I’ve mentioned the Quaker practice of routinely considering questions related to our spiritual and social lives and practices. Praying about and discussing these questions, or queries, together is a way for us to share what we believe, and sometimes find help about things we have questions about.
Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), that my monthly (local) meeting, Bear Creek belongs to, has twelve sets of queries, so we consider one set each month. The meeting’s combined response each month is eventually sent to the assistant clerk of the Yearly Meeting, who then selects responses from all of the monthly meetings, to be read during Yearly Meeting sessions. In this way, all of the meetings in the Yearly Meeting share their work on the queries.
This month’s queries are about social and economic justice. The Advice provides an introduction to the topic. The queries are then listed.
Five or six years ago Bear Creek meeting began to invite those members who lived far away from the meeting to participate in the query process by sending their responses to the meeting via email. We began to refer to this as long distance queries. My response to this months queries follows the queries below.
“For when I was hungry you gave me food, when thirsty you gave me drink, when I was a stranger you took me into your home, when naked you clothed me, when in prison you visited me.” Matthew 25:35‑36
We are part of an economic system characterized by inequality and exploitation. Such a society is defended and perpetuated by entrenched power.
Friends can help relieve social and economic oppression and injustice by first seeking spiritual guidance in our own lives. We envision a system of social and economic justice that ensures the right of every individual to be loved and cared for; to receive a sound education; to find useful employment; to receive appropriate health care; to secure adequate housing; to obtain redress through the legal system; and to live and die in dignity. Friends maintain historic concern for the fair and humane treatment of persons in penal and mental institutions.
Wide disparities in economic and social conditions exist among groups in our society and among nations of the world. While most of us are able to be responsible for our own economic circumstances, we must not overlook the effects of unequal opportunities among people. Friends’ belief in the Divine within everyone leads us to support institutions which meet human needs and to seek to change institutions which fail to meet human needs. We strengthen community when we work with others to help promote justice for all.
How are we beneficiaries of inequity and exploitation? How are we victims of inequity and exploitation? In what ways can we address these problems?
What can we do to improve the conditions in our correctional institutions and to address the mental and social problems of those confined there?
How can we improve our understanding of those who are driven to violence by subjection to racial, economic or political injustice? In what ways do we oppose prejudice and injustice based on gender, sexual orientation, class, race, age, and physical, mental and emotional conditions? How would individuals benefit from a society that values everyone? How would society benefit?
Economic practices are very often at the root of social injustices. While there are innumerable examples of inequities and discriminatory practices related to wages, access to housing, education, medical, and other services, we have failed to come to grips with some foundational economic injustices. We live and work on land that was outright stolen from Native Americans. Our buildings and infrastructure was built with the labor of enslaved African Americans and other people of color, with the resulting extensive benefits and profits going to white males. We will not be able to make progress regarding racial (including indigenous) injustice until we apologize for these wrongs, and find ways to redistribute the wealth and resources that were created as a result.
Secondly, we need to acknowledge our current economic system no longer works, and has created the situation where millions of people are denied the means to support themselves and their families. During the industrial revolution, with nearly full employment, a wage based economy worked fairly well for the majority of people, although there were great disparities in wages. But with massive industrial automation, and moving labor intensive industries to other countries, millions who are eager to work can no longer find jobs. And millions of jobs that are available pay at rates that don’t, or barely, cover basic necessities. It is an immoral economic system that means millions of people go to bed hungry, don’t have access to medical care, or good schools, or decent housing.
The need to fix this broken system is a moral challenge to us. This is becoming increasingly urgent as we will increasingly be facing the breakdown of social, political and economic systems in the face the many consequences of our evolving environmental disasters, including increasing numbers and intensities of storms like Hurricane Harvey.