Thursday, November 6, 2008

Quakers, Voting and the Seeds of War

I know many people are very excited about the election results, but I have had something weighing on me for the past few weeks that I think I am finally able to express.

Elections seem to me to be another form of battle, perhaps more civilized than trying to kill each other, but there is still the underlying feeling that it is a battle. What does that mean to us as Friends?

In our business meetings, we don't vote. I'm not suggesting that I think that a Quaker business meeting will work in conducting the national affairs of 300 million people, but I think that our emphasis on not voting does reflect an understanding of what voting really is - the majority forcing its will on the minority. That isn't the main reason why we don't vote, of course. Friends have always understood that when we are rightly led by the Spirit, we are brought into unity with the will of God and have a shared understanding of what to do that is beyond even the idea of consensus.

We need to be particularly aware of how we are affected by political battles. We hear Friends speak of how we are opposed to the wars that "those people" are so eager to fight. For some Friends, "those people" are Republicans, or Evangelicals, or Baptists. When we look at others as "those people" we are sowing seeds of war. You can't have a battle until you first have a way to identify friend from foe. How many people in your meeting have bumper stickers like "F the President" or "Republicans for Voldemort" or "W(orst) President"? Those are seeds of war.

Over the past two days I have read various messages about how we should all come together now and support the president. These have almost always been from those whose candidate won, and I found myself thinking the same thing at first. Then I remembered how I felt after the last election, and that I could not just put the result aside and put on a happy "I support the president" face. I also must acknowledge that while the electoral college was roughly a 2-1 margin, the popular vote was about 53% to 46%. So 46% of Americans are going through the same struggle that I did 4 years ago.

The other part of this is my fundamental belief that the Spirit of Christ in every person can change hearts for the better. A hard-fought political victory doesn't usually change the loser's heart, and more often hardens it for the next fight. We need to keep that in mind while campaigning for change in the world. Sure the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned, the powerless need someone to speak up for them, but when we speak, we should be answering the witness of God in the hearts of others that their voices might join ours.