“Crisis day has arrived at the World Conference; ‘Crisis Day’ because most of the initial enthusiasm in participants has ebbed, and the difficult discernment and reconciliation work has begun. Frustrations and conflicting interests are also appearing more and more in the open, and the evidence is in abundance.
Yesterday, the epistle to the World Conference from Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns in the United States was torn off the wall and destroyed, which was hurtful to many Friends. And our ‘weaving of the conference leadings’ plenary was interrupted by the Chancellor of the University hosting us and, incidentally the second President of Kenya, Daniel arap Moi. He was supposed to appear earlier in the conference, but instead arrived during the Responding to Violence and Peace with Justice plenary.
But these are side-shows to the convulsing rivalries within Quakers, and wider doctrinal disputes between the Friends World Committees for Consultation sections. And for those who get caught in the middle, it can prove a frustrating experience. For example, I feel aggrieved not to have been given a ‘Thread’ group. As Thread groups allowed Friends to reflect on the Conference theme through a series of protracted, small-group discussions, I was looking forward to speaking about my Building Sustainable Energy Security work at QCEA. Having been promised a Thread group, months in advance, I was told at the last minute that I would have to accept two “special interest” groups, which in actual practice meant being only allocated one, which was subsequently poorly advertised. Other advocacy groups were given Thread groups, as was Translation into Indigenous Languages. There were also two sets of duplicate Thread groups. But apparently Perfect Love casts out fear: a European response to living peaceably and sustainably didn’t relate sufficiently to the Conference theme. As one prominent organiser told me, we were a ‘marginal concern’.
An experienced Friend told me not to take it personally; I had been shut out, because the Conference organisers did not want the failed social- economic order to be questioned, as some influential members might take it personally. There didn’t appear to be much support for a more prominent role of QCEA’s work from European Section members either. ‘Trust the process’, I was condescendingly told, as if radical societal leadership will miraculously make it into the final epistle, having not been discussed.
I’m exercised by this, as I will be nearly at pensionable age by the time of the next World Conference. And the limited time for inexpensive adaptation and conflict-free transformation will have passed unexploited. This is especially frustrating as Quakers have distinctive gifts that the World needs, namely:
- our listening spirituality;
- our approach to discerning the greater good; and
- our experience of striving to live according to that discernment, even when it cuts against societal norms.
Although I think we ‘progressives’ have got natural allies in the African Friends, because those challenged by development aren’t going to wait another 20 years for compassionate, spiritual folk to act, the Africans I’ve spoken to report similar short-sightedness, precluding an active concern for sustainability from materialising. Such is the impediment and obfuscation, I’m left disposed to throw-in my lot with the youth, whose outlook and energy are a source of hope.
Update (Monday morning, 23 April): unfortunately, after two meetings lasting well into the night, Young Friends were unable to reach unity on a vision for the future via an epistle, deciding to lay the matter down.”