Safety, and proper boundaries

I wanted us to revise the book of discipline as soon as I heard of the possibility, because of this sentence: “The acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends.” I know it was 1987, but- not “PDAs during Meeting” or even “homosexual relationships” but the acceptance of “homosexuality” distressed some Friends. Some of them might have been elderly, and repressed gay themselves. Some might have thought their view integral to proper respect for the Bible, and seeing Quakers as Christian.

However brave 22.45 was in 1987, it is a bit clunky now. We recognise that many homosexual people play a full part in the life of the Society of Friends. Of course! Why should it need to be said? But it was against the culture of the time to recognise that some gay Quakers might consider themselves married, and ask their meeting to celebrate their commitment.

In 1994 we minuted, The Yearly Meeting has struggled to find unity on this [subject of sexuality], which comes so close to the personal identity and choices of each one of us. We are still struggling for the words which will help us, so that we may come to know the balance which allows us both to deal with the personal tensions of our own response to sexuality and also to see ourselves as all equal in the sight of God… we recognise, in love, the Friend whose experience is not our own. We pray for ourselves, that we may not divide but keep together in our hearts.

Attending encounter groups, I was most distressed by the person who said they wanted to “feel safe”, or, worse, that “people should be safe”- that is, they wanted to restrict other people’s shares, and they were claiming it was a principled stand for the good of all. But you cannot feel safe in this process. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Today at Meeting my Anglican Friend was wearing his clerical collar, as he had celebrated the Eucharist before coming. That’s the first time he has not changed his shirt. I felt this was disrespect (I am speaking as a fool) and more so when I saw the Book of Common Prayer on his seat in Meeting. This, even though I am former Anglican. The prayer book made me feel uncomfortable.

What do I mean by “speaking as a fool”? I am speaking from the ego, from a petty desire for safety in the sense of more or less being able to predict what is going to happen and knowing I will be comfortable until it is time to go home.

Meeting is not “safe” in this sense. Sometimes it is like a roller-coaster, where I see over the plunge and my stomach turns over. It is very rare that someone is hurt on a roller-coaster; but it is probably better not to ride one if you want to appear dignified.

I would definitely wonder what was going on if in Meeting I realised that someone was verminous.

I am angry. Excuse me while I go and chew the carpet for a moment. I may even scream at it.

Ah, that’s better.

My Friend’s clerical collar offended me. I could get righteous about it- what about the notional person who has been hurt by the Church and has been told we are somehow better? It’s the principle of the thing! (My law lecturer said principles are good, because they make money for lawyers.) There is the ego, or small self; and it is in me, and it reacts in that way. In this particular case, I can deal with it fairly easily: I spoke to him, sharing my love for particular Anglican prayers which I used to pray every week. I do not want to deny or suppress my reaction. It is me that objects. The Meeting itself gives me the way to deal with it, of emptying myself of the desire that the world be other than it is. Repeat as necessary. There is no harm- probably. All manner of thing shall be well. Any harm will be dealt with organically.

In another case I am angry, resentful, frustrated and frightened, and living with uncertainty. The uncertainty makes it harder to “respond in love”. Possibly a petty-self, or ego, desire assists me: I want my Meeting to be inclusive (even, possibly, that is a leading, something from my inner light). In the 1980s we might unobtrusively and without much fuss have sorted ourselves, so that in some meetings “homosexuals” felt unwelcome, and did not attend, and in others those “distressed by homosexuality” quietly left. I don’t know. If you were around at the time, were you aware of this happening? It might have felt safer, but it would not have been, really. It would have been a reduction in the Light available to those meetings, which is in our diversity. If we are all the same, we lose something.

So I keep telling myself, as I try to live with that anger.

I love what my Friend Rhiannon wrote: even the merest, softest touches of suggestion that in order to be a Proper Quaker one ought to [x]… sets me imagining ways in which I might find myself outside that boundary. I want my Meeting able to include trans folk, and those “distressed by trans” (or anxious sharing a toilet with me) but that might be uncomfortable. But then, it’s just possible that I will become homeless, in which case I might even get lice.

I thought, 22.45 is not so objectionable read as a whole, and it is good to show the history of our discernment. Chapter 16, last revised in 2015, shows where we are now, governing our marriage procedure. I wanted a beautiful quote from there to round this off. 16.03 is not really beautiful, but matter-of fact: “Friends understand marriage to be equally available to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.” But then I see 16.07, which refers to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act: “It is, therefore, expected that our registering officers, on appointment, understand that they will be required to officiate at all marriages authorised by that area meeting.” The homophobes may still be with us, mostly keeping quiet about it.

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