- Two years after Friends General Conference’s governing body approved the initiation of an institutional assessment on systemic racism; a full report and summary with recommendations are now available.
- Based on this report and recommendations, FGC’s governing body, Central Committee, has approved a minute to commit FGC to becoming an anti-racist organization in a multi-year process. There was strong unity in the body, which gives hope to many.
- The discernment process that brought us to this unity further revealed why FGC needs a spirit-led intervention to become an anti-racist organization – many of the processes that inform our faith community are tainted by the destructive power of white supremacy and require a widespread commitment to transformation.
The members of the Institutional Assessment on Systemic Racism Task Force are deeply grateful to the many individual Friends, monthly meetings and yearly meetings who donated funds and provided support to help make the Institutional Assessment (IA) possible, as well as to the more than 1,100 Friends who participated in the IA survey.
After 11 months of research and report-writing, the Institutional Assessment Task Force (IATF) brought forward a minute, a summary report, and a full report to the Friends General Conference Central Committee, which met October 24-28th, 2018. Central Committee is the governing body of FGC whose membership is comprised of more than 120 Friends from Yearly and Monthly Meetings that span the United States and Canada.
It was not lost on those present that the IATF report and recommendations came forward on a weekend marked by a string of violent hate crimes; crimes that deeply underscore the importance of living up to our testimonies.
After having all of Central Committee participate in an anti-racism training on October 25th and 26th, the IATF presented a summary of numerous instances and patterns of systemic racism within FGC over a long period of time. Further, survey results showed that most Friends of European descent, regardless of age, are acutely aware that white Friends, in their interactions with Friends of Color, often fall short of affirming that of God in everyone. This is despite the work of many Friends, of all races, over centuries to faithfully advance racial equity and justice. Given this reality, the IATF asked Central Committee to commit FGC to becoming an anti-racist institution through the minute below. Many Friends saw clearly that doing so is a spiritual commitment to help FGC and the Religious Society of Friends become the Beloved Community that Spirit calls us to be. Central Committee found unity and FGC has now affirmed its commitment to becoming an anti-racist organization through the processes and actions described in the minute and the summary report. This will be a multi-year process to uproot from within ourselves the on-going reality of white supremacy that spiritually harms us all.
While it is true that the body reached strong unity, it is also important to stress that the discernment at Central Committee was challenging for many Friends. This underscores the ways that even when we are largely united in moving forward, systemic racism inserts itself in a myriad of dispiriting ways. Please continue reading to learn from our experience. This knowledge, along with the full report and recommendations, may help you as your yearly and monthly meeting seek to address issues of systemic racism within your meeting.
At Central Committee, the IATF brought forward the following minute for discernment:
Institutional Assessment Task Force Minute
Central Committee approves the establishment of a group to implement the work of the Institutional Assessment on Systemic Racism within Friends General Conference. Its charge shall be to guide the transformation of Friends General Conference into an anti-racist organization.
Consistent with the decision of Central Committee in 2017 to prioritize the work of anti-racism, FGC commits to work to eliminate white supremacy within the Religious Society of Friends and to model anti-racism as we support the work of this implementation group.
Central Committee authorizes the Institutional Assessment Working Group (IAWG) to serve as a naming committee to bring forward the names of eight Friends to serve on this implementation group. The names for the implementation group shall be brought forward for approval to Executive Committee at its winter 2019 meeting. The individuals to be recommended shall constitute at least 50 percent Friends of Color and consideration shall be given to include Young Adult Friends and broad geographic representation.
The implementation Group will use the information and recommendations from the Institutional Assessment on Systemic Racism within Friends General Conference 2018 report to begin their work and its work shall not be limited to the scope of the report and its recommendations. The implementation group shall be accountable to Central Committee and will report its progress to each Executive Committee Meeting and annually to Central Committee. Central Committee authorizes the IAWG to propose an appropriate budget to support the work of the implementation group and authorizes the Executive Committee to approve that budget at its winter 2019 meeting.
