Editor’s Desk: Safety in Meetings

Fast Facts

  • Features run 1200-2500 words
  • Submissions close December 27, 2021
  • Questions? Email [email protected] 

Safety can mean all sorts of things. We should expect our religious community to be free from bullying, aggressive behavior, racist assumptions, sexual misconduct, petty jealousies, manipulative tactics, and exclusionary decision-making processes. But Quaker communities are full of humans. I think it’s safe to say that many of us have stories of Friends acting badly.

What’s interesting, and what we want to see in this upcoming March issue on “Safety in Meetings,” is meetings working collectively to protect members from unsafe practices and address problems that threaten to divide us. How do we react when tempers flare? When someone’s been treated badly? If we have a sexual predator sitting on our benches every week, how do we protect their potential target, be they a child or an adult?

Most of these issues are not particular to Friends. What can we learn from other churches who have dealt with scandals of sexual abuse? What is the role of the monthly meeting community and of the yearly meeting? Insurance companies and governmental bodies are also interested in our responses when legal lines are crossed. How have we adapted to their requirements?

There are also less formal responses. The #MeToo movement gave us the idea of “whisper networks”—women quietly telling other women about men who are known to be too touchy, disrespectful, or sexually aggressive. I’m sad to report that these do exist among Friends.

Institutions—even Quaker ones—typically cover up news on sexual assaults that take place on their property or in their gatherings or through their networks. There’s a mix of reasons to keep things quiet—from an altruistic wish to protect the identity of victims to a more self-serving concern about reputation. But by keeping quiet, do we project a false sense of security? Are people less on their guard because they rarely hear of the problems that take place behind the scenes? And what is our responsibility when a predator simply moves on to another Quaker community?

Some specific angles for writing include:

  • What are some best practices we’ve adopted? For example, background checks to work with children and ensuring two adults are always present. If there are costs involved, who pays them? How are the logistics worked out?
  • What happens when there is a rupture in the meeting—bullying, microaggressions, the kind of gossiping early Friends might have called detraction? How do meetings work through this? How do we stop the aggression? How do we hold vulnerable people in the meeting when they’re being hurt?
  • How do we hold up values of trust and love when insurance companies are dictating specific rules based on suspicion?
  • How do we deal with known abusers in our meeting community? How do we balance their ongoing recovery with concerns about potential victims in our meeting?

Submit: Safety in Meetings

Other upcoming issues:

  • Climate Change and Sustainability, due February 21, 2022.
  • Vocal Ministry, due March 21, 2022.

Do you have ideas for topics you’d like us to cover? We’re beginning our work to create the 2021-2023 list of themes. Email us at [email protected] with suggestions.

Learn more general information at Friendsjournal.org/submissions.

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