Homosexuality and Quakerism
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The views of Quakers around the world towards homosexuality encompass a range from complete celebration and the practice of same-sex marriage, to the view that homosexuality is sinfully deviant and contrary to God's intentions for sexual expression. The Religious Society of Friends is a Christian movement (though a small minority of contemporary Quakers do not consider themselves Christian) founded in 17th-century England; it has around 350,000 members. In Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, many Quakers are supportive of homosexual relationships, while views are divided among U.S. meetings. The majority (52%) of Quakers live in Africa and many there do not support homosexual relationships .
Friends' policy and decision-making
Since Quaker decision making is generally based on seeking "unity" at the level of a Monthly meeting (convened periodically for business, and more often for worship, and is the basic unit of Quakerism—a meeting is equivalent to a single congregation, sometimes to a parish or group of churches in an area), determining a particular Quaker attitude is difficult on this or any topic. Monthly meetings are organized into larger groups such as Yearly meetings or other "umbrella" groups, but often these larger groups have conflicting stances on particular issues. Some groups, for example the 57th Street Meeting in Chicago, may have joint membership in umbrella groups that have mutually contradictory stances on the issues. In the end, the true "Quaker view" on homosexuality is probably best analysed meeting by meeting (or, better, Friend by Friend.) However, there are some general patterns, and for reasons of space and completeness this article deals mainly with the largest organizations on a country-by-country basis. Until the 1960s the topic of homosexuality was untouched among Quakers. London Yearly Meeting's publication of Towards a Quaker View of Sex, including norms for sexual relations that were inclusive of equitable same-sex relations, provoked on-going questioning. By the time the first same-sex relationship was taken under the care of a Friends meeting in 1982 (University MM, North Pacific Yearly Meeting, Seattle, WA) the scene was set for ongoing discernment and disagreement.
Quakers as a whole do not have a specific, set creed. The Richmond Declaration is a confession of faith that expresses the experience of two branches of American Quakerism, but does not reflect the views of others.
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Australia calls for a change in the laws ... to eliminate discrimination against homosexuals. This statement is made in the light of the Society's desire to remove discrimination and persecution in the community. The Society also calls on all people to seek more knowledge and understanding of the diversity of human relationships and to affirm the worth of love in all of them.
Australian Quakers have supported the celebration of same sex and different sex commitment ceremonies since 1994 and recognize them on an equal basis with other committed and loving relationships. In January 2010, Quakers meeting in Australia Yearly Meeting in Adelaide agreed to treat all requests for marriages in accordance with Quaker traditions, regardless of the sexual orientation or gender of the partners. Before this Australia-wide decision, Canberra Regional Meeting celebrated the first same sex marriage among Australian Quakers on 15 April 2007. The most recent information pamphlet as a.pdf can be downloaded from www.quakers.org.au.
The unprogrammed Ireland Yearly Meeting, which includes meetings in Northern Ireland, has no recent public statement on its attitudes towards homosexuality. In regard to same-sex unions, in 1993, the IYM declared "we believe in the institution of marriage, and in common with many others are currently wrestling with the problem of what our attitude should be to the other forms of human relationships which are increasingly being accepted by society at large." Subsequent statements have continued to fail to resolve this issue. While their position on marriage remains divided the IYM has decided to include un-married gay partnerships in the 'family and relationships' section of their forthcoming book of guidance 'Quaker Life – the Christian Experience of the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland' which is due for publication in 2012.
Since the introduction of Civil Partnerships in the Republic it has been left to each monthly meeting to decide if they will permit the blessing of these unions. The Dublin Monthly meeting has decided to do so and a number of these blessings have taken place. This has not been without controversy. No uniform approach has been agreed on.
Quakers were one of the first churches to talk openly about sexuality ... We feel that the quality and depth of feeling between two people is the most important part of a loving relationship, not their gender or sexual orientation.— Quakers in Britain, FAQ
Quakers in the United Kingdom are similarly accepting, and at their annual business meeting in July 2009, formally expressed support for same-sex marriage, and lobbied the government for the necessary legal changes. While the decision was not difficult in 2009, the decision was only taken after 22 years since being raised at Meeting for Sufferings, and 46 years after the publication of 'Towards a Quaker View of Sex'. Controversial in its day, the book forms one of the first Quaker statements regarding sexuality, and includes affirmation that gender or sexual orientation are unimportant in a judgement of an intimate relationship and that the true criterion is the presence of "selfless love"; further consideration arose from Harvey Gillman's Swarthmore Lecture, in 1988.
