There was an Election Day-eve prayer-vigil for the nation tonight, and I was there. I am praying for the healing of a nation that seems, in many ways, broken. You may ask me what I mean by calling it broken: don’t we have food on the grocery-store shelves, intact roads, a stable currency, and public education? Yes, we still do. But there’s been widespread erosion of public trust in our dominant institutions – government, the media, the electoral system – and it’s infected our trust in our neighbor as well. We don’t trust the once-relied-on sources of truth to tell the truth. We don’t trust the traditional guardians and promoters of the common good to care about the common good, or if they do, to understand what it consists of. My neighbor to the East thinks the scientists are lying when they talk of climate change. My neighbor to the West thinks the elections are rigged. To the North, my neighbor thinks the economy is rigged, and hoards gold against the day that the riggers spring the trap on the rest of us. To the South, my neighbor hoards ammunition against the day that everyone becomes an enemy. I have my own mistrusts. The situation is not helped by the many people who, whether on orders from above or in the interests of their stockholders, routinely tell lies and bend the rules in order to make sure that the “right” thing happens: the crude-oil or fracked-gas pipeline goes through, the new pesticide gets approval, the for-profit prison continues to get an uninterrupted supply of able-bodied inmates. Fortunately, the one authority-figure I trust remains in authority, and I vote for that fair, merciful, always-truthful, and almighty Person every day when I say, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.”
Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
I’m a Friend who’s felt personally called to lay down voting. I can’t, in any case, vote for any candidate empowered to authorize the use of lethal violence against anyone, or I become a killer by proxy, thereby unfit to be a member of Christ (Rom 12:5, 1 Cor 6:15, 1 Cor 12:27, Eph 5:30), who taught love and forgiveness of enemies, the Lamb who died before He would hurt another person. But I vote every day for God to remain the world’s almighty ruler when I pray “Thy kingdom come.” It’s not just a figure of speech. Please think about that, Friends, as you read this excellent article by Paul Buckley:
I should add that my witness against voting (which is partly an outgrowth of my call to be a hands-on healer, which I saw required me to relinquish all adversarial positions vis-a-vis the people I might be asked to pray for – cf. 2 Tim 2:24) doesn’t stop me from demonstrating and entreating, and from fasting and praying for good secular government at election time. At the upcoming election I’ll be praying particularly for the healing of our multiply divided and spiritually wounded nation.
The other day, the Governor of Indiana, or someone claiming to be the Governor, e-mailed me. The message began:
<Subject: What we need in a President
7/29/2016, 1:07 pm
From:Governor Mike Pence
I can’t wait until we have an America we can both be proud of again.
When we have a President who looks out for Americans first…. A President who will Make America Great Again! I can’t wait until we have a leader like Donald Trump as our next President….>
I might never have thought to write anything to Governor Pence, ever, had he not started the conversation. But then the impulse to write back wouldn’t leave me. I prayed that if I wrote, it would not be from tainted motives or contrary to the Lord’s will. And before I went to bed, this is what I wrote:
Today I got an e-mail, evidently from you, under the subject line “What we need in a President,” urging me to give money to help Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. As a citizen of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, I don’t vote in U.S. elections or give money to candidates, but simply pray to the Lord that we be given the government that’s best for us. But that’s not what I’m writing to you about. I’m writing to you as a fellow Christian to reconsider your involvement with Donald Trump. I think your conscience must be uneasy about being “unequally yoked together with an unbeliever” (2 Cor 6:14). Whatever Trump may say about his faith, he seems to worship only himself, and to serve only the cause of self-glorification and getting his own way. I think that he might easily be one of those who say, “Let us do evil, that good may come” (Rom 3:8) in pursuit of these selfish ends. Absent repentance, I expect his path to end in shame. It may also hurt many more people than he’s hurt already.
