PFM Member Shares Her Perspective on FUM’s Discriminatory Personnel Policy

Putney Friends Meeting is a member of Friends General Conference and Friends United Meeting. Our meeting has gone on record that it supports the overall work of FUM internationally, but opposes FUM’s personnel policy that discriminates against gay men and lesbians, including married ones. Below is a recent personal letter to FUM leaders from a member of Putney Friends Meeting who participated in this Fall’s international 40 Days of Prayer sponsored by FUM. It raises important issues about both faithfulness and justice.

Dear Colin Saxton, Friends United Meeting Staff and General Board,

Thank for creating a global prayer effort through the 40 Days of Prayer this fall. More than a dozen of us participated from Putney Meeting in Vermont. I heard comments that for many of us it opened our eyes to the important work FUM does with women and children. Others were grateful for the daily practice of prayer that they have continued in their own way. I noticed differences as a Quaker from Putney Vermont, an unprogrammed meeting, in our language and concepts regarding our faith and practices in the world. The themes of “stepping into deeper spiritual waters,” “radical inclusion,” and “healing fractured relationships,” constantly lead me to our testimony of equality.

I find the FUM personnel policy as it defines marriage to be incongruent with the Quaker testimony of equality. In the reader you point out that Jesus uses the words, ”follow me.” We are reminded that Jesus was a,” fisher of people.” We read about “abiding “ in Christ. One writer shares how, “other people carry within them the breath of God.” I believe that the FUM personnel policy denies a certain class of Friends to follow, join, and abide even though they too “carry within them the breath of God.” The personnel policy hurts Friends. The policy points Friends in a different direction. If one is called to follow and abide it is unacceptable for Quakers to reject another Friend’s calling.

The personnel policy is causing suffering. The children you teach do not all identify with the heterosexual model you share in the Belize school. Equality does not mean a select few are acceptable in God’s sight. One of the highest suicide and homeless rates is among gay and lesbian youth. Throughout my hours of prayer, I have felt confusion and deep grief. I am not patient with a policy that causes suffering. Please write an inclusive policy this year. Please do not use slavery as an example. Who today would agree to taking 100 yrs. to abolish slavery?

My suggestion for your strategic priorities around leadership development is that you broaden your acceptance of all who feel called to serve. Go through the routine discernment of course. Seize the opportunity for ministry. Remember, Jesus was a “fisher of people.” There were no exceptions.

In regard to FUM’s Global Partnership; I ask you to consider creating a safe haven, a place of refuge for the very people the personnel policy has hurt. I imagine that our gay and lesbian Friends feel unwanted and unsafe among many people and places in the world. Do we dare to embrace the outcasts like Jesus did? Do we have the “faith, courage and compassion” frequently written about in the reader to stop our part of oppression? Do we Friends in Putney Vermont, Indiana, Kenya, Belize, Ramallah have the courage to open our hearts and minds to the “others who carry within them the breath of God?”

Day 39 reminds the reader that, “ you are FUM.” Therefore, as one who is FUM, I urge heartfelt equality among all Friends, in all places, at all times to do what God is calling us to do in all ways now, before more Friends suffer.

Please choose love.

How can I help?

Holding us all in the light,

Frances E. Herbert-Poma

7 responses to “PFM Member Shares Her Perspective on FUM’s Discriminatory Personnel Policy”

  1. Dear Frances and members of Putney Friends meeting:
    I hope you received my earlier correspondence thanking you for the letter I received at my office on this concern. In my note back, I mentioned I would respond more fully in time. I am currently in Kenya but will try to draft and post a response to the letter as it now appears on your site.

    Thank you, again, for your participation in the FUM 40 Days of Prayer and your willingness to share this concern with us. Peace!
    Colin Saxton, general secretary Friends United Meeting

    1. Frances Herbert-Poma Avatar
      Frances Herbert-Poma

      Dear Colin,

      Thank you for reading and responding to my letter on our website. I am not aware of an earlier response from you however. Maybe someone else in the Meeting received it. I will check with other folks. Nevertheless, I look forward to hearing more from you when you return from Kenya.

