Monday, April 14, 2014

State of Society

During a our final review and approval of our State of Society Report during Meeting for Business recently, one Friend asked if membership issues had really been "divisive" as the report states.  The clerk called on a member of Oversight to test the validity of that word.  "Divisive is what fits" came the reply, in paraphrase.

I followed up later, as another member of Oversight, with more details, as there's no reason to leave Friends in the dark on this matter.  I wrote (by email):
As another person on Oversight besides [X], I can vouch for membership being divisive in the following sense:  

some see [sic] witnessing others becoming members should be only observed and conducted by other members, whereas others have no problem with non-members witnessing the entire membership process, even convening the clearness committee for that purpose. 

I'm one of those who sees no contradiction here as we value transparency and have no secret rites in our faith and practice i.e. members-only (other than to satisfy the state that we map to their corporation laws).  As a non-member, I have convened many a membership committee with no qualms about my ethics.  I celebrate people's heeding the inward call to serve, which takes many outward guises.
Recorded membership is one of many practices Friends engage in to signify their loyalty to the Religious Society of Friends.

Unlike the Tallahassee Friends, who according to our documents see becoming a member as a kind of detailed vetting, an integrity test, almost an initiation or hazing, I look for a willingness, an eagerness, to publicly identify as a Friend in a way that deserves the backing of some Monthly Meeting.  The meeting will not disavow so-and-so when they publicly proclaim to be a Friend.  That's the social contract.

However, we do not certify, as a meeting, that so-and-so has met a lot of deeply spiritual criteria.  Presumably so-and-so wrote a letter to Oversight and a clearness meeting was convened.  We do not require any criminal background checks, e.g. we are not assuring the public that Y is not a child molester.  We hope not, and will be surprised if so, but let us not mislead the general public into thinking a member has somehow been through some thorough quality assurance program in order to "come out" as a recorded member.

We do not hire expensive Internet services to study the public record, as we might if you want to work in the children's program as one of two supervisory adults, as required by our insurance company (another item of business during the same meeting).  As a third adult in the room, you would not need a background check or social security number.

No, that's not how the process works, in the case of something routine like membership.

We're encouraging people to come forward as Friends and deal with the consequences in the aftermath (for the rest of their lives perhaps).

We're not saying all of those consequences have already been dealt with, nor that so-and-so has reached the top of some spiritual ladder, nor even a higher rung.

We do not pretend to having criteria to measure your "rung level" on any spiritual ladder, though individuals on the Clearness Committee, or anyone, during the seasoning period between meetings for business, may express their reservations about Z e.g. if Z seems too immature and / or clueless about Quakers and Quaker history and/or does not behave in a way consistent with Friends testimonies, that's something to point out.

Given it's a social contract between the meeting, and the individual, both sides get to think about it.  Then to agree to this contract is not to make a lot of corollary claims about Z other than that she and/or he is now accepted as a recorded member.  He and/or she is willing to publicly identify as a Friend in a way a meeting agrees to back or certify.  We hope Z will not be hypocritical then, going forward.