If Trump reaps a harvest of guilt and shame for himself, then so will you, as his willing partner. But more than that: you will dishonor Jesus Christ, whose follower you claim to be, and you will have to answer to Him, your Lord, about the infamy you have brought upon His church by your efforts to make Donald Trump look like something he is not. “Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil,” warned the prophet (Isa 5:20). Trump was recently charged in a lawsuit with having had sexual relations with a thirteen year-old. The case was dropped by the court, but are you satisfied, Governor Pence, that Trump was innocent of this? You must know of Trump’s reputation as a ruthless landlord, employer, businessman, and founder of a so-called university that defrauded thousands. Can he be trusted not to defraud millions of trusting citizens, and bankrupt the United States as he’s bankrupted his own enterprises?
There’s still time, Governor Pence, to back out of your Vice-Presidential candidacy, distance yourself from Donald Trump, and let someone else run in your place. Thereby you will salvage your own honor, and more importantly, the Lord’s, which has been tarnished enough over these two thousand years from being invoked by merciless tyrants and shameless hypocrites. If you do make this retreat from evil for the Lord’s sake, I think you’re sure to find the Lord standing by you and preparing the way before you.
Wishing your soul well,
To my State Senator and Assemblyman:
I urge you to co-sponsor the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act (A8588/S6466), currently in the NY State Assembly and Senate, to support it, and to vote for it.
You would do us all a great service, even those of us who run no personal risk of ever being put into solitary confinement, by making it your business to see this act signed into law, for when my neighbor gets put into the box, a part of you and me gets put into the box, and worse, our innocent Savior Jesus Christ gets put into the box. When not applied as a time-limited emergency measure to restrain actual violent behavior, solitary confinement is a form of torture. Scripture teaches us that God has no desire to torture; when the first murderer complained that his punishment was too hard to bear, his Creator mitigated it (Genesis 4:13-15). Do we want to set ourselves up as crueler than God? Is that an ambition we should be proud of?
Jesus told us that when we come to visit “the least of these” in prison, we’ve visited Him in prison (Matthew 25:36). He wasn’t joking, or indulging in a flight of poetic fancy: He was about to lay down His life — for you, for me, and for the men in solitary — and one does not waste time with idle jokes on the eve of one’s death. What could He have meant, then? Only this: that we are not separate people. His parable of the vine (John 15) is another way of saying that.
When one of His beloved children is tortured and broken by solitary confinement, He feels the torment, and you and I are further broken and deformed by the guilt we bear, as makers and upholders of our nation’s laws and as taxpayers whose dollars have paid for the bars on the cells. Please do your part to free us. You’ll feel good, and so will I – as though we’d just been let out of solitary.
I sent out a similar letter today to my Congressman, urging him to co-sponsor H.R.4618 – the Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2014.
I just wrote the letter that follows, and I intend to deliver it in person to Congressman Crowley’s local office in my neighborhood tomorrow, and also to hand it out at a rally to be held out on the sidewalk in front. In so doing I will not be identifying myself as a Quaker, but only as a Christian constituent of Rep. Crowley’s. I mean this as a kindness to my fellow Quakers, who might otherwise see me as an embarrassment to themselves.
This realization cost me some pain. The Friends I worship with are respectful of my Christian faith, but many don’t share it, and we don’t discuss that much — which I acknowledge as my own failing. Now I think pretty much everyone loves Jesus the compassionate healer, the wise teacher, the bold protester of injustice; but many, I think, have trouble with the idea of a Christ that grants eternal life to those that come to Him. Many more, I’d guess, have trouble with the ideas that we are fallen from a better state; that we are in bondage to sin, and to an evil influence that might fitly be called “the father of lies,” and while in this state cannot free ourselves by our own unaided efforts, but are in need of the free gifts of repentance and salvation; and that if we make no effort to escape this bondage, we are liable to choose — yes, choose — the darkness of damnation over the light of redemption, with painful consequences in the life to come. “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it, but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt. 7:13-14 – New Jerusalem Bible)
This world-view of mine makes it feel much more important to me to warn an elected official against the consequences of sin than to lobby or bully him into voting the way I want him to. God does not want him damned (Ez. 33:11, 2 Pet. 3:9); neither must I, if I value my own salvation. This may put me in the position of looking like a fool in the eyes both of Congressman Crowley and of my fellow opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but that’s to be expected in a world where the norm is adversarial competition and confrontation. But more important than how Joe Crowley winds up voting on the TPP is the purity of heart with which I approach him, because if my letter to him is a mere pretense of loving concern meant merely to affect its readers on the sidewalk below, then the Divine Witness in Crowley’s heart will feel my hypocrisy and not hear me. Lord, purify my heart for tomorrow’s meetings with people, and let what happens be in accord with Your will: in Jesus’ name, Amen.
