Why do Quakers care about politics? We asked Marge Abbott and Noah Baker Merrill.
Noah Baker Merrill: We’re a small group. We’re politically insignificant in so many ways, but it’s not our power that we’re bringing to these conversations. We’re being as faithful as we can be to the truth that’s being revealed to us, and we’re trusting that if we follow that through, that that will speak in others as well, you know, that that same power that we’re encountering is also at work in every heart.
Why Do Quakers Care About Politics?
Marge Abbott: Friends always been very active in addressing our government and its rule. They had started out in the earliest days having to try and change laws that were affecting them directly. As time went by a century later they were among the most active lobbyists to end slavery, active in women’s suffrage, in temperance movements… many, many places where they were lobbying over the centuries.
The Story of Paul and the Jail Cell
Noah: There’s a story in the Book of Acts that I really love where these two traveling ministers, Paul and Silas, are in this jail…
Marge: …and in the middle the night there was an earthquake or something that broke open his jail cell…
Noah: …and everybody’s chains come off. So they’re sitting in this broken prison…
Marge: …and he could have easily walked away, and never been seen again, and never have to deal with the consequences…
Noah: …and the jailer comes in and he says he starts to kill himself, because he’s afraid to get executed because his prisoners have escaped, and Paul and Silas call out and say, “Don’t harm yourself. We are all still here.”
Marge: He stayed and faced his jailers and said, “You guys are doing it wrong. You can’t be imprisoning me. You’re taking away my rights as a Roman citizen.”
Noah: So that image is really important in terms of understanding what it means for Quakers to be engaged in prophetic work, that we can touch that experience of everybody’s chains coming off and then we stand and we wait in the broken prison and we bring that message to others, and invite others to live in that reality as well.
Creating the Kingdom of God,
Waiting in the Broken Prison
Marge: Friends have always had this sense that the Kingdom of God can be realized here on earth, and so for early Friends, sometimes that vision was taken from Isaiah with the image of the lion and the lamb living side by side without doing damage to the other, this sense that we can all share this Earth together if we treat each other with respect.
They really wanted to prick the consciences of the magistrates, the soldiers, whoever was around, and get them to change the laws so other people would not have to suffer. So it was not just about themselves, it was about concern for the whole of the community and that unjust laws should be changed.
Noah: So it’s not like maybe in some churches where people are looking for a ticket out of this world, or it’s not like some places where they’re trying to just benefit themselves or disengage from the connection with the world.
The Quaker call to prophetic work is about having that experience of that transforming love and then seeking to live it in the world, in all relationships.
Transformation Through Relationship
Noah: The systems that we create as people, the systems of government and systems of power and the way that we distribute resources are all inhabited by people, and at its most powerful, this prophetic work is about relationships. And so when we reach out to people across the political divide, people can feel that if it’s coming from a real place. Getting out of that sense of, “We are going to force you to do something,” but offering that invitation that it could be different. That we could we could together build a world that is so much more whole, so much more alive than the one that we live in today.