Four Minutes on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Acceptance

Valley Friends, formerly Harrisonburg Friends, have been working with the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) acceptance since 1987. At this time, the meeting is once again considering how we should relate to organizations that discriminate against persons who are LGBT. Two immediate examples are before us: Friends United Meeting (FUM) and Eastern Mennonite University (EMU). Both of these organizations forbid the hiring of those who are openly living a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender life. Both of these organizations also are noted for their dedication to peacemaking and justice. Our Peace and Social Concerns committee needs guidance about allocating Meeting funds to organizations that discriminate against LGBT persons but otherwise do exemplary work.

INTRODUCTION

In our dealings with each other and with the world, Quakers are guided by individual and collective religious experience of the Inner Light. This Light or Guide is inherent in everyone and it is the wellspring from which Friends have been moved for over 350 years to work for peace and social justice for all people. Thus, Quakers have been early and persistent advocates for education and prison reform, women’s rights and anti-slavery and anti-war movements. Friends’ experience of the inner light has also been central to our recognition, understanding and acceptance of continuing revelation. Just as spiritual revelation unfolds with deepening experience in each person over the course of her/his life, so too does revelation unfold collectively within and across generations. Each generation is presented with new knowledge in the world, knowledge that is tested against the spiritual insights, values and testimonies arising from the depths of Quaker religious experience. When such new knowledge is found to be in accord with those insights and values it must be accepted, even when it refutes previously held understanding. Continuing revelation also means that we humbly acknowledge the limitations of our understanding at any given time so that we may remain open to the unfolding of a fuller, deeper experience of life and the way forward.

The following minutes therefore are not an endpoint but instead they are four moments in an ongoing, unfolding process that has been as faithful as possible to our individual and collective experience of the Inner Light.

MINUTE 1. WELCOME

We wish our Meeting to be a publicly affirming, safe and nurturing place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. We extend our loving care and support to all LGBT persons who seek to share the Quaker spiritual journey and corporate life.

MINUTE 2. MARRIAGE

Valley Friends Meeting affirms and celebrates all loving, non-exploitative relationships. The Meeting welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual couples to have their relationship affirmed in a marriage in the manner of Friends under the care of Valley Friends Meeting. All requests to be married under the care of the Meeting will be considered in the same way, without regard to sexual orientation. In accordance with Friends’ practice, all couples shall have at least one partner who is a member or long-term attender of the Meeting and they will submit their request to marry to a Clearness Committee. Final approval to be married in the manner of Friends rests with the Monthly Meeting.

MINUTE 3. ADVOCACY

Aware of the socially, politically, economically and legally inflicted suffering of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, we affirm the power and joy of all non-exploitative, loving relationships. As a Meeting and as individuals, we oppose any abridgment of the right to share this love. We therefore declare our intention to publicly advocate for full social acceptance and full legal rights and privileges for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and for couples of the same gender.

INTRODUCTION TO MINUTE 4

Given this declaration of advocacy, how shall we be guided in our relations with organizations whose policies discriminate against persons who are LGBT? In particular, how shall we relate to FUM and EMU, organizations that are noted for their dedication to peacemaking and justice but also forbid the hiring of those who are openly living a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender life?

FUM is an umbrella Quaker organization to which many yearly meetings belong, including our own Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM). FUM Friends have labored over many decades to bring Quaker faith and practice to people in South America and Africa. They have built schools, colleges and hospitals and been a presence for peace and justice in some of the most troubled and economically depressed areas of the world.

Since FUM’s discrimination against LGBT persons surfaced several years ago, BYM’s annual, financial contribution to FUM, derived from monthly meeting apportionments, has been frozen. Some of those frozen monies have been used to fund inter-visitation of BYM Friends with other FUM Friends. As of yet, no way forward has arisen with regard to the BYM/FUM funds or, more generally, as to how BYM Friends shall be in relationship to FUM.

Our relationship with EMU is primarily through the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) and the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI). Several of our members and attenders have taken classes at CJP and some have completed graduate degree programs there. SPI offers short, intensive courses on the theory and practice of peacemaking to individuals from around the world. Our meeting has joyfully offered a scholarship to a Quaker applicant to the SPI over the past five years.

Thus, it can be seen that while we are not in unity on LGBT concerns with FUM and EMU, we are in accord with these institutions on many other issues of peacemaking and justice. How then shall we go forward with FUM and EMU and other organizations that discriminate against persons who are LGBT?

On the one hand, we could sever relationships with these organizations, withdrawing our financial support until such time as they eliminate their policies of discrimination. On the other hand, we could stay in relationship while advocating for LGBT acceptance. Which of these two actions would best honor our solidarity with, and advocacy for, LGBT persons? Which action is in deepest accord with our experience of the Inner Light?

A strong argument to disengage from FUM and EMU, and indeed all organizations that discriminate against persons who are LGBT, can be made based on the understanding such discrimination is morally equivalent to discrimination based on race or gender. Isn’t withdrawal of support from FUM and EMUtherefore morally defensible and indeed, morally compelling?

