Quaker Church Splits Over Disputes on LGBT Issues

NEWBERG, ORE. - Through the past several years, the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends (NWYM) has struggled with where to stand on LGBT issues, which has led to the formation of a new yearly meeting—the Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends (SCYM).

As LGBT culture and acceptance has increased, NWYM has been in discussion about their stance. The NWYM statement on faith and practice said , “[T]he practice of sexual perversion in any form is sinful and contrary to the God-ordained purposes in sexual relationships. These perversions include sexual violence, homosexual acts, transvestism, incest, and sex acts with animals.”

A growing number of members have viewed the grouping of homosexuality and transsexuality with sexual violence and bestiality to be a problem. West Hills Friends Church in Portland was the first church in the NWYM to challenge the NWYM on its faith and practice statement on human sexuality. In 2008, the West Hills Friends Church adopted a welcoming and affirming stance toward LGBT members. This sparked many other churches in the area to discuss the matter, leading to in-church disputes for the past few years.

In 2012, George Fox University (GFU) joined the discussion when an alumni group called OneGeorgeFox wrote an open letter to the school administrators and NWYM, urging them to be accepting of LGBT students. GFU gave a statement titled “OneGeorgeFox & LGBTQ Topics” on their website which said, “We believe that God has intended sexual relations to be reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. We recognize that this belief may be in conflict with the practice or vision of the larger culture, as Christian beliefs have been in other times and places. Yet we hold to the historic Christian position on this topic while being respectful of those who disagree with us.”

The letter from OneGeorgeFox ultimately led to the formation of Common Ground, a student-run organization for LGBT students and allies. Common Ground has been denied recognition as an official GFU club from the Associated Student Community (ASC), though it has been allowed a table at the club fair for the past several years.

Eric Muhr, a former youth pastor at Newberg Friends Church and a new co-clerk of the SCYM, explained some of the repercussions GFU still feels as a result of the OneGeorgeFox letter. “This has meant that students who have confided in professors who have a reputation for being safe have sometimes found that those professors aren’t actually safe now the way that they were even just a year ago,” Muhr said. Muhr said he chose to become a part of the SCYM because “Bigotry is never kind.”

As a result of the disagreements over LGBT acceptance, several churches have decided to leave NWYM, effective June 2018. One of the churches in the discussion, Newberg Friends Church, has divided over the issue. Newberg Friends Church will remain in the NWYM, while Newberg Emerging Friends Church will become a member of the SCYM.

Phil Smith, a philosophy professor and chair of the department of Christian Studies at GFU, is a member who decided to stay in Newberg Friends Church. He chose to do so because of his interpretation of scripture. He approached scripture with a critical eye and philosophy in mind, coming to the conclusion that the New Testament rejects homosexuality. Smith acknowledged that the split has not been easy, but he continues to maintain friendships with those who have left Newberg Friends Church. He said “I treasure them as Christian sisters and brothers. I pray for God’s blessing on their churches.”

Carl Anderson, the presiding clerk of Newberg Friends Church, said that Newberg Friends Church chooses to remain in the NWYM because they believe the NWYM Faith and Practice to still describe who they are called to be. Anderson acknowledged how painful the split was and remains to be and said “Like a divorce, the sum of the separate parts is less than the whole. Healing takes time and both sides will feel the effects of the split for some time.”

Matthew Staples, a senior at GFU and recording clerk for the SCYM, said “The fundamental conviction of Quakerism is that the light of Christ is in everyone; that the Holy Spirit is living and active and works through everyone, so I think that honoring that conviction ... is the most important thing we can do and is the thing that would be most pleasing to God.”

Staples grew up going to Newberg Friends Church, but began attending Newberg Emerging Friends Church after the separation because of his personal beliefs regarding equality and acceptance.

Although Muhr, Smith, Anderson, and Staples have differing views on the discussion, they all described the split as painful, and remain hopeful that the Quaker church can accept each other’s differences in scriptural interpretation and heal.

Reported by Megan Creighton