Continuing to think about Quaker queries, I’ve been stimulated to think more about how we use them. During a recent discussion I said, “isn’t the purpose of queries to lead us to action?” Then I realized we might not all see them that way, and perhaps I hadn’t always thought so myself.
Recently I wrote the following to a Friend who has been working to try to get Quakers to come to grips with issues related to white privilege and racial justice: “One of many ways to possibly move forward is the invitation from Ministry and Counsel to revise our queries. Since this month’s is about civic responsibility, I included “Many Friends have worked in various ways for legislation that promotes peace and social and economic justice, and have supported candidates for office with those views. This requires being informed about the social and economic conditions of the society we live in. To do so it is essential that we spend time with people in diverse communities.” in the advice and “Do we spend time in a diversity of communities, especially those experiencing injustice?” as one of the queries.”
When she politely responded she didn’t see revising the queries as meaningful action, I responded: “I see queries as a way to cause action to occur. When we discussed the queries related to social justice in August I asked what we were going to do? Which lead to talking about relations with Native Americans and Prairie Awakening. Eight Friends then attended and we are working on a letter to support it’s continuation. Likewise I hope a query about spending time in communities experiencing injustice will result in experiences like North Meadow has with KI which I see as real progress.”
The following was included in the report of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) this year:
“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.
I realized after my first try at coming up with new queries, that much of the advice, and several of the queries, were of a general nature, rather than specific to the topic (civic responsibility in this case). My second attempt had parts that were more focused on civic responsibility, by the more general parts were still there.
So this morning I’ve been led to consider whether (1) there should be some overarching advice and queries and (2) an explicit inclusion of action steps to consider for each set of queries. Following is my first draft. I’d be interested to hear what you think of this modification of the current approach.
Quakers know that the Spirit of God is present throughout our entire world. We are all members of one human family. Suffering by anyone is felt by us all. Our communities are organized by social, economic and political structures. These are imperfect and sometimes result in injustice and oppression.
We listen carefully, to hear how God calls us to find ways to advance justice and peace for us all, and for Mother Earth. We must also listen closely to those with differing views, looking for the truth in what they say, and finding ways to move along the path of justice together.
Throughout history Quakers have refused to obey laws or participate in social conventions that contradict our beliefs, sometimes being imprisoned as a result. There may be times when we are led to use nonviolent practices to restore peace and justice.
We use the opportunity of prayerfully considering the advices and queries, both individually and together as a meeting, to evaluate our present condition, and seek guidance for improvements in our lives, and how to implement them.
Inviting distant members to share in this process is a way for our meetings to speak to the spiritual conditions of all members and attenders, and grow together.
• Do we study how Quakers throughout history have lived in the Spirit in the world?
• How do we overcome obstacles related to our spiritual practices and social justice work? Do we maintain an awareness of the struggles of others, both in the meeting and the wider community, and support them as they work for peace and justice?
• Does the meeting as a whole discern what it is being called to do? Do we include all members and attenders, of all ages, in this discernment and work?
• How are we going to implement what God is leading us to do?
• How can we keep attention on the Inner Light as we are doing this, especially in the midst of conflict and confusion?
• As publishers of the truth, what will we share about what we are being led to do, and how will we do that?
Then each month we could revisit those overarching advices, queries and action statements, along with the particular queries for that month. Since Bear Creek will be considering the civic responsibility queries this month, that might look like the following (suggested new advice and queries)
Our civic responsibility is living our lives in the Spirit, letting that be an example to others. And finding ways to share what we know of God’s will with the world.
We seek to find ways to be engaged with our communities and in political processes in ways that are consistent with our spiritual leadings.
• Are we called to attend or help organize public political or social justice events?
• Are we called to support political parties and or candidates that embrace our beliefs?
• Do we spent time in communities experiencing injustice?
• Do we remain well informed about community policies that impact peace and justice, health, education, and our environment?
• Do we share our concerns with our elected representatives?
• Do we support the Friends Committee on National Legislation and it’s work on our behalf with our Congressional representatives and the Federal administration?
• Do we write letters to the editor or other articles about our concerns and beliefs?
• What specific civic engagement tasks are we being led to take now?
• Who is going to do each task?
• How and when will each task be done?