Homosexuality Among Friends: A Summary of Responses

May 11, 2012

“Where are Quakers with the insistent question of homosexuality?”  Are we welcoming and affirming? Or do we proclaim homosexuality a sin, asking that those with the ‘affliction’ renounce their desires?

I asked these questions in early April seeking responses from Friends in various Yearly Meetings across the United States.  I’m grateful for the many responses that came back.  I didn’t hear from every Yearly Meeting, but I heard from enough to begin to see the pattern – and that pattern is both expected and unexpected.

“Of course we are divided,” I said in that original post, and indeed we are.  In a nutshell, FUM and Evangelical Friends are firm that homosexuality is a sin.  FGC Friends are mostly welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ folk and willing to marry same-sex, loving couples. Conservative Friends are also inclined to be welcoming and affirming.

You can find all the responses I received in the comments to the original blog post posing the question: http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/blogs/homosexuality-among-frie….

The issue remains difficult in many parts of Quakerdom.  Some FGC Yearly Meetings are still fermenting on the question, some Monthly Meetings more resolved than others.  FUM and Evangelical Friends largely consider the matter settled for all time despite rumblings of disagreement from some individuals, perhaps a growing number.  A few Yearly Meetings are worshipfully seeking unity on the matter, for example Ohio YM (Conservative).  Probably a larger number are not considering the matter either because they want the issue to stay settled as it is or because they are weary of talking about it.

The unexpected part of the pattern for me was the posture of Conservative Friends.  One respondent wrote, “I just heard from someone on QuakerQuaker who indicated that Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) are for the most part welcoming to gay Friends and same sex marriage. So might it be that unprogrammed worship might be the common denominator that permits the Spirit to flow more freely without artificial constraints, and is more conducive to progressive revelation – whether the tradition is conservative or liberal.”

Perhaps, but I don’t think so.  I think the key to the pattern has to do with how Friends view the Bible. Evangelical Friends (virtually all) and FUM Friends (many) take the Bible not only seriously but as the inerrant word of God.  Because there are a few texts in the Bible that appear to view homosexuality as a sin, that’s the end of the matter.  Many FGC Friends have wandered away from the Bible, and so do not feel that constraint.  They are led as worship together has taken them.

Conservative Friends are worshipfully attentive to the Bible but do not take it as the Last Word.  Here is the Iowa YM (Conservative) Faith and Practice on Continuing Revelation:  “Truth does not change but individual and corporate perception does.  Friends acknowledge that Understanding of Truth may change through careful attention to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Truth is revealed continuously if gradually through the living link with God in a person’s heart.  Careful discernment and testing of leadings help guard against lightly discarding long‐held understandings of Truth or being distracted by fanciful “notions.” Though the Bible includes words of God¨ it is not the entire Word of God.  It can be understood through revelation of the Spirit, thoughtful study, and reflection.” (The Faith and Practice disciplines of Conservative Friends in North Carolina and Iowa say similar things.)

The posture of Conservative Friends toward the Bible, taking it as worthy of faithful, continuing study but not taking it as the inerrant or final word, opens the door to seeing that homosexuality is no sin.

I’ve written a piece for Friends Journal entitled

Homosexuality: A Plea to Read the Bible Together.  I believe Friends will find unity difficult to find, on this and many other matters, if we do not read and value the Bible together, taking the Bible as having spiritual weight with us in the manner that Conservative Friends affirm, AND also welcoming further guidance from the Holy Spirit – recognizing the yeast in Continuing Revelation.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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