that are dual affil­i­at­ed. These blend­ed year­ly meet­ings are going through var­i­ous degrees of iden­ti­ty cri­sis and hand-wringing over their sta­tus and yet their own mem­ber­ship num­bers are strong. Could it be that seri­ous the­o­log­i­cal wrestling and com­pli­cat­ed spir­i­tu­al iden­ti­ties cre­ate health­i­er reli­gious bod­ies than mono­cul­tur­al groupings?

The big news is in the south: “His­pan­ic Friends Church­es” in Mex­i­co and Cen­tral Amer­i­ca are boom­ing, with spillover in el Norte as work­ers move north to get jobs. There’s sur­pris­ing­ly lit­tle inter­ac­tion between these newly-arrived Spanish-speaking Friends and the the old Main Line Quak­er estab­lish­ment (maybe not sur­pris­ing real­ly, but still sad). I’ll leave you with a chal­lenge Mar­garet gives readers:

One ques­tion that often puz­zles me is why so many His­pan­ic Friends
con­gre­ga­tions are meet­ing in church­es belong­ing to oth­er denominations.
I would love to see estab­lished Friends meet­ings with their own
prop­er­ty shar­ing space with His­pan­ic Friends. It would be an
oppor­tu­ni­ty to share growth and chal­lenges together.

  • Okay — here’s one pos­si­ble response to Mar­garet Fraser’s question.
    In our meet­ing­house, we reg­u­lar­ly rent to oth­er groups. I think we would be delight­ed to host anoth­er Quak­er group if there was one in SF. How­ev­er, I don’t think we would rent our space to a group that offi­cial­ly exclud­ed LGBT peo­ple. Many of the His­pan­ic Friends are com­ing from evan­gel­i­cal year­ly meet­ings that open­ly or qui­et­ly dis­crim­i­nate against homo­sex­u­al peo­ple. Would they be will­ing to rent in our build­ing that from time to time has a sign out front express­ing our thir­ty plus years of sup­port for same-sex mar­riage? I don’t know. I’m sure that His­pan­ic Friends are not a mono­lith­ic enti­ty any more than any oth­er kind of Friends. But I’ve thought about this before and I wonder.

  • Hi Robin,
    I think it’s under­stand­able to be fright­ened of anti-queer the­ol­o­gy and prac­tice, because I cer­tain­ly am. But is it fear of evan­gel­i­cal Friends or fear of His­pan­ic Friends? Do the two always go togeth­er? And is there pos­si­bly some mis­un­der­stand­ing here that says His­pan­ic Friends don’t like queer peo­ple? How can any­one know until it is tried? Because I’d ven­ture to say that Friends process should be able to peace­ful­ly han­dle these dif­fer­ences among them­selves… oth­er­wise, how can Friends expect the rest of the world to han­dle its conflicts?

  • Robin,
    Alli­son is right for ask­ing “How can any­one know until it is tried?”
    In North­ern Year­ly Meet­ing, we’re “sis­ter” Year­ly Meet­ing to El Sal­vador Year­ly Meet­ing. One time when rep­re­sen­ta­tives vis­it­ed our annu­al ses­sions, two women stayed in the group dorm with Liz and I. We’d put our beds togeth­er, and the women didn’t seem to mind, or even notice.
    What *did* hap­pen was that one NYM Friend asked us not to do that, and to not be demonstrative.
    Mind you, the most “demon­stra­tive” Liz and I are is to hold hands, hug when we’ve been apart (but no more than friends might). Per­haps a peck on the cheek or lips.
    When the El Sal­vado­ran Friends were asked about this con­cern, they said they believed homo­sex­u­al­i­ty to be wrong, but offered Jesus’s love to every­one equal­ly. They didn’t mind being in the dorm with us, with our beds togeth­er. And El Sal­vador Year­ly Meet­ing con­tin­ues send­ing vis­i­tors to our Year­ly Meet­ing and we con­tin­ue to send vis­i­tors to theirs.
    While I cer­tain­ly can see how it might be good for allies to ask the ques­tions you ask, you do need to ask it of the groups you invite. I would also sug­gest specif­i­cal­ly invit­ing the queer com­mu­ni­ty to the Meet­ing for Wor­ship for Busi­ness when the com­mu­ni­ty dis­cuss­es any invi­ta­tion so that you’re sure their Light is added to the dis­cern­ment. Anoth­er thing that’s hap­pened is there’s been some homo­pho­bia on the part of the NYM El Sal­vador vis­i­ta­tion plan­ning com­mit­tee in terms of com­mit­tee mem­ber­ship; for a while they had a ‘pol­i­cy’ of not let­ting queer peo­ple trav­el. Again, I think that was because of homo­pho­bia inside of NYM rather than in ESYM.
    I would love to share a Meet­ing House with His­pan­ic Friends because I agree that seri­ous the­o­log­i­cal wrestling, as well as a very healthy (and healthy as in appro­pri­ate, not robust) dose of diver­si­ty, are good for any spir­i­tu­al community.
    Jeanne

  • Let me repeat that I’m just wondering.
    And that I know that His­pan­ic does not equal homo­pho­bic, any more than white equals homo­pho­bic, or Chris­t­ian equals homo­pho­bic, except of course that there are indi­vid­u­als who are each of these. And of course that all of us par­tic­i­pate in a racist and homo­pho­bic, etc. sys­tem. I’m frankly offend­ed by the impli­ca­tion that I don’t know this.
    It’s not been tried, but then there isn’t anoth­er Quak­er group in this area to try it with. I appre­ci­ate Jeanne’s exam­ple of your year­ly meet­ing, because I had heard that there had been dif­fi­cul­ties in both directions.
    Also, I don’t think I’ve been to a meet­ing for busi­ness in SF that didn’t have gay, les­bian and/or bisex­u­al mem­bers present. (Not all of them would iden­ti­fy as queer, and not all of them would choose to speak for the whole com­mu­ni­ty, but that’s anoth­er discussion.)