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Quaker views of homosexuality

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The views of Quakers toward gay marriages, to the view that homosexuality is abhorrent and sinful.

Since Quaker decision making is generally based on seeking "unity" or following the "sense of the meeting", some Quaker groups may find themselves unable to agree, even where a substantial majority support one position. Similarly, even in meetings that explicitly support a full spectrum of rights for gay couples, there may be dissenting members [1]. In the United States, which has large numbers of unprogrammed meetings, which tend to be theologically and socially liberal, and programmed meetings, which tend to be more theologically and socially conservative (as well as conservative unprogrammed meetings), the discussion of homosexuality has occasionally been a painful one, lasting in some cases many years without unity.

Finally, the organization of Monthly meetings (or simply "meetings") -- the basic unit of Quakerism, equivalent to a single congregation in other Protestant denominations -- into larger groups such as Yearly meetings or other "umbrella" groups is convoluted at best, making determination of a particular Quaker "attitude" difficult. 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 are non-credal. Being a member in good standing at a meeting does not necessarily imply endorsement of any official statements of that meeting.

AustraliaEdit

Quakers in Australia are overwhelmingly accepting of homosexuality. 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 commitment ceremonies since 1994 and recognise them on an equal basis with other committed and loving relationships. Australia Yearly Meeting's Handbook of Practice and Procedure cites lack of legal recognition as an impediment to solemnisation of same-sex marriage by Australian Friends and refers to committed same-sex relationships as 'relationships other than marriage'. However, some Regional Meetings, including Canberra Regional Meeting and Queensland Regional Meeting, are prepared to celebrate same sex marriages despite the lack of legal recognition[2]. Canberra Quaker meeting celebrated the marriage of two gay men on 15 April 2007. (Canberra Quakers: Newsletter of the Religious Society of Friends Canberra Region, May 2007, p2)

New ZealandEdit

In New Zealand, the yearly meeting Te Hahi Tuhauwiri affirmed a similarly tolerant stance as Australia above, in 1995, and resolved "to seek formal ways of recognizing a variety of commitments, including gay and lesbian partnerships."

United KingdomEdit

Quakers in the United Kingdom are similarly accepting; one of the first statements in Quakerism regarding homosexuality was the controversial 1963 book Towards a Quaker View of Sex, published by a group of British Quakers, which affirmed that gender or sexual orientation were unimportant in a judgment of an intimate relationship and that the true criterion was the presence of "selfless love." A statement similar to this was later adopted by Britain Yearly Meeting.

A number of British meetings, probably more than a dozen since 1994, have celebrated same-sex relationships through an official meeting for commitment - a public act of worship something very like the traditional Quaker wedding. However, Britain Yearly Meeting does not currently use the term marriage. British Quakers supported the introduction of the legal status of 'civil partnerships' in the UK, and there is currently debate whether they should press for the legal right to put spiritual and legal union together as is the case for marriage. It is unclear what the outcome of this will be.

IrelandEdit

The unprogrammed Ireland Yearly Meeting, which includes meetings in Northern Ireland, has no recent public statement on its attitudes towards homosexuality. With regards 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.

North AmericaEdit

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 legalisation 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, 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 [3].

Similar positions from other unprogrammed Quaker meetings not affiliated with FGC include that taken by North Pacific Yearly Meeting, which supports same-sex marriage.

On the other hand, Friends associated with Friends United Meeting (FUM) and Evangelical Friends International (EFI), which represent mostly programmed Quaker meetings, Conservative Friends, and thus the majority of American Friends, have taken stands condemning gay marriage and, in some cases, homosexual relationships altogether. FUM for example, has a statement of "core values" for Indiana and Western Yearly Meetings which includes both an insistence on abstinence outside of marriage, and a restriction of marriage to heterosexual couples only, effectively condemning the physical expression of homosexuality (without condemning homosexuality per se). 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.

Within the evangelical groups, however, there is dissension; for example, 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 [4], and Patuxent Friends Monthly Meeting, a member of Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM; a member of FGC), 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; for example, the Swansea Monthly Meeting, under care of the 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. FUM has affirmed in a minute of its General Board that its policy of excluding gays in relationships (or 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. Since that time, BYM has had a program of intervisitation with other Yearly Meetings on the issue of same-sex relationships.

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 they "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." CYM is a member of both FUM and FGC.

Attitudes in Other CountriesEdit

The majority of Friends live in countries not mentioned above. Kenya, for example, boasts 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 [5] Central and Southern Africa are unprogrammed, liberal and accepting of homosexuality in Asia, many of the meetings are unprogrammed and have connections with more liberal groups elsewhere in the world.

ReferencesEdit

Australia and New ZealandEdit

United Kingdom and IrelandEdit

North AmericaEdit


Quaker views of homosexuality

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