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 joined the 2020 event online from home where gathered for four days of worship, organizational meetings, and to virtually lobby of our elected officials.
One of the reasons I am so committed to FCNL is that its work is solidly grounded in faithful values that offer guidance and even solace in times of crisis. We have established ethical standards that support us when all else seems so uncertain and vulnerable.
Our efforts to lobby our elected officials are part of our call to speak “truth to power” as we build toward a just and peaceable Beloved Community.
For seventy-five years, FCNL has been faithfully addressing variations of the same challenges we have faced in 2020. Perseverance in the struggle—working “uphill for peace” as it has been described—is a strong statement of faith and practice. Our efforts to lobby our elected officials are part of our call to speak “truth to power” as we build toward a just and peaceable Beloved Community.
A persistent theme of speakers at this year’s annual meeting was the recognition of the complexity and vulnerability of this historical moment: political turmoil, racist reckoning, bloated military spending, 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 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. 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 that can organize and train people of good will to provide the grassroots advocacy to push for substantive change that serves the common good. Even then, of course, we will need to support and implement the structurally required adaptations we must make.
We must be transformed into an awareness that we can, and will, counter our past racism by personal accountability. This will require us to assume a lens of anti-racism in our relational, financial, personal, and work lives.
For example, this year the FCNL annual meeting theme urged us 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. We have tried to honor our commitment to racial equality based on our belief of “that of God in all persons.” 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. 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. If we continue our effort with truthfulness, we are led to ask if we are willing and able to do something about our racism.
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 and be willing to be humbled by the revelations of the reality of the personal and structural racism that permeates our American culture. We must be transformed into an awareness that we can, and will, counter our past racism by personal accountability. This will require us to assume a lens of anti-racism in our relational, financial, personal, and work lives. Further we need to persistently advocate for dismantling the structural racism that is so toxic to our national integrity.
FCNL represents our faith community’s effort to take our faith into the public policy arena. I so profoundly believe that FCNL, and all other faithful communities’ advocacy for peace and justice, is at the very heart of maintaining the democratic experiment. I encourage each of us to take advantage of the opportunities our democratic system provides, broken and vulnerable as it is. November’s election was a monument to that right.
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. I am hopeful we will prevail.
Tom Ewell is a member of the Whidbey Island (WA) Friends Meeting, a long time FCNL supporter, and former clerk of the Field Committee.