[Trigger Warning: Quaker jargon ahead] I’m just finishing a book about the demise of North Carolina Yearly Meeting, which came about in 2017 after the group’s 320 years of existence. [Watch for a book announcement soon.] That long, unQuakerly process was covered in detail in this blog as it unfolded, and the story will not be rehashed here. (But if you want to go over it, click this link.)
The book was supposed to be done by now. Yet what with the seemingly endless succession of calamities and catastrophes this year, completion was delayed until this week.
That meant there were now election results to take account of. So I just wrote an “Election Postscript” for it.
Election results? I hear someone wonder. We’ve been hearing about them nonstop. What have they got to do with Quakers?
Good question. If there were any Carolina Quakes running for anything here, I didn’t hear about them. But stay with me; buried in the mountain of campaign data and detail, there’s unremarked grist for discussion and reflection for Friends. It won’t change any state from red to blue or vice versa, but it’s weighty for us.
While some official numbers are still incomplete, we all know who the second biggest losers of the campaign were, namely the pollsters.
Many had forecast that the incumbent’s defeat in Washington would be part of a “blue wave” that would reshape the political landscapes of many states as well, yada yada.
And we all also know that while there were some significant changes down the ballot (legal pot in several more states!), no such “wave” materialized, and in many states, the status quo was preserved.
One such significant change was a measurable erosion of the incumbent’s previously overwhelming support by white evangelicals. Columnist Michael Wear noted in the New York Times that,
Nationally, [the challenger] won 23 percent of white evangelicals, closing the gap from 2016 by 11 percentage points (from 64 to 53). This amounts to a swing of well over four million votes nationally, which accounts for much of [the winner’s] lead in the popular vote.”
However, this “swing” did not reach North Carolina. As the Raleigh News & Observer reported,
“The two versions of North Carolina revealed themselves when Steven Greene went online the day after Election Night and pulled up a map of the state: blue for those counties that most supported [the Democratic challenger] and red for the ones that most supported [the incumbent]..
At first glance, Greene, a political science professor at N.C. State, was not surprised by what he saw, because on Wednesday North Carolina’s presidential election map looked a lot like it did in 2016. Then Greene looked a little closer, at the numbers behind the colors, and it didn’t take him long to conclude that ‘everything got more’ of what it already was.
And with Greene’s insight, we arrive at the NC Quaker election connection.
This trend of reinforced polarization was confirmed by the results from the counties where the bulk of Carolina Quakers live.
North Carolina YM’s end was the outcome of an an evangelical attempt to purge several meetings they regarded as fatally “liberal.” The issues were the usual: LGBT rights, progressive Bible interpretation, what about Jesus, who was going to be boss, etc.
Most of the evangelical-oriented Friends churches are found in three central NC counties, Surry, Yadkin and Randolph. These three counties are also politically distinctive: they voted against Barack Obama twice, and for his Republican opponents, by an average margin of 75%-25%, three to one. Then in 2016, they voted Republican again by a higher average of 77.0%.
In 2020, the three voted Republican again, by an average of 77.63%, increasing that party’s total vote in the three counties by more than 13,200. In fact, the News & Observer noted that Yadkin County’s 2020 Republican share at 79.99%, was the highest in all of North Carolina’s one hundred counties; and Randolph yielded the GOP’s largest 2020 county margin, at 41,000.
As a parallel, three of the targeted liberal groups: New Garden, First Friends and Jamestown, were in Guilford County (aka Greensboro, right above Randolph) In 2016, it went Democrat by 58.7%; in 2020, by 60.8%, an increase of 23,800 voters.
But wait, there’s more: In Durham and Orange County (aka Chapel Hill) there are the two largest and liveliest liberal NC Meetings. They were once part of NCYM, long ago, well before the “recent unpleasantness,” but I mention them here because these two counties are –surprise, surprise! — the two bluest in the whole state: Orange voted Dem by 74.0% in 2016, and 74.87% last week. But Durham County topped the state list when it went blue by 78.9% in 2016, and 80.56% this time.
So Quakers in NC, with maybe 60 meetings & churches are a small denomination in NC compared to, say, the Baptists (5000+ churches). But we span the political spectrum from deep red to bright blue.
This data is mentioned as preamble to a query: what will their effect be on churches here, and particularly the North Carolina Quaker groups?
There are no answers to this query yet, and none will be attempted here. Could it be that this crowded, catastrophic year of 2020 might mark a major turning, for better or worse, for many or most voluntary groups? If so, churches will not escape. And the good ones will find in it many opportunities to witness and serve.
Will this include Carolina Quakers?