Finding the Way Forward

What are Friends called to today? The answer is simple. Today, we have the same calling that Friends have had since the 17th century: to seek God’s will for us in this world. Simple to answer, but hard to do. Discerning God’s will works better within a group. Friends have discovered that a community of faith opens our way to discerning God’s will for us both individually and corporately, and experience has demonstrated that our leadings need to be tested with others in our community of faith. Finding our calling demands much of our God-given capacities of intellect, courage, and compassion.

The rapid pace of change in today’s world requires a commitment to vigilant discernment. New direction—or continuing revelation—is God’s way of helping us find our way on our journey through this changing world. As the Gospel stories tell us again and again, God calls us into the world, not out of it. Although our journey through this world may seem to each of us like an individual trip, we never travel alone. We have company: humankind, and God. Our spiritual journey is both an individual seeking and a communal expedition to find God’s purpose for us in these times.

In 1943, when our country was totally mobilized for war, some Friends asked this same question: "What are Friends called to today?" Meeting in Richmond, Ind., these Friends represented 15 yearly meetings of the Religious Society of Friends in the United States. In corporate worship, they sought to know the will of God in those bleak and violent times. Two years before the end of World War II and the first atomic bombing, these Friends anticipated the end of the war and the need for a nonpartisan Friends lobby to advocate for policies that might construct and strengthen a peaceful and just world order. Just a few months later, in November 1943, they opened the Friends Committee on National Legislation office in the basement of Friends Meeting of Washington in Washington, D.C.

Sixty-three years later, the new generation of Friends that governs FCNL is engaged in an intensive, nationwide process to discern God’s will for our Quaker lobby in the public interest. Friends do this every two years, prior to the start of each new Congress. This year, more than 200 monthly meetings and Friends churches have sent FCNL’s Policy Committee their recommendations for Legislative Priorities in the 110th Congress, which will begin in January 2007. At its Annual Meeting in November, FCNL’s General Committee, comprising more than 210 Friends representing 26 yearly meetings, will seek one answer to the question: "What are Friends called to today?" They will decide what FCNL is called to in today’s world.

The questions considered by our General Committee fall into four categories:

  1. How shall we seek a world free of war and the threat of war?
  2. How shall we seek a society with equality and justice for all?
  3. How shall we seek a community where every person’s potential may be fulfilled?
  4. How shall we seek an Earth restored?

Our very small community of Friends—only a few hundred thousand in a nation of 300 million—may be called today to an historic role in a world where the number of armed conflicts has declined, but in which our government has become increasingly militarized; in which the structures of economic and social violence increase the gap between rich and poor; in which national and global policies relegate masses of people to a category we might as well call "expendable"; and in which the ice caps are melting due to human activity.

We will only find effective solutions to these problems if we engage in a communal process to search the depths of our consciences. This reflects the Quaker tradition of focusing on process as a way of more effectively identifying and achieving an ideal. Rather than just pursuing our unrefined interests, we at FCNL feel called to engage everyone, including those with whom we disagree, to find what way opens for us to move forward together. This means being engaged in the realities of our time, while keeping our vision on the potential of the future; it means having the wisdom of the ages and the dreams of a child.

Friends have a light to shine in a world of darkness. If we shine our light in the right places, others may see what we have come to know: that love is the first motion; that right and just relationships create common security; that every person is a holy place; and that the Earth is a living planet whose survival depends on us, and our fate, on it.

Joe Volk

>Joe Volk is a member of Ann Arbor (Mich.) Meeting. A native of Blanchester, Ohio, he grew up in the Methodist Church. In 1967 he refused a deferment from the draft and went into the Army to try to organize troops to refuse deployment to Vietnam. After a short time in an Army stockade, he received an honorable discharge in 1968. He joined the staff of American Friends Service Committee in 1972 where he remained until becoming executive secretary of Friends Committee on National Legislation in 1990.