Civic and Community Responsibility
Friends recognize the role of the state in promoting the common good and in preserving order. They hold it should derive its authority from the consent of the governed. Like the Quaker faith, it should respect the sacredness of the individual and acknowledge that each person may contribute something of worth. Under our democratic system of government, it is the duty of Friends to influence the actions of government by voting in elections, by encouraging an informed and articulate public opinion, and by willingness to consider accepting public office. Friends in office should have integrity, be faithful to the moral law as it is revealed to them, and endeavor to serve the public welfare.
Friends have always counselled loyal obedience to the state, subject to the religious principle that their first allegiance is to God. The state has no claim to moral infallibility. If its commands appear to be contrary to divine will, Friends can only take prayerful counsel to arrive at a Christian decision. When the decision is to refuse obedience to laws, in accordance with conscience, it is usual for Friends to make clear the grounds of their actions. If the decision involves legal penalties, Friends generally have suffered willingly and fearlessly for the sake of their convictions. Friends not personally involved strengthen the meeting community by supporting their fellow members with spiritual encouragement and, when necessary, with material aid.
That These Things May Abound
We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with God, and with one another, that these things may abound.
Edward Burrough: The memorable works of a son of thunder, 1672, p. 604.
Instrument for Meeting Human Needs
Friends' attitude toward the state is conditioned by the fact that the state presents two different aspects. As a coercive agency, resorting to violence, it often does not conform to Friends' interpretation of Christian principles. On the other hand, as a great instrument for meeting human needs, it commands their respect and cooperation. The philosophy of the democratic state, in particular, grows out of the same roots as the Quaker faith. Basic to each is the belief in the sacredness of the individual and the conviction that each person may contribute something of worth.
Friends are not opposed to all forms of coercion. Police activities, incidental to carrying out the rightful purposes of the state and directed solely against individuals who refuse to abide by the law, seem necessary and helpful. From its earliest days, however, the Society has held that war is contrary to the will of God; and it has counselled its members to refuse to bear arms or to accept membership in military forces.
As the state is more and more responsible for advancing human welfare, members of the Society increasingly face civic duties, especially those which have long been among their chief concerns. Through the ballot and in other ways Friends may help to direct public policy toward the fulfillment of Christian principles, thus contributing to an enlightened and vigorous public opinion. Men and women of intelligence, high principle and courage are needed to combat ignorance, self-interest and cowardice, when these impede the wise solution of national and international problems.
Philadelphia Y M.: Faith and practice, 1961, p. 41.
Integrity and Public Office
Since integrity and diligence are of the utmost importance in the holding of public offices, Friends should not allow matters of preference and convenience to deter them from this service. Necessity for group action may, however, present difficult problems for the office holder who seeks to be single-minded in his loyalty to God. A prayerful search may lead to a suitable adjustment which need not establish a precedent but should be kept before the Father in Heaven for further light. It may become necessary to sacrifice position to conscience and expediency to principle.
For those not holding public office there is a wide field for voluntary public service in agencies and organizations that exist for civic betterment.
Ibid., p. 42.
Friends set definite limitations, however, to the authority of their rulers. More than once George Fox demanded of officers of the law whether he should obey God or man, and warned the king to "hearken to God's voice" or he would be overthrown. If occasion arises when it is necessary to refuse obedience to unjust laws, such conscientious objection should not be entered into lightly or hastily, and should be made with love and forbearance toward those who disagree. The conquest of evil is to be effected only by the overpowering force of truth and righteousness.
New England y: M.: Faith and practice, 1950, p. 88.
A Call to Quaker Participation
If we, as Friends, claim special exemptions from military preparation or service, then we have more than ordinary call to work on the onerous task of civilian problems. Our sacrifice in this field should be such that our neighbors cannot doubt our caring for each and all.
Millicent Foster: "A call to Quaker participation," Quaker life, October 1980, p. 9.
Role of Civil Disobedience
Civil disobedience means open, considerate, non-violent defiance of some law which is against the conscience of those who disobey it, and is resorted to after all means of altering it have been exhausted. Since the purpose of civil disobedience is to compel others to re-examine the conscientious basis of the law, the proposed disobedience and the reasons for it are widely announced in advance. The law enforcement authorities are given every opportunity to prevent the proposed action and to punish the participants. The necessary role of the authorities in enforcing the law is recognized and they are treated courteously, but opposition to the law is unyielding and its opponents willingly accept prison sentences and sacrifice all rather than to comply. This builds a moral force which no law can withstand if the cause is just and the disobedience is sufficiently widespread and prolonged.
