Based on Crossno and Brent’s Pendle Hill Pamphlet #460, I’ve constructed an example of over-politicized vocal ministry. I’ve used real names and real issues, but I recognize that some Friends would agree with the message and others would disagree. I don’t mean to take sides in the matter. I do mean to illustrate a way of speaking that is inappropriate in Meeting. Suppose someone delivered the following remarks during Worship:
I’ve been watching Fox News and I’m horrified by the way President Biden is enabling his son to peddle influence. Biden is selling us all out, which is typical of the Democrat Party and the economic system they are ramming down our throats. The energy economy is being destroyed, and workers are losing their jobs. As Friends, I know we’re all on the same page about this issue. Everyone here should get on the phone and call your congressperson about the maddening rush to alternative energy.
According to Crossno and Brent, the above message is not grounded in spirituality and is ideologically divisive. Why? Well, political action is advocated before education and dialogue about the issue. An individual politician and specific political party are named. The speaker assumes that everyone has the same opinion about the matter, and an economic system is named without unpacking exactly what that system is.
Crossno and Brent argue that
…the most powerful vocal ministry will generally reference principles rather than particular public figures; will include personal life experiences; will illustrate the universality of the issue; will invite prayer, contemplation, dialogue, and possible unified action rather than presupposing unity; and will call the gathered community to working with Divine assistance to bring about a better world.
However, Crossno and Brent conclude their discussion with an important caveat:
…while we have perspectives on what we believe makes for more effective and powerful vocal ministry, the real test of whether something is vocal ministry is whether you feel compelled by Spirit to speak. Faithfulness to Christ, to our Inward Teacher, to the Divine, to the Light is always the final arbiter when it comes to vocal ministry.
With the qualification expressed in the above quote, it seems very possible that genuine vocal ministry could violate Crossno and Brent’s guidelines. If spirit-led, it’s possible that specific names could be mentioned and specific political action could be recommended even though the issue had not been previously discussed by members of a Meeting.
However, I’d argue that—before violating these guidelines—speakers should very carefully test their leadings. If there is the slightest inward doubt about delivering a political statement in Meeting, vocal ministers should refrain from giving such a message.
Well, in an effort to clear up confusion about politicized vocal ministry, I may only have muddied the waters. Such is life, such is Quakerism.
~ Richard Russell
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