Still Asking: Who Is Our Neighbor?

Third day of the Eighth Month, 2008

Dear Friends,

On the last day of Western Yearly Meeting’s 2008 Annual Session, which I attended as a representative of Baltimore Yearly Meeting under a traveling minute, Friend John Punshon preached during the morning worship service. He recounted the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), asking his listeners to imagine themselves as the story’s characters and advising his listeners to act with kindness, like the Good Samaritan himself, and to have gratitude, as the man who was robbed must have had for the Samaritan who rescued him.

In the silence that followed Friend John Punshon’s sermon, a message came to me: that we members of Friends United Meeting must indeed ask ourselves what role we play in this parable. In many ways, we are the Samaritan who helps to heal those who are hurt, particularly when we serve those who are poor, ill, or victims of violence. Yet we are also the thieves when we stop those who would follow their divine leading to serve simply because these Friends are different. We are robbing these Friends of their divine gifts (and what gifts can possibly be greater or more important in one’s life?) to follow their callings, forcing them to hide their light under a bushel (Luke 8:16-18) and bury their talents (Matt. 25: 14-32). We are committing this wrong through our personnel and volunteer policy, which states: "It is expected that intimate sexual behavior should be confined to marriage, understood to be between one man and one woman."

I spoke to a Baltimore Yearly Meeting member who is a lesbian and who has been faithfully married to another woman for more than 20 years. She has training and skills that could benefit Kaimosi Hospital, an FUM project in Kenya (and, as a volunteer from the hospital told attendees at Western Yearly Meeting, the hospital desperately needs help). This BYM Friend feels strongly led to help the hospital, but the FUM personnel and volunteer policy bars her from serving, from obeying a leading just because she is a lesbian.

I know this policy is based on the belief some Friends have that "intimate sexual behavior" between two men or two women is sinful and that marriage should be limited to heterosexual couples. This creates a double- standard, an inherent inequality, as it forces gays and lesbians to live a life of celibacy not required of straight Friends. Nor does the policy recognize the long-term, faithful, and committed marriages of gay and lesbian couples.

Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Matt. 7:120). Jesus advised his followers to remove the plank from one’s own eyes before removing the speck from one’s neighbor’s (Matt. 7:1- 5, Luke 6:41-42).

Jesus ate meals with, spoke to, and spent time with those whom the people of his religious community considered sinful, evil, and unclean, such as lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors (Luke 5:12-16, 7:36-38, 17:11 -19, 19:1-10). Jesus asked a Samaritan woman for a drink, much to her surprise since the Jewish people of the day considered Samaritans to be evil and unclean. Yet Jesus did not see her that way (John 4:7-9). He didn’t let the old, archaic laws that said he must avoid and vilify these people stand in the way of ministering to them and communing with them. He broke those rules because the Divine Calling for equality and full inclusion of all people is more important than those rules. Indeed, Jesus criticized the religious authorities of his day for putting tradition or the old laws before the command of God (Mark 7:9). We in FUM are failing to follow Jesus’ own words and example so long as we hold to a discriminatory personnel policy.

What is Jesus’ command? To love God and to love your neighbor (Mark 22:37-40, Luke 10:25-28). When asked, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29), Jesus replies with the story of the Good Samaritan, a story about a person whom his religious community considered sinful and unworthy. This supposedly evil man, who the Jewish people of the day thought would contaminate them and their holy work, earns Jesus’ praise as being merciful. This man, who the religious authorities of the day said could harm their integrity and their holy fellowship, is the one Jesus raises as an example to others.

So, Friends, we must ask ourselves: should we act like Jesus, who ate and talked with those considered sinful and unworthy of human contact by the religious tradition of his day, or will we be like the Pharisees, who refused to see a new way? Will we allow those among us who are marginalized— gays and lesbians—to love their neighbors and serve as the Good Samaritan by following their divine leadings or will we in FUM continue to use the personnel policy to rob them and ourselves? Will we, FUM, be the man who is robbed, the thieves, the innkeeper, or the Good Samaritan? We must ask ourselves: who is our neighbor?

In Peace,

Jennifer Chapin-Smith

Jennifer Chapin-Smith

Jennifer Chapin-Smith is a member of Adelphi (Md.) Monthly and Baltimore Yearly Meeting. (BYM is affiliated with both FUM and Friends General Conference).