In a time of all-encompassing catastrophe, bad news comes at us from all directions. But insight can comes form anywhere as well. There’s much of this in an editorial in the April 17-30 issue of the liberal Catholic paper, the National Catholic Reporter, (NCR) entitled “Catholics and Trump, a reckoning.” I believe it calls for Quaker attention.
Not that it’s about or for Quakers. But reading it, though, I kept seeing a different name in place of “Catholic” — Quaker. More specifically, Evangelical Quaker. A sample of the editorial will show why.
But first, a bit of context. Here in North Carolina, much of the evangelically-oriented Quaker population is found in three counties: Surry, Randolph and Yadkin counties. And these three counties have a distinctive record in national politics: twice, in 2008 and 2012, they voted against Barack Obama by a three to one margin. And in 2016, they voted for the incumbent president by three to one.
There’s no breakdown of this vote by religious denomination; but long experience and observation leave me convinced that the Friends there as a group generally reflect the views behind this vote tally. Moreover, the reporting I’ve done on Indiana, California, Oregon and other evangelical Quaker strongholds is persuasive that the Carolina results are typical.
And I remember this every time I hear an evangelical give me and my ilk a sidelong glance and repeats the mantra, “Well, you know that 80 percent of Quakers in the world (and the U.S.) are evangelicals.”
Yes I know. I’ve known that for a long time.
And that’s why this originally Catholic editorial reads differently to me. Let’s take a look (the words in bold red substitute for different nouns in the NCR text):
Several significant questions emerge, entwined, from the chaos of the moment. One is about U.S. Evangelical Quakerism and its public expression, the other about our civic/political life and, in each instance, how they might be transformed in the post-pandemic era.
In the civil realm, the question is whether truth, or the pursuit of it, and competence will ever be foundational again to the way we conduct our public affairs. Or will we continue to require that truth bowl us over — actually threaten every area of life — before we believe it?The question for the Evangelical Quaker church in the United States is whether we will come out of this austere moment able to admit the role Evangelical Quaker churches and their leaders played in electing and enabling a man who, far from being pro-life, has proven himself a distinct danger to life on several levels.It is neither coincidence nor surprising that those who engage in fevered distortions of the truth in the political realm would have companions in the religion realm.The combination is dangerous, and just how potentially destructive — not only of democratic processes and institutions but now of the body politic itself — is becoming all too clear.Are those . . . who reduced Evangelical Quaker participation in the political process to a single issue, who tacitly approved when their culture-warrior minions delivered that message from countless pulpits, willing to take responsibility now for the sheer incompetence they helped put in place? If it profits not a man to give his soul for the world, how much worse for the church to hand over its integrity for a few conservative justices.The consequences are enormous and have to do with much more than policy differences or even single-issue politics. . . .
There is an Evangelical Quaker reckoning at hand. Evangelical Quakers and their leaders who bought the single-issue strategy find themselves stuck in what once was a fun house now turned house of horrors, incongruously lashed to President Donald Trump, a tawdry community of mutual desperation.This place where the feints and mirrors were once enough in the dim light to convince the band of jesters that they were in control is becoming, in the cold light of truth, a national graveyard. The daily reality is a grim report of the spiraling number of sick and dying. . . .
Trump has been forced in recent weeks to confront realities that until now he has been able to avoid or banish from his crimped universe: people of deep empathy and superior competence, forces he can’t control, and bluster that is not only transparently silly but also dangerous. . . .This awful moment has laid bare the high cost to the U.S. Evangelical Quaker churches of 30 years or more of accommodation to a culture of political expediency and an attempt to diminish the community of faith’s responsibility to the common good. Single-issue voting relieved too many of us of the responsibility to engage deeper political and historical realities. The questions we’re left with are urgent.
The reckoning is upon us.
Much of my reporting in recent years has been taken up by documenting the wide swath of internal destructiveness that organized Evangelical Quakerism has wreaked across a string of yearly meetings in what I call “The Separation Generation.”
But in addition to that, this constituency has been a reliable minion of the public decay that brought us to the desperate plight and moment that the NCR editorial brings into laser-focus.
I won’t pile on to its concise, trenchant eloquence.
Instead, only two queries: first,is it not time for a parallel reckoning in the U.S. Evangelical Quaker churches?