Wilmington Yearly Meeting 2019 Statement on Unity in Christ

The Presence in the Midst by James Doyle Penrose


“Wilmington Yearly Meeting declares its experience of unity in Christ even when we are not united on issues.”

WYM Ministry and Counsel, 7th month, 2019

The impetus to make such a statement originated last November, as we acknowledged another wave of disaffiliations.  The question arises: What is it that holds us together?  We charged an ad hoc committee to draft an answer.  That committee went through several drafts, with references to the Bible, to Barclay’s Apology, to George Fox, and even to Thomas Kelley, for whom the college hall where we meet is named.  The draft finally submitted to the yearly meeting Ministry and Counsel included a Trinitarian statement based on our Faith and Practice.  However, this only inspired more discussion, which we eventually interrupted to take care of more mundane matters.  On the second day, after considerably more thrashing around, someone simply restated the charge that had been given to the committee back in November.  “Approved!”.  One Friend behind me laughed, saying.“We are such a peculiar people.”  

If our little yearly meeting has any significance beyond our now diminished membership, it lies in the theological and political diversity that it still spans, as evidenced by our inability to come to unity on a more detailed expression of our faith.  Certainly, within the Religious Society of Friends there are yearly meetings that would not have found unity on even this statement, while others would have found it far too nebulous to even consider.  The controversies listed in our 2017 Epistle still apply: “We disagree about how to balance the witness of Scripture with the witness of the inward experience of God.… We disagree about the continuing nature of revelation.”  And we still disagree on same-gender marriage.

Nevertheless, our differences are dwarfed by what we share.  We worship together.  We respect  each other.  We care for each other.  There is a genuine fellowship among us that enables us to deal openly and honestly with our points of disagreement without descending into acrimony.  It is not that our theological notions are unimportant, but that they are subordinate to what Christ has taught us: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” [John 13:35].

Whatever stumbling blocks we encounter in our contemporary culture, our community of faith will thrive so long as our lives testify to the Good News that we profess.

Wilmington Yearly Meeting 2018: The Schism Begins Anew

Sara & Isaac HarveyFollowing the 2017 yearly meeting sessions, I expressed the hope that “perhaps in this one sleepy corner of the Quaker world, we can plant the seeds of peace” and that “the yearly meeting … continue intact, that we continue to engage each other with compassion and respect, and that we hold our disagreements in our hearts, fully acknowledging them, but refusing to disengage, knowing that God will be with us.”  At the time, I still thought it possible that that the yearly meeting would keep together.  This is a lovely sentiment, but it is not to be.  Five meetings have now officially disaffiliated with Wilmington Yearly Meeting, and more will do so in the year to come.

The reality is that the differences among us are significant enough to justify the separation.  As stated in the yearly meeting’s Epistle:

the long years in which we have waited but withheld trust, waited but avoided facing our disagreements, has drained life from our body, both in our individual congregations and corporately as the Yearly Meeting.

The immediate cause, which one side calls marriage equality and the other, an abomination before the Lord, is but the sharp edge of a far deeper conflict, manifest in disagreements over the authority of the yearly meeting and the autonomy of the local meeting, but fundamentally rooted in the approach to scripture. 

One side is expressed in a draft “Minute of the Fairfield Quarter Regarding the Issue of Same Sex Marriage”, a minute strongly disapproved by Fairview Friends, but signed separately by several monthly meetings.  It declared the Bible is “the inspired and unerring Word of God,”  that  same gender marriage is “in direct conflict with Biblical teachings,” and concludes that it is “impossible to remain in meaningful fellowship with those Meetings who try to define God’s word as an outdated historical novel.”

I was sitting beside a pastor at a Miami Center Quarterly Meeting session when an earlier version of this document was read.  At the words “outdated novel”, I could almost see the gaskets exploding in his head.  “I preach from the Bible every week!” he responded.

Regardless of what you think of the theology underlying the Fairfield Minute, you can have some empathy for the situation that the these meetings find themselves in.  They have remained steadfast in their beliefs, as the culture around them has changed with astonishing speed.  It was not that long ago when no meeting in the yearly meeting would have even considered taking the marriage of a same gender couple under its care.  Now, all around them, gays and lesbians have come out of the closet and demanded their place in the sun.  To maintain a credible witness to the world, these meetings need to make a clear stand.  Although nobody is disciplining them, or forcing them to leave, they believe they have no choice.  They feel victimized.

