Thoughts for the Society of Friends

Faith and politics
Clearly they are together
Time for a divorce!

These days, it seems that Church groups rally around political causes and parties. There are the Christian Right, and the Christian Left. When you attend church, you can be almost sure which political party they support before entering. We break Christian unity in order to build Kingdoms on this earth. We do not seek God’s guidance, but instead use scripture to justify the pre-justice of man. Putting politics before God is no Christianity.

My particular group, the Religious Society of Friends is now in decline, though there was a time we were a major force in the Americas. We originated in a time where churches were so divided by politics that they took up arms against each other — this time is known as the English civil war… and those hostilities were continued in Ireland until my own lifetime. Friends found the insanity of this division — and protested the whole thing — our influence is what brought about the idea that church and state should be separated… though we learned this from Christ, who said his kingdom was not of this world.

Friends are now at a crisis… We can conform to political culture… liberal Friends siding more and more with the democrats, Orthodox/evangelical more and more with the republican Religious right. We can try to become acceptable to these groups or, we can maintain our testimony that our primary citizenship is not of this earth thus things such as Earthly politics are not important. We can either hold onto the secular culture of division or we can embrace Christ’s peace and unity. I submit, if we side with the world, we may grow for a time but we will be replaced with others who preach Christ’s gospel instead of justifying the secular world. If we go back to our roots, we will find the world needs the same gospel it always needed… and there is a place to those committed to the Gospel of Christ even when it runs counter to popular culture or earthly success.

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11 comments on “Thoughts for the Society of Friends

  1. Mark Wutka says:

    Amen, Michael! This has been on my mind for some time as well. There’s a passage in Elias Hicks’ journal that speaks to this:

    “I had full opportunity to relieve my mind, being, through gracious assistance, led in the clear openings of the divine light, to set forth the great danger of mixing in with the spirit of the world, which leads to strife and contention, and the promotion of parties and party animosities in civil governments: all of which have a direct tendency to engender war and bloodshed, and are therefore inconsistent for us, as a people, to touch or take part with, or to suffer our minds to be agitated thereby; as it always has led, and always will lead those, who are leavened therewith, out of the meek spirit of the gospel, which breathes ‘peace on earth, and good will to all men.'”

  2. K says:

    If we are to build the Kingdom here, now, how can we stand apart from the world and not oppose violence, injustice, and unsustainable ways of living? I cannot imagine how someone can be called to live in the Spirit without inherently challenging the socio-political status quo.

    Party politics is a personal thing, but the problem seems to me not to be about individuals being passionate about their convictions; rather, it seems to me that the problem is one of spiritual honesty, of Meetings having the courage to be open with one another, to listen to one another without becoming defensive, and understanding that disagreements can be held in the Light, that Love does not need total agreement on all things. The problem is that of mistaking fear of conflict for niceness, instead of recognising that conflict is natural and inevitable and so trusting that living in the Spirit allows us constructive, healthy ways of dealing with it.

    I try to remember to consider the possibility that I may be mistaken :)

  3. Will T says:

    The problem is not that Friends conform to their local political culture. In this, they reflect who they were when they came to Friends. What is missing is the transformation into new people which was the common experience of early Friends and which Friends today are reluctant to talk about and which they certainly do not expect. In North America, at least, we have much to risk if we are to seek to live in the realm of God, where the last is first and the poor are blessed and the rich are asked to give up what they have.

    The real sticking point is that we are asked to give up control of our lives to God and we are steeped in the idea that we can control the world. The poor do not have that illusion.

    Will T

  4. Hystery says:

    I am cautious about conflating the belief that we control the world with the belief that we can change the world. People with little economic power have still provided strength in numbers and leadership in political movements for reform and revolutionary change. Having seen at the local level what very real harm is caused to very real people when there is no political opposition to candidates with immoral policies that degrade human rights and community well-being, I remain unapologetic in my participation in the political process– I feel I would betray my spiritual beliefs if I were to do otherwise.

    • I never apologized when ran for a minor office either. There is a difference between personal involvement, and making it a religious duty to support to the Democratic party, and no other (or any other specific Political party). Such a position is putting faith in politics… not in God.

  5. Peter says:

    Sorry but as an English Friend I cannot agree with the way the English Civil Wars are presented especially as I don’t think that these were continued in Ireland until recently. The Irish issues could be said to date back to Elizabethan times and Cromwell certainly played his part in this but the underlying issues are many – as are those relating to the Civil Wars of the 1640’s. Certainly some of the issues which came about at the time are crucial to the formation of the Society but in many ways to be in the world is to be part of it and I do not see the issue of politics being such an important one amongst UK Friends as it appears to be in the US.

    • I will confess, I did oversimplify — though, I cannot see any Irish Catholic building a statue to the Lord Protector. His Irish campaign is still remembered as genocide (or as much a genocide as was possible in those cruder of days). There was a lot of colonization related to Cromwell — but, yes, there was colonization before.

      I personally wonder if the Society of Friends could have formed with a functioning Church of England and without similar Wars in Europe where churches took sides. Somehow, I do not see the Peace testimony appearing without wars that seem impossible to justify.

  6. Will T says:

    It is certainly true that the growth of Quakerism was helped by the vacuum caused by the weakening of the Church of England. But the letter to King Charles that is often referred to as the Peace Testimony was a political reaction to the possibility of persecution because of the actions of the Fifth Monarchists. The actual peace testimony was the testimony of their lives. It rose from their being called by Christ to not resist with violence when they were being persecuted. It rose from people like Thomas Lurting who was convinced while serving in the British Navy who, while aiming guns in the midst of battle, hearing a voice saying, “But what if you would kill someone.” and leaving his post at the risk of his own life.

    The other factor was not wars that seemed impossible to justify, but the war that had just finished, the English Civil War which had begun with much hope of a new order and a new church and which provided neither and ended up with the radical puritans being thoroughly demoralized and disappointed.

    • I was aware that several major early members (especially among “Irish Friends”) were Cromwell’s own men. I recall when reading Sewell’s sufferings, that I ran across those ejected from the Cromwell’s army for being Quakers… I’m not sure if the complaint was that they were discharged, or that they were discharged without pay.

  7. […] right. We… Oct 15th, 2009 by Martin Kelley. // nRelate.domain = "www.quakerranter.org"; //Deep Thoughts Michael: Earthly politics vs Christ’s peace and unity /**/ Share this:EmailFacebookPosted in: misc. ← A pair of otherwise distinguished […]

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