A nationwide group of Friends launched Quaker Call to Action, “an invitation to a national dialogue on the urgent threats to our democracy,” on June 13 with a mass email and the creation of a website, quakercall.net.
“As Friends we feel called to speak out against . . . falsehoods and anti-democratic actions,” the quakercall.net website reads, citing attempts to overthrow the 2020 U.S. presidential election results and campaigns to suppress future voting. “We encourage Friends to seek spiritual guidance on any actions that you and your meetings might take to witness against this gross injustice.”
Bruce Birchard, former general secretary of Friends General Conference, helped launch Quaker Call to Action. Observing the news in February, he became alarmed about serious threats to democracy in the United States. He contacted two people he had worked with in the past and who had experience with pro-democracy initiatives: Sam Caldwell, former general secretary of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and Michael Wajda, former associate secretary of Friends General Conference. Then, “basically, we just started putting together a list of Quakers we knew from our experience.” By June they had 19 signatories, most of whom have served in prominent roles in Quaker organizations.
“We did not start out with a statement and ask people to join us in endorsing it,” Birchard noted. “We started out with a group of people who we thought shared our concerns. We went through a process and came out with a statement. . . . We released it now, while the January 6 hearings are active [and] it was timely. . . . And now people are coming on and endorsing it.”
Quaker Call to Action has scheduled two national Zoom calls in conjunction with Earlham School of Religion, for July 25 and 31, but has no other concrete actions planned beyond those calls. “Our plan is to stay open to the Spirit as it is brought forward by all the Friends that get involved in this,” said Birchard.
As of June 22, the call to action has been endorsed by 13 meetings and organizations, and more than 190 individuals. Additionally, more than 200 people have registered for one of the national Zoom calls.
But not all Friends have felt able to unite with Quaker Call to Action. John Jeremiah Edminster, a member of Clear Creek Meeting in Richmond, Ind., part of Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting, published “This Friend Stands Aside from the ‘Urgent Call’” on June 19 on his Facebook page and in several Quaker Facebook discussion groups. “The problem threatening this country today is not that there are too many . . . anti-democratic folks in it, but that the culture is dominated by the false belief that one can knowingly do evil and still get good results,” Edminster posted. His statement has received mixed responses.
Correction, 7/6/22: An earlier version of this news story gave an incorrect title for Sam Caldwell. Caldwell was a former general secretary of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, not a former clerk.