A Theological Perspective on Quaker Lobbying by Margery Post Abbott. Published by the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL): Washington, DC, 2012. Also available online at http://fcnl.org/about/quaker/AbbotBooklet_v2.pdf . Review by Anthony Manousos.
One of the surprising (and delightful) discoveries I made when I took part in FCNL’s “lobby day” in Washington, DC, for the first time was how theologically diverse the 300 or so Quakers in attendance were. Pastoral Friends from Friends United Meeting as well as Evangelical Friends took part. This is in keeping with FCNL’s mission “to bring the concerns, experiences and testimonies of Friends to bear on policy decisions in the nation’s capitol.” FCNL makes it clear that it doesn’t speak for all Friends—given the religious and political diversity among Friends, that would be impossible!—and also seeks to make sure that “people of many religious backgrounds participate in this work.”
This was encouraging since we need all the help we can muster to influence our elected officials to focus on the needs of the people, and of our endangered planet, rather than on the war machine and the big corporations.
One sign of FCNL’s theological diversity and openness is Marge Abbott’s pamphlet A Theological Perspective on Quaker Lobbying. Marge is eminently qualified to write this pamphlet, having served as clerk of North Pacific Yearly Meeting and of FCNL. She has also been a bridge-builder between Evangelical and unprogrammed Friends ever since writing her pamphlet Transcending Differences. She has recently written a book called Tender and Broken about her struggles to come to terms with Christianity as a liberal, unprogrammed Friend; and she is currently at work on a book about prophetic ministry, a topic closely related to lobbying. (Israel’s prophets could be seen as social critics and lobbyists on behalf of the poor and marginalized.)
Marge’s pamphlet provides a lucid and compelling case for Quaker lobbying based not only on the Bible but also on Quaker history. From the very beginning, Quakers were engaged in trying to influence Parliament and leaders to provide more religious freedom. Quaker women as well as men lobbied the government with boldness and authority stemming from their religious convictions and experiences. As Marge points out, Margaret Fell (the co-founder of Quakerism, along with her husband George Fox) delivered a message into the king’s hand titled “A Declaration and An Information from Us, the People Called Quakers, to the present Governors, the King, and Both Houses of Parliament, and All Whom It May Concern.” Fell had no qualms or hesitation about speaking prophetically on behalf of Friends to those in power!
Marge deals with many difficult questions, such as “the tension between the call to be prophetic and the desire to be effective.” Nor does she minimize the differences among Friends and the challenge we face when we want to speak “with clarity and unity on federal legislation.”
This pamphlet also helps dispel the false dichotomy that some Friends make between the “political” and “spiritual.” As Marge makes clear, this distinction would have made little sense to Early Friends since the political and the religious were inseparable in the 17th century. The goal of early Friends (like that of early Christians) was not only inward transformation but also a new kind of society, based on love and justice for all. Unlike many lobbying groups that rely on fear to arouse their constituents (and raise funds), FNCL “relies on the power of God’s love in its witness against the forces of excessive wealth, nationalism and fear.” That means learning how to see and appeal to “that of God” in our elected officials—not always easy, given how our political life has become so polarized.
Because this pamphlet is succinct and easily readable in a single sitting, it is ideal for adult study. (A study guide with questions for reflection is provided along with suggested readings.) I recommend this work for Friends who to know our history and to have a biblical understanding of our lobbying work.