Andre Trocme, a French Protestant pastor and pacifist, is known as a man who led an effective response to the Vichy and Nazi genocide against the Jews. He had a heart for servanthood and God, and an ethic that moved beyond the preaching of pacifism from the pulpit to guiding an entire community to sacrifice on behalf of those who had even less. He wanted to do more than he had, and to this end, he sought ought the assistance of the American Friends Service Committee. He spoke to the clerk of the AFSC’s French refugee assistance program about getting him into the refugee camps to serve the sick and mentally ill. As it turns out, the AFSC and Trocme arrived at other plans (his town became a harbor for refugee children), though in the very end, Trocme himself found a way into the camps – at the hands of an armed Vichy escort.

 

Nevertheless, there is an interesting point of history that is remembered by the biographer of Trocme’s parish of Le Chabron and that town’s commitment to rescuing Jewish refugees from deportation to Nazi death camps. Phillip Hallie notes that, whether it was in occupied France or Vichy France, the Quakers were allowed considerable access to the refugee camps of France, and in fact, were treated with respect by German and French soldiers who ran the camps.

 

These were, for the most part, not French Quakers, but American Friends. And, they won the respect of the Nazi guards, not because they were doing good works, but because of the history AFSC had in Germany during the period of that nation’s national humiliation. It was Quakers who were committed to serving the conquered Germans and decimated French after World War I ended. Above all, the American Friends are said to have been viewed by the enemy as both faithful and neutral.

 

There are similar stories of American Friends being trusted by all combatants during the American Revolution (it must be stated, there were also Quaker spies). There are numerous times that Friends from Britain and the Americas were welcome by the heads of state of foreign governments perceived as enemies of the US or Britain. A decade or so ago, American Friends asked for and received an audience with the then President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to deliver a message of peace. It seems that, even though Friends of past eras were enemies of injustice, enslavement, and military aggression, they never let that prevent them from going into war zones and serving both the oppressed, and the oppressors. Friends were very often seen as a people of faith, and not as a threat, even if they were citizens of an enemy nation.

 

This has changed, perhaps right after World War II, perhaps during the war in Viet Nam, or perhaps, with the culture wars that began in the 70’s and continue today. Perhaps, the biggest change in the way the western world views Friends today is that, indeed, pacifist Quakers are combatants. The Quakers have taken sides, both in the so-called culture wars, and in the minds of many who are not Friends, in the “hot” wars around the world where service by Friends has been burdened with the notions that political policy outcomes are every bit as important as feeding, clothing, and ministering to the oppressed. It may even be said that Quakers are hardly concerned with ministering to oppressors at this point in history, focusing more on testimonies of peace and political power than a “leveling” equality, simplicity, and I might add, integrity.

 

Yet this is not a primarily Quaker problem. Even more than Friends, American Christians both liberal and conservative have turned entirely away from the gospel in hopes of legislating a political outcome that reflect, neither a biblical or messianic moral vision, but one that lacks in any real commitment to sacrifice, voluntary suffering, or a just peace that reflects a divine will revealed in the life of the Christ, and not the will of political parties. I pray we can remedy this as a people of God, whether Christian, Muslim, or Jew.

 

Just as Lutheran churches began flying American flags in front of their churches to show neighbors which side German-Americans were taking in WW I, flags now stand proudly at the front of more than a majority of American churches. Muslims are asked to show proof of their patriotism as American’s for no other reason than they are Muslim, as though that status begs the question. In fact, religion is often viewed as a threat if it does not give thanks to the nation state for defending “freedom of worship.” This reality is entirely anathema to the gospel, for Christ knows no citizenship outside of the Kingdom of God.

 

Those who claim Christ, and the cross that represents the Christian ethic, are required to do no more than be good citizens of the nation state as they would be good neighbors. Some times, as in La Chambon, one must be a citizen of the world as much as a citizen of heaven, and this may present a challenge to the nation state. But Christ, and the apostles, and even the Hebrew midwives make it clear, we are to love enemies just as we love neighbors, and are, like God, to serve both the just and the unjust, as God’s rains favor down upon both the good and the evil. As Paul will tell you, you had better think twice before you count yourself, or your nation, amongst the good.

