“With more than a decade of experience with policy, I’ve learned how disappointing it can be to put your faith in institutions and parties,” says José Santos Woss. Spiritual faith, by contrast, has inspired and motivated his work as the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s director for Justice Reform.
“Quakerism really is life breathing into faith and faith breathing into life,” José explains. “It guides and informs so much of what I do and I find it such a powerfully simple and strong theology to live by.”
- Subscribe to QuakerSpeak so you never miss a video
- See a list of all the videos we’ve produced.
- Read Friends Journal to see how other Friends describe the substance of Quaker spirituality
With more than a decade of experience with policy I’ve learned how disappointing it can be to put your faith in institutions and parties, and that’s why I find it so refreshing to be a person of faith. Quakers being grounded deeply in faith is an enormous asset and opens a lot of doors.
Quaker Faith in Justice Reform
My name is José Santos Woss. I live in Baltimore, MD (Charm City, USA). I attend Homewood Friends Meeting in Baltimore, although I became a member of Friends Meeting of Washington, and I’m the Director for Justice Reform at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
I grew up Catholic and obviously this isn’t everyone’s experience but my experience was that it was very much a heeding of dogma, of practices, of rituals, and it felt divorced from life. I didn’t see connection to providing the life of the person next to me. That stands in stark contrast to what I see Quakerism as. Quakerism really is life breathing into faith and faith breathing into life. It guides what I do, how I approach life, what I think. It really does inform the prism through which I approach policy. It guides and informs so much of what I do and I find it such a powerfully simple and strong theology to live by.
What Does Justice Reform Look Like?
I’ve learned a lot of lessons for how this world and our society in particular leaves countless people behind. One of the ways that it does that is low levels of economic mobility, poverty, addiction, and how we treat mental health and mental illness. All of this is the root cause of crime and as opposed to dealing with those problems, we try to contain it and lock it away in a cage. All this reform really has to be a mitigation of harm. We have to do less of it because the systems that we’ve propped up do tremendous harm: putting people in cages, solitary confinement, over-policing and under-policing where there are problems in certain communities and police don’t respond. We have to do less of that and more of things that actually help people alleviate poverty, give services to help addiction treatment, help with the continuing of care to address people’s mental health needs. So I think it has to be those two parts — doing less of what we’re doing which is harm through mass incarceration and over-policing and militarized policing, and more of what works to address the root cause of those problems.
What Role Do Friends Play in Justice Reform Work?
Quakers are pretty white, and that comes with quite a bit of power and privilege. A Quaker in Omaha, Nebraska is going to have probably more weight in what they say to a legislator than a Black Lives Matter activist in Brooklyn, New York. I think there’s a need for Quakers to step out of their meeting and away from a lot of these phenomenal institutions that they’ve created and speak to individuals in an interfaith setting (from Black churches or Black Lives Matter) and have a cross-cultural understanding of what that experience is like because you’ll find that it’s very different, and I think the more we can do of that the more effective we’ll be in addressing these problems. These exchanges and fusion coalitions are what I think it’s going to take, not only for Friends to be effective in dismantling these systems of racism, classism, and white supremacy in American society, but also for all of us to better address these problems in our country.
- How do you find your “life breathing into faith and faith breathing into life?”
- Does José’s assessment of the role of Quakers in justice reform work speak to you? Why or why not?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.