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 Howard Brod on 12th mo. 28, 2015 at 5:15pm


Since the meeting's inception 30 years ago, there has been a consistent change almost from the start; a slow transition, if you will.  We started as an indulged meeting (worship group) that was an outreach effort by a large nearby city liberal Quaker meeting.  There were originally about eight Friends who comprised our fledgling meeting from that city meeting who had only been Quakers for about a year.  As an indulged meeting we inherited all the characteristics of our "parent" meeting that is over 200 years old, which included political activism for liberal political causes.  Once we became a Preparative Meeting after a few years, many things in the meeting began to change slowly.  One of the first things that began changing was less desire to have politicking in the life of the meeting.  It was never officially minuted - but it just happened and was soon recognized as part of our meeting's unique culture.  There was open discussion in those early days that we really wanted to emphasize the spiritual in our meeting over the secular or political.  We considered the Quaker testimonies as spiritual principles (rather than political statements) that are based on a relationship with the Spirit.  As years progressed, we did sometimes send something out related to a political action - but it was very rare.  But after decades the meeting (including the Peace and Social Action committee) just seemed to arrive at the conclusion that this was not appropriate to do.  It kind of just happened - I guess due to the spiritual emphasis that was strong.  Then a few months ago, another meeting asked us to pass along to Friends in our meeting a politically directive request.  The outcome of that request led us to a formal decision that we would never send out anything that directs Friends how to vote or what political action to support.  We already hadn't done that for 10 years or more.

In hindsight, I would say that someone in a Quaker meeting needs to be the one to start the informal dialogue about this with someone else in the meeting of a like mind, and over many years - with the Spirit's help - that seed will blossom.  I will also say that over time, Friends at my meeting started developing some humility about their own political inclinations, and embraced the fact that Republicans and Libertarians (and others) also want peace and want to help the downtrodden.  They just think these should occur in a different way than the Democrats in our meeting thought.  It came down to seeing that there is that of God in everyone and demonstrating that we really believe that by not discounting off-handed those who approach things differently.  I think this is the "spiritual mind" that so many early Friends and New Testament writers wrote about.

I believe over the years my meeting has evolved generally to value the spiritual more than the secular and more than idolized Quaker "norms".  The environment has become very open to free-flowing thinking based on 'Love and Light'.  This change has manifested slowly and via several crisis that have caused us to have to examine ourselves with the help of the Spirit of Truth.  We have now come to fully trust in the Spirit rather than Quaker traditions for tradition sake.  There is a long list of eliminating what we formerly thought was essential to being a "Quaker" meeting: dependence on committees, elders (designated leaders), membership expectations to fully participate, designated worship closers, restrictions from bringing coffee/tea and a snack into worship, on and on.  And one of these implied norms we've eliminated is that one should be politically liberal to worship with us as full part of our meeting.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 28, 2015 at 5:30pm

In many ways this looks like a good development, given the usual depth of US political discourse: hurling talking-points and sound-smites in each other's general direction, then fleeing for more agreeable company.

But it also looks too much like typical American family rules: "We don't talk about that because Uncle Bert and Uncle Ernie will be fighting in the gravy if we ever let them get started."

Comment by Howard Brod on 12th mo. 28, 2015 at 6:07pm

Let me clarify, Forrest.  Certainly, there is NO prohibition against anyone talking about politics to another Friend if they want to.  It's just that in the spiritual processes of the meeting, politics doesn't hold any sway. 

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 28, 2015 at 6:33pm

In the Meeting I've drifted away from, politics seemed to be the subject of choice for after-Meeting conversation -- basically of the "Is our team going to win?" persuasion. So it's just as well if that sort of 'politics' just isn't one of your customary pastimes.

There's 'no prohibition'; it just Isn't Done;

which is fine... except that it looks, from here, like your group too has given up on actually resolving political differences, just as effectively as mine... And if there's no means of reconciliation of such differences, except a war of either bullets or media dollars --

That doesn't really sound like "The Kingdom" any way I've ever understood it.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 28, 2015 at 7:09pm

What Bertie Russell once said about bullet wars: a pretty stupid way to settle a question -- applies just as well to media framing-wars.