 

That the church now argues with itself vehemently over issues such as the torture of enemies, the welcoming of refugees, the priorities of politicians running for office, and lording over the relationships of people who are not even claiming a Christian ethic, we not only fail to bridge a gap between combatants in the culture war through being an example of what reconciliation and true equality look like, we fail to be peacemakers. In fact, every time a Christian publically supports a political response to an issue of sin or violence, or even of political change, we enhance the animosity that exists between two sides of the same coin. By engaging in the politics of winning over the faithfulness of serving, we create enemies by creating potential losers. As a people, Quakers, and Christians, are now officially more American than they are a people of God. And the world suffers for lack of a sufficient witness to the gospel of God that refused the advantage of divine power to respond to evil.

 

Once an enemy trusts the motives of the faithful as based on a faith in God and not democratic or otherwise coercive means, we can again begin to make neighbors out of enemies. However, as we try to win political victories without bothering to sacrifice our own privilege by living in a truly just manner; one that invites others, and the other, into relationship with us no matter where they are, we lose our integrity. So where do we begin to win this back?

 

The Bible has clear prohibitions against honoring political leaders, taking oaths, using violence, and marginalizing opponents through means of power and control. The very presence of a national flag in a place of worship violates a very basic biblical tenet of refusing idolatry. No one should receive honor, no entity receives honor, outside of the manner in which the church collectively honors the will of the divine. We can re-establish our commitment to our neighbors and our God by refusing to honor the nation state outside of an ethical citizenship. Removing national flags from places of worship, refusing anthems and oaths, refusing to swear in law courts or to stand for judges, politicians, kings or queens, or oppressors alike, is the first step in expressing a new faithfulness to God as an arbiter of history who does not need our participation in electoral politics any more than this God needs or wants our participation in war. We can honor no man or woman, but rather, we invite every man and woman into our community of faith as equals.

 

To do this, we must overcome our lack of faith. We, as a people, have more faith in the political process than we do in our own ability to create faithful alternatives. Democracy is coercive, because it is enforced at the barrel of a gun just like military objectives are. In fact, there is no guarantee that our own democracy or republic can continuously withstand the weight of the so-called culture or political battles we are currently engaged in. Civil war, just as international wars, may be inevitable. As such, by participating on one side or the other of political strife, we inevitably build insurmountable obstacles to our ability as a people of God, Quaker or otherwise, to be peacemakers when all breaks down. Our own neighbors will consider us enemies, and above and beyond that, enemies that cannot be trusted as people of faith. This, and not the loss of control over political outcomes, will be the undoing of the gospel. God is faithful, but we as a church are no longer a people of faith. We are a people faithful to electoral politics that stress both a means and an end that stand over and against the politics of Jesus.

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Comment by Keith Saylor on 12th mo. 25, 2015 at 1:55am

I do not have faith in outward government and religion and the institutions they manifest. I do not have faith in political or religious ideology. I do not have faith in the democrat, republican, libertarian, or green parties or any political party. I do not have faith in any political agenda. I do not have faith in any social agenda. I do not have faith in capitalism, socialism, fascism, communism, etc. I do not have faith in free markets or planned economies or mixed economies. I do not have faith in social planning or social planners. I do not have faith in the outward traditions that many of the early Quakers established, I do not have faith in outward religion.  I do not have faith in any outward forms. They are mere representations of the unrepresented that is available to directly and experientially to anyone at any time and anywhere without respect of outward government or religion.  Poverty, war, hunger, hate, murder, pain,  etc. are the result of faith and hope in a conscious anchored in and a conscience informed by outward social, political, and religious forms. They are the result of identity and meaning being anchored in and informed by these these outward forms. This way of existence fosters conflict, greed, dictatorship, etc. (the world) 

To affirm a faith in Presence itself and not in outward social, political, and religious artificial representations of Heaven on this earth  (that is, a conscious anchored in and a conscience informed by direct and continuous experience of Presence itself) does not suggest "paying no attention" to the results of a way of existence (world) that fosters greed, poverty, war, usury,  etc. Heaven is here on this earth currently and at this very moment. It is come again. Many of us share heaven with others every day and many of us, as citizens of heaven, know poverty directly on this earth and share heaven with our friends who also know poverty. Many of us know prosperity on this earth and share heaven with our friends who also know prosperity. In our prosperity and our poverty we live a conscious anchored in and a conscience informed by direct experience of Presence itself, without regard to or respect of outward social, political, or religious forms and institutions or the persons of those forms and institutions. We are of a different world (way of existence) we are of a way of existence that is heaven on this earth. 