      Thank you for being there and doing important work on behalf of our Quaker ideals.

      Peace and blessings as you travel,

      Frances Herbert

  2. Dear Colin,

    Thanks for your email. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this issue. I was also a participant in the 40 Days of Prayer and got so much out of that prayer practice and the focus on following Jesus. I was very moved.

    Still, I very much share Frances concerns about the current FUM Personnel Policy. As a member of FUM, I hope that FUM changes this policy in the near future.

    Best of luck during your time in Kenya. I so value the work that FUM does around the world spreading the liberating gospel of Jesus and the Quaker movement.

    Steve Chase

  3. Dear Friends, i appreciate your continually raising the concern. As the first person affected by the policy (some believe it was drafted to keep me out of FUM service), i would point out that it is now 25 years old and the powers in the FUM governance have permitted almost no discernment and discussion of the real issues in those years.
    . That was one of my original concerns about the original decision, made almost overnight in a specially called Board of Home Missions meeting, when it was discovered they had no legitimate excuse for excluding me when a friendly reference mentioned my sexual orientation positively (thinking Quakers would be accepting of the minister without discriminating); up to that point FUM had never had any statement about sexuality connected with its employees. Married or single they served the same. In fact they had several gay employees and even a gay executive, without comment. But without consultation and without Good Order holding the question in the Light with those involved in discerning God’s will, this small group expressed their fears in a way that still haunts the organization.
    . For this and other reasons i could not be assuaged by Eden Grace’s ‘apology’ for the FUM policy printed last year in Friends Journal. Who is she to apologize for the sin of those who ad hominem rejected God’s choosing me for a ministry? And what has she to say if she is not openly advocating for the improperly adopted policy’s continued existence?
    . The greatest ‘ironies’ are that i still qualified for service under the new policy but they would no longer consider me. And the original author of the policy has lived to attend his son’s wedding with a man…

    en paz, Pablo Stanfield, Seattle

  4. Dear Frances Herbert and Putney Friends Meeting:
    Thank you for your recent letter expressing both your appreciation for the shared work we are doing as Friends United Meeting around the world and for your particular concern regarding the personnel policy of FUM.
    Before commenting on the personnel policy, I also want to thank the Meeting for your participation in the FUM 40 Days of Prayer and Day of Discernment. Your responses to the discernment queries have been added to the many others we have received. I am eager to work with the task force that is pulling out the common threads and noting the priorities that will help shape and direct the future of FUM.
    Friends United Meeting is much more than an organization engaged in common ministry or connected by historic organizational agreements. At a much deeper level it seeks to be a global community of Quakers who together have come to know the life and spiritual power found in Christ. Though our expressions of worship, structure and understanding are not uniform across the many cultures represented within FUM, at our core there has been a unity in our experience of being the Friends of Jesus that transcends our diversity. I hope this will continue to be true in the future.
    I just returned from Kenya where we celebrated the addition of Chebeyusi Yearly Meeting as an associate member within FUM. This brings the total number of FUM Yearly Meetings to 31 with others organizing to join. This means, of course, there are thousands of local churches/meetings and hundreds of thousands of individuals who make up the community of FUM. As I have said on several occasions in my first year as general secretary, the global nature of FUM is both our greatest strength and our greatest challenge. The breadth and diversity among us can spark a deeper obedience and understanding of what it means to be the people of God—if we will let it. The same breadth and diversity can provide us an opportunity to impact the world together in incredibly significant ways—if we will seize it. But the very same opportunities also challenge us mightily as we struggle, at times, to understand one another, negotiate our differences, and humble ourselves long enough to discern God’s leading for the whole community.
    When it comes to the matter of same-sex relationships or personal ethics in general, there is obviously much diversity among Friends. I understand that Putney Friends has come to a place of unity around same sex relationships, as has your particular Yearly Meeting. Within the broader community of FUM, however, you find the entire spectrum when it comes to these matters. Some local and yearly meetings are divided. Others in FUM have both a great degree of formal and informal unity around this concern—but come to very different conclusions about what faithfulness looks like in their context.
    The formal organization of FUM is governed by representatives of our various Yearly Meetings, including your own. Like any responsible board, they help set strategic direction, determine policies and oversee the work of the general secretary. As a Quaker organization, the board takes seriously the responsibility to listen actively for the leadership of the Holy Spirit in all matters, even as it struggles with the blessings and curses of being a very human community with very different perspectives and experiences. Yearly Meetings, rather than FUM, determine the Faith and Practice statements that seek to articulate the common life and process that informs Friends. With regard to personnel matters, the FUM board has sought to create a policy that reflects the discernment of the Friends who comprise the community. Changes to the policy, therefore, need the discernment and agreement of the representative members of the Body.
    I am told that when the policy was first implemented in 1988, it was affirmed by members of all the constituent Yearly Meetings, including the dually-affiliated (or united) Yearly Meetings like your own. The policy, which now is described by some as anti-gay, was established as a comprehensive policy to clarify personnel expectations for single staff, heterosexual couples and gay/lesbian individuals. In addition, the policy addresses polygamy since so much of the FUM community was/is representative of cultures where this is sometimes practiced. In the policy statement, which I am including below, you will note it differentiates between homosexual orientation and behavior. While many no longer find this relevant to the discussion, at the time the policy was approved by the full FUM board this was seen as quite progressive and appreciated for the way it upholds the civil rights of all. Here is the policy as it was formally approved:

