Encouraging Each Other’s Faith and Truths

My thoughts about Friends United Meeting and its relationship with Friends in New England have changed a lot over the last six or seven years. As a lifelong Quaker, I’ve always been aware, to varying extents, of our role in FUM and its role in our yearly meeting. But my first real interaction with FUM was in the Yearly Meeting’s discussion of the personnel policy. My immediate reaction was a strong one of anger and distrust.

One of my realities, one that I cherish greatly, is that the number of formative people in my life who identify as “straight” is easily outweighed by the number who don’t. Without the presence in my life of Lisa Graustein, Penny Yunuba, Peterson Toscano, Patty Morey Walker, Althea Greenstone, and numerous others I would be a much different person than I am today. That an organization of which we, New England Yearly Meeting Friends, are founding members does not both accept and treasure the lives and work of some of our most remarkable people was unforgivable to me. There was not a doubt in my mind that we should cut off our monetary support.

There are moments when I wish my thoughts about our relationship with FUM were still that clear. Alas, as I left angsty teenager mode, things got a little less black and white.

As I have grown up, my personal relationships have become both more complicated and much more rewarding. I have discovered that the best relationships are not those in which my counterpart agrees with me on everything but the ones in which we can be respectful and encouraging of each other’s faith and each other’s truths while continuing to live fully in our own.

Though I continue to disagree with the personnel policy, it has come to feel vital to me that we recognize the power of the work that FUM does around the world. It also feels important to recognize that in many parts of the world where FUM is active, being gay or being supportive of the LGBTQ (Lesbian/ Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer) community carries very different consequences than it does in the U.S. Asking 130,000 Kenyan Friends to make a radical change in their beliefs about homosexuality seems like something that perhaps should happen after we’ve first clarified what we believe.

Witnessing the homophobia in our own Yearly Meeting is infinitely more painful for me because I expect more from us. This is my most treasured community. Experiencing this group of adults, people who brought me up, being so stuck in their ways or in some cases just blissfully unaware of the homophobia in our yearly meeting (when it affects some of the most important people in my life) is more painful than I can put into words.

Up to this point, our conversations on our relationship with FUM have not worked. And I know that every year we put off talking about FUM feels like another sign that we are not committed to the LGBTQ members of our community. That does not sit right with me. As my faith community, and even more as my extended family, I need the yearly meeting to show this issue the same attention we would show racism or sexism.

I believe that this is work that can and must happen. In my mind there is a clear difference between supporting an unchanging status quo and being supportive of FUM while it struggles through a process of transformation and change. I find hope in the fact that in its February 2011 meeting, the general board of FUM could not come to unity with the personnel policy. I see it as a sign that we are on our way toward a place where our needs are not directly opposed to FUM’s principles.

I believe that there is no way for us to come to clarity or unity on the subject of FUM without first really listening to every point of view held by members of our yearly meeting. I think that our prior meetings about FUM have been uncentered and have involved less deep listening to others’ experiences and more quick reactions. I think many people feel that the wider group has not fully or properly received their stories and the truths they live. I think we are unready to act until that has happened.

So I ask you, Friends, to spend time listening deeply. What might change as we are forced just to sit with other peoples’ stories and experiences? Will we be able to sit in the silence and accept, regardless of our best intentions, that many people have been deeply hurt by this issue? Will we get more out of these stories? What will change if we allow ourselves just to listen?

Hannah Zwirner

Hannah Zwirner is a lifelong attender of Beacon Hill Meeting in Boston and of New England Yearly Meeting. She is currently studying religion and history at Harvard Extension School. Over the years as she has grown into the adult community in NEYM, she has felt a strong calling to help the yearly meeting learn to communicate effectively with each other and to involve Young Adult Friends in both worship and business.