Divisions in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM)

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Photo by Flickr user Ian Sane (CC BY 2.0)

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:

  1. Differences over the person and work of Jesus Christ and the authority of scripture
  2. 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
  3. Nonpayment of yearly meeting assessments (monetary dues to the yearly meeting)
  4. 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 cooperative 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?

Max L. Carter

Max L. Carter is the director of Friends Center and campus ministry coordinator at Guilford College, where he also directs the Quaker Studies program.

7 thoughts on “Divisions in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM)

  1. Dear Friends, Quakers hold a unique spiritual treasure: Jesus’s inclusivity. It is our ministry to share our inclusive worship in a gentle, generous way. We have a profound responsibility to live the revolutionary inclusivity that made Jesus’s ministry radically different from all before or since. It is without a price but for the diminishing of the need to be right. Let us celebrate the unique gift of Jesus’s inclusivity.

  2. Some advocate remaining together no matter how much disunity there may be. For these folks, the cost of schism is too high. On the other hand, the cost of skirmishing year after year over unresolved differences also exacts a high price!

    Unless there is a clear and mutually acceptable path for resolving the issues involved, I speculate that the dividing into more homogeneous groups is the most creative and peaceful solution to the discord.

    My wife and I were disfellowshipped by our Friends meeting. Since then, we worshiped for years with conservative Mennonites. Having lost my wife to cancer in 2013, I still worship with the same Mennonite congregation. Mennonites divide frequently, and still grow in numbers by leaps and bounds! Schism, managed well, can be a step forward.

  3. If I had the ability to gather NCYM and all those who favor divisive and decisive responses to conflict within the meetings of NCYM together in one room, I would not berate them for a policy that leaves the Religious Society of Friends in shambles, in and about North Carolina. Nor would I lecture them on their behaviors with Biblical quotations, any of which could be criticized roundly during the very process of interpretation needed to make their meanings clear. Nor would I sling blame left and right on everyone for not being true to Jesus Christ, an action in which He Himself would never have indulged.

    Jesus stood for love and acceptance, above all. He did not agree with dogma and self-righteousness, but taught simple virtues, such as love, acceptance, and insight. He would not have resorted to argument, blame, the expulsion of congregations, or the breaking away of congregations from a church, to resolve conflicts.

    If I could gather all the combatants together in one room, I would simply lead them in silence. Hours of silence, if need be. Enough silence to make the voice of God as plain as the nose on your face. Enough silence to evaporate the ego and all its silliness. Enough silence to leave everyone dissolved in fellowship and love.

    I am a member of Portland Friends Meeting, an unprogrammed Meeting within New England Yearly Meeting. I have no arrogant belief that our unprogrammed format makes us inherently any more peaceful, compassionate, or true to the Spirit of Christ than Friends in any other part of the world who rely more on pastors and Bible. I believe that there is room for all teachings and values in the Religious Society of Friends. If we agree that Jesus taught harmony, then let us live the harmony of Jesus as our response to conflict.

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