    Policy on Personal Ethics
    FUM’s purpose is to extend the Body of Christ and to energize and equip the Religious Society of Friends to gather people into Christian fellowships. It is therefore imperative, both for the integrity of our programs and for the sake of our relationships with our constituency, that Friends United Meeting’s employees evidence a Christian motivation and that they are members of the Society of Friends or have a sympathetic acquaintance with Friends.
    Friends United Meeting holds to the traditional Friends testimonies of peace (nonviolence), simplicity, truth speaking, community, gender and racial equality, chastity, and fidelity in marriage. It is expected that the lifestyle of all staff and volunteer appointees of Friends United Meeting will be in accordance with these testimonies.
    Friends United Meeting affirms the civil rights of all people. Staff and volunteer appointments and promotions are made without regard to sex, race, national origin, age, physical disability, or sexual orientation. It is expected however that intimate sexual behavior should be confined to traditional marriage, understood to be between one man and one woman.
    (The Policy on Personal Ethics was approved by the General Board of Friends United Meeting in “Minute 88 GB 52”)An additional minute, attached to this section last October reads: The General Board did not find unity regarding the section on Personal Ethics in section 4, but acknowledged that the policy had been approved by the General Board in 1988 with minute 88-GB-52 and remained in effect.

    You will note, of course, the recognition that not all Friends among the FUM board could fully align with this section of the policy. Even so, the board members agreed this policy statement best reflected the sense of the meeting and the overall state of the FUM community.
    As I think you know, I began serving as general secretary of FUM just over a year ago. The conversation around same-sex relationships, of course, has been going on for many years and not only among Friends. I have watched other Christian denominations and other Friends groups argue and splinter over this topic for the past few decades.
    I confess to you my personal sadness about these divisions. While I understand the deeply held and passionate convictions by people on all “sides” of this concern, I am one of those people who are quite passionate about the value of unity. Not, mind you, unity for unity’s sake. Rather, unity based on the spiritual reality and experience of being a people joined in Christ. I believe this is a tremendously essential aspect of faith, and a great indicator of our spiritual maturity and commitment to love and God. Despite the growing polarization in society, I try to remain hopeful that people of faith—especially those committed to discerning Christ’s will and peacemaking—can find a way forward together in a way that does not break fellowship and ultimately serves to unite us in heart and mind.
    I will say that I have been impressed by the FUM Board and by their willingness to wrestle honestly and openly with this concern. Despite the fact they are not in complete unity, they appear to trust that over time, the Holy Spirit might actually lead us to a place of shared understanding. Even more, they have agreed that the work and witness of the FUM community is worth investing in, worth continuing and worth struggling together to fulfill. This is challenging work, indeed, given the vast cultural, geographic and spiritual diversity within FUM. The Board continues to be open to new light on this topic and, in the mean time, seeks to provide faithful leadership as FUM tries to carry out our mission with integrity and faith.
    It is important for Friends in the US, in particular, to recognize that the concern about same-sex relationships is very different in some other countries. In some countries, a church can lose their status as a recognized church for promoting same-sex relationships. In some places in Africa, as Eden Grace said to me recently, “Friends in the US often do not understand how important it is to educate yourself on the history and current reality of homosexuality in Africa, including things like sex trafficking, sex tourism, and child prostitution, which is what homosexuality means in Africa, since there are no visible examples of healthy same-sex relationships. A minute in support of same-sex relationships will be taken as promoting trafficking and prostitution as moral behaviors consistent with our Christian faith. No wonder the Africans are appalled at American moral laxity! The fact that some minutes make no reference to the Bible, Jesus or Christianity means that it will be taken as a further sign of the decay of Quaker faith in the rich world context.”

