The queries we will be considering this month at Bear Creek meeting are about civic responsibility.
Because Friends believe there is that of God in all people, we strive for a world of freedom, justice and equality for everyone. Believing that progress toward these ideals is advanced by those who devote themselves to the shaping of a just society, we urge Friends to be active and conscientious citizens. This means staying informed on social issues, and on the opinions and activities of our elected representatives and of those seeking office. It is important that Friends speak truth to those in power. We recognize that, in our world, power in government and private sectors lies disproportionately with those of economic means. Speaking out on a personal level in our communities may be difficult, even dangerous, yet by doing so we may encourage others to work for justice.
Our first allegiance is to the Holy Spirit. In general, Friends support the laws of the State; but if those laws directly violate our religious convictions, we may be led to oppose them. When contemplating civil disobedience or unpopular personal testimony, we must carefully consider the spiritual basis for, and honestly face the consequences of our actions.
- What conflicts do we perceive between the laws of the State and our religious convictions? How do we resolve those conflicts in our lives? In what ways do we assume responsibility for the government of our community, state, nation and world?
- How do we share our convictions with others? Do we express our opinions with courage, yet with love, mindful of the Divine Spirit within everyone?
- How do we maintain our integrity when we find ourselves in a position of power? How do we respond when we feel powerless? Do we really respect and help those we seek to serve?
- Are we careful to reach our decisions through prayer and strengthen our actions with worship? Are we open to divine leadings?
When I was living in Indianapolis I made it a priority to attend the weekly peace vigil in downtown Indianapolis. We would fairly often have people stop and engage with us, some in support, some not. There was much more interaction when I began to bring a sign that said “Quakers Black Lives Matter”, especially supportive honking from passing cars with people of color. Several people of color also stopped to talk about what the sign said. I miss that, and have been thinking about ways to have peace vigils either here in Indianola, or at Earlham/Bear Creek.
Similarly I was glad to help organize and participate in public events in Indianapolis recently supporting water protectors and raising awareness about the dangers of the Dakota Access Pipeline. These often involved prayer ceremonies with native Americans.
I was impressed with how using the Quaker Social Change Ministry model (AFSC) at North Meadow Friends helped us bring a spiritual focus to our social justice work and helped us make successful connections with the Kheprw Institute (KI). This has provided a number of powerful opportunities for us to learn about racism and ways we can work to improve our own lives in a society containing so much structural racism. I hope we can use the Quaker Social Change Ministry model at Bear Creek meeting now that I am living in Iowa.
At our Peace and Social Concerns committee meeting at Yearly Meeting this summer, we talked a lot about nonviolence and civil disobedience. The following is from the Peace and Social Concerns Committee report that was approved by the Yearly Meeting:
Members of our Committee were encouraged to study the new book calling for national nonviolent direct-action, The Gandhian Iceberg, by Chris Moore-Backman, who sent us the following message:
I pray that Quakers and others will move to hold bold action far above the careful crafting of right answers. In the end Jesus’ teaching is simple. Letting go of our attachments to our personal status quos is the catch. Intellectual rigor and discernment has its place, of course, but only – I believe – in service to direct, loving action and sacrifice.
The report also included a minute that was approved by the Yearly Meeting in 2006, which ended with:
Our efforts to encourage our government to establish policies that will lead to peace and justice here and around the world have not been adequate to bring about the change which is so urgently needed. The destructive forces unleashed in our world threaten the future of all people and the planet itself. Throughout our history, Quakers have at various times found ourselves called to suffer for beliefs which have placed us in opposition to our government. Based on this history of courageous witness, we challenge Friends to now consider participating in nonviolent civil disobedience.
Here is my response in 2015 https://kislingjeff.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/civic-responsibility/
Each year Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) includes selected responses to each set of queries in the published Minute book. Following is part of the response to these queries in 2003:
One person expressed his difficulty with this query, in that he is not interested in, nor trusts politics. Someone else agreed that she struggles with discouragement and the apathy of hopelessness. She had been in San Francisco during the Peace March, told how fun the experience had been, the delight, for instance, of seeing a child carrying a sign that read, “Another 3rd grader for peace.” She compared this experience to the account of someone from our meeting who went to the march in Cedar Rapids, which was much smaller, in frigid and windy weather, and how the responses from the public to the march were mixed, some of them being angry and negative. She sees the real challenge in working closer to home, where the work may be less fun and exhilarating, but where real need exists.
Again, someone expressed how she hates being in vigils, and how a small group is planning future vigils in West Branch. She struggles with carrying signs that only serve to antagonize. She does not want to participate in making George Bush or Saddam Hussein the focal points of hatred. She likes the 3rd grader’s sign and thinks hers may say, “Another grandmother for peace.” She finds she is afraid of mobs and of the possibility of mob action, even when the groups are very small. One has, she concluded, no idea how to measure the results or consequences of a vigil.
Another member spoke of a sign she saw years ago in Connecticut that said “Seek Peace and it will find you.” She hopes her standing up for peace can be a support to a passerby, who, for instance, may be tending toward such beliefs, but has not clarified them yet.
Others commented on the Cedar Rapids vigil, one saying she found positive responses outnumbered negative ones, another pointing out the vast majority did not respond. Someone wondered which is harder for the protester, a negative response or none at all.
Finally, someone spoke to the words in the advice, “staying informed.” He is aware of how in the Vietnam War we were concerned with the same struggles, and how frightening and appalling it is to be in the same place again today. Those who want power and wealth do not ever cease in pursuing those goals, but enjoy the fruits such as their yachts and fancy homes. He concluded that those who desire peace may want to reap the harvest of peace and do not stay the course so steadily, which may be at the root of our difficulties.