The Mission Field of Washington DC - Abridged

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The Mission Field of Washington DC

Talk given to Pacific Yearly Meeting, July 30, 2013 at Mount Madonna Retreat Center, Watsonville, California

by Diane Randall

I bring you greetings on behalf of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, [where I have served for two and a half years] as FCNL's executive secretary … You may be wondering, did I hear Diane correctly when she said, "the mission field of Washington DC?"   Washington DC is a nice place to visit as a tourist, but hardly a mission field – at least not as we traditionally think of them.  Yes, you heard correctly:  I said mission field – our nation's Capitol where FCNL endeavors to bring Light to the decision-making of our elected officials.  Now FCNL doesn't describe itself as being missionaries in Washington DC – our tag line is that we are a "Quaker lobby in the public interest." …

I grew up in Omaha, NE, attending a Lutheran church with my family.  …  I remember clearly as a young child when missionaries who were serving in Africa came to speak at a potluck… [Their] stories of a life in a "third world country" were exotic and intriguing to me as an 8 year old… I knew these were people who felt called by God to their ministry and their mission field.

Missionaries often don't have a great reputation historically … [However, missionary] work juxtaposes uncommon encounters… Our Quaker practice calls on us to "be patterns, be examples, and walk cheerfully over the earth coming to know that of God in each person we meet."  Quakers don't talk much about missionary work these days but we do talk about "ministry" – when the internal nudges of the Spirit [become] manifest in our lives in such a way that we live into a concern ...

Living into a ministry implies risk, because often our ministry takes us to places that are foreign and to work that we aren't necessarily trained to do.  Living into ministry often requires us to stand up, speak up, and encounter resistance… So how can Washington, DC – the seat of the most powerful nation in the world, swamped in money, power and self-importance – be a mission field? 

One of the roles of missionaries is to bring something to the field that it lacks.  What can Friends … bring to Washington that is lacking? … [Our] approach is not about partisan politics or superior knowledge – both of which you can find in abundance in Washington DC.  Our approach … is about seeking the Kingdom of God in public policy, just as we seek the kingdom of God in every aspect of our lives.

FCNL's vision does just this:  We seek a world free of war and the threat of war; we seek a society with equity and justice for all; we seek a community where every person's potential may be fulfilled; and we seek an earth restored…

If you have traveled to Washington, you may [be able to] envision our beautiful Capitol building, the mall, the well-groomed park-like landscapes that surround the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress.  This is FCNL's neighborhood – not just the general environment of Washington, but the actual neighborhood where our office is located.  It doesn't really have a "hardship" aspect that typifies most mission work…

When the FCNL office building renovation was completed in 2007, ... we were the first LEED certified building on Capitol Hill…   Now there are scores of green buildings throughout the city and the nation, and this year we are lobbying for the passage of S.761, an Energy Efficiency bill with bi-partisan sponsorship ... 

In addition to our witness with a green building and our lobby on behalf of energy efficiency, what else does FCNL bring to Capitol Hill that has a missionary appeal to it? Let me talk more about climate change and our approach over the past few months…

FCNL calculates our advocacy strategically, weighing the positions of lawmakers, analyzing the power structures, the Congressional calendar, the media influence, and we ask: What difference will our voice make and with whom? This year our lobbying on climate change has taken an interfaith approach with Republicans whom we believe will be open to the ethical and moral dilemma posed by climate disruption; many of these are members who represent constituents dramatically affected by droughts or hurricanes in Iowa, Nebraska, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

There is a moral imperative to care for God's creation; and many, many others agree.  There is a compelling concern by many non-environmental groups, like the NAACP or the National Congress of American Indians, to look at the environmental injustice perpetrated on poor and disinvested communities.  FCNL works with these and interfaith groups, including evangelicals lobbying for creation care.

How does our passion and our vision for a world free of war and the threat of war have a missionary quality in Washington DC? … This year the Appropriation Committee of the House of Representatives put forward a budget that included $512.5 Billion dedicated to … the "defense budget."  The entire [federal] budget approved was $971 Billion. The quick math calculation tells you that this proposed budget has more than 50% of our tax dollars going to the Pentagon… What's not included [in the Pentagon budget are]: Care for veterans – healthcare, housing, job training and placement all fall outside the Pentagon's budget. Spending on the National Security Administration and the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Council [are] all outside.  The US State Department, which includes funding for US AID – … all falls outside of the Pentagon…

So what is the role of FCNL as missionary? Earlier this month, FCNL worked with other organizations … to secure a large number of signatures from the House of Representatives on a letter to President Obama.  This bi-partisan letter … opened like this: "As members of Congress who share your unequivocal commitment to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, we urge you to pursue the potential opportunity presented by Iran's recent presidential election by reinvigorating U.S. efforts to secure a negotiated nuclear agreement." … FCNL sent out action alerts on this, and over 2000 people across the country responded… This was a good response, … [but] what if all 25,000 people who [received the] action alert had responded? ...

Which brings me to my final point, and it may well be FCNL's biggest challenge: the frustration over Congress, both with the very slow pace of change and the acrimony that is reported in the news. Friends, I ask you to consider how you act on your convictions and whether part of that action includes speaking up for what you believe to the people who work for you in Washington.  Whether it is responding to an action alert that FCNL sends out, writing a letter to the editor, … or traveling to Washington and joining a lobby day.   [These] are important steps.

We need a little missionary zeal to advance our social witness. And we can do this in a way that Friends for nearly 400 years have done: with integrity and conviction.  We can ask those who disagree with us to listen to our perspective, and we can listen to theirs; we can tell our truth; we can support one another in community.  But we need to get out of our areas of comfort, be willing to travel in a terrain that may feel foreign, in a space that we may not like to be part of, and speak and listen in ways that we may not feel equipped for.

But the good news is that we are not alone.  The Divine is with us:  Like Barclay, may we say: “Not by strength of arguments and convincement of my understanding came I to bear witness to the Truth.”  May our hearts be touched, and may we be reached by the Life in such a way that we recognize our mission and we grow in ministry… ~~~

Diane Randall is the Executive Secretary of Friends Committee on National Legislation. She is an active member of Hartford Monthly Meeting (CT) and New England Yearly Meeting, and she has served on the board of Earlham School of Religion.

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