Insincerity is easily sensed by the adversary and destroys the persuasiveness of the action. The only legitimate motive is to maintain the truth as we see it. If sacrifice is involved, that is merely a by-product. In short, we must beware of the martyr complex.
Lawrence S. Apsey: Transforming power for peace, 1960, pp. 62, 73.
Taxes for War Purposes
Taxes for war purposes have again and again raised problems for Friends, with no final solution of universal approval or disapproval. In modern times some Friends have refused to pay at least that proportion of income tax which corresponds to the proportion of the national budget spent on military matters. That the government has ways of collecting these amounts without consent has doubtless discouraged others from attempting refusal.
Henry 1. Cadbury, "Peace and war" John Kavanaugh, ed.: The Quaker approach to contemporary problems, 1953, p. 7
An Uncalculated Risk
We know of but one way to meet the forces of disintegration that threaten us. The first step is to release into society integrated men and women, whose lives are at one with God, with themselves and with their fellow men. But even this is not enough. If there is to be a religious solution to the social problem there must also be renewed in a disintegrating society the sense of community, of mutuality, of responsible brotherhood for all men everywhere. Such community is built on trust and confidence, which some will say is not possible now because the communist cannot be trusted. The politics of eternity does not require that we trust him. They require us to love him and to trust God. Our affirmation in this day is that of John Woolman in his: "I have no cause to promote but the cause of pure universal love." We call for no calculated risk on behalf of national interest or preservation; rather for an uncalculated risk in living by the claims of the Kingdom, on behalf of the whole family of man conceived as a divine-human society.
The politics of eternity works not by might but by spirit; a Spirit whose redemptive power is released among men through suffering endured on behalf of the evildoer, and in obedience to the divine command to love all men. Such love is worlds apart from the expedient of loving those who love us, of doing good to those who have done good to us. It is the essence of such love that it does not require an advance guarantee that it will succeed, will prove easy or cheap, or that it will be met with swift answering love. Whether practiced by men or nations, it well may encounter opposition, hate, humiliation, utter defeat. In the familiar words of the epistle, such love suffers long, is always kind, never fails. It is a principle deeply grounded in the years of Quaker sufferings, imprisonments and death. From the dungeons of Lancaster Castle Friends spoke this Truth to Power: "But if not then shall wee lye downe in the peace of our God and patiently Suffer under you." This is the Spirit that overcomes the world.
American Friends Service Committee: Speak truth to power, 1955, pp. 68-9.
Translating Principle Into Actuality
If a concerned Quaker (or any man or woman committed to an absolute religious ethic) decides to enter practical politics in order to translate his principles into actuality, he may achieve a relative success: he may be able to raise the level of political life in his time, as John Bright did, or maintain a comparatively happy and just and peaceful society, as the Quaker legislators of Pennsylvania did. But he can apparently do it only at a price the price of compromise, of the partial betrayal of his ideals. If, on the other hand, he decides to preserve his ideals intact, to maintain his religious testimonies unsullied and pure, he may be able to do that, but again at a price the price of isolation, of withdrawal from the main stream off life in his time, of renouncing the opportunity directly and immediately to influence history.
Let me call the two positions the relativist and the absolutist. And let me suggest that perhaps each one needs the other. The relativist needs the absolutist to keep alive and clear the vision of the City of God while he struggles in some measure to realise it in the City of Earth. And conversely, the absolutist needs the relativist, lest the vision remain the possession of a few only, untranslated into any degree of reality for the world as a whole.
Frederick B. Tolles: Quakerism and politics (Ward lecture), 1956, p. 20. Guilford College.
Steps Toward the Goal
Do minor reforms make great social evils easier for people of tender conscience to accept and therefore delay the final solution of these evils? If I understand the experience of Quaker reformers, this has not been their view. Quakers have seen as two-fold their function in a non-Quaker society: (1) to hold up the ideal; never to forget it nor allow others to forget it as a goal, and (2) at the same time to initiate small, imperfect steps with which they, themselves, are dissatisfied because of their partial nature. It seems to me to be, not only more useful, but to take more courage to work at these partial solutions rather than in effect, to wash one's hands of evil by rejecting every solution which is less than the ideal.
Dorothy H. Hutchinson: The spiritual basis of Friends' social concern, 1961, p. 7 Friends General Conference.
In all our fervor in all my fervor to be doing, have I paid t00 little attention to the power that lies in being? Do we remember that it is the spirit of our service, the aura that surrounds it, the gentleness and the patience that marks it, the love made visible that compels it, that is the truly distinctive quality that lifts Quaker service above lobbying, above pressure, above coercion, that inspires the doubtful, and reaches to the heart of the adversary?
Stephen G. Cary: "The Quaker proposition," Friends journal, November 1979, p. 4.