Holding Meetings Hostage
February 18, 2016 § 9 Comments
One of the meetings in New York Yearly Meeting withholds the portion of its covenant donation that would go to Friends United Meeting because of FUM’s personnel policy, which forbids sex outside of marriage, defined as between a man and a woman, for its staff and volunteers, which affects single heterosexuals and all homosexuals. Thus it’s often perceived as discrimination against LGBT Friends.
I know of a meeting in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting that restored a sizable sum to its covenant donation after recovering from the Great Recession, but a committee in the meeting has asked the meeting to restrict the funds to the support of the yearly meeting’s anti-racism efforts.
Several Friends walked out of a New York Yearly Meeting session some time ago when the body could not come to unity on an apology to Afro-Descendants.
I have seen individual Friends hold their meetings emotionally hostage in a business session, too, saying one version or another of: “If you do (or don’t do) ‘x’, I’ll do ‘y’.”
The first three of these examples could have several motivations, but the effect of these Friends’ actions is to hold their meeting hostage to their will; that is, to punish or threaten to punish the meeting for crossing their will.
Motivations. A number of motives could be at play, at least in the first three examples. These Friends could be expressing solidarity with a victimized group. They could be protesting. They could be standing for a testimony, feeling that their action speaks with a prophetic voice. But holding the meeting hostage is a form of withdrawal and that amounts to a form of violence.
Withdrawal—of financial support, physical presence, or spiritual commitment—says I will not participate fully in the life of the meeting. This wounds the meeting in a number of ways. Thus, it is a form of violence. Some might rationalize this by saying that the meeting does a greater violence with its action or its inaction. Such a rationalization/accusation might well be the truth—and it might well compound the violence. At the least, it kicks the flywheel of action leading to reaction; it is not the third way of love.
Love. Like withdrawal, love in our religious tradition is an action, not just an emotion. Love is a commandment, something we do most especially when we least want to. Love is laying down one’s life for one’s Friends, using “life” here in an expanded sense—love is sacrifice. Love is staying at the table, maintaining one’s spiritual commitment even in adversity and discomfort. Love is not treating others as we would not want to be treated.
Trust. These actions evince a lack of trust. A lack of trust in the meeting community, in Quaker process, perhaps in the skills and discernment of the presiding clerk, and ultimately, lack of trust in the Holy Spirit. Now, it may well be that the community, with its present actions and/or its past history, does in fact deserve distrust, or that the clerk is in over her or his head. And we have all seen Quaker process go bad. In the face of these obstacles, it is hard to trust the Spirit, to really commit to worship instead of throwing ourselves into ceaseless wrangling.
The covered meeting. Friends tend not to trust the Spirit when they have never experienced a covered meeting, never seen the meeting break through into the Light against everyone’s expectations. You can’t blame them, really. This just doesn’t happen very often. You might attend a meeting for years before you see the dramatic in-breaking of the Spirit-reign. And even if you have had this experience, you can forget how holy it is and how we get there if you have a dog in the fight.
Faith is patience. Usually, the coming of revelation in a covered meeting requires faith. Faith means patience, and commitment to worship. It is our faith that we all can commune directly with G*d and that the meeting as a community also can commune directly with the Spirit of Love and Truth, and that revelation is, in fact, continuing. However, it can be very frustrating when it takes too long for others to see the light that blazes so brightly in your own mind. This frustration casts a shadow on the Light. This frustration is a cousin to anger, arrogance, and spiritual pride. It can be an ancestor of hate.
Forced agreement. Sometimes, a meeting submits to the coercion. This often happens simply out of exhaustion. Or sometimes, someone stands aside, or asks to be recorded as standing aside, either by name or not—we have a subtly gradated system for acknowledging disunity while still going forward. This gets into a difficult area of collective discernment and I have come to believe that it should virtually never be allowed, though I still have mixed feelings about it.
What to do? When Friends withhold themselves from the spirit of the meeting or when a Friend proposes to stand aside, the clerk needs to ask some probing questions. Have these Friends been given the opportunity to fully explain themselves? Do they fully understand their own feelings or leading in the first place? Has the meeting lost the spirit of worship? Can it be recovered?
If the dissenters have not really been heard, or if they have not really had a chance to hear their own inner Guide, more worship is required, just as we hold a clerk or recording clerk in prayer while s/he crafts a minute.
The bottom line. The question is this: are the Friends who seem to be holding the meeting hostage truly led by the Spirit or not (assuming the clerk and the meeting agree that s/he is neither incapacitated nor a jackass)? Is the Holy Spirit behind the withholding of funds, or the restriction of funds, or the stop in a Friend’s mind, or not?
How do you decide?
With worship. With love and faith.
Ultimately, either our faith in Spirit-led worship is genuine—or we feel that we can lead it better ourselves. If it’s genuine, then we pray and worship.