Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Slowing Down and Listening - Ohio Yearly Meeting 2011

I am in Barnesville this week for the annual sessions of Ohio Yearly Meeting. I have been looking forward to being at OYM sessions for about a year and a half. I was unable to attend last year, because I was serving as one of the leaders of the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage. This is my first time attending OYM as a member, and it feels very good to be here.

Since first coming to Barnesville, Ohio for the first QuakerSpring in the summer of 2007, I have returned frequently to the reassuring grounds of Stillwater Meeting House and Olney Friends School. Barnesville has become a place of comfort for me, a spiritual haven in a world where I often feel the need to keep my guard up. Somehow, among Friends in Barnesville I have always felt able to be myself, while at the same time being called into a deeper commitment to Jesus and the work of his Kingdom.

I need the peace I find in Barnesville now more than ever. Life in DC is accelerated, and I have been noticing lately that when I leave the city that I take this harried pace with me. I have allowed the busyness and stress of urban life seep into my bones. Returning to Barnesville is a good reminder to slow down. More than a reminder, being here provides me with a tangible opportunity to be re-baptized into the more deliberate pace of the discerning Body of Christ. Here, busyness is a vice, not a virtue. Listening, yieldedness and obedience - these things are valued more highly that any particular set of results that we might seek. The community of Friends gathered here in Barnesville embodies in our life-patterns and tradition a distinct sense of time and priorities.

While I do feel great joy to be here with my brothers and sisters at Ohio Yearly Meeting, I am also burdened by an unexpected spiritual heaviness. In the last year, long-standing differences within my Yearly Meeting have begun to come to the surface. I know that these wrestlings have been present for a long time, but for the first time over a decade, we are beginning to talk about it as a community.

As with many Christian bodies - Quaker or otherwise - Friends in Ohio are struggling over the question of how to understand God's work in the lives of gay folks. Is homosexual orientation to be understood as a temptation to be overcome? Does it represent a call to celibacy? Or is it, in fact, a gift from God that the Church is called to affirm? These are some of the questions that we in Ohio Yearly Meeting are wrestling with right now.

At last year's annual gathering, one of our Quarterly Meetings brought forward a proposal to amend our Book of Discipline (Faith and Practice). The suggested amendment would define marriage as being "between one man and one woman." There was clear disunity on the floor of the Yearly Meeting regarding this potential change, and so the question was forwarded to my Quarterly Meeting. Each Monthly Meeting in Stillwater Quarter was asked to consider the suggested change to the discipline and respond at our Quarterly Meeting in July.

The response at Quarterly Meeting was striking. Almost none of our Monthly Meetings had unity one way or another on this question. As a Quarterly Meeting, we drafted a minute to the Yearly Meeting encouraging Friends to wait in patience, holding this question in prayer and seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. We expressed our trust that, if we open ourselves to his guidance, the Lord Jesus will show us how we are to walk together. He will bring us into unity in the truth.

Tomorrow, during our morning business session, we will be considering the response from my Quarterly Meeting. I do not know what the results of that discussion will be, but I would invite your prayers for us. Please pray for the intercession of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, that we may be opened up to the Truth and be brought into unity. We all acknowledge that we cannot be brought into true unity unless we are prepared to change our hearts and minds. It is a great barrier to Christ's work in our midst if we dig in our heels, resolutely asserting the rightness of our own opinions.
Yet, many of us do feel very strongly about this matter. Some of us feel very clear that homosexuality is a sinful pattern of relationship which should not be affirmed. Others of us are equally clear that God has created gay folks as they are, that this creation is good, and that our queer brothers and sisters should be treated just the same as those of us who are heterosexual. How are we to be united in the mind of Christ when our own minds are already so made up?

As many Christian bodies can attest, this is a very hard conversation to have. Many groups have already split over it, and there are others that will probably split over it in the future. I have been grateful that so far we in Ohio Yearly Meeting have been able to begin this conversation in a less contentious spirit. But we are still at the beginning, and there are more challenging days ahead. Please pray for us, that we in Ohio Yearly Meeting might meet this challenge with humility, compassion and submission to the will of God as revealed to us through the Holy Spirit.