    I share this only to note our need as a global community to engage in listening to Christ… and to do so together. Friends in the US are a minority within a larger, global community of Quakers. We need one another, I believe, to best discern God’s will and way. Apart from our willingness to keep working on it together, we will simply continue to splinter and isolate ourselves. In the short-term, such splintering may relieve our anxiety or frustration over deeply felt convictions. In the long term, however, I think our impulse to move away from one another does harm to each of us and certainly to all of us.
    My personal hope has less to do with my or even anyone else’s ability to discern God’s leading. Rather, I have confidence in Christ’s ability to speak to us and lead us if we are willing to try. If the FUM community is at least willing to try—together—I think we have a great future. In the mean time, please let me ask Putney Friends to continue to pray for and partner in the work we are called to do together through FUM.

    Colin Saxton
    Friends United Meeting general secretary

  5. Scott Campbell Avatar

    Colin –

    You quote Eden Grace as stating:
    “Friends in the US often do not understand how important it is to educate yourself on the history and current reality of homosexuality in Africa, including things like sex trafficking, sex tourism, and child prostitution, which is what homosexuality means in Africa, since there are no visible examples of healthy same-sex relationships. A minute in support of same-sex relationships will be taken as promoting trafficking and prostitution as moral behaviors consistent with our Christian faith…”

    I have to say that this is one of the most appalling statements I’ve read in a long time. It reveals an underlying vicious and willfully ignorant bias against homosexuals and homosexuality – on the part of Eden Grace, mind you, and not the “Africans” for whom Eden is, apparently a self-appointed spokesperson – in conflating homosexuality with sex trafficking, sex tourism, and child prostitution. These practices are NOT the “reality of homosexuality in Africa,” and to state that they are is to recapitulate old and horrible prejudices against homosexual people, prejudices which inevitably lead to violence against homosexuals. A point, I will add, which should be considered in the light of Quakers’ historical opposition to violence.

    Rather, the reality of homosexuality in Africa is, quite simply, that there are homosexuals in Africa. This is the reality of homosexuality everywhere, in every country. There are other realities: For example, there is the reality of heterosexuality in Africa. Few people, I’m sure, will be surprised to hear that there are heterosexuals in Africa. Overall, then, Eden, there are both heterosexuals and homosexuals in Africa. That’s the reality of the matter.

    There are other realities in Africa, as well – for example, sex trafficking, sex tourism, and child prostitution. These practices are engaged in by some adult-to-adult heterosexuals and by some heterosexually-oriented pedophiles. The are engaged in by some adult-to-adult homosexuals and by some homosexually-oriented pedophiles. In fact, in the majority (only because heterosexuals are in the majority), these practices are engaged in and promoted by some people with heterosexual sexual orientations. But this isn’t because such people are heterosexual – it’s because they are people who are choosing to engage in, for example, sex tourism.

    Frankly, Eden’s comment is a duplicitous, sleazy, and shop-worn argument in defense of continuing prejudice (and the ever-consequent abuse and violence) against homosexuals. That includes African homosexuals.