It is important to acknowledge the depth of the emotions, the source of the anger that is sometimes expressed.  I have heard references to Jezebel:

But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality .…  (Revelation 2:20, ESV )

I have heard people testify about what they might face on Judgement Day if they have not been steadfast in teaching Truth.  This is not a matter for discussion or compromise; it is a matter of the sanctity of the immortal soul.

In July, Friendsville Quarterly Meeting (in Tennessee) considered withdrawing from the yearly meeting as a body.  One meeting, Maryville, disapproved.  Almost immediately after the meeting failed to reach unity on this action, Rafter Chapel Friends Church withdrew from both the quarterly and yearly meetings, followed closely by Friends Church of Nashville (a preparatory meeting) and Friendsville Friends Meeting.  Three other meetings had not come prepared to act if the whole quarter did not secede, but they will probably follow suit.  Only Maryville expressed the intention to remain with the yearly meeting.  The quarter discussed a possible arrangement which would have allowed Maryville a dual affiliation of some sort, tethered to both Wilmington Yearly Meeting and whatever organization the other meetings in Tennessee form.  This was rejected.  The meetings that are withdrawing do not want to be tied in any way to a meeting that does not condemn same sex marriage.

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Bill Medlin speaking in business session. Photo: Dan Kasztelan.

The position of Maryville Friends Church illustrates the complexity of the theological space.  They oppose same sex marriage.  However, they also reject breaking the fellowship over this issue.  Bill Medlin, pastor at Jamestown (in Ohio), expounded the point of view during the yearly meeting session, referencing the experience of the early church as described in Acts.  These ideas made were summarized in the Epistle: 

we were challenged several times to remember that disunity and division are tools of the Accuser of the Brethren.

From a practical standpoint, the complex arrangements that took years to work out in Indiana and North Carolina appear not to be an issue for Wilmington Yearly Meeting.  Any entanglements between the property of the local meetings and the yearly meeting have been resolved; the local meetings own their property free and clear.  There is a camp, Quaker Knoll, owned by the yearly meeting.  There are also some funds managed by the yearly and quarterly meetings.  However, for the local meetings that are withdrawing, “It’s not about the money.”  Working out equitable management of these resources will be left in the hands of those who remain.

We tend to simplify things, preferring a simple binary choice over the complex reality.  There are significant differences among the meetings in Tennessee that are considering disaffiliation, differences that could easily impede them getting together.  Meetings that agree on same sex marriage have very different views on the importance of the distinctively Quaker aspects of their Christian witness, and even on their approach to scripture.  I can imagine disagreements over water baptism, which is practiced by Rafter Chapel, or “young earth creationism”, which I have heard mentioned informally, driving a wedge between these meetings.  As history has shown, once you try to establish an orthodoxy, it is difficult to stop making it ever more narrow.  The danger that I see is that those meetings which leave Wilmington Yearly Meeting do not successfully establish a relationship with another Friends organization.  These meetings would then lose both the fellowship and the accountability that Friends’ traditional structures provide. 

As the rising clerk, I have offered to do whatever I could to assist those meetings succeed in what they want to do.  However, so far, these disaffiliating meetings have expressed a desire to be entirely rid of the yearly meeting.  I suspect they will not want any interference in their affairs, however well intentioned it might be.

The Wilmington Yearly Meeting that emerges will be smaller.  It will still be diverse, including a range of views on same gender marriage and Biblical authority.  It will consist of meetings that have chosen Christian fellowship over dogma, the Gospel of Love over the letter of the law. 

I need to conclude with a blessing:

The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.  Numbers 6:24-26 (KJV)

 

 

Wilmington Yearly Meeting 2017 Session: A Personal View

Jones Meetinghouse

T. Canby Jones Meetinghouse

Many years ago, I was bit of a purist.  That rather stifling position was shaken out of me in 1991 as I was confronted by Friends of vastly different perspectives at the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) gathering in Honduras.  There, I was opened up, particularly by my encounters with Evangelical Friends whose lives had been transformed by welcoming Jesus into their hearts.  I remained fixed in my essentially universalist point of view, but my understanding was both broadened and deepened by new perspectives that I had not taken seriously before.  Now, Quakers purists, whether liberal or conservative, might read me out of the meeting because of my participation in a Magadi, a Tswana tradition that is absolutely out of step with Friends testimony of equality.

