Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I didn't speak up, and my conscience is ruffled

I didn't speak up.

And now I have that same feeling I do when I was led to speak in Meeting for Worship, or Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, but didn't.  Or when someone has insulted me, or someone else in my hearing, based on religion, gender, class, or something similar, and I didn't speak up.

My conscience is ruffled, like the surface of a body of water is ruffled when it is disturbed.  This uneasy feeling won't leave me.  I am not at peace.

I was at General Meeting for ScotlandAs I mentioned earlier, Meeting for Business opened with this quote from Britain Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice:


I have been greatly exercised for some time by the image we like to present of ourselves (albeit with beating of breasts) as a white, middle-class, well-educated group of heterosexual people, preferably in stable marriages with children that behave in socially acceptable ways. I do feel that this is a myth. The danger of such myths is that we exclude many potential Quakers who feel they cannot/do not live up to the image or who feel that such a group is not one with which they wish to be associated. Sadly, many of us within the Society who do not fit in feel marginalised and second-class.

Another effect is that many problems faced by a large proportion of people are seen as separate: people who are poor, facing oppression, living in poor housing, experiencing prejudice are the 'others'. This enables us to be very caring but distant (and sometimes patronising) and also makes it difficult to be conscious of prejudice behind some of the normally accepted assumptions of our society/Society, such as that people who are unemployed are a different group from those who have employment; that poor people are poor ... because they are not as bright or as able as the rest of us or because their limited homes did not give them the opportunities that a good Quaker home would have done; that children living in single-parent families are automatically deprived by that very fact.

Until we as a Religious Society begin to question our assumptions, until we look at the prejudices, often very deeply hidden, within our own Society, how are we going to be able to confront the inequalities within the wider society? We are very good at feeling bad about injustice, we put a lot of energy into sticking-plaster activity (which obviously has to be done), but we are not having any effect in challenging the causes of inequality and oppression. I do sometimes wonder if this is because we are not able to do this within and among ourselves.

Susan Rooke-Matthews, 1993

This spoke to me deeply, and spoke to my condition.  (It also reminded me of this post.)

General Meeting for Scotland "acts on behalf of Britain Yearly Meeting in such procedures as may be required by the Scottish parliament and Scottish legal affairs." A big Scottish governmental item right now is the Scottish Government's Consultation on same-sex marriage.  And so one of the items on our agenda was the General Meeting's response to the this consultation.  (For more information about the consultation on same-sex marriage, click here.)

Friends involved with the working group for the response presented the draft of "A general statement to accompany the response submitted on behalf of The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), General Meeting of Scotland." 

Beloved Wife and I found this a deeply moving document.  It speaks not only of equality, but also of religious liberty, of conscience, and of not imposing our discernment on other religious faiths.

However, there was one part of it which made my heart pound in a different way.  The very first sentence begins:

"Quakers are a non-hierarchical and Christian body..." 

I was not in unity with this statement.

And I didn't speak up.

...Why didn't I speak up?

I  know that there is a sizable minority of Friends in Britain who are most definitely not Christian.  I am honestly not certain yet if Britain Yearly Meeting or Friends in Britain consider themselves a Christian body or not.  Looking later, I find the Quakers in Britain website states, "The Quaker way has its roots in Christianity and finds inspiration in the Bible and the life and teachings of Jesus" (which can be interpreted as Christian, or as Christian-rooted but not by definition Christian); Britain Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice Introduction begins, "This book of faith & practice constitutes the Christian discipline of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain" (which sounds explicitly Christian to me). 

I am even less certain how Friends in Scotland see themselves.  There's quite a bit of theaological diversity among Friends I've met here, with a lot less fuss about it than in most parts of the States I've lived or traveled in.  A lot of Pagan Friends have come out to me since I've arrived here.  Even more people have told me about other Friends they know who are Pagan, some of whom are in the broom closet, some of whom are out.  A lot of Friends seem very Pagan-friendly without worrying about whether other people will think they're Pagan, which I find tremendously refreshing.  A few Buddhist Friends have also come out to me.  So do Scottish Friends see themselves as primarily Christian, with some non-Christian members?  Do they see themselves as rooted in or springing from Christianity, but with a membership which is diverse in theaology, and that diversity essential to the body?  (A third way?)

The Quakers in Scotland website states, "Quakerism is a non-credal religion, with Christian roots, whose worship is based on silence and listening to the spirit."

(It doesn't say, "...listening to the Inward Christ," which would be clearly Christian, or even, "...listening to God.")

My experience of Quakerism and of Friends in the US and the UK is that Quakerism is not Christian.  I know too many non-Christian Friends: Pagan Friends, Non-Theist Friends, Jewish Friends, Buddhist Friends, not-sure-how-to-label-themselves or not-willing-to-label-themselves Friends, who are not Christian.  I know too many Quaker bodies which do not identify as Christian, though they acknowledge their Christian heritage. The Monthly Meeting and Yearly Meeting in the US where I still have my membership are theaologically diverse, and while in both bodies we acknowledge our Christian roots, we do not identify as Christian.  My Monthly Meeting at one point was clearly led not to renew our membership in an interfaith organization which was restricted to Christian organizations; even though most of our Meeting's members are Christian, many are not, and we felt in good conscience we could not allow ourselves to be identified by others as a Christian church. 

The lived, experiential truth of real-life Friends is that Quakerism is not limited to Christianity.

Therefore, it's not accurate to say Quakers are Christian, or that as a body we are Christian.

Yes, it may be perfectly accurate to say a particular body of Friends is Christian.  If that body is in unity about such a statement.  

But that body cannot speak for all Friends, and cannot speak categorically for Friends.

Whether Quakerism is majority Christian is completely beside the point.

Quakerism is majority straight, white, middle-class, cisgender, and (temporarily) able-bodied, but we would never say, categorically, things like:
  • "Quakers are a non-hierarchical body and white body..." (or, "Quakers are a non-hierarchical body of people of European descent...")
  • "Quakers are a non-hierarchical and heterosexual body..."

...and so forth.

I, sitting there in that room, a Friend in Scotland to whom that document applied, am not Christian.  And I was not in unity with that statement, "Quakers are a non-hierarchical and Christian body..."  (Not any more than I would have been in unity with any of those other statements above.)

So: why didn't I speak up? 

I had several options in that moment.  I could have asked a clarifying question.  I could have stood aside, not blocking, acknowledging that this was still rightly-ordered for the body even though I was not in unity with it.  If I truly felt that saying "Quakers are a... Christian body" is not true and is a violation of the testimony of integrity for us as a body, that this was doing violence to non-Christian Friends and to all Friends in Scotland General Meeting, I could have gone further, but I would have had to have been very, very clearly led.  (Which I was not; what I was, was deeply uncomfortable.)

I felt deeply uncertain if, in our diversity, Scottish Friends are in unity about being a Christian body. 

So: why didn't I ask? 

I could have found out very easily.  I could have stood up to be recognized by the Clerk, and asked that question: "I know Friends in Scotland are theaologically very diverse and that we have a substantial number of non-Christian members.  Are Friends in Scotland in unity that we are a Christian body?"  

When I put myself back in that room, with my pounding heart and that sinking feeling in my stomach, why didn't I ask, why didn't I speak up?

...I was afraid.

That's really what it was.  I was scared.  

I am so very conscious of being new here, even though I'm a member and even though, well, I'm here; I'm not going anywhere.

I'm so very conscious of being an American, though I'm trying to get over this so I can just listen to the guidance of the Goddess and be who She grows me being.

I'm so very conscious of being an out Pagan Friend, with an out ministry to other Pagan (and non-Pagan) Friends.  I feel exposed.  Back out there dancing on that limb by myself again.

I'd already asked a question that morning, which I felt was misunderstood and taken in a direction I hadn't meant at all.  

There are other areas of my life where I feel criticized for "talking too much."

Most of all, I guess I was afraid of that cascade of things that can happen, that does happen all too often, when I stick my head up as a minority.

Ugh!

Even though the issue we were already talking about was one of justice for a minority among us -- what's more (!), one of which I'm a member, and pretty obviously, too, sitting there holding hands with my wife, who'd also given vocal ministry as a member of a same-sex couple.

I didn't want to go there.  I didn't want those things to start happening.  I didn't want to feel more alone.  I didn't want stand up, expose myself as a further minority within my community, and risk things like being more isolated, having my concerns not heeded or simply not seen, being put down or dismissed because I'm a minority and therefore less/not important/because I'm not Christian and therefore less/not important, being told yet again that of course Quakerism is Christian even if not all Quakers are Christian, or that reality and the truth are too complicated for us to present to outsiders/too complicated for this document/not relevant to this issue...

...As if integrity and the truth are ever too complicated or irrelevant to our testimony and witness in the world and to each other.

And I kept hoping that lovely thing that sometimes happens in worship or worship for business would happen -- you know, where someone else says or brings up something, and then you don't have to.  Every other thing I was at all uncomfortable about in the draft, someone else brought up.  I really hoped someone else could be in the spotlight on this one and I would be off the hook.

It didn't happen. 

I decided to let it go, to trust the working group, to wait and see what I could find later about the supposed Christianity of Friends in Scotland.

My discomfort hasn't gone away, despite my determination to trust the working group and Meeting for Business.  And now I am acutely uncomfortable.  My peace of mind is all rumpled.

The week after General Meeting, a quote attributed to me started making its way around one particular corner of the internet.  It comes from an on-line conversation where I was describing my interpretation of part our discernment in Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC) about our changing our name.  I protested it being attributed to me -- I was interpreting, and quoting! -- but I got stuck with it.

"Our fears and other people's prejudices can not determine how we live our witness in the world and among Friends."

I am so busted.

So.  What am I going to do about my disquiet?  

I don't know yet.  Clearly, I need to do something.

In the meantime, I am listening for the Goddess to help me discern what.

And sitting in my discomfort.

And writing about it here.

I find I am feeling all sorts of reluctance to hit the "publish post" button.  I don't think I'm any more eager to post this post than I was to stand up in Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business.

But I very clearly need to.

2 comments:

Judith Bush said...

Christine says, "There's always next time."

I'll just let you know we're listening and thinking of you both.

Blessed Be.

sta┼Ťa said...

Thank you both. {{heart}}