Indiana Trainwreck (The Separation Generation, Volume 1): Divisions in Indiana Quaker Communities Over Inclusion of Homosexuals, Church Authority, Christ, and the Bible
Reviewed by Isaac Barnes May
April 1, 2021
By Stephen W. Angell and Chuck Fager. Quaker Theology, 2020. 267 pages. $13.95/paperback; $3.99/eBook.
Indiana Trainwreck (The Separation Generation, Volume 1) is a collection of articles previously published in the journal Quaker Theology that details a dispute about a minute passed in 2008 by West Richmond (Ind.) Meeting. The minute sought to “affirm and welcome all persons,” irrespective of sexual orientation, and thus served as a catalyst for the division of Indiana Yearly Meeting (IYM). The value in the book lies in its documentation of the intolerance of IYM in forcing out affirming meetings in its organization.
Quakerism in the United States has undergone several divisions over the inclusion of LGBTQ people and same-sex marriage, pitting Evangelical Friends against theologically diverse Liberal Friends. In the past two decades, North Carolina, Western, Northwest, and Indiana Yearly Meetings have seen upheavals unknown in Quakerism since the Hicksite–Orthodox split and later schisms of the nineteenth century.
West Richmond Meeting, a pastoral and Christ-centered meeting located near Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., did not unite to support same-sex marriage but felt prepared to allow gay and lesbian people full participation in their meeting. IYM objected, arguing that the yearly meeting prohibited its constituent meetings from allowing LGBTQ people to hold membership or leadership positions.
The argument became one of church governance. IYM claimed that Quakerism had a presbyterian system of church governance, so its ruling against LGBTQ acceptance was binding on West Richmond Meeting. West Richmond asserted that Quakerism had a congregational system, and that a meeting had the autonomy to pass the minutes it chose, regardless of the yearly meeting.
The debate quickly expanded, and in 2013, 15 meetings, including West Richmond, formed the New Association of Friends, while 45 meetings stayed within IYM. Though the process was negotiated, many in the New Association felt that they had been forced out of IYM by an Evangelical faction invested in making the yearly meeting theologically and politically more homogeneous.
Most of the reporting in Indiana Trainwreck was written by Earlham School of Religion professor Stephen W. Angell, though the book has some short editorial commentary by Chuck Fager, who has written prolifically on contemporary Quakerism, and a piece by Stephanie Crumley-Effinger, who recently retired from Earlham School of Religion as director of the Supervised Ministry Program. Angell and Crumley-Effinger are both connected to West Richmond Meeting, and none of the writers conceal the fact that they strongly sympathize with the New Association of Friends.
In 1982, IYM minuted “homosexual practices to be contrary to the intent and will of God for humankind,” and while later statements asked for gay and lesbian people to be treated fairly, the yearly meeting’s stance was that accepting LGBTQ people would be incompatible with Christianity and Quakerism. The yearly meeting could not even accept the view that welcoming LGBTQ people was a matter on which Friends might come to different understandings; any tolerance for LGBTQ people was deemed unacceptable.
The book makes a strong case that the dispute needs to be understood in a broader historical context, as part of a gulf within U.S. Quakerism between Evangelical and Liberal Friends that has widened since the mid-twentieth century. Angell argues that seeds of this conflict were apparent in Evangelical Friends’ opposition to participating in the National Council of Churches, World Council of Churches, and other ecumenical outreach efforts. He also points to efforts of Evangelical Friends to “realign” Friends United Meeting in the early 1990s by splitting it into two Quaker organizations: one Liberal and one Evangelical.
There are some issues with the book, which was not produced by a professional publisher. It needs more copyediting, as it has formatting errors. It would have been helpful if it were written in a way that was accessible to non-Quakers, as it assumes readers have a high degree of familiarity with the Religious Society of Friends in the United States. It is easy to imagine that United Methodists or other groups undergoing similar splits over LGBTQ inclusion might find the book useful if it had been written with a more general audience in mind.
Those issues aside, this is an important work that provides one of the few accounts of these contemporary splits. Readers of Friends Journal may be surprised to learn just how far apart contemporary Quaker beliefs are. Indiana Trainwreck serves as an important reminder that the struggle for the equality for LGBTQ people is not finished, even within the Religious Society of Friends.
Isaac Barnes May is an assistant professor of American studies at the University of Virginia. He is a member of Charlottesville (Va.) Meeting.