It is one thing to encounter differences in the context of a multi-cultural  FWCC event, where people come ready to recognize and respect foreign ideas.  Welcoming such differences into your yearly meeting, your home, is something else.  How do you even define who you are if you embrace such differences?  Those who yearn for uniformity and purity cannot make a comfortable home is such a setting.

The yearly meeting epistle beautifully articulates the controversies expressed in the yearly meeting session:

We disagree about the nature of the authority of Scripture. We disagree about how to balance the witness of Scripture with the witness of the inward experience of God. We disagree about the authority of the Yearly Meeting over Monthly Meetings. We disagree about the continuing nature of revelation.

However, what this does not capture is the broader cultural context in which we live.  In this context, both sides in the yearly meeting controversy are profoundly conservative:

  • We care about the institutions in our society.  We want to preserve them, strengthen them, and make them meaningful to the present and the future. Otherwise, we would not even bother with Wilmington Yearly Meeting.
  • We want to pass on to the next generations the ethical and moral codes that guided our forefathers.  Moreover, we want to transmit to our children the spiritual inspiration that underlies these codes, so that they become not a mere collection of rules, but the foundation for a full and vibrant life.
  • We read and study the Bible with an intensity that we accord no other book.
  • We look to the writings of early Friends for inspiration and understanding.
  • In particular, we care about marriage.  We think that human sexuality is best expressed within a covenant relationship, which, with Divine assistance, will last a lifetime.  Our meetings take seriously the opportunity to celebrate the beginning of such a relationship  and the responsibility of bringing it under our care.

Yes, there is a cultural divide in this country, and it is evident within Wilmington Yearly Meeting.  However, this reality is not just a problem to be solved: it is an opportunity.  Can we build on the love and respect for each other that we have gained over the years? Can we build on all that we have in common to bridge this divide?  What is the significance of the Peace Testimony if we cannot even deal with our first world problems with love and respect?

Clearly, some within the yearly meeting want their old meeting back.  However, even if they were to prevail, it would not be the same.  Those few Conservative Friends who adhere to plain speech and plain dress in the this century are very different from those in the 18th century whose tradition they are preserving.  The cultural context matters.  We cannot avoid it; we can only choose how we address it.

My own vision for the yearly meeting is that it continue intact, that we continue to engage each other with compassion and respect, and that we hold our disagreements in our hearts, fully acknowledging them, but refusing to disengage, knowing that God will be with us.  It’s a tall order.

Wilmington Yearly Meeting 2017 Session: The Context

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The parking lot during annual session of Wilmington Yearly Meeting, some time ago.

F/or  those unfamiliar with the loose structure of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), let me begin with an orientation.  Local Quaker meetings gather for worship every Sunday and for business roughly every month; they are called monthly meetings.  These are organized into yearly meetings. regional groups which assemble every year for worship, fellowship and business.  Yearly meetings are generally dividedinto smaller groups that meet four times a year, called quarterly meetings.  Thus, Friends organized themselves using time and geography.  There are national and international organizations as well, but to the extent that there is any authority outside the local meeting, it resides in the the yearly meeting.  Most yearly meetings have their own statements of faith and practice, sometimes called the discipline, which describe both spiritual testimonies and practical procedures.  Most Friends do not have a creed.

As the Religious Society of Friends in the United States began to fracture in the late 1820s, things became more confusing.  There are now four main branches of Quakers and a number of independent yearly meetings as well.  When the schisms began, the outside world would have had difficulty telling the branches apart.  Over the years, different branches absorbed different outside influences, and now you might have trouble seeing what they have in common.

The meeting that I belong to, Eastern Hills, is a bridge meeting, affiliated with both Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting and with Wilmington Yearly Meeting.  Ohio Valley traces its roots to the Hicksite side of the schism that reached Indiana Yearly Meeting in about 1830.   Its local meetings meet in open, waiting worship, usually with long periods of silence broken with a few short messages, spoken from the heart by anyone present.  Wilmington Yearly Meeting lies on the Orthodox side of that schism.  Most of its meetings for worship have a pastor, who brings a prepared message every week.  Most have at least a period of open worship.  When the meeting now known as Eastern Hills decided to formally organize, it looked at the Faith and Practices of the two yearly meetings and decided that it was feasible to affiliate with both.