    Further, has Eden seen “no examples of healthy same-sex relationships” in Africa because there are none? Zero? Really? It’s a big continent, Eden. Isn’t it rather that Eden isn’t looking for such relationships, or isn’t seeing them when they are right in front of her, obscured only perhaps by the experienced necessity of those in the relationship to be discreet, knowing they face bigotry.

    Therefore, I would like to ask this question – or, if you like, query: How are Quakers – both missionaries from elsewhere and those who are themselves African – in Africa ministering to the homosexual African Quakers and potential Quakers who are homosexual in their own congregations? Because such people – believe it or not, Eden – actually exist. And they have needs – including the need to be loved, to be accepted, and to be affirmed as members of the human family.

    Colin – surely a minute in support of same-sex relationships can be written such that it makes clear that the minute firmly distinguishes between loving homosexual relationships, on the one hand, and sex trafficking, sex tourism, and child prostitution, on the other.

    May I suggest the following: “We support the right of homosexuals to enter into loving, consensual sexual, romantic, and companionship relationships with one another. We support this right because it is the right thing to do, and also in order to take a principled stand which seeks to prevent such relationships from being damaged and destroyed by bigotry, ostracism, and violence on the part of others. Furthermore, we consider the conflating of such relationships with practices of sexual trafficking, sex tourism, and child prostitution to be inaccurate, ignorant, and prejudicial.”

    The early Quakers sought Truth. And they had the courage of their convictions. Shining the light on human sexuality in all its forms has clearly proven uncomfortable for some Quakers. May they remain uncomfortable as they are challenged by the truth which is working to break apart the nasty cobwebs of prejudice and ignorance regarding human sexuality.

    Best regards, Scott Campbell

    1. Dear Scott,

      Eden is a friend of mine and a member of my meeting (Beacon Hill Friends Meeting in Boston). As long as I have known her, she has been a strong ally of LGBTQ people and a staunch supporter of LGBTQ rights. Indeed, she was one of my teachers on how to be supportive, welcoming, and loving to LGBTQ friends.

      You might be right that Eden’s words could be more clear–for instance saying “understanding” instead of “reality” or “East Africa” instead of “Africa”–but she is trying to describe her sense of the current state of prejudice against LGBTQ people in East Africa. I can confirm from my short experience in Kenya that what she says is true there. Is it not useful for you to know that the average Friend in Western Province of Kenya is not sure of the distinction between homosexuality and various sex crimes?

      I can tell you that Eden remains a clear and public ally to LGBTQ people, as she was in her nine years in Kenya. She labors tirelessly with Friends around the world around this issue, trying to help them understand the realities of the healthy LGBTQ relationships that she has helped to witness, celebrate, bless, and nourish as a friend and as a member of Beacon Hill Friends Meeting. And she was clear that she was a safe person to come out to in Kenya, so she could help LGBTQ people in that part of the world connect to the needs you mention.

      I agree that the Friends United Meeting board should season the minute you bring forth, especially, “We consider the conflating of such relationships with practices of sexual trafficking, sex tourism, and child prostitution to be inaccurate, ignorant, and prejudicial.” But remember, we’re in a bottom-up religion, so it’s not like Friends United Meeting can instruct its member monthly meetings in what to do or what to believe. Also realize that what you’re asking for is a tall order indeed for people who have grown up surrounded by systemized prejudice and oppression of LGBTQ folks. Imagine wanting to draft a minute of support for civil rights for people of color in the early 1900s in the United States, and you have something of the picture of the difficulty here. And although we in the United States have come a long way towards justice, we still have systems of colonialism, racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia to disassemble. Surely if we listen to the promptings of the Spirit there is room to do all of these, but we should make sure we are attending to our own many sins at the same time as we express loving concern about the sins of others.

      I’m sure Eden would agree that laboring with the homophobia in East Africa is part of our shared work as Quakers, especially as part of a dual-affiliated yearly meeting. But in order to do this work, we must love–and understand!–those who harbor those prejudices. Eden is helping us understand. Please listen to her.

      In the Light,

      Ben Guaraldi

Leave a Reply to Frances Herbert-Poma Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: