Friday, February 28, 2014

"An Open Letter to the General Secretary of Friends United Meeting"

An Open Letter to the General Secretary of Friends United Meeting
by Helen Marie Staab

Good evening Colin,

My name is Helen and I was present for the discussion at Beacon Hill Friends House this past Sunday. I wanted to write to thank you for coming all this way to speak with us, and to take a moment to speak to my concerns on this issue.

I want to be clear that while this is a deeply personal issue for me, it is also deeply spiritual. Neither my personal stake in rights for LGBTQ Friends nor the current cultural climate make my feelings on this any less Spirit-led. I too have labored with, prayed over, and sought truth on this subject. My struggle has not been to discern the morality or sinfulness of my sexuality, but whether I can be part of a religion that uses theology as an excuse for bigotry. I have struggled with whether, as a youth worker, I can encourage youth to be Quaker when I know that not all circles of Friends will welcome them. I have questioned whether I can faithfully live my ministry as a youth worker in a broader community that would have me hide who I am in order to be allowed to work with youth.

I am honored to spend time with Quaker youth, Queer youth, and broader populations of underprivileged youth, and I can tell you that this is a life or death situation. The risk that Quakers take when we cannot unite against prejudice is not that some straight Friends are going to feel uncomfortable, it's that people will keep on dying, and we will be complicit in our inaction.  There are children sleeping on the street, being murdered, and killing themselves because they do not have a community that is willing to take a stand for them. I myself am not willing to prioritize the discomfort of overcoming prejudice over their lives. To be asked to do so is an insult to me, to the youth, and to the truth that I believe to be at the core of our faith.

Additionally insulting to my faith is the implication that a community can be welcoming without being affirming. When we welcome only the parts of a person that do not challenge us to grow, we invalidate their existence as a whole person. No person can feel truly welcome in a place where they are not affirmed, and to suggest that we ought to settle for that implies that we are not worthy of the full love of the community and of God. Communities that do not seek to affirm all members are stunting themselves spiritually and cutting themselves off from the possibility for wholeness. Quakerism teaches us that we must be ready to be transformed by our faith, and the principles of radical love and inclusivity require readiness for total transformation as well. To settle for anything less is to sell ourselves short.

I'm not going to address the theological basis for homophobia. I am hoping that you know as well as I that there is no possible justification that can outweigh our call to see the Light of God in every person and affirm each other's ability to love & grow in whatever form that comes. The time for Quakers to unify on this issue and come out in full support of LGBTQ rights has come and gone; we are behind. We have watched people die while we discern how uncomfortable it might make some of us to let go of our prejudices. My position on this may sound extreme, and I do empathize with the nuances and complexities that exist in our community, but it is as simple as this: We are here to witness and be transformed by the radical love of God and to bring that love to others. There is no room for discrimination there, and there is no justification for allowing suffering and death to continue while we pick and choose what manifestations of love we affirm.

I hope that you will take the words that you heard on Sunday back with you to others in FUM. I felt that discussion to be very powerful and spirit led, and I am endlessly grateful to be part of a community that speaks the truth so clearly and without hesitation. I hope too that you can hear my words and know that they are fueled both by a deep love for the Quaker community and a steadfast conviction that we can, and must, do better.  

(c) 2014 Helen Marie Staab.  Reprinted with permission.  

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