Wilmington Yearly Meeting consists of 28 local meetings scattered among two quarterly meetings in southwest Ohio, a quarterly meeting in east Tennessee, and nothing in Kentucky.  When the underground railroad was active, the association between the meetings in the Tennessee foothills and the free state of Ohio made good sense.  In the current day, it seems awkward.

However, the geography is not the main problem.  This yearly meeting barely functions.  One of the Ohio quarters does not meet, and quite a few meetings do not participate in yearly meeting activities, apparently having no need for the yearly meeting.  Like other volunteer organizations, most of the work is done by committees, and in this yearly meeting, most of the committees do not work.  One exception is the Quaker Knoll Camp, which is owned by the yearly meeting; this facility is being well cared for.   Elsewhere, there is a serious question as to whether there is enough energy in the yearly meeting to make anything happen.

When Community Friends Meeting, another bridge meeting, took the marriage of two women under its care in the late 90’s, there was plenty of energy.  Suddenly, the session was overflowing with angry Friends, many demanding that Community be disciplined.  The clerk and some Friends tried to bring the session into right order, and referred to the yearly meeting’s discipline.  One pastor angrily threw the book of discipline across the room, saying that what he cared about was the Bible.

Later, the Permanent Board, essentially a representatives meeting, came to a resolution: they adopted a “working document” that states “We, as monthly meetings within Wilmington Yearly Meeting will not bless same gender unions.”

This gets into the subtleties of Quaker process.  Friends strive to conduct business in accord with God’s purpose. The goal is to reach unity, something beyond a secular consensus.  When a group of Friends adopts a minute, that statement represents everyone in the group, not just the majority.  Since we hold that the divine speaks through individuals, one person’s voice is taken seriously.  If someone in the meeting feels strongly that an action is in error, then the action is not taken.   By tradition, Friends can, it they wish, “stand aside”: in this case,  they are not convinced the action is right, but allow to the meeting to move forward.

Even with a number of Friends standing aside, the Permanent Board was unable to come to unity on the above statement.  Community Friends would not stand aside for a statement that said, in essence, that they had erred in marrying two members of their meeting.  The board ended up coming up with the term “working document”, so that they would be able to do something.  Nobody knows exactly what a working document is, but the term implies that it is a work in progress, subject to further revision.  However, having gotten to something vaguely resembling a resolution, they put a lid on it and did not bring it up again.

Several years later, Community Friends found that none of its members wanted to actively participate in Wilmington Yearly Meeting.  They quietly withdrew their affiliation with Wilmington.

Meanwhile, the cultural shift continued.  Gays and lesbians became more visible, even in relatively rural areas.  As one pastor said, “God started sending gay people!”  Meetings that had not been in unity on the issue of same gender unions came to clarity, and others shifted their position.

Inevitably, a meeting violated the 1997 working document.  Cincinnati Friends had an opportunity to bring two people together into a covenant relationship under its care.  This was God’s work.  There was no question of putting the yearly meeting’s working document first.

Fairview Friends responded to the controversy with a minute concluding:

Fairview supports the ability of each Monthly Meeting to chart its own course on sensitive and complex issues.

Fairview Monthly Meeting advises that the Yearly Meeting not discipline any Monthly Meeting for their stand on such issues.

Thus, there are two issues: marriage equality, and local autonomy.  Logically, this allows for four groups:

  1. Meetings that endorse marriage equality and insist that meetings in their faith community adhere to the same standard.  There are many Quaker meetings that would hold this position, but none  in Wilmington Yearly Meeting.
  2. Meetings that define marriage as between one man and one woman, that teach that homosexual activity is sinful, and that insist the meetings in their faith community do the same.   This is the position of the 1997 working document, and a plurality of monthly meetings support it.
  3. Meetings that have endorsed minutes supporting marriage equality, but wish to remain in fellowship with the yearly meeting despite the disagreement on this issue.  There are a handful of meetings in this group.
  4. Meetings that think marriage should be limited to one man and one woman, but do not want to break the yearly meeting apart over this issue.  This is the position of Fairview Friends, though its minute does not explicitly address its position on marriage equality.

Before the session, David Goff, clerk of the yearly meeting, asked the monthly meetings to come prepared to state their position vis a vis the Fairview minute.  Almost half of the monthly meetings support the Fairview minute to some extent.  Clearly, unity is not going to be achieved around any proposal to discipline Cincinnati Friends for violating the 1997 working document.

