REHOBOTH MILLS: We have had great struggles at Rehoboth Meeting over the issue of same-gender marriages. When I asked for scriptural support for such action, I was called a bigot by one member of the Ministry and Counsel committee. Yet when I turned to my Bible for answers, Jude kept opening. I have love for the couple who requested – and finally received – the Meeting’s approval, but one of the couple feels some bitterness toward me as a result of my objections on scriptural grounds. (I must admit some ambivalence here, because despite the Apostle Paul’s instruction to keep women silent in Meeting, we know some of our best ministers in Ohio Yearly Meeting are women – and early Friends were wise enough to give priority to other words in scripture, freeing our women to proclaim the Everlasting Gospel. Likewise, I sense that it may also be possible to use Paul’s “better to marry rather than burn” in the context of our gay and lesbian Friends – but without the attempt to turn to scripture as well as the Holy Spirit, we run the grave risk of following our own wills rather than God’s continuing revelation.) One thing that has happened out of this discussion is that another Friend in New England Yearly Meeting, on the basis of my difficulties noted above, found herself turning systematically to the Bible for one of the first times in her religious experience; while she favors Meeting sanction of homosexual unions, she did do the necessary homework to support her position – and since she is serving on a Yearly Meeting committee dealing with the controversy, they will not be begging the issue of scriptural guidelines. In the discussions at Rehoboth, I felt much sadness when one member of the Ministry and Counsel committee admitted – and seemed to be proud of the fact – that we don’t counsel couples about birth control, parenting, their relationships, caring for one another, and so on. To me that seemed to be another indication of the breakdown of our Gospel order. This member spoke of marriages Meeting had approved, nevertheless fearing that they wouldn’t work out – and were elated when, years later, one of them had! Or their surprise when those they fully expected to last ended in divorce. Something is deeply lacking in the oversight of our membership, as a Religious Society of Friends in general, when we cannot turn to one another for guidance and support in all phases of our life, knowing that obedience to God’s will rather than our own limited understanding is what should be drawing us together as Friends. On a more personal level, I must acknowledge the difficulties of dating in an era when the biggest question is not whether one should kiss on the first date – but is instead a matter of going to bed with the other on the first date. Loneliness is widespread today, and meeting our potential helpmeet, difficult. As one woman said to me, “We are the walking wounded.” But many of the wounds seem to be self-imposed. Celibacy, however difficult, can also be a blessing, as more and more singles are beginning to discover. For Friends, it can help enable us to know one another in that which is eternal, as George Fox has instructed us. And yet many of us have deep needs for affection and tenderness. It is a difficult road to follow. And yet finding myself obeying the divine voice has led to new clarity and strength. In laying my desire for and need of the right mate before the Lord – asking His will in this matter, His strength, His patience – I am finding prayer answered when I least expect it … and in the most surprising manner. We need to be constantly mindful that within the core of the family is the nucleus of our community, the model for our Christian unity, and the base for extending His work here on earth. A marriage that strives for that ideal blesses us all. Dear Friends, your faithfulness in this gladdens my heart and gives me hope, even at this distance.
[NOTE: Years later, as Agamenticus Friends wrestled with issues of same-gender marriage, the Meeting opened its examination to the broader question of just what does it mean to be “married under the care of Meeting” – and from that, just what is marriage from a Biblical perspective. A visiting Quaker minister led a workshop that saw at least two quite different kinds of marriage in Scripture – one based on having children (Genesis 1, “be fruitful and multiply”) in contrast to the “suitable helpmeet” or even opposite of Genesis 2-3. To that we can add the illicit passion of Song of Songs. Linking the helpmeet to marry rather than burn, realizing that a heterosexual marriage might not end the “burning with desire,” was a personal breakthrough in understanding. The struggle we underwent together has led us to a much clearer understanding of marriage itself within a Scriptural framework.]
JANE’S FALLS: While the query is directed at the meeting, I feel it directs me individually in a different way, reminding me of my deeply perceived need for Right Relationship and Companionship – resulting in children – maintained within the faith. I am reminded of a Friend who remarked that she could not really comprehend Scripture until she had a child of her own, and then she saw how clearly God works with us as our parent. There is a growth that accompanies real commitment together on a daily, intimate level. There is an understanding of the parent-child relationship in our own growth with our Heavenly Father. In a committed meeting, where members accept the responsibility of their membership, we have an example of community that can be family as well – the family of God. In that, the nurturing is not always as a designated program or formal counseling, but sometimes something as simple as babysitting for an hour. We need to share our lives more fully, in all phases.
WILLOW BROOK: Family has turned out to be quite different from what I had envisioned. Being “suitable helpmeets” for each other proves surprisingly complex in daily interactions, which turn out to be far more time-constrained than I’d imagined.
Like most of the marriages in the Meeting, mine is among those in which only one partner is involved in the worshipping community, which raises additional questions of what kind of assistance can be offered – and how. We have our difficulties. At least my wife is comfortable with many Friends and our values – sometimes, more than I am.
We hope to be more welcoming to Friends over the dinner table and similar activities, but keep finding the calendar is crowded.
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