NEWBERG — A regional group of evangelical Friends (Quaker) churches has been together more than a century, but will officially split during the next year and a half because of its ongoing inability to agree on human sexuality standards.
The Newberg-based Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends (NWYM) announced Jan. 28, as this newspaper went to press, that the organization will spin off a separate group by June 30, 2018.
Those churches that align with current (NWYM) standards for faith and practice that reflect traditional beliefs on sexuality will remain in the Northwest Yearly Meeting, while a yet-unnamed new yearly meeting will be composed of churches that have decided to take a stance affirming and welcoming lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) relationships.
In its statement, NWYM leaders declared the existing organization “is so evenly divided that consensus around the human sexuality issue is not likely in the foreseeable future … and that without some decisive action, the yearly meeting would fracture one, two or four churches at a time, but it would fracture.”
The Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends comprises 67 churches in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Which churches will join the new group is as yet unannounced.
The debate within the NWYM goes back to at least 2015, when the yearly meeting elders acted to remove West Hills Friends Church, an LGBTQ-affirming congregation in Portland, from membership in the organization. Formed in 1989, West Hills Friends declared itself an affirming church in 2008. In 2010 it joined Community of Wel-coming Congregations, a regional interfaith group working for full inclusion and equality for LGBTQ persons. West Hills was eventually determined to be out of compliance with NWYM faith and practice standards, which led to the 2015 decision to remove the church from membership.
But that didn’t settle the matter within NWYM, as at least eight other member churches appealed the elders’ decision on behalf of West Hills Friends. That led to continued prayer and discussions to seek Holy Spirit-led discernment on the hotly debated issue within NWYM, but sharp disagreement on sexuality issues has remained.
A transition team will facilitate the creation of the new and separate yearly meeting. Churches who hold an LGBTQ-affirming statement can either be part of that new group or opt to be independent. Plans call for churches that separate from NWYM to retain ownership of their properties, along with any indebtedness.
The goal is to complete the transition “with dignity and honor for all churches,” the NWYM stated.