While withdrawal from FUMEMU and indeed all organizations that discriminate against LGBT persons would make a strong statement about our commitment to LGBT rights and acceptance, such a course of action has three serious drawbacks.

First, these concerns are relatively new social concerns in our culture and thus there are many, many organizations that are not yet accepting of persons who are LGBT. Are we to withdraw from all such organizations? Are we to refrain from shopping with all retailers whose policies are not yet LGBTfriendly? Are we to withhold our local, state and federal taxes because these governments do not yet sanction full civil and legal rights for LGBT persons? Are we to refrain from visiting cities, states and countries that are antagonistic to LGBT acceptance and rights? And if we shun all such businesses, governments and localities how are we to advocate with them for change? In the case of FUM and EMU, how can we hope to change hearts and minds and thus bring about full LGBT acceptance if we have withdrawn from our relationships and closed the door on further conversation?

Second, we are also mindful that withdrawal from FUM and EMU would also be a separation from LGBTpersons and their supporters in those organizations. One Baltimore Yearly Friend with extensive experience in East Africa, David Zarembka, has written movingly of the need to stay engaged, and in solidarity, with African FUM Friends who are working to build a less homophobic African culture. Does the benefit of principled withdrawal from FUM and EMUoutweigh the cost of separation from persons within those organizations who are working to change their policies? Our hearts are uneasy with the prospect of that withdrawal.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the act of turning away from people and organizations with whom we are in disagreement is contrary to our experience of the inner light. In the aftermath of 9-11, our meeting engaged in many months of soul-searching about peacemaking and nonviolence. In February 2002 ministry arose in worship about “embracing the other.” That ministry was seasoned over the next four months and then approved in a minute in sixth month. Excerpts from the minute follow. The Light revealed in 2002 with regard to peacemaking and nonviolence also illuminates activism for LGBT acceptance in 2009.

“By turning away from those with whom we disagree, we separate from them, even demonize them. They become our enemies. We seek to counter this separation by moving towards and embracing those political leaders with whom we disagree. This movement does not require us to abandon our commitment to nonviolence and peace. On the contrary, it compels us to expand our circle of loving concern to include those with whom we have the sharpest disagreements. Thus, steadfast in our vision of peace, as revealed by our experience of the inner light, we feel called to embrace our political leaders with tender, loving witness.
Our ongoing discernment of the spirit of peacemaking has also left us truly humbled. As Quakers, we try to live the life of nonviolence ministered by Jesus when he asked his disciples to “love your enemies” and to “turn the other cheek.” However, as individuals and as a community, we are painfully aware of our own shortcomings in the struggle to live life nonviolently. We are also aware that war and violence have been normative throughout human history and that bringing the world to the peace advocated by Jesus will require efforts extending over decades and centuries. And yet, we are compelled to continue along the path of peacemaking because of our experiences, in worship and prayer, of the living, Inward Light.

Valley Friends are thus united in a desire to be peacemakers, following the narrow path, our footsteps illuminated by the Inner Light, the teachings of Jesus and our Quaker religious heritage. Fundamental to this journey is the crucial action of turning towards and embracing those with whom we are in opposition. We must steadfastly choose this act, over and over again, in our homes, in our meeting and in our wider community so that we may effectively witness for peace for our nation and our world. Our individual and communal peacemaking efforts are all vital pieces, however small, of a very, very long-term effort to move humanity away from violence.”

Thus, it seems clear that our collective path is one of moving towards and embracing those with whom we are in opposition with regard to LGBT rights and acceptance. As tempting as it might be to turn away from FUM and EMU as a matter of principle, to do so would be turning away from the Inner Guide. To paraphrase the minute of 2002, fundamental to this journey towards social justice for persons who are LGBT is the crucial action of turning towards and embracing those who are opposed to LGBTacceptance. We must choose this act, over and over again, so that we may effectively witness for LGBTacceptance and rights with a loving and tender heart. We are convinced that in this way we can best honor our solidarity with, and advocacy for, LGBT persons because this way forward is in deepest accord with our experience of the Inner Light.

Minute 4. How shall we relate to organizations that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons?

Our wish to turn towards those with whom we disagree leads us to conclude that we must stay in friendly relationship with institutions that discriminate against persons who are LGBT, especially when we otherwise have much in common with them. The principle of continuing revelation helps us to see that progress on rights for LGBTpersons will be an evolutionary process based primarily in the growth of understanding. Therefore, Valley Friends Meeting intends to advocate clearly and energetically for full social acceptance and full legal rights and privileges for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and for couples of the same gender while remaining in relationship with institutions who do not share our conviction on this issue. The form that advocacy will take must be discerned on a case-by-case basis as illuminated by our collective experience of the Inner Light.

Approved by Valley Friends Monthly Meeting 12.VII. 2009

APPENDIX

There are many, many websites available for further exploration of LGBT issues.

The struggle for LGBT civil rights in Virginia and nationwide is the subject of the following websites.

Valley Friends Monthly Meeting, Dayton, Virginia

Minutes