Saturday, August 13, 2011

Seeking God's Word Together - Ohio Yearly Meeting 2011

The past few days here in Barnesville have been eye-opening and challenging. We have begun the process of wrestling together with our understandings of human sexuality including homosexuality. There are clearly a variety of perspectives within Ohio Yearly Meeting regarding the rightness of same-sex relationships and human sexuality in general.  

All of our perspectives are rooted in our desire to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ, and our understanding of how he is speaking to us through the Scriptures. We are united in the faith that it is Jesus who can bring us into unity, and that only his Holy Spirit can guide us to a proper understanding of the Scriptures. While we have differences of opinion, we recognize who our Authority is. This is a reason for hope. Though we struggle to find unity on this matter, we acknowledge that there is one, even Christ Jesus, who can lead us into the Truth.

Our shared commitment to Jesus and his Light keeps us in spiritual unity, even when we strongly disagree. Probably the most remarkable thing about this process of corporate discernment has been the spirit in which it has proceeded. It would be easy for Friends to retreat into camps and begin to question one another's motives, faith and relationship with the Lord. So far, that has not happened. Despite our differences, we have been gentle with one another, trusting that everyone here is seeking to be obedient to our risen Lord and takes seriously the witness of Scripture.

On Thursday, the gathered body of Ohio Yearly Meeting was able to come to unity on a minute regarding our present condition in regards to questions of human sexuality, including homosexuality. It was not an easy process to express our present condition as a body. We labored with this during three of our business sessions before we came to unity on the following minute:

Stillwater Quarterly Meeting reported on its deliberations regarding the "Salem Statement" on the topic of human sexuality(1), considered during our 2010 sessions. Their seven Monthly Meetings went through the important exercise of considering what God desires of His children, rather than simply airing personal opinions. Each Monthly Meeting forwarded responses to Stillwater Quarterly Meeting, which summarized them as reported below.

Friends of various perspectives are equally committed to the Lord, and we recognize that we need additional enlightenment, understanding of the underlying issues, and an openness to learning more in whatever way presents itself. The question was raised how further dialogue might take place so we can be drawn into unity. We ask the Friends Center Committee to consider planning one or more events during the coming year; additional considerations should take place locally or Friend-to-Friend. If we are faithful, it is worth the exercise.

We have struggled with questions about human sexuality for years, and we hope that waiting and listening to God, laying down our own agendas, will open a way for us to be rightly guided. We want to approach the Lord in worship with these deep concerns and hear His word for the way forward. Real Truth spoken lovingly comes with strength to bear it.

Despite the challenge of facing head-on our varied understandings of human sexuality, we were able to not only confess our disagreements in the matter, but also to agree to continue the work of corporate wrestling with what Christ is asking of us as his Church. This is not the end of the conversation, but the beginning. May we have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

Thank you so much for your prayers. It is only through the power of prayer and obedience to the Word of God(2) in our hearts that we can be brought out of confusion and into the light of God's Truth. As we are gathered together in him, Jesus gives us peace - not the human peace that comes through domination of one party over another, but the peace of his heavenly Kingdom where all contention and rancor are set aside as we humble ourselves before our Lord and our God.

Please continue to pray for us in Ohio Yearly Meeting. May we be led into all truth, trusting Jesus to show us the way that we are to walk. Our life, our faith, our unity is in him.


1. A minute from Salem Quarterly Meeting, forwarded to Ohio Yearly Meeting in 2010, which suggested the revision of the OYM discipline to - among other things - define marriage as being between "one man and one woman."

2. That is, Christ Jesus.


William said...

I am glad to hear Ohio Yearly Meeting is continuing to wrestle with this issue and to discern the will of Christ. Too often, on both sides, Friends write off one another and seek separation rather than unity through corporate discernment of the Lord's will.

The early Church had its disagreements too. Timothy and Paul had a little bit of a falling out, and Peter firmly believed gentiles could not become Followers of the Way until Christ gave him a prophetic vision reveling the contrary. Christians throughout history have never agreed on everything, but it is essential that we agree Christ Jesus is our Lord and savior and will guide us into the Kingdom.

Maybe we don't need to all have a similar understanding of homosexuality, and we should be willing to wrestle together with this issue until we receive a clear vision of unity, and if we do not, then maybe we should accept our differences. Either way, I do believe we should welcome LGBTQ folk into our meetings whether we affirm them or not and should be willing to be in loving dialogue with them if we do have concerns. It's a tough line to walk, but it may lead us more further into the Kingdom.

Anonymous said...

I cannot understand how anyone could believe that LGBTQ persons would want to join in a meeting where they are not affirmed. How welcome would you feel if a core aspect of your existence and identity is considered a sin? How would an teenager, coming to terms with their sexuality, feel if they heard homophobic messages, and would that not make them more vulnerable to depression, anxiety and even suicide? How can we stay faithful to our core testimony of equality with affirming LGBTQ persons?

Anonymous said...

Correction: How can we stay faithful to our core testimony of equality withOUT affirming LGBTQ persons?

Apologies for the typo!

Liz Opp said...

Thanks for this follow-up, Micah.

A question I have is this: Were there any Friends among you during annual sessions who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer?

if so, did any of them speak? What did they offer (realizing that the GLBTQ community is not a monolithic group)?

