Many Friends have been made aware of growing division in the body of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM). Several monthly meetings have notified the staff, executive committee, and ministry and counsel of the yearly meeting that several issues are at the center of concern about unity and that they desire action to be taken. For some, this action would include asking particular meetings to leave.
There have been tensions in NCYM (FUM) for many years over the usual theological and social issues, but unlike other North American yearly meetings, it did not experience a separation throughout the tumultuous nineteenth century of divisions into Hicksite, Orthodox, Gurneyite, Wilburite, Otisite, Kingite, Holiness, Conservative and other branches. Only in 1904 did a small division occur, resulting in two yearly meetings: NCYM (Conservative) and our NCYM (FUM)—the “FUM” indicating our membership in the international Friends United Meeting. Subsequent developments of Friends General Conference, Evangelical, and Holiness associations have been primarily the result of Friends’ moving into the state. A few meetings have separated themselves from NCYM (FUM). A wholesale restructuring and call for division would be a singular event in a history that traces back to the 1690s.
A call for recent drastic measures seems to have emanated originally from Poplar Ridge Meeting in Trinity, N.C. In its letter to the yearly meeting, it stated that NCYM (FUM) cannot move forward until the source of division in the body is addressed, and cited four particular areas:
- Differences over the person and work of Jesus Christ and the authority of scripture
- Meetings that do not affirm the Faith and Practice of the yearly meeting, including the Richmond Declaration of Faith. Also mentioned is concern over meetings dually affiliated with the FUM yearly meeting and FGC through the new Piedmont Friends Yearly Meeting
- Nonpayment of yearly meeting assessments (monetary dues to the yearly meeting)
- Leadership in the yearly meeting on the part of members of monthly meetings who are “out of harmony” with Faith and Practice
More than a dozen other Friends meetings followed Poplar Ridge’s lead and sent letters to the yearly meeting; some of the “offending” monthly meetings also sent letters stating their responses. At the annual sessions of NCYM (FUM) over the 2014 Labor Day weekend, the division led to the resignation of both the clerk of the yearly meeting and the clerk of the executive committee. Slates of almost all committees could not be approved owing to concerns over names from “offending” monthly meetings.
Several of the meetings concerned over unity have stated that if their complaints are not addressed to their satisfaction by March 15, 2015, they will start placing their assessments into escrow until that time when a resolution has been reached. These meetings have stated that coöperative projects such as Friends Disaster Service and the work at the MOWA Choctaw Center in Alabama are fine, but “central tenets” about the nature of humanity, the atonement of Jesus, and salvation by Christ alone must be adhered to.
A committee was formed at the annual sessions to address these concerns and to develop queries for the yearly meeting to address. This committee will report to the Representative Body on Saturday, November 1, in a meeting at Forsyth Meeting in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Of course, there has been much discussion among Friends in NCYM (FUM) and in the wider Quaker community about this situation, with no clear sense of way forward. There is great heartache over the possibility of a physical division and meetings being ostracized. There has also been some fruitful conversation among those in the vast middle of the yearly meeting who don’t want to see a separation.
Through it all, this writer at least hopes that we may heed the wise words of Allen Jay (1831–1910) who wrote in his Autobiography, having lived through almost all the great separations of the nineteenth century:
Has a separation ever caused more people to hear the Gospel? Ever enlarged the Church? Ever shown to the world more of the gentleness and meekness of Christ? Has a separation ever caused the world to exclaim, “Behold how these Christians love one another?” Has it ever caused those who held wrong views to turn and hold right ones?