A different way has been born into this way of existence. A way of existence that is no longer of a conscious anchored in and a conscience informed by outward, political, social, and religious, institutions and the people of those institutions.

In this heavenly way of existence, I and many others know and have known victory over the paradigm of outward poverty and prosperity because Christ is come again and is our inward governor and government and we are no longer bound to nor engaged in nor have faith in outward political, social, and religious forms which are the cause of the harm. They are the cause of harm because the people within these forms have faith in and gain meaning from their conscious being anchored in and guided by outward forms. Far from paying no attention, ours is a life of intention through faith in a new being by living it directly and sharing and manifesting that faith and light. We help others in need. We feed the hungry and we console the weak and we manifest our heavenly heritage strength and courage and we do so without regard to or respect for outward government or religion but in regard to and respect for heaven itself that is open to each of us on this earth ... today and in all circumstances. 

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 25, 2015 at 10:08am

Jesus was not hung up to die by the Romans impoverishing and brutalizing his nation for "not having faith in them" -- or in any ideology prescribing their overthrow either, for that matter -- but for vehemently denouncing the Temple and its corrupt religious establishment through which the Romans maintained their subjugation of his nation, predicting that Temple's destruction and the ruin of anyone who did put their faith in it.

That implies that his no-doubt-adequate-and-sufficient awareness of the presence of God didn't merely lead to him wandering happily through the land radiating his awareness at a wattage high enough to produce literal miracles all around him, benignly indifferent to his dangerous, crippling and violent political surroundings -- but to him doing so while also speaking up on behalf of people ruined by his nation's rulers and and against the legal policies & practices of those rulers. The gospels describe those rulers, probably accurately, as seeking a rationale and a means for killing him from his first public appearances onward.

Neither you nor I seem to be called to that sort of career -- for which I am (sad to say) highly grateful!

I do know, from experience, that if you publicly and dependably feed the hungry in San Diego on any schedule regular enough for them to expect and find your service, any place but on church property, the City of San Diego will assign its police (who quite likely would individually favor what you were doing) to finding a discreet way to shut you down, including arresting you if necessary.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 25, 2015 at 12:37pm

"Passivity" is an outward state symbolizing the state you're talking about; it may be a helpful outward means of preparing oneself for receiving that inward connection; it isn't itself the connection nor a consequence nor a sign of that connection.

Comment by Howard Brod on 12th mo. 27, 2015 at 8:05pm

As my Quaker meeting has become more conscious of the need to eliminate forms in our midst in order to more easily experience the kingdom of God NOW, one of the forms that has gone by the wayside is politics.  We spent time in a 'Meeting for Business' discerning that as a spiritual community we no longer want to emphasize politics.  The practical implementation of this is that the meeting no longer sends any directive that even implies that Friends should vote a certain way or support a specific piece of legislation.  And when we receive such a request from another Friends meeting or the yearly meeting, we do not pass it along.  As our own testimony, we send them a nicely worded explanation of why we can not pass their request along.

Instead of directing or implying that Friends should engage in a specific political action, we encourage the implementation of Quaker testimonies within the hearts of Friends in our meeting, and let THEM determine if and how they want to apply these through personal political action.

This subtle, but profound change in our meeting, has brought us many new Friends to our meetinghouse. And it has pointed our Peace and Social Action committee to a more spiritual agenda as they emphasize the testimonies in our corporate life - rather than emphasizing politics.  The meeting now has political diversity and is no longer the typical "liberal" Quaker meeting in that politically we are not all "liberal" any more.  This political diversity has further made us very conscious that the meetinghouse and our meeting is not the place to discuss politics.  It is now more solidly a place to experience the Kingdom of God.

This change in our meeting culture has personally led me to not put my faith in the political parties and candidates we are all bombarded with.  My mind is now free of political party affiliation, even though I will be voting in the next election.  I likely will never blindly support a candidate ever again because of his or her political party, and I no longer have any judgement regarding one political party or another.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 27, 2015 at 9:20pm

Howard, I'm glad you spoke up because I get tired of seeing my own rants just sitting here -- and yet, this one is real iffy.