Upon hearing the minute, the Central Committee body offered a series of changes. Eventually the Clerk, in an attempt to find unity, asked members of the Task Force to gather, re-write the minute, and bring it back to the body. Below is what the Task Force brought back for approval.
Statement of the IA Task Force
Friends, we heard that you’re concerned about the process, about accountability, about how we’re reporting, and about our grammatical error. Also there was some confusion about whether we need a budget now or the budget should be approved after we know what the full scope is. Further, some of you voiced concerns about whether the implementation group is going to be accountable to Central Committee (with reporting to Executive Committee in between) and what is it that Central Committee is giving authority to the body to do. We feel, that if you carefully read the minute, that we’ve answered these questions within the minute.
With respect to accountability, we feel that the minute is clear that the implementation group is accountable to Central Committee which shall approve its recommendations.
With respect to reporting, we feel that it is clear that this body will regularly and consistently report to Executive Committee and Central Committee.
With respect to the budget, we trust that it is clear that the IAWG will do the initial budget for this year only and for 2020 onward, the implementation group will present its own budget for approval.
With respect to authority, we feel that it is clear what specific limited authority has been delegated by Central Committee in the minute.
With respect to our vision for change within the Religious Society of Friends, we note that we are all a part of the Religious Society of Friends, and when we move outside FGC circles we share what we learn here.
We carefully thought about each word in the minute, and so our considered decision is that the only change we propose to the minute is to correct the grammatical error with respect to the placement of white supremacy.
And now we wish to bring forward a new minute for approval, before we return to our revision to the previous minute.
New Proposed Central Committee Minute
Central Committee resolves that in all FGC decision-making processes beginning now with the FY 19 budget, each body shall answer the following query with respect to each decision, “How does this decision support FGC in its goal to transform into an actively anti-racist faith community?”
And we have made one change to the following sentence in our previous minute, to read as follows:
Consistent with the decision of Central Committee in 2017 to prioritize the work of anti-racism, FGC commits to work to eliminate white supremacy within the Religious Society of Friends and model anti-racism, as we support the work of the implementation group.
Both Minutes were approved and the Task Force had one more thing to say.
Our Lesson in White Supremacy Showing Up at Central Committee
The IATF shared a story at Central Committee from Jessica Vazquez Torres, an anti-racism trainer, who led the anti-racism workshop at Central Committee. Jessica said a white Friend noted to her at the close of our last session,
“So, did you see that just happen? That is us – that is our Quaker white supremacy in action in our process. We tell you to bring us a big, beautiful expansive dream, and then through our process we will whittle it down for you and put it into a box.”
The IATF then shared with the body,
“We are reflecting to the body what we just experienced. We brought you an expansive dream, and then you seek to control it, you seek to police it, and you say that you have no trust of the group appointed to do this work, and you are coming from a scarcity, either/or mindset.”
Once the IATF held up a mirror to Central Committee, the micromanaging fell away and Friends’ hearts were broken open in recognition that indeed many of the concerns raised by the body had been addressed, all along, by the original minute.
As individuals, as an institution and as a religious body, we have much work to do and we are committed to doing it. Let us all, as Friends, be united in doing the hard work necessary to make manifest the Kingdom of God on earth. Let the Divine search us, to hold up the mirror, so that we, individually and as a body, might see Truth.
Update (2/1/2020): In the original report, Cape May was incorrectly identified as a "sundowner town." In late 2019, we were made aware by a Friend that Cape May was not a sundowner town, but did support and enforce racist policies while the Gathering was held there betwwen 1916 and 1968. We updated the report with this corrected paragraph:
1916-1968: Between 1916 and 1968, the Gathering returned to Cape May, New Jersey a total of 23 times. As in many communities in the northern United States, the town of Cape May engaged in both de facto and overt racism. During much of this time Cape May supported segregation in housing, in schools (1928 – 1948) and until, at least, 1956 with “white only” and “colored” beaches.