A substantial proportion of the yearly meeting is ready to split over this issue, following the example of North Carolina and Indiana.  However, my own prognostication (a silly word) is that the yearly meeting will stumble along for several years, though not quite as it has done in the past.

The lid has been blown off.  It might indeed lead to a schism, but it does not have to.

Wilmington Yearly Meeting 2017 Session: Introduction

PresenceintheMidst-2

We face a cultural divide in this country: urban vs. rural, conservative vs. progressive.  This  divide, exacerbated by provocateurs who gain notoriety through ridicule and open hostility to those on the other side, is not just political.  It reaches into the heart of our religious institutions, where it is brought to a head by the issue of same sex marriage.  Here, differences in dogma become concrete, affecting how we treat people.  Do we welcome homosexuals into our fold as healthy, whole people, offering them the same covenant relationship that heterosexuals have for fulfilling their sexual desires, or do we work to help them overcome their sinful urges, trying to mold them into something that better fits our understanding of God’s plan.

The Religious Society of Friends has been confronting this for a long time.  Currently, it is leading some parts of the society to break apart, following a tradition of schism that reaches back almost two centuries.  The issues separating Friends are many, but the knife’s edge is what one side calls marriage equality, the other, an abomination before the Lord.

Wilmington Yearly Meeting was almost blown apart in 1997 when a local meeting took the marriage of a same sex couple under its care.  Since that time, the yearly meeting had put a lid on it, avoiding the discussion to the extent possible.  This allowed time to pass, but dissipated the vitality.  Recently, I worked to pry the lid open, succeeding so far as to bring Mary Heathman to the 2015 sessions for a extended workshop on human sexuality.  That same year, the Supreme Court upheld the right of same-sex couples to marry.  Last September, another local meeting took under its care a marriage between two women.  Avoiding the issue further became impossible.

Fairview Friends Meeting, a rural meeting generally thought of as conservative, adopted a minute urging the yearly meeting to accept local autonomy in dealing with such issues, in essence, embracing diverse points of view within the yearly meeting.  The yearly meeting clerk decided to make this minute the focus of this year’s session.

Predictably, there was no resolution.  We did not even agree to disagree.  Strong emotions were expressed.  Nobody backed down, or changed their tune, but nobody played provocateur.   People treated one another with respect, with love.

At the close of meeting, we expressed this love by rising in unity to honor and give thanks for the service of Ruth Brindle, who had just been laid off from Wilmington College as curator for the Quaker Heritage Center, and then for Doug Haag, who is ending his service to the yearly meeting as Executive Secretary.  Afterwards, we shared a meal together, not clustering into our little subgroups, but sitting and catching up with one another, without animosity.

Beforehand, I had no illusion that we would magically heal the divide.  I hoped that people would say what was on their hearts, and would listen to each other with the respect, the dignity that Friends of differing views should accord each other.  Friends did that.

Whether this loose organization can continue to exist in its present form is questionable, but continuing to meet year after year without addressing the pivotal challenges of our time seems pointless, indeed, lifeless.  This year, the dissonance remains unresolved, but at least it resonated! I believe this to be a positive step.

This is the first post of a series.  I hope to be able to fairly present the issue as seen by each side. Moreover, I hope to articulate the value of remaining in fellowship with one another, despite our strong disagreements.  Perhaps in this one sleepy corner of the Quaker world, we can plant the seeds of peace.

A Prophecy

I brought you into a fertile land
to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land
and made my inheritance detestable.
“Therefore I bring charges against you again,”
declares the Lord.
“And I will bring charges against your children’s children.”
Jeremiah 2:7, 2:9

In ancient times, when God’s chosen people were making a mess of things, which they did  fairly often, God sent them warnings via the prophets.  This was revealed truth, not to be questioned, but to be obeyed.  However, the people usually did not obey.  After all, these prophets seemed crazy, and they demanded way too much sacrifice.  Consequently, the people suffered what  they would come to understand as God’s wrath.

Today, we no longer need to rely solely on revealed truth.  Using our natural talents and our ability to pass detailed knowledge from generation to generation, we have developed a method for understanding the world around us based on careful, systematic observation.  This understanding has deepened over the years through continually building on what came before, by repeatedly questioning the received wisdom, testing it, verifying some ideas, refining others, and discarding those that did not correspond to the world as it actually is.  Thus, in the place of revealed truth, we have theories that can be verified or disproven by observing the results of reproducible experiments.   In ancient times, people understood the world to be controlled by God: disobey and you will be punished.  Our scientific understanding is founded on cause and effect: touch a hot stove and you will get burnt.

