Quaker Testimonies and the Presidential Election

November 2, 2012 § 10 Comments

I don’t feel that I can make much of a Quaker case for voting for President Obama beyond the argument that his (barely) liberal political agenda squares in a general way with the Liberal Quaker view of the testimonies. But I do believe that a truly compelling argument can be made against voting for the Republican platform and the men who at times quite forcefully advocate it, Mitt Romney and, especially, Paul Ryan.

In fact, in the spirit and rhetorical form used by the Hebrew prophets, especially Micah (6:2), I say: “Hear, you mountains, the judgment-case of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a judgment-case with [you] and he will contend with [you]”. This judgment-case rests on two sets of contentions, one based on the Quaker testimonies, and another on the gospel of Jesus. This post is dedicated to the testimonial case.

The Testimonies

  • Integrity: All politicians twist the truth to poison the minds of the electorate, but we have never seen such brazen, consistent, egregious, and frequent, outright lies as we have seen from the Republicans in this campaign. Nor has a candidate twisted away from his former stands on so many issues so many times as had Mitt Romney.
  • Equality: The Republican platform is an assault, not just on the poor, but on the lower middle class and virtually all who work for a living rather than “earn” an income from investments. This is clear from their approach to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and the privatization of many other government functions and programs. At the other end of the socio-economic ladder, the national Republican party has joined the very rich behind their unassailable ramparts, insisting, not only on not raising their taxes, but on strengthening the social, legal, and economic structures that skew the economic system in their favor and have been widening the gap between the rich and the rest of us for decades.
  • Justice: Who would have thought that after 60 years of blood and tears we would be fighting this hard to get poor people and minorities to the polls over new barriers erected by white men?
  • Women’s rights: We are used to suffering abortion as a flashpoint for political contest, but basic healthcare and even contraception? Yes, some social forces have sided against women on these issues all along, too. But now a serious defense of rape as legitimate? In America? The Republican party has been using racial fear to win elections since Nixon and his “Southern Strategy”, but now misogyny has also become part of the Republican cast for the white man’s vote.
  • Earthcare: The consistent questioning of climate science, and in fact, of science across the board, especially when it concerns the environment and public health, is another face of the violation of the testimony of integrity and an alignment with corporate profit against the integrity of creation.
  • Community: The Republican party has taken the individualism that is both the strength and the great weakness of American society to radical extremes, threatening to thrust those who need social support out on their own and to shred what remains, not just of the social safety net but the integrity of community itself, with its rhetoric and its assault on “social programs”.
  • Peace: At last even the military establishment itself wants to reduce our military budget. But not Mitt Romney.

Have I missed any? Simplicity? One thinks of the complicated financial instruments that brought us the Great Recession and the deregulation that made it possible, and which is a major factor in the financialization of our economy since Ronald Reagan, at the expense of simple productive economic activity. But you can’t just blame the Republicans for that; both parties love Wall Street, no matter how the bankers spin it. And the Republicans do arguably favor simplicity in government; it’s actually an important part of their pro-deregulation and tax reform rhetoric.

So I will leave my case on our testimonies at this. Next post will look at Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan through the testimony of the gospel of Jesus.

§ 10 Responses to Quaker Testimonies and the Presidential Election

  • Larry Ingle says:

    I don’t disagree with Steven Davison’s diagnosis or prescription, but I think his central historical example–of the struggle against “ranterism” in the 1660s and 1670s”–is a bit misplaced. The leaders of the struggle were people who supported George Fox’s vision for the society, one directed from London, and suppressed many outlying types who wanted to maintain local meeting autonomy; or, to put in it the terms of Davison’s prescription, wanted to encourage, even enforce, provincials to listen to the youth.

    Moreover, the phrase “gospel order” was almost always used to sanctify the prescriptions of those in positions of power. And it is often still used that way. I cringe when I see it hauled out as though to insist that something with “gospel” attached to it should be adhered to forthwith.

    • Hi, Larry

      Thank you for the clarification. I have a request to make of you, also.

      I have been writing a history of Quakers and Capitalism. Some pdfs of the work so far are available from the menu on the left. My research so far goes only through the World Conference in 1920 and I virtually certain that it will take me into my ’70s to finish the 20th century. I have a list of things I would get to if I could (see below), and I am hopin to recruit others (especially those, like yourself, with real historian credentials) to contribute on some of these topics. The result would be a kind of open source history.

      One of the topics is Herbert Hoover, and I have heard a rumor that you are doing something on him right now. Is this true? I am especially interested in how his Quakerism informed his political economics, his response to the crash of ’29. I have read one biography, but it did not treat this at all. It barely mentioned his Quakerism, except as a part of his upbringing.

      Are you interested? Would you like to see the rest of the list? Do you have any things you think should be on a history of Friends and economics in the twentieth century? Can you recommend other scholars who might be interested in contributing.

      Here’s my list so far:
      the Committee on Industry and Social Order, both in Britain and PYM
      Jack Powelson
      AJ Muste
      Bayard Rustin
      Kenneth Boulding
      Right Sharing of World Resources
      AFSC on economics
      FCNL on economics
      the Movement for a New Society
      Hattie Green
      Socialists in Great Britain and the communitarian movement that came out of that group, right after the Great War, I think

      I’m also weak on economic philosophy among American Friends in the 18th and 19th centuries and I didn’t discuss your work on the class divisions that fed the Hicksite separation in PYM.
      I’d like to do more with David Ricardo, who married a Quaker but seems to have converted to Unitarian Universalism himself

      What do you think?

      • Larry Ingle says:

        I’m not doing anything on Hoover right now, although he is a fascinating Quaker, and I’ve done some research in the Hoover Library in East Branch, Iowa. I am working on a book on Nixon and his religion, despite what he and his mother implied, evangelical Quakerism, not the eastern “quiet” variety.

        A couple of general comments: 1) the 20th century represents one of the great gaps in Quaker history, little attention having been focused on it, so Quakerism and capitalism is a vitally important subject. 2) You say you have read one biography of Hoover; you need to read them all if he is a central figure from your point of view. I’d start with Hinshaw’s, which is subtitled, “American Quaker.” The best one is probably a new one, which has substantial material on Quakerism, Glen Jeansonne’s The Life of Herbert Hoover, Fighting Quaker, 1928-1933. 3) You have to understand that most historians don’t think religion is important, particularly in regard to politicians. One who did and is responsible for much of the interest in Hoover’s political economics is William Appleman Williams, whose Contours of American History has a brilliant and path-breaking section on the Chief. I used to tell my students that the best way to understand him is to view him as a Friend.

        In that regard, you must explore his 1922 book, American Individualism, and connect that with the kind of Quakerism (and its decision making process) in knew in West Branch. You also must see that through much of his adult life he wasn’t an active Quaker. Whether he attended meeting or not when he was in Europe immediately before and during the Great War is questionable, and there were no meetings when he worked in Australia and China.

        You ask about other historians who might contribute. I’m not sure I know what you mean by “contribute”–write a section, advise, look at?

        That’s enough for now.

      • sourlandr says:

        Thanks so much, Larry, for responding. These are great tips.

        By “contributions” I am not sure myself what I mean yet. All I know is that I am not likely to get to this work in any meaningful depth anytime soon, and yet I believe the project has merit. So I am hoping to find people to do what I cannot (or will not, if truth be told; I just have too many other writing projects I also am interested in finishing right now). How all this gets published is of less importance to me than that it become available.

        Well, I look forward to more correspondence.


        Sent from my iPad

    • Emily says:

      Hi Steven,

      It’s interesting that you still post your chapter on “double culture” period of Quakerism, given that you’ve stated that the evidence of so many 19th century Quakers’ involvement in workers rights and education (not to mention political rights, relief work, diplomacy, prison reform….) had “torpedoed” your theory of a “double culture” period of Quakerism.

      • Often when someone says, “It’s interesting that . . . ” they imply some criticism. Am I correct in inferring that you mean that I should by now have removed this chapter on the “double culture”, as I call it?

        Ever since I started my new job, I have found it hard to maintain the level of activity on this blog that I did before. I have a stack of things waiting to be posted and I haven’t found the time to put them up, let alone go over past material in the way you suggest and either remove them or rewrite them. I do have in mind giving all the posts to which you have responded with your criticisms a category designation and posting the change so that my readers can see what I’ve written and what you’ve rejoindered all in one place. I think I’m going to call these posts the Emily Dialogs.

        As to the capitulation on the point about the double culture that you seem to be demanding, I’ll have to think about that. I know I did capitulate in the reply you quote, and certainly I will have to rethink some of what I’ve written. But now the subtle feeling I had before that maybe I was being bullied has come to the fore. I don’t like being bullied.

        I’ll get to those posts. I think your comments deserve careful attention and I am fully willing to rethink my own work in the light of new input. But I do have a rather full and demanding personal life beyond this blog, so I must ask my readers to remember that and be patient.

        Even more important, I would ask you, Emily, not to jump to conclusions about my motives or integrity just because I’ve not pulled a post that I’ve agreed needs rethinking. Believe me, I think of these posts and your comments quite often and I fully intend to revisit your comments and my own ideas—when I have the time. In the meantime, please don’t assume that I’m either trying to hide something or deny something because they are still there. Blogs are platforms for expression and dialog and the full dialog between you and me is still there for my readers to consider and draw their own conclusions.

      • Emily says:


        I don’t mean to bully you.

        I posted my views on historical Quakers you wrote about in order to express my respect for the integrity of their actions, and to allow readers of your blog an opportunity to know there is more than one way to view the actions of those Quakers. I agree with you that blogs are a platform of expression.

        I am sorry that I wrongly assumed that you, in referring to your pdfs as your “work so far,” rather than your work-in-progress, and in your emphasizing your current work on 20th century Quakers, had finished your pre-20th century chapters.

        I apologize if my comments may have implied to you or to anyone else that you lack integrity. That was not my intention.

  • Emily says:

    The election is over but it isn’t the end of all the hatred on all sides in our politics. I pray every day for the light where I can learn to love my enemy (Matthew 5:44), though after I as I find that light it goes, after listening to more hate rhetoric, so I have to search and pray again tomorrow, and tomorrow…..
    Washington needs a Dolley Madison, someone who was ready to say, “Mrs. Madison loves everyone” in a very partisan Washington.

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