Faith and Practice, a guiding document of Canadian Quakers, is a collection of statements made by Quakers both historical and recent, which are chosen for their value in helping us reflect on and deepen our Quaker lives. This volume undergoes periodic review, in keeping with Quaker views on “ongoing revelation” — the belief that spirit moves continually in our lives and leads us towards ever greater enlightenment, insight, and love.
In 2003, Canadian Yearly Meeting — the organization representing Quakers in Canada — passed a minute stating that “Whether or not to support same-sex marriages is decided at the local Meeting level.”
In the context of review of Faith and Practice, Cowichan Valley Monthly Meeting, a meeting on Vancouver Island, BC, proposed to update this minute, noting not only the inadequate language around “same-sex” but also believing that Quakers in Canada today wish to support any marriage between loving, consenting adults. They sent a query to Canadian Quaker Meetings about whether we felt it was time to update Faith & Practice in light of our support for these relationships and marriages. Over the course of a couple of months of relection and consultation, a letter on the topic was drafted by our clerk, responded to by our Ministry & Counsel committee, and then presented to our May business meeting for discernment. The letter was approved and sent as our response to Cowichan Valley Monthly Meeting.
The letter in its entirety is posted below and constitutes the best thinking and loving we can presently express in our support for all loving relationships. This is an age when the diversity of human sexual relationships and identities are increasingly expressed. Too often, rejection and despair are inflicted on the courageous individuals making this expression. Our Meeting believes that our role must be to support and celebrate everyone in their desire for loving connection to each other, in whatever form that might take.
Dear Cowichan Valley Monthly Meeting,
I’m writing to you as clerk of Montreal Monthly Meeting in response to your recent queries about the 2003 CYM minute that distributed responsibility for discernment on marriage questions to monthly meetings. When we brought up your queries at our business meeting, several friends shared witnesses regarding your letter. We share both direct responses to your queries and other reflections that we hope you may find relevant to your discernment.
- During the business meeting discussion, one fairly new attender mentioned having recently read Faith & Practice. They, too, found its stance on same-sex marriage to be odd and incongruous, indeed.
- In response to your query (“Do you agree that Friends’s beliefs have evolved to the point that we can reconsider the CYM Minute on Marriage?”), the sense of our meeting is that we agree with your minute that the current wording of Faith & Practice on this issue does not represent who we are in Montreal or in Canada.
- We’d like to note some anxiety that was raised in response to the Cowichan Valley minute. While we are in unity with the loving intentions of this letter, we also recognize that discussions within religious communities about recognition of marriage have long and painful history for many queer individuals. We noted nervousness among us about people’s most intimate life details being the object of discussion, evaluation, discernment, and a policy document.
- Especially for those of us whose sexualities and relationships are the centre of these discussions, this means much labour of patience, vulnerability, and loving listening.
- In short, this is a delicate issue. We understand Friends’ unease at the thought of this kind of discussion taking place on the business meeting floor.
- No matter how smoothly and caringly all this is done, words are perilous and even well-intentioned ones can be hurtful and damaging when discussing our identities and our loving relationships.
- We note that some are also exhausted at the very thought of this sort of discussion, having been through parallel policy discussions in other religious communities. * In any case, there is certainly agreement in Montreal with the work you are taking on, but we would suggest that future work acknowledge this unease and the emotional impact of bringing Friends’ relationships up for discernment.
- How can this work be done in a way that respects Quaker process while caring for the emotional wellbeing of queer Friends?
- As an example of wording issues, we were a bit confused by the language discrepancy between the queries which speak of “same-sex marriage” and your minute which rightly acknowledges marriage irrespective of gender.
- For our part, we lovingly welcome queer folks and their relationships, and we recognize that queer Friends and their relationships exist and are welcome regardless of how Quakers across the country have discerned or will discern on this matter.
- In Quebec we have a particular witness about marriage that we felt moved to share, even if it perhaps should not directly modify your minute or your work with CYM. In Quebec in particular, the rate of formal marriage has been low in society ever since the Quiet Revolution.
- We encourage Friends to be mindful of all loving relationships regardless of marital status.
- We have invited our M&C to use this as an opportunity to consider how we might foster love in our meeting in all the forms that can take.
- We might suggest that other meetings use this opportunity to consider how to support love in other forms.
- Getting to your other queries and related to the previous point:
- You asked: “Do you have same-sex marriages under your care?”
- We note that while we do not have relationships ‘under our care’ in the sense of a Quaker process of committees of care and ceremonies (we have not held a Quaker wedding within the past decade for instance), we do effectively have many kinds of relationships at the heart of our meeting, including queer relationships.
- In response to your query (“Have you recorded a minute in support of same-sex marriages?”), we have not previously recorded such a minute, but our meeting continues to discern how we can make our meeting a welcoming and safe place for queer Friends. As two examples, we have had a rainbow flag on our website for many years and we held a workshop on nonbinary gender identities a few years ago that was much appreciated.
- The contents of this letter were approved at business meeting and thus also constitute a minute in support of diversity in marriage.
Love is God’s work and we thank you for your witness that love is not and cannot be constrained into traditional categories and boxes. We stand behind your minute and hope that our reflections have proven helpful.
We will hold you and your work in the Light. All our best wishes,
Montreal Monthly Meeting