Hugging the Extremes: Carolina Quakers & the 2020 Election

Yep — down it went.

[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.

Why do I think the woman at right is a Quaker? Because she didn’t shoot.

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,

Steven Greene, NC state political scientist

“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%.

NC Quaker geography (mostly): most meetings/churches are in central NC. The three counties with most evangelical groups are Surry, Yadkin & Randolph; they voted Republican by 3-1 in 2016 and 2020. The most liberal are in Durham & Orange (aka Chapel Hill), the two bluest in the state. Alamance (not marked), diagonally northeast of Randolph, is home to Spring Meeting, where I go, and tilts red but is more closely divided. There are several other meetings elsewhere, not shown here.

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?

5 thoughts on “Hugging the Extremes: Carolina Quakers & the 2020 Election”

  1. Perhaps it is that Quaker Meetings of the Unprogrammed kind flourish in counties which are “blue” .

    To determine the effect of “Quaker Vote” one would have to know which counties NC Quakers reside. That is where they vote, not where the Meetinghouse resides.

    Does that change you theory about voting and Quakers in NC?

    1. Free, //To determine the effect of “Quaker Vote” one would have to know which counties NC Quakers reside. That is where they vote, not where the Meetinghouse resides.// You’re right, but most of these Friends, at either end, are clustered nearby, so I’m confident about the overall association. If I was a campaign worker, the intricacies of NC gerrymandering would come into play; but that’s a different gig.

  2. Chuck, I am looking forward to reading your book. Do you think that the divergence between Evangelical Quakers versus Liberal Quakers when it comes to voting is primarily a case of philosophical differences or that for E.Q. their politics is more important than their religion?

    The reason I ask is that I recently read an article which argued that Evangelicals are strong supporters of Trump not because of their faith, but because their political views take precedence over their theology. What do you think?

    1. Hi Daniel, you ask good, but difficult questions. It seems clear to me that at both ends of the spectrum (and maybe across the middle too) culture shapes both theology & politics. But if these influences are parallel, does that make both sets of views & resulting actions morally equivalent?
      I don’t think so. For instance, both John Brown & John C. Calhoun were “extremists.” Even so, their parallel (“mirror image”?) extremisms did not make slavery morally indifferent.

      Or take current politicians & lying. I’ve no doubt that, in almost 50 years in office, Joe Biden has told lies, some of which were bad & dangerous. I’m also persuaded that Trump in office has lied much more, by a factor of, say, 20 in merely four years, and in sum much more dangerously. Individually most of their respective lies may be equally mendacious; but at a certain point, quantity becomes quality, and creates an atmosphere of lies & lying that approximates what George Orwell evoked in “1984.”

      As a practical matter, all politicians are flawed & sinners, and as voters/citizens we (or at least I, in the 56 years since I reached voting age), have had to pick the “lesser evil” among those on the ballot. And in making these picks, certainly my prejudices, vanity & grudges have colored the choices, mixed in with ideals, values and (such as it is) my theology.

      Looking back, I think overall my judgments were not so bad, though my favorites have lost more than they have won. But others might see my voting record as a succession of follies, driven more by liberal-left orthodoxies than any theological commitments.

      At the same time, or maybe predictably, I’m now much persuaded by the voices (including numerous traditional conservative Republicans) that evangelicals have traded in much of their previous theology for a “payback”-oriented set of essentially secular & cynical political transactions with the current President, and thereby they have ignored/excused much behavior & policies which were deeply at odds with many other of their values which were purportedly theologically based. If that’s correct, the impact on evangelical theological credibility, sooner or later, ought to be substantially adverse.

      On a very much smaller scale, I believe I saw examples of such defaults in some of the situations chronicled in the book I’m finishing. Of course, readers will also see the evangelicals charging my ilk with all sorts of alleged violations of faith & practice. In telling this story, I do not hide my opinions, but include many documents from the other side, which readers can examine & judge for themselves.

      The book should be done soon, and I will be interested to hear how its account & documentation affects your own assessment of these matters. The destruction of North Carolina YM-FUM is now three years past; but the larger theological-political drama of which it was part is far from being over.

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