The peace of Christ be with you. There is talk that you may soon decide to declare support for the fast-tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), or even appear as a Democratic co-sponsor for fast-track legislation. If you could support either the TPP or the fast-tracking of it with a clean conscience in the sight of God, I’d have nothing to say to you except “God bless you and keep your conscience clean forever.”
But you know and I know that the TPP’s an evil thing, and that as you sow, you must reap: give pain, get pain. You may be thinking about some fancied good that might be brought about by the TPP, but good ends will never justify evil means, as your education in Christianity should have taught you (see Romans 3:8). This means that if you sin against your fellow human beings by trashing child labor laws, disabling people’s efforts to exercise good stewardship over the earth, undermining legislation protecting the common rights to wholesome food, water and clean air, castrating collective bargaining for fair working conditions, keeping third-world nations in perpetual debt-slavery, and robbing the sick and the aged of their moral right to affordable generic medicines, you and President Obama and the rest of the TPP’s supporters, Democratic and Republican, will have a whole world full of victims to answer for, and ages and ages of personal suffering to pay in this life and the next. As your brother in Adam who must care for your salvation as he cares for his own, I beg you not to do such a horrible thing to yourself!
Set an example for all the others in Washington! Say “No matter what retaliation I may face from the moneyed interests that put me in office, I’ll answer to God for what I do, and not to them!” We both know that they need someone to be the first to do that!
To the authors of “How Christians can shut down the Tea Party:”
It troubles me that Faithful America is trying to shout down the false Christianity of the Tea Party so-called Christians. I’m sure I hate it as much as you do; but I feel a binding commandment in the scripture “the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all… In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25, KJV). More important than silencing the right-wingers must be praying for their repentance, and along with that must come a willingness to show them that we love them and are concerned for their salvation. We’re not competing with them for the attention of the media, or for votes at the ballot box, or for funding: these are the earthly treasures that moth and rust do corrupt (Matt. 6:19), and fighting over these things constitutes carnal warfare (2 Cor. 10:4) even if no outward swords are drawn, because at the heart of the struggle for worldly influence is the evil desire to defeat, rather than to save, these people. No; fighting “bad guys” only creates more “bad guys,” and keeps us addicted to fighting “bad guys,” who are little more than our own disowned shadows. But Jesus, who forgave his own murderers and prayed for his own enemies, won over his adversary Paul; similarly Francis of Assisi, the Hindu saint Caitanya and the Quaker Mary Fisher won respectful treatment from intolerant Muslim rulers, Gandhi won over his sometime persecutor General Smuts, and even arch-segregationist Governor George Wallace, as a born-again Christian, repudiated his former ways and asked the forgiveness of African-American civil rights leaders. Hate perpetuates strife; love wins. Please consider a change of heart. God calls us to faithfulness, not success in what we’re trying to achieve; if God favors our cause, success may be granted us as a gift.
A set of pre-election queries for Friends
1. Is voting for a presidential candidate a form of wielding the carnal sword?
When we pull the lever in the polling booth we are declaring that we want this one, and not that one, to serve us as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. If our candidate wins and proceeds to wage war, or have Federal prisoners executed, he has every reason to claim that we gave him his mandate.