Elizabeth O'Sullivan said...

I'll be praying for you all.

I appreciate the blog very much, Micah. I am pretty sure we met in Pennsylvania at a retreat.

amyo said...

Amen. I am praying for you all and for the kin-dom to come, for God's intention to be done, in you and among you, as in us all and among us. So be it.

blessings, Amy

Kody Gabriel said...

I will pray for you all as you hold these questions in worship. It's a challenging thing to respect one another deeply and submit to God's guidance when feelings are so strong.

I'm visiting New England YM sessions right now, where they will be holding in worship tomorrow their relationship with FUM: how to maintain faithful relationship as a body while honoring and accomodating those Friends who feel unable to contribute to FUM financially because of the personnel policy.

It's hard labor. I just hope it reminds us all to return to the Source.

Much love to you, Friend.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I was present at OYM’s annual sessions last year when the proposal to add a definition of marriage to Ohio’s book of discipline came to the floor.

The person presenting the proposal made an impassioned, quite partisan speech. A weighty opponent of the proposal then pulled me aside to tell me that the proposal would never get anywhere because the largest quarter of the meeting was not in sympathy with it.

It seemed to me that I was witnessing a political struggle over a divisive issue, not much different from the sort of thing I might see in some secular legislative assembly.

I thought then about the very private, gentle, non-divisive approach taken by Joseph Pike and his comrades in their efforts to reform Irish Quakerism, and by John Woolman and his comrades in their efforts to end slavery among North American Friends.

My prayers are with your yearly meeting, Micah.

Jules said...

biggest thing to remember is to read What God's word says about it. There are different passages in the Bible that talk about a person of the same gender that shouldn't do the things that a man and woman do together. To me its very clear that marriage should be between one man and one woman. Prayers to you and your fellowship as u seek the Lord in this matter.

Kevin-Douglas G. Olive said...

Micah, you know that at Old Town, this is one major reason why we have been considering Baltimore Yearly Meeting and North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). We are already welcoming and affirming of GLBT persons. At the same time, the dedication of OYM Friends to the Gospel is something we affirm and uphold. When my partner and I were cleared for a celebration of commitment (not marriage) at West Knoxville Friends in 1999 or 2000, there was no unity on gay marriage. However, there was unity on taking our relationship under its care. I caution Christians against taking certain texts in the scriptures which are specific to the audiences to which they were written and which also address cultural and religious concerns of the time. Do not make the folly of bringing the Torah to the 21st century or making two or three texts in the Epistles apply to very different situations today. I hope that OYM will allow monthly meetings the independence to discern which couples' unions should be offered pastoral care and which ones shouldn't; be they opposite or same-gender. My prayers are with these Friends.

Melinda said...

Thank you for this honest, heartfelt, respectful, and thoughtful blog post. As an Episcopalian who married into a Quaker community, I absolutely see such discussions to be political disputes. I admire the Quaker intent to listen for God's voice above all else. (Not that doing this is a lesser priority in other faiths; it's just that making this deep listening a fundamental priority gives me hope that it's more likely to actually happen.) I pray for that and for all of you who are a part of the process.

In response to the comment from "Jules" - you seem to be referring to a Hebrew Scripture verse that says (basically) "You shall not do things with another man that you would do with a woman." If I am correct, this is one of the 400+ purity code rules from ancient Israel. I have two things to say about it.

1. Don't forget that Jesus whittled away the chaff to remind people that there are only two commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, with all your soul, and all your might. And love your neighbor as yourself. (The rest was "fluff" that was interfering with peoples' ability to live according to God's true will.)

2. As a lesbian, I assure you that I will NEVER do anything with a man (or any other woman, for that matter) that I have done in my intimate relationship with my wife.

Eric Dimick Eastman said...

"For there are eunuchs, that were so born from their mother's womb" Mat 19:12

What could Jesus possibly be talking about if not gay men?

Jesus is referring back to the prophet Isiah 56.