But if people were truly meeting in the Spirit, a 'meeting of minds' could take place. If we really wanted most intensely to get to the truth of a matter, not just reach some working agreement.

Comment by James C Schultz on 12th mo. 28, 2015 at 7:49pm

In the 8 years or so of attending meetings I don't ever remember a leading by the Spirit to give vocal ministry of a political nature.  That's not to say others haven't spoken of political views during meeting but I never felt it was from the Spirit of God so much as a spirit of concern for a particular news story.  While I can appreciate such concern I believe that's what talk shows are for and not Meeting for Worship.  That's not to say I am not open to hearing from the spirit when it's time to build an ark.:)

Comment by Howard Brod on 12th mo. 28, 2015 at 7:58pm

Political discourse just does not happen that often (if at all) at meeting.  That's why I don't know how deeply felt any political leanings are.  In context to a discussion at our Circle of Friends discussions, occasionally a Friend may say something like, "I usually vote democratic" or "I usually vote Republican" or whatever.  Or, "I'm politically liberal", versus "I'm politically conservative".  It's always a preamble or conclusion to some spiritual point the Friend is making in reference to the spiritual material we are covering.  And that's about as far as it goes.  So, I do know there is political diversity among us.  That's about it.

There just doesn't seem to be a desire to talk about politics; it's as though it isn't of much consequence in the scheme of things.  The conversations after worship tend to be about spiritual topics or interests.

The meetinghouse and grounds do have a palpable spiritual energy about it that is consuming.  Visitors have often commented so.

Comment by Jim Wilson on 12th mo. 28, 2015 at 8:04pm

A few comments:

Forest, there are many precedents for the kind of attitude being cultivated by Howard's Meeting.  The Desert Fathers drifted into the desert to distance themselves from society in general.  Christian monasticism was built on a sense of this kind of distancing.  The idea of 'biblical separation' was operative in many Christian communities, though it is an idea that has tended to be put aside in recent decades.  And Quakers during the period of Quietism were known to withdraw from active engagement in the political process; not all, certainly, but many Quakers did interpret Quaker commitments in this manner.  In short, it is not an unusual or eccentric way of interacting with the social sphere.

Second, I question the idea that if people 'were truly meeting in the Spirit' that they would come to a shared understanding.  I don't think Spirit works that way.  I suspect it is possible for two people to be equally in the Spirit and not agree on political matters.  I don't think you can deduce a specific political program from the experience of Presence.

Third, I think it depends on what one understands as the purpose of Meeting for Worship.  My view is that Worship is to bring us into the Presence of God.  I don't think it has any purpose beyond that; I think that is enough, completely sufficient.  Activists tend to look at Meeting for Worship as a tool to assist them in actualizing their political agenda.  It isn't really worship from this perspective; it is a kind of recruitment strategy. 

James, thanks for the report.  Others have made similar comments to me in person.

Comment by James C Schultz on 12th mo. 28, 2015 at 8:24pm

The problem we all seem to have is that what God seems to consider important has a lot more to do with the well being of our souls than political issues.  I have found that as my soul has become more attuned to Him, I am more naturally charitable on a personal level with the people I can affect directly.  If I had Millions of dollars I would probably be more naturally charitable in a larger sphere.  Unfortunately for those needing such charity and myself I don't.

Comment by Howard Brod on 12th mo. 28, 2015 at 9:02pm


Your last comment so speaks my mind.  To put it rather bluntly, I think Friends years ago wanted more for our meeting; they wanted to experience the Presence of the divine corporately so they may be spurred to experience that same Presence in all of life.  And the prospect of just being an adjunct of a political party wasn't cutting it.  The journey has been a winding one and still continues, but the Light is now shining bright within our clear vision.

I dare say that through this communal leap of faith into the Presence, we have been blessed with many new Friends among us who have brought so much more to us than we have brought to them.


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