“But we voted for him because of his stand on the economy,” we may protest. “The system gives us no way to give a mandate for one thing while withholding it for another.”
Then why participate in a system that forces you to say what you don’t mean?
Some Friends withhold income taxes so as not to wield the carnal sword by proxy; one can also avoid it by not saying “yes” to a candidate willing to take human life.
2. Is choosing a lesser evil over a greater one a thing God wants us to do?
When we knowingly do a “lesser evil” we know we’re doing evil and have strayed from God’s will; otherwise we wouldn’t call it that. We know in our hearts that God never wishes us to do evil.
The important thing is to will what God wills. God’s given us a conscience to guide us in doing that. Divine Guidance, which comes through that conscience, is always preferable to the often-wrong reasoning by which we devise means to reach ends we’ve deemed desirable. Can’t hear the Guidance? Ask the Holy Spirit to speak louder. It will.
The prophet Isaiah was uncompromising about blurring the lines: Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil! (Is. 5:20a.) Some centuries later, the apostle Paul denounced those who’d say “Let us do evil, that good may come of it.” (Romans 3:8.) But this teaching is common to all religions.
God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our power to resist (1 Cor. 10:13), and if God wants us to live with undefiled consciences, God, being Almighty, can be relied on to make that possible for us.
That acknowledged, do we need to query ourselves as to whether we’ve carved out areas of life and choice from which we’ve shut God out?
3. Have you asked God whom to vote for?
If there’s continuing revelation, as Friends have always held, and God (let’s suppose) wishes So-and-so to become President, mightn’t God reveal the divinely chosen candidate to Friends gathered in worship and then direct them to minute their discernment that all voters should be encouraged to vote for So-and-so? For we are urged to be of one mind (2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 1:27, 2:2; 1 Pet. 3:8; 1 Cor. 2:16); why not be of one mind about the upcoming election?
“But we couldn’t do that,” we’d protest, “because then we’d lose our tax-exempt status. And it would split the Meeting, and our entire Society! The Democratic Friends in the East and the Republican Friends in the Midwest would never forgive each other! Please, God! No political endorsements!”
Then perhaps God is keeping the divine preference – if there is one — hidden from us only as a tender concession to our frailty. Or might God wish to set up So-and-so as President without Friends’ involvement in the process? For “the servant of the Lord must not engage in quarrels,” 2 Timothy 2:24.
4. Is our praying “Thy kingdom come” to God contradicted by our going to the polls to pray – by voting – that our candidate’s presidency come?
There’s an interesting parable about this in the First Book of Samuel, Chapter 8; but many have found it easy to be faithful citizens of God’s kingdom while also enjoying the citizenship of a secular nation-state, “rendering unto Caesar those things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). However, Jesus warns us that where our treasure is, there will our heart be also (Matt. 6:21), and the political discourse of the secular state has almost never concerned itself with the spiritual good of all souls, but rather with the outward wealth, power and security of its own people. Which of these shall we call our treasure and set our heart on? Jesus advises us to seek first the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33), and the other goods will follow. Does this suggest the relative importance of voting and prayer? Of Caesar’s things and God’s? Does Caesar even have or control anything, “unless it were given him from above?” (John 19:11.)
One reason I like the CREDO Action network is that it makes it easy to address public officials not just with pre-packaged statements of secular concern, but with appeals to conscience and faith. These may or may not ever get read and heeded, but, as some famous Quaker (please remind me who, Friends) famously said, “we are called not to success but to faithfulness.” I have been warned by Friends I greatly respect that public officials, financiers, power brokers and government scientists don’t give a darn about God and conscience and religious language, so I shouldn’t waste my breath; but I believe that my Lord and Savior feels differently, and there is always a chance that someone will see the words that I’d like to think He has given me to write, or somehow feel or smell or taste them, even unconsciously, and these will contribute, to a degree however small, to the changing of people’s behavior. I believe that this is what George Fox called “answering the Witness of God in others,” and I’d like my readers not to be discouraged from speaking religious truth to secular-minded people just because they expect dismally disappointing results. To the question “Why should the EPA care what I think?” I’d answer, “Why should the Roman Army care whether some Galilean Nobody forgives them for crucifying Him?”