A number of British meetings, probably more than a couple of dozen since 1994, have celebrated same-sex relationships through an official meeting for commitment – a public act of worship something very like the traditional Quaker wedding, but without legal significance. British Quakers also supported the 2005 introduction of the legal status of 'civil partnerships' in the UK, and were taken to their 2009 support of same-sex marriage with the idea that "marriage is the Lord’s work and we are but witnesses". In March 2014, same-sex marriages will be formally and legally recognised but the agreements for changes from Civil Partnerships to Marriages are currently on-going as of January 2014. Many Quakers are in support of these changes to British legislation.
Quakers in the United States of America are divided on the issue of homosexuality, with some (mostly Friends affiliated with programmed meetings) not approving of either homosexuality or the legalization of same sex unions. Friends associated with Friends General Conference (FGC), the more liberal group of Friends encompassing a large number of yearly meetings and approximately a fifth of all Quakers in the country, are the most tolerant with many monthly meetings and some yearly meetings providing full equality for homosexuals including marriage. FGC itself in 2004 made a statement on including LGBT quakers as equals in worship and acknowledging their past contributions to the conference. The largely FGC-based FLGBTQC (Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns) group holds meetings twice a year.
Similar positions from other unprogrammed Quaker meetings not affiliated with FGC include that taken by North Pacific Yearly Meeting and Pacific Yearly Meeting, which support same-sex marriage.
On the other hand, Friends associated with Friends United Meeting (FUM) and Evangelical Friends Church International (EFCI), which represent mostly programmed Quaker meetings, have taken stands condemning gay marriage and, in some cases, homosexual relationships altogether. Indiana and Western Yearly Meetings (members of FUM) issued a statement of "core values" which includes both an insistence on abstinence outside of marriage, and a definition of marriage to heterosexual relationships only. Evangelical Friends Church - Southwest, a yearly meeting and a member of EFI, states in its Faith and Practice that homosexuality is a sin and grounds for termination of employment in the church.
However, there is dissension within the Evangelical groups. The Friends of Jesus Community, some of whose members were affiliated with EFCI, took a public stance in favor of the equal worth of same-sex relationships. In Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church (EFCI)(q.v.), one Portland-area Monthly Meeting has minuted its support of same-sex unions, creating a discussion on their statement of human sexuality. As of 2017, that discussion within Northwest Yearly Meeting has led to the expulsion of that church and it has been joined by five other Northwest Yearly Meeting churches in the process of the formation of a new and separate body of affirming Quaker churches (possibly a new yearly meeting) which has yet to be named or defined.
Most monthly meetings of Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM, a member of both FGC and FUM) have taken a similar position. Similarly, although perhaps to a lesser extent, some meetings associated with groups on the other side of the issue have dissented. Swansea Monthly Meeting, under care of New England Yearly Meeting, is one of two meetings in that group to publicly oppose same-sex marriage.
In 2002, FUM and BYM began a dialogue on homosexuality and same-sex relationships. At the 2002 FUM Triennial, Clerk Lamar Matthew was excluded from leading a worship sharing group because he was in a relationship with another man. (Minutes of 2002 BYM Annual Sessions, page 23) FUM has affirmed in a minute of its General Board that its policy that anyone in sexual relationships outside of marriage - "which is understood to be between one man and one woman" - cannot be in paid leadership positions (a minute approved in 1988) also applies to those in other leadership positions and to their overseas workers. Since that time, BYM has had a program of intervisitation with other Yearly Meetings on the issue of same-sex relationships. It should be noted that this policy of FUM has been in constant discussion in the FUM board ever since it was originally proposed. BYM is not the only dual-membership Yearly Meeting (membership in both FUM and FGC). Many members of the New England and New York Yearly Meetings have also been struggling with the FUM position.
