For 18 years, Lon Burnam was a member of the Texas House of Representatives. He is also a Quaker and a pacifist.
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- Lon says, “the only way to avoid violence is to create peace and to create justice.” Do you agree with this strategy? Are there scenarios where you would question it?
- Do you think that Quaker should be active in politics? How can we help shape policy and prevent the next war?
A lot of times people think that they can make peace by doing war, and that’s just so ludicrous on the face of it. I mean, it’s almost a scientific fact of physics that if you do violence, you create more violence. The only way to avoid violence is to create peace and to create justice.
A Quaker in the Texas House of Representatives
My name is Lon Burnam, I’m from Fort Worth, Texas, and for 18 years I served a district in inner city Fort Worth in the Texas legislature.
The Friend in Washington is a very interesting and compelling place to be, which is the function I’m serving right now. I’m a full time volunteer at the Friends Committee on National Legislation and I have a special assignment of trying to help the legislative team develop closer working relationships with the Texas delegation.
The Texas delegation is really a large delegation, and there are very few Quakers in Texas, so they don’t hear from that many Quakers, so it’s a special mission – if you will – to the Texas delegation while I’m here.
Witnessing to Peace in Politics
You know if there’s anything fundamental to Quakerism, I think it’s the peace testimony, and when you start trying to explain that to people it is sometimes difficult, particularly in my part of the world where the culture and the economy so revolve around weapons production and employment in the military.
Early in my legislative career, I had to take some stands that were not comfortable, but because of my core values I had to oppose efforts enhancing enforcement in punishment for selective service registration violation. That was my first session in the legislature. By the time we got to 2003, I was the only person willing to say on the House floor, “It is always bad public policy to start a war, and we should reject this pro-war resolution.”
I picked up 5 or 6 votes out of 150, so I was not very persuasive in the political context of Texas, but at least by that 4th session in the legislature, everybody knew that I was a Quaker, and I thought that was a particularly useful form of witness.
I mean, to me, the 3 major monotheistic religions, the whole basis for them is to understand the importance of right relationships with other human beings and with God, and right relationships does not include killing people or doing harm to them.
Seeking a Faith Community
Most people might be surprised to know that I never even met a Quaker until I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas in Austin during the Vietnam War years and I started going to the Meetinghouse related to anti-war activity.
I had never experienced the manner of worship of Friends, and that prayerful time on Sunday morning with this group of Friends who shared similar values and concerns was very helpful and supportive to me, and I found that it came to sustain me through the week, and then I felt a need to go back over and over again for that period of worship.
I, in essence, have had the same experience attending FCNL in November. Particularly during the time when I was serving as the director of the Dallas Peace Center, I modeled a lot of what I tried to do in the North Texas community based on what I learned observing at FCNL Meetings.
How Quakers Can Influence Policy and Prevent the Next War
The Friends Committee on National Legislation is a Quaker organization that’s inclusive well beyond Quakers, but it was founded by Quakers back during the middle of World War II when we recognized that we made every mistake possible in ending World War I and we set the stage for the inevitable World War II. Quakers were determined for that to not happen again.
We’re proactively for preventing the causes of war, and that really comes down to meeting everybody’s basic needs. Most wars, although they’re called “ideological” and you have religions fighting religions, are really about resource allocation. And so we need to change the global thinking about what’s needed and what’s necessary and what’s right and appropriate.
We want politicians pandering the best instincts and values of people, and that’s the reason voting’s not enough. It’s kind of like the baseline, bottom line, that’s the least you can do to pay your rent for living in this democracy, but every – certainly Quaker, with our concerns and values – has a responsibility to do more than just vote – to do more than just develop opinions and read. We had a line at the Dallas Peace Center: “Research, Education, Action”. We need all 3 from Friends if we’re going to make this a better world for all of us and all of our children.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.