Remember, taken out of context and interpreted literally, the Biblical view of marriage is between one man and an arbitrary number of wives, concubines and slaves. I prefer the 21st century understanding of marriage to the 1st century one; I am just highlighting the danger of taking a few human-chosen phrases and putting them in the place of the whole Word.

Jules said...

here's what I don't get. what is the point of believing in the Bible if we are not going to apply what it says. us Christians today are part of the New Testament Church and are we suppose to go by what the Apostles taught? Doesn't paul say something against homosexuality? Societies and cultures may change but the way humans think and act don't. In the Greek the words for husband and wife mean man and woman.

Jeanne said...

Jules, I'm not a Bible scholar. But the folks over here are and they might help you understand some things about Truth: http://www.soulforce.org/article/homosexuality-bible-gay-christian

Paul also says "Test all things and hold fast to that which is good."

Jesus said Love is good. And I Love my spouse, who is a woman, as am I. Our friends love us. We love them. I'm holding fast to all of that.

Liz Opp said...

Micah, thanks for sharing your experience and your witness for holding difficult issues prayerfully.

I see many fruits of the Spirit that emerge from same-sex couples, from their families, and from individuals who, like me, don't identify as heterosexual. We are all beloved children of God.

That said, it is not up to any person to change the human heart; that work is left to God.

In the meantime, I pray that Love will weave itself throughout the time of yearly meeting and in the lives of all those who are wrestling with this issue.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Jules said...

I have friends who are lesbians and I love them as people, but I don't condone how they live. I respect them and they respect me. its a very complicated world and one day when we stand before God we will know how right or wrong we all were. blessings to you all.

Liz Opp said...

Jules, I'm glad you have friends who are lesbians... though I caution you: it sounds a lot like when White people say "I have friends who are Black." That friendship doesn't give a pass out of being an instrument of oppression, no matter the good intention behind saying it.

At the same time, I unite with the principle that having significant relationships with people who are inherently different from ourselves is important in building the kin(g)dom of God. Indeed, for God's Wholeness and Truth to be realized, we need all of us.

I am also troubled and hurt when you add "I don't condone how [your lesbian friends] live." The view from many heterosexuals like yourself is that "it's a lifestyle." Is your sexuality "just a lifestyle"? ..something that you can give up just by choosing to do so?

For me and my GLBT brothers and sisters, how we love and who we love is intricately connected to to our Center. It's about Who We Are--who God made us to be.

This I know experimentally.

Jules, I realize that tone of voice and sense of emotion is lost over this mode of communication. I am not angry. I am being stretched to put words to my own experience of Beingness.

It's akin to the difficulty that comes with how to describe being a girl when there are only boys in the room, or how to describe being a believer in God (Jesus, the Divine, the Light) when there are only atheists in the room....

I do not question who you Are, and I struggle to read you and reply to you without judgment about who you Are. I know that we will continue to wrestle with these issues of sexuality and acceptance for our Being, both as individuals and as part of the same Family seeking wholeness.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Jules said...

thanks Liz. I was just trying to express in my last post that no matter who people are I will still respect and love them as people. because that's who they are and u are people and I think that will make wrestling with these kinds of issues a little easier if we do that on both sides of the coin. blessings!

Liz Opp said...

Hmm, an odd thing has happened: Jules, I have a message in my email that says you have left another comment here, but I don't see it here. I'm willing to answer but until it shows up here, you (and others) can email me privately at lizopp AT gmail DOT com.

Micah, thanks for "hosting" these important exchanges here.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up and Equality Is Coming

Wayne Anson said...

Thanks Micah for this great post. It is good to know a community of Friends that still "waits in worship." I find that so encouraging. No wonder it is such a home for you. Again, thanks.

kevin roberts said...

yo micah

you're quite correct to point out that the laboring over this issue has just begun among us. but it's equally correct to point out that there has been a sea change recognized in OYM. the time in OYM when one could say that our corporate discernment was that "marriage is between one man and one woman" is behind us, for better or for worse.

this change to the discipline would have been incorporated without discussion a few decades ago. at the very least, OYM believes that our old idea was poorly discerned, and that christ would have us look for something else.

say hi to the wife