Since the times of George Fox, the Religious Society of Friends has acted at the intersection of internal spirituality and social action. In worship, Friends seek moral guidance of how to live our lives, to “let our lives speak."
In the past five years, Friends General Conference, as well as various yearly meetings and monthly meetings, have understood that living into our testimonies of integrity, equality, and community demand action to end racial injustice in North America and throughout the world.
When a meeting intends to become an anti-racist faith community it records a Minute of Concern. Adapted from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice (2018), elements of a strong anti-racist minute of concern include:
A description of the issue. This description often has an emotional impact on the reader that pulls them into wanting to join the project. It is a plain statement of the truth. Here's an example from Red Cedar Monthly Meeting: “America has never repented of its original sin: genocide and slavery.” Hopewell Centre Friends Meeting minute begins, “We abhor the death of so many people of color. We abhor the constant diminishment of the humanity of people of color…We believe we are in a revolutionary moment where change is possible and justice may be realized. We must recognize that our history and our culture have betrayed us, and we must take steps to build a Beloved Community.”
Statement of what is being asked of public bodies. This might be to support a specific bill. Name public officials. State what change is preferred. A minute might say: “Our Quaker Meeting demands Congress pass the Justice in Policing Act to curtail protections that shield police officers accused of misconduct from being prosecuted and impose a new set of restrictions on law enforcement officers to prevent them from using deadly force.”
Santa Barbara Friends Meeting “calls…on our elected officials, including the mayor and city council of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County Supervisors, State Assembly, and Senate members, to prohibit the use of lethal and non-lethal weapons by the police against demonstrators and the continuing disproportionate use of violence against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. We call on our leaders to redirect police funding toward new investment in communities of color, toward mandatory civilian oversight, and toward alternative emergency response programs.”
A partial list from the Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting includes: “We call for the immediate end to police violence…We demand the dismantling of current policing and criminal justice systems that enable and perpetuate racism."
A set of one or more action steps. The actions can have both internal and external focus. The steps might address both individual and corporate action. A longer list of actions offers every Friend something they can take part in.
The minute from Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting continues: “We recognize that our peace testimony cannot mean passivity, that we will stand up in advocacy and not remain silent on issues of injustice…We recognize the unequal burden Black, Indigenous, and people of color have suffered historically and presently in this racist society. We commit to providing reparative funds to begin to compensate for this inequity…We commit to promoting, supporting and participating in individual, local, and yearly meeting wide continuing education about Black history, colonialism, white privilege, and police violence…We recognize that words without action accomplish little. We commit to taking tangible action. We proclaim with American Friends Service Committee that we won’t stop until we dismantle the whole racist system.”
A public declaration of moral concern may include publishing the minute in a local newspaper or posting it on a social media platform. You may also want to share it with other Quaker Meetings within the Yearly Meeting, use it to speak to representatives in the state or national governing bodies as a way to open conversations on a variety of efforts to reform systemic racism, or offer it to Friends Committee on National Legislation to be used in national advocacy efforts.
The minute could commit a Meeting to seek alliances with community organizations who carry the same concern. It is an opening to live into our testimony of equality and stand with Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities. It may also be used to commit Friends to reflect on our own unconscious racism, and to join together to learn about racial history and white supremacy using discussion groups, or book and film groups.
A statement of accountability. Few of the anti-racism minutes reviewed for this article include phrasing about accountability. Friends have good intentions in our anti-racism statements, but without a clear way to hold ourselves accountable, the fog of white supremacy can overtake our commitment to become the Blessed Community. Here are a few ways to keep the work actively in front of Friends:
- A meeting may direct each of its committees to answer the question: “In what ways does this decision support our intent to become an anti-racist faith community?” Friends can read through committee minutes for evidence and ideas about answering that question.
- The annual State of the Meeting report can include anti-racist activities and actions.
- The Meeting newsletter can publicize community anti-racist activities in which Friends might participate.
- The Meeting can encourage individuals or groups to form “anti-racism buddies,” where Friends share their leadings and are encouraged to act upon them.
- Each Meeting for Business can include a report of anti-racist activities.
- The committee or group that proposed the anti-racism minute could commit to returning to Meeting for Business six months or a year later to assess how meeting and its members have done in fulfilling the commitments made in the minute.
Friends, the momentum for white people in this country to find a way through the fog of racism is upon us. Let us join this “second wave” of abolition, where our lives speak of justice lived into the Light.
Carolyn Lejuste is a member of Red Cedar Friends Meeting in Lansing, MI. She served on FGC's Institutional Assessment on Systemic Racism Task Force from 2016 to 2018 and served on the Institutional Assessment Implementation Committee from 2019 to 2020.
David Etheridge is a member of Friends Meeting of Washington in Washington, D.C. He serves on the Friends General Conference Institutional Assessment Implementation Committee.