I served on the General Board and on the Executive Committee of Friends United Meeting (FUM), the largest of the several associations of Friends (Quakers) in the world, from 1990 until 1993. I am not currently involved in the FUM organizational structure, nor am I now a member of a constituent meeting, but I have retained a lively interest in FUM.
For a couple of decades, there has been controversy within and outside FUM over its position on marriage and the proper use of sexuality, particularly as it relates to personnel decisions. In 1991, based on earlier decisions, the following language was incorporated into the FUM Personnel Handbook:
Friends United Meeting affirms the civil rights of all people. Staff and volunteer appointments are made without regard to sexual orientation. It is expected that sexual intercourse should be confined to marriage, understood to be confined to one man and one woman.
Since that time, there has been increasing discussion in certain parts of the Society of Friends about same-gender relationships, and some Quaker bodies have moved towards holding marriages or ceremonies of commitment for same-gender couples. The five FUM yearly meetings which are also members of Friends General Conference (FGC), an association with a somewhat different Quaker perspective, have all moved in that direction to varying degrees, and in all of them there is considerable uneasiness with FUM’s position on this issue. However, most other FUM yearly meetings both in North America and in other parts of the world have maintained positions consistent with that of FUM. Over half of FUM’s membership is in Kenya, and Kenyan Friends have been particularly vehement in support of the FUM position on marriage and sexual intercourse.
There has been considerable friction between the five dually affiliated yearly meetings and the rest of FUM. However, in listening to some of the dialogue and reading some related documents, I find considerable desire among many Friends on both sides of the issue to find ways to continue to work together.
I am suggesting that recognition of certain facts and principles may show the way to making a modest step that could ease tensions:
- The understanding of marriage has such wide support within FUM that it needs to be understood that FUM is not going to change that basic understanding in the imminent future.
- Many Friends who are not in unity with FUM’s position on this do see great value in much of the work of FUM.
- There are a number of testimonies and principles held by FUM Friends, but living in accord with most of them is not stated in such direct and absolute terms in the personnel policies of FUM.
- While some Friends think FUM requires agreement with the policy in order to be a staff member of FUM, that is not part of the policy and FUM has been willing to hire people for important positions who did not personally agree with the policy.
I think the feeling that FUM has dug in its heels has helped inflame tensions among those Friends who disagree with the policy. I wonder if FUM couldn’t slightly recast its policy in the hopes that this would make it easier for the dialogue to continue, and for the FUM family to unite in support of the programs of FUM. I am thinking of a minute along the lines of this:
Friends United Meeting reaffirms it position as an organization that sexual intercourse should be confined to marriage, understood as being between one man and one woman, while recognizing that not all Friends within FUM are united on that position. FUM also reaffirms the civil rights of all people, and its policy of making staff and volunteer appointments without regard to sexual orientation. It is vital that all persons appointed to staff and volunteer postions in FUM understand and accept that this is the current policy of FUM, whether or not they are personally in full agreement with it. Those responsible for selecting persons for positions with FUM should be sensitive to whether applicants live in accord with FUM’s policy. Where applicants are not committed to living in full accord with FUM’s current position on this matter, those responsible for selection should consider that in the full context of the person’s overall commitment to the programs of FUM and Friends’ testimonies as understood by FUM, and the specific needs for the position under consideration.
I don’t know whether or not Friends will find this suggestion helpful, but I felt led to offer it. Anyone may reprint and distribute this blog entry or portions thereof without obtaining further permission from me. Should any efforts be made to move along the lines suggested, I would appreciate knowing about it.