I agree that we've been wrong to make politics the test of spiritual virtue, as wrong as the moralistic 'discipline' emphasis of previous centuries.

Yet politics is about the way we collectively treat each other and the place we've been given to live in; so we can't just drop it -- and we can't just go on impersonating the Good Guys either.

Any politics that's about achieving 'results', about making our little improvements to some inhuman form of political machinery that just wants to keep on cranking itself undisturbed, generating affliction & corruption for all -- doesn't go deep enough.

We can't "speak Truth to " secular power -- because its earlids are shut tight. Even Jesus restricted his audience to "whomever has ears to hear," and knew he was not going to win over Pilate or the High Priest.

So I like what your group is [not] doing about politics -- but we can't 'just get along' through a mutual conspiracy of silence; that comes down (as Bishop Tutu said) to giving the oppressors a free hand to bully the weakest. What to do?

Comment by Howard Brod on 12th mo. 28, 2015 at 8:41am

Thanks Forrest.

When there is some major "speaking Truth to power" that needs to happen, that leading is brought to our Meeting for Business where the whole meeting discerns the 'ins and outs' of how to approach the issue; if at all.  Through that process, we may arrive at a spiritual action that we determine we as an entire meeting need to take.  Because our meeting now has political diversity in it, the resulting minute or action is unusually beautiful and powerful in its content - because (I believe), the Holy Spirit has been the author - not a committee, nor even the human egos present at Meeting for Business.  And the resulting minute or action has not one drop of political rhetoric or partisanship.

The point is, unlike a nearby Quaker meeting and the yearly meeting's Peace committees, at our meeting there is no sending out a request by our Peace and Social Action committee that Friends vote a certain way or support a particular legislation.  It is similar to our liberal Quaker norm of not sending out to Friends that they should adhere to a particular moral behavior.  Instead of doing that, we create an environment (and most importantly, 'example') in the meeting where Truth is valued, life is cherished, tolerance and acceptance are practiced, forgiveness is a way of life, and Love abides.  Then we (as most all liberal Quaker meetings do) let each Friend in relationship with the divine move through situations in life as they are led by their hearts and minds.

The question I think each Quaker meeting needs to ask itself is: Why are we not taking this same approach in the political arena?  Why aren't we just letting each Friend in relationship with the divine determine their own political actions as they grow and journey in the Spirit?  Do we really need to suggest or imply how Friends should vote or what political party they should support?

We often have someone come into our meeting from another meeting either via a move or just a visit.  And far too often that person will make a political endorsement announcement (and worse, a political endorsement message during worship).  This is so counter to the spiritual environment of the meeting, that it isn't long before someone among us lets the person know (in a kind manner) that it is not our practice to do so.  So, I do think this 'Caesar mentality' has greatly infiltrated Quakerism and damaged our credibility among onlookers.

Comment by William F Rushby on 12th mo. 28, 2015 at 8:59am

Well put, Howard!

Comment by Jim Wilson on 12th mo. 28, 2015 at 10:39am

Howard, I am inspired and uplifted by your two posts.  And I am very attracted to the way you describe how this transformation is working in your Meeting.  I would like to hear more about how your Meeting came to this understanding about politics; it is, as far as I can discern, what I have been trying to articulate, but my own posts on this topic have lacked an experiential foundation in a Meeting context.  How was this perspective first brought up?  What was the process your Meeting went through to arrive at this understanding?

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 28, 2015 at 1:27pm

Does "political diversity" mean 'people captive to America's twin right-wing parties'? Or does this mean you have some people who've repented of their past enthralment by the conventional media's nationalist, anti-poor, authoritarian framing of issues? I won't ask about healing the sick or raising the dead; are you being cured of cultural blindness?

If a homeless person set up shop in your Meeting House's back yard, how would your Meeting be most likely to respond?

Comment by Howard Brod on 12th mo. 28, 2015 at 4:29pm

Forrest, it is difficult for me to answer your hypothetical questions on behalf of the meeting.  Since we really do not discuss politics per se, it is hard for me to judge how enthralled each Friend is in one political party or another.  I am just aware that there is diversity.  I feel confident that if a homeless person arrived in our back yard, the meeting would take this as an opportunity to help him/her.

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