This approach to human understanding has proven extremely effective.  It has enabled us to transform large areas of the planet to suit our needs and build cities that reach to the sky.  Our modern technological civilization stretches around the globe.

Today, scientists observe that the planet, on the whole, is getting warmer.  This was predicted decades ago by people whose ideas used to seem rather far fetched.  Now, these assertions have been verified by careful examination of what has actually happened since the predictions were first made.  The idea is simple and profound.  Our civilization has become so ubiquitous that our collective waste is effecting the climate of the entire planet.  Glaciers are melting, sea level is rising, and storms are becoming more destructive.

There are times when the gentle correction of a modern Quaker simply will not suffice, times that call for the fierce intensity of the prophets.  You don’t have to believe in the wrathful God of the Old Testament for the message revealed through Jeremiah to reverberate in the depths of your soul.   And so I repeat his prophecy:

If we continue to trash the planet, there will be a catastrophe of Biblical proportions, and our children’s children will suffer what the ancient Hebrews understood to be the wrath of God.

Of course, all this is in response to the announcement that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord.  However, like those Biblical warnings of old, this is not just about the behavior of far off kings and princes and presidents.  Each of us needs to examine our own actions, because simply by living in this society, we are complicit in the ongoing devastation.

So, let me conclude with a query taken from the Faith and Practice of Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends:

Do you endeavor to live in harmony with nature, avoiding pollution and the destruction of our environment? What are you doing about your use of the world‘s irreplaceable resources?

 

 

Supporting Muslims in America

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Hassan Shibly

We all know this recent Muslim travel ban was just a shot over the bow.  Trump promised much worse during the campaign, and apparently he intends to deliver.  There has even been talk that we might soon have something resembling a Muslim registry. Some say, if it comes to that, they will register as Muslims.  Though I am sympathetic with this impulse, I will not be able to sign that with integrity.  I am not Muslim.  So, where can I sign now, to let my government know where I stand on religious freedom?

To find out, I visited the local mosque to attend a CAIR (Counsil on American-Islamic Relations) sponsored event: “Unapologetically Muslim and American”.   It featured Hassan Shibly,  Chief Executive Director of CAIR Florida, along with Karen Dabdoub, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Chapter.

The message of the presentation was clear.  Islamophobia is rampant throughout the country.  Incidents range from bullying in school through discrimination in the workplace or in housing all the way to hate crimes.   The presenters advised Muslims to stand up for their rights, to refuse to hide or simply hope that the situation would resolve itself, and to involve CAIR as soon as possible before things escalate.  CAIR is there to help.

They also noted the support Muslims have received from the majority community in America. They described incidents of Muslims praying in airports, for example, protected by Jews and Christians standing silently by to prevent any disruption of their prayers.  They mentioned Madeline Albright, who says she is ready to sign up if that Muslim registry comes to exist.  They also reminded us of the history of immigrant groups coming to America, groups which faced bigotry but eventually gained acceptance, at least from most Americans.

Shibly focused on relations with the government, especially US Customs and the FBI (“definitely not the Friendly Brotherhood of Islam”).

They spent quite a bit of time talking about what to expect on returning to this country from abroad.  Everyone is asked where they went and why they traveled.  Some will be pulled aside for secondary screening. Whereas this occurs for a typical American citizen about 1% percent of the time, Muslims were being pulled aside for this extra scrutiny about half the time, according to Shibly. Shibly’s advice was simple: as soon as they ask anything about your personal political or religious views, assert your rights.  As an American citizen, you have the right to ask for a lawyer to present during the questioning.  If you are a non-citizen,  with a green card for example, the prerogatives of the officials are less constrained, but you still have the right to call a lawyer.  Despite what the officials might say, you are likely to be detained just as long whether you call a lawyer or not, and without the protection of someone familiar with the intricacies of the law and normal procedures, you will be vulnerable.  Karen Dabdoub urged people to text the CAIR office when arriving, before getting off the plane, so that if CAIR does not hear from you within an hour or so, they can know to intervene with Customs to find out what has happened to you.  Thus, a Muslim entering the country can expect to be inconvenienced, but, with proper precautions and the help of CAIR, these inconveniences need not grow into anything more severe.  Nonetheless, foreign students are strongly encouraged to stay inside the country until their education is finished.

