There has been a good deal of postelection discussion of the role that "moral values" played in the outcome of last fall’s national elections. At Friends Committee on National Legislation’s annual meeting last November, members of the General Committee were clear that Friends must reclaim moral values from those who would use them for their own political purposes. Friends also must actively proclaim that our values are "based on Jesus’ message of peace, forgiveness, and justice, and his call to give succor to
the poor, the helpless, the scapegoated, and the outcast."
I have attended the FCNL annual meeting for at least a dozen years, first as a representative to the General Committee, later as a committee member and volunteer, and since July 2003 as an FCNL staff member. Over the years I have been consistently impressed with the nonpartisan discourse that has characterized these meetings. I have rarely heard gratuitous partisan comments about particular members of Congress or the shortcomings of the administration from the podium or floor of the meeting.
But what would be the feeling this time, so soon after such divisive national elections? Many of those who came to annual meeting in November had been deeply engaged in preelection registration and get-out-the-vote activities, and with political campaigns. These people were disheartened that all their efforts had been for naught and that we now face a deepening quagmire in Iraq, an endless "war on terrorism," and the continued neglect of many important domestic programs. Coming together allowed these Friends to vent their frustrations, and also to be encouraged and supported by others of like mind.
FCNL has lobbied on Capitol Hill for more than 60 years, and many of those attending the meeting have been actively engaged with the organization for years if not decades. They know that the legislative issues on which FCNL lobbies, like nuclear disarmament and reduced military spending, will not be changed in one election cycle. They recognize that this is not the time to give up in despair.
Friends attending the 2004 annual meeting affirmed, through a minute approved during the session, that FCNL’s work is rooted in moral values. It is Friends’ belief in these values that allows all of us to continue to move forward even in these bleak times. Articulating these values will enable us to engage in constructive dialogue with our neighbors and our members of Congress; with "followers of all faiths, traditions, and beliefs; and with those whose primary concern is the ‘security’ of our nation."
At the meeting, Friends also approved FCNL’s legislative priorities for the 109th Congress. As a nonpartisan Quaker lobby organization, FCNL "seeks to bring the religious experience of Friends to bear on public policy decisions." It witnesses "to God’s love for every person by sounding a clear voice for truth and peace, bringing forward alternatives to violence, and working for justice."
The priorities statement is, in effect, the staff and committee work plan for the next two years. It draws on input solicited from Friends meetings and churches around the country—this time involving 150 meetings and churches. The priorities typically address broad policy areas, giving the staff latitude to lobby for or against particular legislation as it comes before Congress. With the worsening situation in Iraq, the General Committee felt it was important to include specific language calling for the removal of all U.S. military forces and bases from Iraq while fulfilling "U.S. moral and legal obligations to reconstruct
Iraq through appropriate multinational, national, and Iraqi agencies." Unless and until the United States makes clear that it has no long-term interest in occupying Iraq, it cannot "win" this seemingly intractable war.
In the last few months, and particularly since the election, I have come to understand that while it is a small organization compared with the many deep-pocketed lobby groups on Capitol Hill, FCNL has significant strength. That strength is based on the recognition by staff and supporters that they are in this work for the long haul, and that the work is grounded in the moral values of Friends.
Both the FCNL legislative priorities for the 109th Congress and the minute on moral values are posted on the FCNL website at http://www.fcnl.org.