The first paragraph of this statement was pre-written by CREDO Action (http://act.credoaction.com/campaign/epa_bees_stalling/?r=6939193&id=44947-1891387-a5fk19x) but the second paragraph was one that I added:
“With scientists increasingly attributing bee colony collapse to neonicotinoid pesticides like clothianidin, it is shockingly irresponsible for the EPA to continue allowing its use, based on virtually no scientific study. Waiting until 2018 to review it will be too late for the bees, and the one third of our food supply they play a crucial role in pollinating. Please immediately suspend clothianidin until this pesticide can be proven safe.
It cannot be said often and emphatically enough that the Environmental Protection Agency is answerable not just to the people of the United States and their business community, but to Almighty God, who made us stewards of the earth and planted a conscience in each of us to tell us when we’re doing wrong. Friends, listen to your consciences. If the EPA fails in its duty of stewardship, consider resigning as a public witness. God will uphold you.”
Anyone wishing to spare the wealthy and powerful their share of the suffering our nation has earned by cutting benefits for the poor should remember that we must all answer to God for any hardness of heart we’ve shown to our neighbor.
TO BE FILED WITH MY FEDERAL INCOME TAX RETURN FOR 2010
This is to make known that I pay only a part of my taxes willingly, namely the part that serves the common good without inflicting violence. The part that finances arms, armed forces and warfare is taken from me against my will, and comes into the United States Treasury only because the government has the power to compel payment. However, I would cheerfully give an equivalent amount for peaceful purposes. Colonial and later state governments (East New Jersey, Constitution of 1683; State of New York, before 1841), as well as the U.S. Congress during the Civil War, allowed for the redirection toward non-military purposes of “war taxes” collected from Quakers and other conscientious objectors to war. Why can’t the same accommodation to conscience be made today?
I make this protest because, as a Quaker, I count myself a citizen of the peaceable kingdom of Jesus Christ, who said He was come to save people’s lives, not destroy them (Luke 9:56). He taught His people to love their enemies, and not to resist evil (Matthew 5:39, 44) – certainly not by force of arms, but only with spiritual weapons (as His apostle Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, signifying inward weapons of mind and will for the overthrow of “imaginations,” pride, falsehood, distractions from the saving knowledge of God). But this same Jesus, pointing to a coin stamped with Caesar’s image, also bid us render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (Matthew 22:21), and urged non-resistance to those in power (John 18:36), setting an example by disarming Peter at the occasion of His own arrest, when he warned that those who take the sword would perish by the sword (Matthew 26:52). Paul likewise encouraged a respectful obedience to whoever held the reins of secular government (Romans 13). In fact Jesus even had Peter pay tribute money on his behalf to the Roman occupiers “lest we should offend them” (Matthew 17:27).
The Great Peacemaker Jesus having been so compliant with the armed and aggressive civil authorities of His time, there might be no reason at all for me to bear this witness against paying taxes for weapons and war – not if I were merely a subject of the United States Government in the way that Jesus and His disciples were subjects of the Roman Empire. For then I might just comply without protest, with my heart saddened but my conscience unburdened, so long as the government did not directly ask me to disobey commandments of God myself (Acts 5:29).
But I am also a citizen of a democracy that claims to act in my name, and that makes all the difference. The United States was founded on the assumption that governments derive their “just powers from the consent of the governed” (Declaration of Independence, paragraph 2). I must therefore protest that the United States Government does not have the consent of all its governed, and does not act in my name, when it arms men and women to take human life; and I hereby give notice, as I’ve also done with my tax returns in years past, that I would not and do not choose to have any part of my earnings used for a purpose so contrary to the spirit of my rightful and actual King, Jesus Christ.
I urge all who may read this to consider whether their consciences are telling them to do as I do in this matter.