One of the central tenets of the Quaker faith is the Equality Testimony. As stated in the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s manual Faith & Practice, the Equality Testimony starts with this simple statement: “Friends testimony on equality is rooted in the holy expectation that there is that of God in everyone, including adversaries and people from widely different stations, life experiences, and religious persuasions. All must therefore be treated with integrity and respect.”
Sometimes, however, someone wanders into our Meeting House who doesn’t understand our basic principles. We welcome newcomers, certainly, but we recognize that – with no liturgy or minister or worship program – the silence of a Friends’ Meeting can appear like a blank slate, open for anything. This can pose a risk to those gathered together to listen to God.
Recently, a new attender stood up after Silent Worship and, to everyone’s surprise, said disparaging things about gays and lesbians. This was more than unsettling to the Meeting, as it struck at one of our core beliefs. The Quakers have long been a “welcoming congregation,” a church that provides a safe and sacred space for the GLBT community to worship. At the same time, the Quakers consider themselves a tolerant crowd – tolerant of spiritual doubt, tolerant of different approaches to talking about God, tolerant of how individuals define their faith journeys.
But tolerance should not be something Quakers hide behind. In response to this unpleasant “sharing,” the Meeting leaders met behind the scenes and came up with a plan. First, we sent one of our members to talk with the person and help him understand that such anti-gay speech was not okay in our Meeting. The person was encouraged to return as long as he could respect our principles. The attender listened respectfully, and then said he would not be returning to RFM.
Given the state of affairs, the Meeting agreed it was an important moment to clearly state who we welcome to worship with us. At our next Meeting for Business, the following minute was approved:
Minute: As is stated in the Equality Testimony in Faith & Practice: “Friends recognize that unjust inequities persist throughout society, and that difficult work remains to rid ourselves, and the Religious Society of Friends, from prejudice and inequitable treatment based upon gender, class, race, age, sexual orientation, physical attributes, or other categorizations. Both in the public realm – where Friends may ‘speak truth to power’ – and in intimate familial contexts, Friends’ principles require witness against injustice and inequality wherever it exists.”
We (Reno Friends) understand that not everyone will fully agree with this testimony, and we hold all in the Light who struggle with these issues. But given that the Equality Testimony is central to the Quaker faith, we believe it is important that we keep our Meeting House a safe and sacred place for all who worship with us. We ask that those who attend worship respect our testimony in word and deed.
It is easy to turn away or try to ignore speech that carries a hateful message, but our Quaker Integrity Testimony asks us to speak up and confront such talk. As Quakers, we stand for fairness, inclusiveness and equality, and that cannot get blurred.
Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.