Dear Friends: One task that we surely have is to change the world for the better. But we are far from good at this. How do our yearly meetings help?
We pass declarations from time to time about what we would like to see happen. Well enough; but the sorts of crises we consider – such as guns. or the Middle East – take many years to resolve. One Yearly Meeting is not enough to find an answer.
Friends in the West could learn from the experiences of English Friends in the 1960s, who tackled the aridity and folly of inherited medieval codes of sexual ethics. I was one author (out of eleven) of the 1963 pamphlet, Towards a Quaker View of Sex. By that small book, which sold a half million copies and got huge media publicity, we helped change the sexual ethics of the time. Quakers today can learn from that process, which involved a level of time and attention similar that which we invest in rewriting our books of Faith and Practice.
Time: We were committed to taking whatever time was needed: not just to identify problems, but to supply answers. It took us seven years of fortnightly meetings to publish A Quaker View of Sex. Much time is needed for real answers that actually turn people to a new course. Changing the shameful gun culture of America, or settling the Middle East question, need more than a month.
People: The first step in developing A Quaker View of Sex was to handpick with great care the people who would participate in the work. This was done by the formidable Anna Bidder, co-founder of Lucy Cavendish College in Cambridge, and it took her two years. I was chosen for the group mainly because I knew something from my Cambridge days about how student gays felt, and I was a lawyer, and I was young. Today our yearly meetings could learn from this example and could take two years to choose the right people to do certain work – able, fearless, and (let’s face it) healthy people who are prepared to argue their way for years to reach a right conclusion.
I do not see our present Pacific Yearly Meeting easily working in the ways I have described. But if we are not now prepared to stretch our Quaker process to the greatest lengths it will go, we will achieve nothing.
Keith Wedmore, San Francisco Friends Meeting (PYM)