Shibly then went on to discuss the FBI, which he described as a government agency that is targeting Muslims, through entrapment and through intimidating people into becoming informants.

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Karen Dabdoub

Karen Dabdoub followed up with a hypothetical example of an person who thinks they have nothing to hide talking with the FBI.  The agent might ask a question, and then much later in conversation, ask the same question differently.  If there were inconsistencies in your answers, then they could charge you with lying to the FBI, a crime that can be punished with up to five years of jail time.  (Of course, it is perfectly legal for them to lie to you.) Now, they have something to hold over you, to intimidate you into becoming an informant.

Their advice was the same: ask for a lawyer to be present during questioning.  Whatever the motives of the people in power, the American government is constrained by the Constitution.  Muslims, like all Americans, need to assert their rights under this Constitution in order to maintain them.  If the government tries to intrude into your personal life in any way, don’t try to handle it yourself; call CAIR.  CAIR has a lawyer who will contact the FBI on your behalf.  Shibly recalled one incident where he felt the FBI had a legitimate reason to question his client, but in the others, he told the agent that he would advise his client to not answer any of his questions.  Usually, the FBI would then leave the person alone after that.

All this sounded pretty paranoid to me.  After, the event, I did a little research to find out whether the paranoia was justified.  Interestingly, I found a 2005 article where a freshman at the University of Buffalo named Hassan Shibly was detained at the border, apparently for no reason other than he was Muslim.  I suspect that experience had a role in shaping his career.

In a more comprehensive view, Human Rights Watch clearly supports their complaints:

In a lengthy examination of U.S. terrorism prosecutions, Human Rights Watch, working with Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute, said the FBI and the Justice Department have created a climate of fear in some Muslim communities through the use of surveillance and informants.

fbi-newburgh-four-james-c-007I found several accounts of the “Newburgh Four”, a group caught up in an FBI sting operation that Shibly had mentioned.  It appears sordid.  Yes, these guys, all black, all Muslim, all poor, did get caught up in a terrorist plot, but the plot was entirely concocted by the paid FBI informant.  Even the judge who sentenced the defendants was upset by the FBI’s conduct.

 Only the government could have made a terrorist out of Mr Cromitie, a man whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in its scope… I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it and brought it to fruition.

Unfortunately, one of the men caught up in the scheme was mentally ill, possibly schizophrenic.   Shibly reported visiting him in jail, apparently out of his mind, on suicide watch in solitary confinement, cold, sad and hopeless.

It is hard to see how we are made any safer by such operations.

It doesn’t have to be like this. For example, in Dearborn, Michigan, which has a sizable Muslim population, the local chief of police runs an outreach and informant program that is considered a model by authorities on counterterrorism.  Informally, it appears to employ the same principles of “community policing” that have proven successful in Cincinnati.  You engage the community, treat people fairly, and they help you succeed because they want to live in safety.  It works.  The police chief in Dearborn can cite examples where Muslims have turned in fellow Muslims.

The FBI might pay lip service to building this kind of trust with the Muslim community, and in fact some within the bureau appear to be making a sincere attempt to do that.  However,  based on what I have learned, from Human Rights Watch, from CAIR, and from reliable news sources, that ship has sailed, and the Trump administration is unlikely to ask it to change course.

Following the presentation by Shibly and Dabdoub, there was a question and answer session.  I got to ask my question.  I referenced Madeline Albright’s willingness to sign up if there is ever a Muslim registry.  “But I will not be able to sign that with integrity.  So where can I sign up now to let my government know where I stand?”

My question got a round of spontaneous applause.  The answer was a little vague.  Go to the alerts on the CAIR website and write your Senators and Congressman about the issues that concern us all.

It looks like we will have lots of opportunities to do that.

Trump has expressed surprise that there was so much furor over his executive order.   After all, “We had 109 people out of hundreds of thousands of travelers and all we did was vet those people very, very carefully.”  Of course, he seems to enjoy the drama of it all.

We should not expect Trump’s assault on the Constitution to begin with a massive charge, but with a limited action such as this one.  Regardless of the number affected, we need to guard against anything that “target[s] individuals for discriminatory treatment based on their country of origin and/or religion, without lawful justification.” (item 64, page 13)  .   If we want to preserve our freedoms, we must preserve them for everybody.