An Epistle from Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns
The Summit Conference Center at Haw River State Park
Greensboro, North Carolina
February 18, 2007
To All Friends Everywhere;
Once again, we are called to testify to the love we find moving among us. It is a testimony of radical inclusion. It is a cause of great pain to our corporate body to know that there are some Friends for whom our message is deeply disturbing; indeed, apparently, in contravention of their strongly held beliefs. It would gladden our hearts if Friends could soften their hearts to hear us out.
We met here in Greensboro, North Carolina, in this land rich in Friends’ history, hoping to forge new connections across the spectrum of Quakers practicing a living faith tradition, a tradition with currents in the history of the civil rights movements and the movement for religious freedom. We numbered over 100 adults and a rich and lively mix of “little Friends,” “young Friends” and “young adult Friends” as well. In the midst of winter, we noticed the beginning shoots of the crocus outside our plenary building, a sign of the promise of New Life and continued growth. Friends with histories in programmed, un-programmed, and semi-programmed branches of Quakerism came together to share our faith in continuing revelation and our desire to go beyond our separateness into the fullness of our communion.
After dinner together on Friday evening, we were welcomed by the planning committee of North Carolina Friends who had invited us here to experience the diversity of Friends in this region. After the welcoming, we watched a video titled, “Can We All Be Friends?” a question many of us had on our minds coming to this weekend. Are the differences between Friends so deep we cannot talk with each other, learn from each other? Are we willing to be in communion with each other, open to our differences yet secure in the one Spirit that calls us all to be Friends?
After our opening worship together on Saturday morning, we heard a talk by Max Carter, Director of both Friends Center and Quaker studies at Guilford College. Max spoke of the rich heritage of five different branches of Quakerism in this region. With humor, Max pointed out some of the differences within Friends, today and throughout history. As he talked, many of us began to smile at the differences between us Friends. We marveled at learning a history of Friends that some of us were unaware of (Fighting Quakers and Quaker General Nathaniel Greene!), and began to sense some of what unites us as Friends, but also to acknowledge some of the real differences we have as Friends. We were reminded that to reach real unity of Spirit requires an acknowledgement of our differences before we attempt to seek a Way beyond our differences.
We began each day, as is our practice, with worship. For many of us, our First Day worship was the first time we had experienced the richness of semi-programmed worship, in a worship service led by retired pastor Willie Frye. Willie and his wife Agnes Frye are old friends and allies of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns. Willie thanked us for being here and reaching out, and called on us to continue to reach out by sharing our light with the world. He pointed out what we all know because we have grown up as different: It is easier to demonize those you do not know. Bigotry requires ignorance and thrives on separateness. The process of coming out, no matter how painful—for ourselves, for our families, for those around us—is an essential witness to the truth of our lives, and our love.
Some of our first messages in worship were about fear, our own fears and the fears others have of us. In his prepared message, “How To Love In A World of Hate,” Willie pointed out that it is so much easier to understand our own fear of others than it is for us to understand their fear of us. He also urged us to seek for the “third way” that Jesus talked about, the way that goes beyond our differences and into an area to which Spirit is calling us all. By getting beyond our differences, we dare to believe that we can bring about a Kingdom of God on earth, where we transcend our differences, not ignoring our disagreements, but finding a way to go through them and beyond our fears. We recognize that this is not easy work, but have faith that this is our work, and it is work that we cannot rightly lay down.
On Saturday night we joined for a Fireside Chat, a panel of Friends from different branches of Quakerism talking of their history and movement through the different kinds of Friends. We were especially moved to hear from a North Carolina Friend who talked of her struggle to reconcile Jesus’ radical love with a history of Friends’ participation in discrimination and oppression. One Friend from Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) talked of her struggles with marriage equality, but more importantly shared with us her personal journey, begun when an Epistle Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns (then called Friends for Lesbian and Gay Concerns) came to her Yearly Meeting. We had wondered those many years ago when we drafted our epistle whether conservative yearly meetings would even read our epistle. It seems our prayers had been answered. A third Friend shared his experiences of discovering he was gay, though married with children, as both he and his wife sought support from their Meeting, as many other divorced Friends had done. A fourth Friend shared her history with evangelical churches and her experience in Oregon where she helped folks get beyond hurtful language so that they could talk with each other. She spoke of living in a world so violent that even our speech is militarized and of trying to overcome that violence by “Opening Hearts and Minds.” She urged us in a talk the next day to “Listen, Affirm, Respond, and Add to the discussion.”
On Sunday night we had another Fireside Chat around the past, present and future of equality struggles. We heard about historical struggles and personal history. Willie and Agnes Frye spoke in moving terms of their deep, painful struggle around their support of FLGBTQC and their gay son. Also, a young adult Friend spoke of the struggle of being faithful to God’s call and the emerging ministry she carries. Their words gave us a glimpse of the power of living Truth and were followed a lesbian Friend who spoke of her struggle to answer her deeply felt call to ministry within North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM). This was followed by a presentation by Peterson Toscano, “Queer 101.” With laughter, we were brought back to the importance and the radical idea that being who we are called to be can change the world!
At the end of our brief time together, we have discerned a deep truth: that we have been given a taste of being called to table, a table to which Jesus called all people -- including the despised: prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen, priests, women and children--people who somehow would find the faith that love is stronger than hatred and would learn that non-violence must be practiced in deed, as well as word.
We go forth from this weekend with the joy of having spent time with many different kinds of Friends. We also carry with us the pain of knowing that other Friends who were invited either could not or would not join us. We acknowledge our own responsibility for some of this, and for the fact that our community does not seem theologically “safe” to some Christians. We continue to struggle as a community with radical inclusiveness and our own continuing-to-be-revealed form of Quakerism. We continue to commit ourselves to not to let our language, our ignorance, or our own unconscious racism separate us from each other and commit ourselves to seek for deeper unity.
We also share with Friends everywhere the irony of this weekend, that our desire to experience One Spirit was first met with exclusion. When we sought for this gathering to use Quaker Lake Camp here in North Carolina, owned by North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM), we were denied the use of the camp. We do not respond with rage or anger, but with deep sadness. Who knows how deep our wounding? We acknowledge our sadness that in many respects it feels like 35 years ago when lesbian and gay Friends first came together to show a presence in the Friends community and to say, “We are your brothers, your sisters, your husbands, your wives, your pastors, your sons, your daughters, and your Friends. Let us rejoice in our diversity!” Friends, there is much work yet to be done to bring us all to Jesus’ table.
And we conclude by acknowledging our deep appreciation of the gifts of support by those North Carolina Monthly Meetings who were able to be with us in love and support and who helped to make this gathering so spiritually rich and deep! You have given us your gift of love and we send love in return! Please consider joining us for worship and fellowship when we next gather as a part of Friends General Conference Summer Gathering in River Falls, Wisconsin, June 30 – July 7, 2007.