Young Adult Friends’ Epistle on Sexual Boundaries

January 11, 1998

Greetings to young adult Friends everywhere (roughly age 18-40), high-school aged Friends, and the Quaker community as a whole, from young adult Friends gathered from six yearly meetings and the Friends General Conference Adult Young Friends group, at Lancaster Meeting, Pennsylvania, this January 9-11, 1998. We have come together to grapple with a profound and widespread problem of improper sexuality and unhealthy boundaries in our communities. We have sought to gain awareness of our individual boundaries and sexuality, to learn how to build healthy relationships, and to examine how to integrate our sexuality and our spirituality. We invite you to join us in working toward wholeness and in creating safe communities. We are reaching out to all Quakers because we are aware of equally devastating incidents and a lack of attention that has occurred in other Quaker settings.

Firsthand experiences of violation during our Young Adult Friends events, including rape, have forced us to face the violence and betrayal of trust. Incidents of sexual misconduct occur regularly at young adult gatherings. We have discovered that the problem is far greater than most of us have imagined. Moreover, as individuals and groups, we have lacked the skills and courage to deal even with lesser problems, which has permitted larger and more persistent problems to fester. We have not ensured safety at our gatherings. We do not seriously discuss sexuality even though it is an essential part of our lives. We must change. To continue in this fashion, knowing the dimensions of the problem, would be unconscionable.

The weekend we shared provided yet another and an especially powerful example of the tremendous community, nurture, and togetherness that we often experience in our fellowship. Still we realized that this togetherness often lures us into an unrealistic and idyllic sense of our community as though the realities of our wider world do not touch our own lives. Under guidance from a specially qualified professional during the weekend, we heightened our awareness of our own boundaries and those of others and how to tell when they are unhealthy. We came to appreciate both a need to be responsible for our own boundaries and to work harder to recognize and respect those of others.

We experienced a remarkable sense of the meeting when we went deeper and embraced the challenge of integrating our sexuality with our spirituality. First we generated a list of what Quakerism means to us. We then challenged ourselves to explore how those pieces of Quaker spirituality relate to our sexuality. We despaired and felt aghast when we realized how often these Quaker values are not applied to situations involving our sexuality and boundaries. At the same time, we found tremendous hope that these deeply shared values bear directly on our sexuality and show us the way. We invite you to undertake this process and consider our list (which follows as an appendix).

We identified a number of habits and issues in our young adult community that tend to bring up dangerous situations. For example, some of our sexual boundaries carry over from our experience as high-school aged Young Friends, including sexual experimentation and the inappropriate modeling by some adult chaperones in Young Friends gatherings. In young adult groups, some problems have occurred when groups of men and women have shared the same sleeping space. Newcomers become "fresh meat" for people who come to gatherings looking to find quick connections. Or newcomers take uncaring advantage of the speed and intensity of our intimacy. Our quick intimacy is often achieved without the groundwork needed to understand these relationships. People get lost especially when we have larger gatherings, and we don't watch out for each other. The lack of continuity in our groups and their leadership make it difficult to focus and sustain attention on these issues.

We've only begun to identify concrete ways to respond. We discussed many possible responses and united on one suggestion so far. We suggest developing a short awareness statement that reminds us that our community and our relationships are sacred and must include healthy expressions of our sexuality. This statement might be communicated with advance mailings or group orientations at the beginnings of conferences (perhaps demonstrating specifically what is and is not appropriate).

Please consider our words as they relate to your own situation. We hope you will discuss this issue in your group and consider implementing solutions. We have given specific ideas which we discovered as potentially useful, and offer the following queries:

1. How did we get here? What in our Quaker experience has trained us to ignore, suppress or deny the pervasive sexual abuse in our midst?

2. What are sources of strength? Do Friends' testimonies, history, process and scripture offer us models or new ways? Have we integrated our sexuality with our spirituality? Do we apply our spiritual commitment to resolving issues of sexuality?

3. Do we stand up to violence in personal relationships as we stand up to other forms of violence in our society?

4. Do we love those who have been hurt by sexual violation, support them and respond to their needs?

5. Do we love our perpetrators as well as we should?

6. Are we willing to do the hard work of changing ourselves, or do we just want to change others?

Please tell us what your group has done. A continuing discussion, in part through e-mail, has begun. We pray this effort is fruitful for you and with the aid of the spirit, builds love among us all. We have come to appreciate the imperative to respect each other and are reminded that our community and our relationships with each other are sacred. Our work at this gathering has been an expression of our faith in the tremendous strength of our own community and our commitment to its healing. We not only feel our own call, but invite all Quaker communities to address their issues and come together with us in this endeavor.

For further information, feel free to contact: (contact information is obsolete and has been deleted)

Ken Stockbridge, Baltimore Yearly Meeting Young Adult Friends,
Gennyfer Moll, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Young Adult Friends,
Shirley Dodson, Religious Education Committee, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting

Appendix: Responses to "What Does 'Quakerism' Mean to Us?"

Obedience to Spirit
Real People
Speaking Truth to Power
Continuing Revelation
Letting Our Lives Speak