Safe for everyone
All people need to feel safe to speak up and have their concerns recognized (“#QuakersToo” by Anonymous, FJ Mar.). I am tired of mental health concerns being swept under the rug. Many do not want to rock the boat; looking at themselves can cause defensiveness. Feeling free to speak up is the only way to change the shame and stigma, and move forward. The situation is bad enough in families, but it’s also harmful in spiritual communities.
I am happy to say that the #MeToo movement has successfully penetrated our meeting. A man had displayed onerous behavior towards two or more women in belittling remarks of various kinds. He sought to become a member and was offered a clearness committee to discuss concerns regarding his becoming a member. He withdrew his request.
Regina St. Clare
Years ago, when I became interested in Quakerism, I attended a meeting for worship at a local meeting. A man I assumed to be a member approached me, and we talked. After the second meeting I attended, I was speaking with a woman who was a member. This man walked past me, grabbed me by the waist, and pinched me while we were talking. I turned around to him and said loudly, “Excuse me!” He chuckled and kept walking. When I turned to the woman I was with, she looked shocked, but not at him grabbing me. She looked shocked when I objected. Apparently his behavior was something women members endured. I never went back to that meeting, and I’m now an attender at another meeting.
Anonymous performs a vital service in their “What Men and People of All Genders Can Do” section. We state our belief in equality specifically in our testimonies (SPICES) for all to see. That’s commendable and shows our integrity, but we shouldn’t let that lead us to a false sense that Friends are above problems like sexual harassment. The darker impulses of those who assume male privilege also dwell among Friends. We need to ensure that our meetings are safe places for everyone.
Remembering God makes the heart calm
I’d like to thank Friend John Andrew Gallery for the article on meeting for worship with a concern for business (“Meeting for Business as Spiritual Rehearsal,” FJ Feb.), especially the section called “Remembering God.” John says he learned “remembering God” as a Muslim phrase. I learned it from a necklace that I received as a gift. It has a small carnelian oval, and carved on it is the overlapping and intertwining Arabic calligraphy that Muslims often use. It says, “Remembering God makes the heart calm.” It was a beautiful gift, as was Friend John’s article. I’m part of a yearly meeting where we are experiencing some hurt. I ask myself, are we hearing prophetic voices that unveil illusions, call us to relax our institutional ways, and welcome change? Or are Friends expressing discontent or anger that we cannot satisfy? How will we know? Will we ignore or reject those who claim they are holding our yearly meeting accountable? Is that actually what they are doing, or are they motivated by something in their own ego? Where are the elders that can be present for turbulent discussions? How many of us feel alienated, unheard, or afraid to express our views? Is the clerk getting the support needed? How do we prepare for meetings with agenda items we think might generate more hurt feelings? I found Friend John’s advice for personal preparation to be very helpful in this regard.
Loving the vulnerable in our communities
Thanks to Kody Hersh for “Sacred Responsibility” (FJ, Mar.). I especially appreciate the advice that it’s not “one and done.” A couple of decades ago, my meeting went through tremendous upheaval over a similar problem. Over months, we dealt with the issue, supporting the offender and setting up structures to allow him to continue worshiping with us while keeping prospective victims safe. The offender left our meeting because he felt uncomfortable with the restrictions we had placed on him. In the meantime, though we had cautioned that the identified offender might not be the only person we should beware of, a different person abused a child in our midst. Now, two decades later, I doubt whether anyone is on the alert for such a possibility; the signs have been taken down which required protective measures.
Friends want to trust each other and to believe the best of each other. We also believe in second chances, not acknowledging that being sexually addicted to children is a condition that is not expunged by court action, or even imprisonment. If we love the vulnerable people in our communities, we must become more educated about the risks they face in joining us. And if we love the offenders in our community, we must understand what demons they are dealing with.
St. Louis, Mo.
Not all sex offenders
Jade Rockwell’s “Sheep Among Wolves” (FJ, Mar.) has much that should be considered; all sex offenders, however, don’t fit the stereotype. They can be rehabilitated; they can “get fixed.” I understand that in their training, most therapists learn that it is a lifelong disorder, but that is not true.
My experience with a former sex offender—who is my husband—has shown me that he is rehabilitated. I met him in prison 33 years ago when I was a volunteer from a Quaker meeting. He came home 11 years ago. We have had a very good marriage for 32 years. He is a very kind, loving, and generous man, who has done a lot of work on himself in therapy and has gained a lot of wisdom. He helps people in prison and out. In prison, he was a facilitator in Alternative to Violence Project workshops. A counselor told him he was too good to be true, but he is true. Honesty and integrity are extremely important to him.
It hurts him deeply that some people are afraid of him. The only way that they will stop being afraid is by getting to know him. I ask that people get to know any former sex offenders in their meeting before painting them with a broad brush of sex offender characteristics and treating them as if people need to be protected from them. To treat people as if they are the label is to dehumanize them. Is it OK to dehumanize a person in the name of prudence?
Heather Yancey Pens
Lynn Fitz-Hugh’s name was misspelled in Jade Rockwell’s “Sheep Among Wolves” (FJ Mar.). We apologize for the error.