Indiana Yearly Meeting was formed in 1821 by Quakers who migrated out of the South and into the free states and fertile land of the Midwest. In the late nineteenth century, a series of Holiness revivals swept through Indiana meetings, and conflicts over the interpretation of Scriptures became common and continued throughout the twentieth century, with episodic targeting by yearly meeting conservatives of Earlham College’s methods of religious and biblical instruction.
The conflict over the interpretation of Scriptures has been especially intense on the issue of homosexuality. In 1982, IYM approved a minute in sessions declaring its belief that “homosexual practices are contrary to the intent and will of God for humankind,” and in 1995 approved a minute (designed to supplement the 1982 minute) that recognized that “a diversity of beliefs exist within our own yearly meeting regarding the interpretation of Scripture” on the subject of homosexuality. The minute further stated that “we welcome all people to our meetings, to worship and join in becoming fully devoted followers of Christ.”
In June 2008, West Richmond (Ind.) Meeting, located near Earlham College, approved a minute that stated: “We affirm and welcome all persons whatever their . . . sexual orientation.” Gays and lesbians would be fully welcomed in both membership and positions of leadership. West Richmond’s pastor Joshua Brown communicated his meeting’s actions to IYM leadership, and the matter was referred to the yearly meeting’s Ministry and Oversight Committee, which, in March 2009, requested that West Richmond Friends take its minute off its website. After a dialogue between the parties, the committee identified two problems with the West Richmond minute: (1) that gays and lesbians should not be welcomed into membership, and (2) that the possibility of leadership should not be opened to gays and lesbians. In July 2010, the Ministry and Oversight Committee reported its “deep concern” that “West Richmond Friends has chosen to not submit itself to the guidance of Indiana Yearly Meeting” and that this “jeopardizes the relationship between their meeting and the yearly meeting.”
In January 2011 the yearly meeting M&O committee solicited views from IYM’s 64 monthly meetings as to next steps in this process, and in April a task force of seven yearly meeting members was established to sort through responses. In July the task force recommended a “division” in Indiana Yearly Meeting and a “possible realignment.” In October 2011, in a very difficult and emotional all-day meeting, IYM’s Representative Council adopted a “deliberative/collaborative reconfiguration” model, with two yearly meetings established with different models of church authority. An expanded task force would be appointed to work out the details. In February 2012, this task force released outlines of an Indiana Yearly Meeting A (where monthly meetings would collaborate with each other in a structure of mutual accountability) and an Indiana Yearly Meeting B (where subordination of the monthly meeting to the yearly meeting would be emphasized as a “means of common protection”).
A revised draft proposal for the two yearly meetings was released in April 2012. This will be followed by a question and answer session at the July yearly meeting sessions; monthly meetings will be asked to decide by September 1 which of the two yearly meetings they wish to join. Formal approval of a “reconfiguration” of Indiana Yearly Meeting into two yearly meetings could come as early as October.
Ongoing coverage of Indiana Yearly Meeting is taking place in Quaker Theology, with recent developments detailed at: