Monday, May 25, 2009

Friends and Politics

I have written before about my difficulties with some Friends' attitudes towards the political process and how aligning with political parties fosters a spirit that is not loving towards all. I occasionally encounter a similar sentiment when reading early Friends' writings. For example, this passage from Isaac Penington speaks to me:

This spirit must be kept out from among you; this aspiring spirit, this lofty ruling spirit, which loves to be great, which loves to have dominion, which would exalt itself, because of the gift it has received, and would bring others into subjection; this spirit must be subdued amongst Christ's disciples, or it will ruin all. The Lord gives grace and knowledge for another end than for men to take upon them to be great, and rule over others because of it. And he that, because of this, thinks himself fit to rule over men's consciences, and to make them bow to what he knows or takes to be truth, he loseth his own life hereby; and so far as he prevails upon others, he doth but destroy their life too.

I think that in a democracy, this idea of ruling over people's consciences and making them bow to what one knows or takes to be the truth extends to the voters. One group tries to get enough votes so that others will bow to their will. You can certainly see a warlike spirit amongst political parties, especially when agreement with another party's issue is considered treason.

London Yearly Meeting had this advice in relation to civil government:

Advised to walk wisely and circumspectly towards all men, in the peaceable spirit of Christ Jesus, giving no offence or occasions to those in outward government, nor way to any controversies, heats, and distractions of this world, about the kingdoms of it; but to pray for the good of all, and submit all to that divine power and wisdom, which rules over the kingdoms of men. 1689

The journal entry that resonated the most me was by Elias Hicks:

They were both instructive edifying seasons; wherein 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."

I love the phrase "meek spirit of the gospel". It evokes the humble spirit that I often sense when reading John Woolman's Journal, and I find myself turning to that journal when I feel like my ego is riding roughshod over everyone and everything. Woolman had a way of expressing his leadings without demonizing others. I think this fits well with the experience of humbling and tendering that I hope to post about soon.

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