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.[1] In Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, many Quakers are supportive of homosexual relationships, while views are divided among American and African Friends.

Friends' policy and decision-making[edit]

Since Quaker decision making is generally based on seeking "unity" at the level of a Monthly meeting (convened sometimes 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.

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.

By region[edit]

Oceania[edit]

Australia[edit]

Quakers in Australia are overwhelmingly accepting of homosexuality and will celebrate same sex marriages (although such marriages are not legally recognised in Australia). In 1975 Australia Yearly Meeting officially stated:

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.[4] Before this Australia-wide decision, Canberra Regional Meeting celebrated the first same sex marriage among Australian Quakers on 15 April 2007.[5] The most recent information pamphlet as a.pdf can be downloaded from [6] www.quakers.org.au.

New Zealand[edit]

In New Zealand, the yearly meeting Te Hāhi Tūhauwiri, in 1992, resolved "to seek formal ways of recognizing a variety of commitments, including gay and lesbian partnerships.".[2]

Europe[edit]

Ireland[edit]

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.

United Kingdom[edit]

Quakers supporting gay marriage at Pride London 2011.

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[3]

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 are now lobbying the government for the necessary legal changes.[4] While the decision was not difficult in 2009,[5] 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'.[note 1] 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";[6] further consideration arose from Harvey Gillman's Swarthmore Lecture, in 1988.[7]

A number of British meetings, probably more than a couple of dozen since 1994,[citation needed] 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".[4][8][note 2] In March of 2014, same-sex marriages will be formally and legally recognised but the agreements for changes from Civil Partnerships to Marriages are currently undergoing as of January 2014. Many Quakers are in support of these changes to British legislation.

North America[edit]

United States[edit]

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.[9] The largely FGC-based FLGBTQC (Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns) group holds meetings twice a year.[10]

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.[7]

On the other hand, Friends associated with Friends United Meeting (FUM) and Evangelical Friends International (EFI), 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 EFI, took a public stance in favor of the equal worth of same-sex relationships.[11] 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. Patuxent Friends Monthly Meeting, a member of Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM, a member of both FGC and FUM) has 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) [8] 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.

Canada[edit]

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.[12]

In other countries[edit]

The majority of Friends live in countries not mentioned above. Kenya, for example, has a Quaker population larger than that in the United States. In Africa and Latin America, most meetings are programmed and under the care of either FUM or EFI although meetings in [9] 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 and unrepresentative of broader Quaker thought.[13]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Excerpts of Towards a Quaker View of Sex are available [1].
  2. ^ 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 department.

References[edit]

  1. ^ For Quaker numbers by continent, see FWCC Section of the Americas – Map
  2. ^ 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).
  3. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions – What do Quakers think about homosexuality?". Quakers in Britain. Retrieved 2008-04-16. [dead link]
  4. ^ a b "Quakers consider committed relationships" (Press release). Britain Yearly Meeting. 2009-07-31. Retrieved 2009-08-17. 
  5. ^ http://www.guardian.co.uk/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."
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ Stonewall PinkNews: Quakers agree to hold gay marriages
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ [3]
  11. ^ Report and Questions from a Retreat on Same-Sex Issues 3/15-17/1996, Wallingford, Pennsylvania: Pendle Hill, 6 October 2003 [1996], archived from the original on 4 April 2006, retrieved 29 June 2009 
  12. ^ The Canadian Friend – 2007
  13. ^ 2007 CYM Letter to FUM

Sources[edit]

  • Hartman, Keith. Congregations in Conflict: The Battle over Homosexuality. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996.

External links[edit]

Australia and New Zealand[edit]

Ireland and the United Kingdom[edit]

North America[edit]