In Canada, the main "umbrella" Quaker body, Canadian Yearly Meeting, shares a similar view to the more liberal American Quaker groups, and stated in 2003 that Canadian Quakers "support the right of same-sex couples to a civil marriage and the extension of the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples." Since then a number of same-sex marriages have been performed at Canadian Monthly Meetings. CYM is a member of both FUM and FGC. As a result of FUM's position on homosexuality, there is ongoing debate within Canadian Yearly Meeting about CYM's relationship with FUM. Canadian Yearly Meeting in 2007 approved a letter to be sent to FUM stating that CYM has appointed a committee "to review the involvement and participation of CYM in FUM". In the mean time, CYM's financial contribution was earmarked for a specific purpose.
In other countries
Generally in Africa and Latin America, most meetings are programmed and under the care of either FUM or EFI although meetings in Central and Southern Africa are unprogrammed; in Asia, many of the meetings are unprogrammed and have connections with more liberal groups elsewhere in the world.
African Friends in general are supportive of the position taken by FUM. In 2007, at the first meeting of FUM held in Africa, the clerk of Uganda Yearly Meeting delivered a devotional in which he quoted Romans 1:8–32, saying that "homosexuals and even those who support them are worthy of death." Although in a later letter of apology he said that he was referring to spiritual death, many more liberal Quakers found his comments hateful.
- Bayard Rustin Gay Rights Activist
- Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns
- Excerpts of Towards a Quaker View of Sex are available "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 February 2011. Retrieved 9 September 2011..
- A free pamphlet on BYMs view on same-sex marriage, We Are But Witnesses, is available from Friends House outreach or the Quaker Centre Resources Archived 19 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine. department.
- For Quaker numbers by continent, see FWCC Section of the Americas – Map Archived 22 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Finding Quakers Around the World" (PDF). Friends World Committee for Consultation. Retrieved 2017-06-12.
- "Quakers & Homosexuality Press Statement, from Friends Church Kenya". Retrieved 2017-06-12.
- Minutes of UFM, 1982
- Statement of Affirmation of Same Sex Relationships: This Statement was made by 1992 Yearly Meeting, under the title Affirmation and Reconciliation on the NZ YM website (accessed 15 July 2008). Archived 24 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Frequently Asked Questions – What do Quakers think about homosexuality?". Quakers in Britain. Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2008-04-16.
- "Quakers consider committed relationships" (Press release). Britain Yearly Meeting. 31 July 2009. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2009.
- https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jul/31/quakers-gay-marriage "Resolving the hotly disputed issue of homosexuality in the church has not been as easy for other religious groups."
- Towards a Quaker View of Sex : an essay by a group of Friends/ edited by Alastair Heron. – London : Society of Friends. London Yearly Meeting. Home Service Committee, 1963.
- A minority of one : a journey with Friends / by Harvey Gillman. London : Society of Friends. London Yearly Meeting. Quaker Home Service, 1988.(Swarthmore lectures ; 1988) ISBN 0-85242-307-1
- Stonewall PinkNews: Quakers agree to hold gay marriages
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 April 2012. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
- Report and Questions from a Retreat on Same-Sex Issues 3/15-17/1996, Wallingford, Pennsylvania: Pendle Hill, 6 October 2003 , archived from the original on 4 April 2006, retrieved 29 June 2009
- BYM Gender and Sexual Diversity Minutes Collection
- The Canadian Friend – 2007 Archived 8 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
- 2007 CYM Letter to FUM
- Hartman, Keith. Congregations in Conflict: The Battle over Homosexuality. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996.
Australia and New Zealand
- Gay and Lesbian People in the Society of Friends (Quakers) (pdf)
- Statement of Affirmation of Same Sex Relationships, Yearly Meeting Statements, The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Aotearoa/New Zealand, 11 August 2004 , archived from the original on 4 June 2006, retrieved 29 June 2009
Ireland and the United Kingdom
- FUM "core values for Indiana and Western Yearly Meetings" statement
- EFCSW statement on homosexuality
- Newspaper article on a split between Friends in the Northwest
- Patuxent Friends on their membership in FUM
- NEYM minutes on same-sex marriage
- Report and Questions from a Retreat on Same-Sex Issues 3/15-17/1996, Wallingford, Pennsylvania: Pendle Hill, 6 October 2003 , retrieved 29 June 2009
- Canadian Yearly Meeting's 2003 statement
- Evangelical Friends Church – Mid America "Position Paper on Homosexuality" Published in current Faith and practice