John Munson describes himself as "a Quaker, a Pacific Northwesterner, and an internationalist. I’ve been a lawyer for more than 20 years—and my family is an important part of who I am. We have six kids, three of whom are adopted. One was born in Korea; one is part Native American; one joined us from northern Vietnam. Now we’re talking about bringing in another kid. It’s been a family decision—we know it’s going to be tough, but they’re willing. That makes me really proud.
"I’ve been becoming a Quaker for about 26 years. My wife, Carol, and I first attended Quaker meeting in 1975, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania." John was first attracted to Friends by the ideas of seeking after the truth and continuing revelation. He was also "impressed with the idea of putting faith into action in times of severe struggle, in the midst of a war or a crisis, such as the civil rights riots."
John is drawn to Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. The Quaker "emphasis on applying those teachings helps me know that I’m not alone in struggling for peace and justice, in opposing situations like the Afghanistan war. In the aftermath of the terrible tragedy of September 11, I am appalled at the willingness of so many people to accept the death and destruction of a whole nation. The correct response just cannot be killing people and ruining an entire country. It’s vengeance, not justice.
"When I first started going to meeting, I had been turned off by the Christian churches because, institutionally, they had tended to support the status quo rather than what was right, regarding civil rights and Vietnam. Yet I have continued to be drawn to Christ’s teachings; for me, increasingly, Christ is the best answer."
Following law school graduation, John went into private practice and found his work "increasingly difficult. I was expected to do things I didn’t feel comfortable doing. One day, Carol came home and proposed we take in a foster child, which we did. We had already completed our first adoption, and it was soon clear to me that I couldn’t work the hours expected of me and be a good father to several children. We wanted to move back to the West Coast, so I took a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, eventually transferring to Portland, Oregon."
John works with programs for low-income farmers and rural residents. "I also work on some environmental issues. I’ve been able to protect taxpayers’ money and protect the people the programs are designed to help. It has been a good career. Nonetheless, I’m seriously considering making a change in my work. I’d like to teach high school history, and I’m beginning to take some steps toward that change."
In his spiritual life, what helps him most is "traditional Quaker worship. Waiting in silence together with others, focusing on God, brings the Spirit’s presence out more strongly in me. Reading also feeds my spirit. I try to enter into a conversation with the author. It causes me to question myself. Am I living up to the best that I can be and can do?
"John Woolman influenced me in his seeking to do what was right in the face of enormous opposition. After I went into the Peace Corps when I was 21, a Panamanian farmer named Ambrosio Rodriguez influenced me profoundly. He had so little materially, yet he is probably one of the most dignified people I ever met, with a quiet sense of self-respect and love for the world. It made me see that I really didn’t need all this stuff."
John is a bridge-builder. "The thing that frustrates me about Quakers is that while we’re such a diverse crew, many have individualistic views of what it means to be ‘a real Quaker,’ which can be a barrier to Quaker community. It would be wonderful if we could speak with one voice—clearly and often. I continue to be hopeful." John spends significant time with AFSC, regionally and nationally, and he is "excited about that work. I see great value in both AFSC and my evangelical yearly meeting. There seems more willingness now for evangelical, middle-of-the-road, and liberal Quakers to work together—a good sign if we can continue to come together and put our faith into practice."