If not, did the yearly meeting discuss/consider inviting any GLBTQ Friends--or I suppose non-Friends--to speak with you, either individually or as a whole?

It seems to me it is easy to dwell in the hypothetical, theoretical, or unknown if we never have direct interaction with the very people we wonder about.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

PS. I am also writing about GLBTQ people and the question of marriage equality at Equality Is Coming.

Micah Bales said...

@Liz - There were some gay folks present at OYM this year, but none of them were members, as far as I am aware.

OYM is fairly strict about asking visitors to refrain from speaking to our business (unless, of course, they are inspired by the Holy Spirit to give vocal ministry). I would see value, though, in having gay Friends speak to these questions outside of business sessions.

I think that such speakers would be able to speak with more authority if they were unashamedly Christian and could justify their beliefs by Scripture. That's how we roll in OYM.

David H. Finke said...

I'm glad that William reminded us of the struggles of the Early Church as they awaited the Continuing Revelation that their Living Teacher would give them, on emotionally-charged and divising issues such as circumcision, ethnicity, and diet. The disciples had to keep learning how to listen, and then respond in faithfulness. The Way Forward wasn't always obvious when the challenge first came up. There is much that is instructive in looking at those constroversies, and how they were managed before Imperial Rome took over the church.

But a question I would have for William and any else willing to comment: When you say we should "welcome LGBTQ folk into our meetings whether we affirm them or not" I wonder what is your distinction between "Welcoming" and "Affirming"?

I know that many of our congregations (Quaker and beyond) have worked their way toward becoming "Welcoming and Affirming," but I'm always interested to know what Friends may mean by that. Be polite and nice, but don't expect leadership from "them"? Take a "Don't ask, don't tell" position? Agree to disagree about anything having to do with sexuality? Say "You can worship but you can't marry"?

I expect we won't get a single unified answer to my inquiry, but I think it's worth asking.

What does "affirming" mean to YOU, Friend?


Anonymous said...

There are two types of Scriptural sources for deriving the view that same-sex relationships are wrong. First, there are the implicit Scriptures, which talk about the marriage relationship, and in doing so, describe the relationship as between a man and woman. Second, there are the explicit Scriptures, such as those which describe a man lying with another man as sinful (e.g., Levitius 18:22) and say that “arsenokoitai” and “malakoi” are not to inherit the kingdom of God (e.g., 1 Corinthians 6:9).

But the Scripture, as a whole, is simply not clear. First, there is no single word in Ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek that lends itself to a simple word-for-word translation of “homosexual.” The word appeared in the English language for the first time in 1912 and in the Bible for the first time in the 1946 Revised Standard Version in 1 Corinthians 6:9. Second, Biblical texts do not deal with homosexuality as a psycho-sexual orientation determined at birth or developed as a relationship between consenting adults. Third, no Biblical text presents an extensive discussion of same-gender behavior or same-gender relationships. Fourth, there is no reference to homosexuality in the four gospels or in the words of Jesus as recorded anywhere.

What’s more, the implicit Scriptures do not foreclose the sanctity of same-sex relationships. They simply describe the marriage situation as it then existed; that is, they reflect a cultural norm, not any religious truth, that marriages were heterosexual. This also explains the patriarchal nature of marriage as it is described in the Scripture (Col. 3:18–4:1; Eph. 5:21–6:9; 1 Pet. 2:18–3:7)—a view of marriage which is generally rejected now as an antiquated sentiment of the time. Moreover, to the extent we are going to read between the lines in implicit Scriptures, much could be made also of same-sex relationships in Bible which are discussed in a positive light (e.g., David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, etc.).

The explicit Scriptures are also a product of their time. Almost by historical necessity, they most likely address a very different situation than what we are talking about when we refer to same-sex relationships today. The difficulty of transporting ancient phenomena to today’s society is evident by the varied and inconsistent translations of the words “arsenokoitai” and “malakoi” into English; indeed, if 1 Corinthians 6:9 were to be so easily and simply applied today, why have translators juggled nearly a dozen different translations in English alone for use in modern times? And if “arsenokoitai” meant to cover all homosexual acts, then why did Paul bother also listing “malakoi” in 1 Corinthians 6:9?

What many are calling God’s will or tradition today is simply a misuse of the Scripture to advance cultural and societal norms of human design. This is nothing new; it is the very apostacy of which George Fox in his day spoke: “When I had opened that state, I showed also the state of the apostacy since the apostles’ days; that the priest have got the Scriptures, but are not in that Spirit which gave them forth, and have put them into chapter and verse, to make a trade of holy men’s words[.]” (Fox, 1652). Friends, “[y]ou will say, Christ saith this, and the Apostles say this; but what canst thou say?” (Fell, 1694). I ask that you seek the Truth in the Light and to “distinguish this from man’s natural conscience, for conscience being that in man which ariseth from the natural faculties of man’s soul, may be defiled and corrupted.” (Barclay, 1831). As we know, “the mind being once blinded or defiled with a wrong belief, there ariseth a conscience from that belief, which troubles him when he goes against it.” (Ibid.). I suggest to you, Friends, that the objection you may have against same-sex relationships is founded in your conscience—tainted by society, culture, and dogma—and not a calling from Christ.