A Place to Stand

I have been a member of North Carolina Yearly Meeting conservative for over twenty years. I am currently the clerk of our small Monthly Meeting. I am a recorded elder and presently serve as the Recording Clerk of our Yearly Meeting's Ministers, Elders and Overseers. My name has been put forward to be the next clerk of North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative. By trade I am a philosophy professor.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Segregation

A group of women in our YM organized a “Paint and Pray” weekend to do some work on the meetinghouse in Woodland and as an opportunity to get together. My wife was invited but, since I’m a man, I was not. Over lunch at our Yearly Meeting sessions one Friend expressed his disapproval of such segregated Friends gatherings. It got me thinking. Is this in right order or not?

We have an equality testimony that rejects invidious distinctions among people. At one point in our history it became common for there to be men’s meetings and women’s meetings. It came to be felt that this sort of “separate but equal” way of living out our equality testimony was not good enough. There was a tendency to assume that the men’s meeting was doing the real work, while the women’s meeting was doing “women’s work.” Separate men’s and women’s meetings were laid down and Friends no longer divide by sex. So are gatherings like the “Paint and Pray” weekend open only to women a reversion to the past? Upon reflection I find it to be in right order. Friends with common interests sometimes find it energizing to come together. Why shouldn’t some of these special gatherings be all-female? The practice bears watching however because if we were to find that dividing Friends into groups according to sex were to become the norm instead of an occasional thing then we would be back to “separate but equal” and that would not be in gospel order.

Upon further reflection I find that when it comes to young adult Friends (YAFs) such segregated gatherings are not merely an occasional thing. I would ask Friends to reflect seriously on the possibility that we are treating YAFs as implicitly second-class Quakers by encouraging them to meet so often among themselves and so rarely among us OAFs (older adult Friends.) Two recent blog posts suggest this to me. One is by “James Naylor” of Quaking Harlot. http://quakingharlot.blogspot.com/ “James” writes of her experience and wonders why so many of the YAFs who were specially trained and nurtured to become the next generation of Quaker leaders have instead dropped out of involvement with Friends organizations. James writes: "A series of events recently had me thinking, again, on why it is that so many young adult Friends seem to drift away…I have many lines of thought on this phenomenon. Currently, I am pondering how it is that few of my year in QLSP are actively involved with Friends." Another is the comment by Micah Bales http://valiantforthetruth.blogspot.com/ writing about the FUM Triennial: "Thursday night, after Bolling's presentation, the few Young Adult Friends present at this event gathered together, along with a few other YAFs who had come over from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), which is holding its annual sessions in nearby Greensboro. There were about a dozen of us, and we shared together about our experiences in the past few years, as well as about our frustrations as young adults in a religious community that alternately pampers us and patronizes us. There was a great sense that we are hungry for a more intergenerational life in community. We are, first and foremost, adult Friends. We just happen to be part of a religious community that tends towards the upper age range. Christ is teaching his people himself, and it's not limited to any age group. "

The common thread here is that something is out of order in the way we are dealing with YAFs. I would ask Friends to seriously consider the possibility that our frequent sponsoring of segregated YAF events “pampers and patronizes” people who are essentially Quakers who just happen to be younger than we are. Query 12 of our Yearly Meeting's queries for the monthly meetings has it right, I think. “Are our younger members appointed to committees and encouraged to share in other responsibilities of the Meeting?” This query directs us to treat younger members of meeting in the same way we treat older members. It advises us not to treat them as unique or special. It does not pamper, it does not patronize, and, Friends, it is good advice.