Population: A Controversial Witness

Stan Becker

FRIENDS COMMITTEE on Unity with Nature (FCUN) was born in 1987 at the Friends General Conference gathering plenary. There, Marshall Massey outlined all the environmental threats we faced on planet earth. Except he missed one. He did not mention the rapid growth in numbers of our own species. We were about 1 billion persons on the planet in 1830; we reached 2 billion by 1930, 3 billion in 1960, and since then have added about a billion every ten years. Today our population is about 7.6 billion.

I went up to Marshall on the stage at the end and said very directly: “Marshall, you did not mention human population growth.  You know that rapid population growth is related to almost all of the problems you mentioned, so why didn’t you mention it?”  His response saddened me but also galvanized me to work on the concern. He simply said: “It is too controversial among Friends.”

Thankfully, the newly formed FCUN was more open to population concerns.  Within a couple years, I had a traveling minute and minutes on population concerns approved by my monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings. I drafted a trifold on population concerns published by FCUN, albeit with a disclaimer about its controversial nature. Soon an oversight committee in my Monthly Meeting was formed and that group worked on the first draft of most of the FCUN/QEW population pamphlets: immigration, adoption, abortion, sexuality, and “Seeking clearness on childbearing in a crowded world.”  It took much Friendly labor for the FCUN Steering Committee to approve each of these (the abortion one took three years), but it gives me pride to know that Friends can reach unity even on difficult matters by laboring in love with each other.

Since that time the committee (now a working group) has helped publish a book, Population is People, has developed a population-resources game, has provided speakers at monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings (as well as a plenary on population concerns at the FGC Gathering in 2001), and recently has revised and updated all of the original pamphlets on population concerns and added one on women’s empowerment. 

We have been fortunate to have had three Friends who work in population and reproductive health participate actively in the committee/working group, Roy Treadway, Dick Grossman, and myself. Population is an area with many statistics and putting a human face on them is part of our work.

There are many more stories to tell, but we’ll save these for another time. In the meantime, please check out the population pamphlets under publications on the QEW website here. The queries can be especially helpful.

Stan Becker is the Clerk of QEW. He is a professor at Johns Hopkins University and a member of Homewood (Baltimore) Friends Meeting.