I am personally very dedicated to the national Quaker lobby organization, the Friends Committee on National Legislation. For most of the past twenty-five years I have attended their annual meeting in D.C., and I am joining the current one this weekend at home, via virtual Zoom gatherings, over four days of worship, organizational meetings and virtual lobbying of our elected officials on Tuesday. So in my brief Saturday Evening Post this evening I am moved to explain why FCNL is so important to me. (And, to be honest, to encourage you to check out and join FCNL if you have not yet done so: fcnl.org).
One of the reasons I am so committed to FCNL is that it is solidly grounded in faithful values that offer guidance and even solace in times of crisis because we have established ethical standards that support us when all else seems so uncertain and vulnerable. (See the “We Seek” statement in the footnote below.) Speakers today noted that over its now seventy-five year history of federal legislation advocacy, FCNL has has been faithfully addressing variations of the same challenges we are now facing - and we will continue to face into the foreseeable future. Perseverance in the struggle, “uphill for peace” as it has been described, is a strong statement of faith and practice, speaking to elected officials our portion of “truth to power” as we build toward a just and peaceable Beloved Community.
A persistent theme of speakers this year, of course, is the recognition of the complexity and vulnerability of this historical moment: a divided nation caught up in political turmoil, racist reckoning, bloated military spending supported by entrenched political power, a major pandemic with its devastating economic impact, a climate crisis, and an impatient population desperate for assurances that there is some foreseeable relief from all the stress. The expectation of a new administration and leadership team may promise relief and direction away from the regressions and harm of the current administration, but we also know the solutions to our monumental problems will not come easy or cheap. And more importantly, we know the government is not going to solve our problems alone. Our nation will need to look to organizations like the FCNL - and likely thousands of others like us - that can organize and train people of good will to provide the grassroots advocacy to push for substantive change that serves the common good. And then, of course, we will need to support and implement the structurally required adaptations we must make.
For example, this year the FCNL annual meeting theme is to focus “fierce love” on our effort to address our own and our nation’s racism. Most Quakers have congratulated ourselves that we have led historically in the abolition of slavery and various anti-racism campaigns over the years. And we have tried to honor our commitment to racial equality based on our belief of “that of God in all persons.” All this is true as far as it goes. But when we have dismantled our more factual history, we have become soberingly aware of our shameful, hypocritical, unrecognized or denied, historical involvement in the slave trade and slave ownership. And with further honest reflecting, we have recognized that Friends in the U.S. are predominantly a white organization with presumptions of European-based righteousness. As such we are faced with acknowledging how easy it is for us to assume a “white supremacy” and to deny our latent racism. And if we continue our effort with truthfulness, we are led to ask if we are willing and able to do something about our racism. This is especially important before we assume with integrity any right to critique racism in others without looking at ourselves.
To address our call for self evaluation regarding our racism, FCNL hired a team of professional African-American consultants to first provide training for our staff and volunteer leadership. A second phase is to dedicate several hours of this year’s annual meeting to provide anti-racism training for some eight hundred of us attending the annual meeting sessions. In addition FCNL is committed to hiring more minority staff and recruiting minority young adults to our internship and advocacy programs. As expected, our commitment to inclusion has challenged and tested our capacity to accept and support those coming into our organization from different ethnic and religious backgrounds while we also strive to maintain our tradition of Quaker faith and practice like our use of silence in worship.
FCNL, nor I, nor you need to retreat into guilt and shame over our history. What we all do need, however, is to follow FCNL's example to be willing to be humbled by the revelations of the reality of our personal and structural racism that permeates our American culture. And we need to be transformed into an awareness that we can, and we will, counter our past racism by personal accountability for assuming a lens of anti-racism in our relational, financial, personal and work lives. And further we need to persistently advocate for dismantling the structural racism that is so toxic to our national integrity. I am thinking specifically about voter suppression, criminal justice reform, red-lining in housing, and discriminatory hiring and economic practices that continue to stifle and abuse minority individuals and communities. As Ts-Nahisi Coates writes, “Two hundred fifty years of slavery, Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding racial debts, America can never be whole.”
FCNL represents our faith community’s effort to take our faith out to the public policy arena. In spite of the frustrations and discouragements, FCNL has also provided successful leadership in advocating the federal government to live up to our nation’s ideals of equality and justice, but that is a story too long to tell tonight. Suffice it to say, I so profoundly believe that FCNL, and all other faithful community’s advocacy for peace and justice, is at the very heart of maintaining the democratic experiment, and I encourage each of us to take advantage of the opportunities our democratic system provides, broken and vulnerable as it is. This month’s election is a monument to that right, and I end with a reminder of the gratitude for the opportunities, in the spirit of truth and reconciliation, that challenge and call us in the coming weeks, months and years. Tonight I am hopeful we will prevail.
In faith and gratitude,
FCNL is guided by what we call our “We Seeks:"
We seek a world
free of war and the threat of war.
We seek a society
with equity and justice for all.
We seek a community
where every person's potential may be fulfilled.
We seek an earth restore