In the Shadow of Trump a Beacon?

December 17, 2016 § 15 Comments

The Friends I know are totally freaked out over the election. They break out crying. They wake up crying. They are literally throwing up. In every aspect of his being, Donald Trump assaults our sensibilities. His decadent moral character, his coarse, bullying personality, his utterly self-absorbed psychology, his willful and dangerous ignorance and lack of identifiable personal or political philosophy, his divisive and demeaning political tactics, his racism, xenophobia, and misogyny—we can’t believe that this man, a self-confessed sexual predator, will now be our president.

But I live and worship among liberal Friends on the East Coast. What about the evangelical Friends who live in Iowa and Kansas and Indiana? Are they among the 80% of evangelicals who voted for Trump? Hard to imagine, but it’s clearer than ever that we really don’t know each other in America anymore. I hope any Friends who read my blog and who voted for Trump comment here, to help me understand.

The election of Donald Trump is a rebuke, not just of the week and outdated liberalism of the Democratic party, but of liberal identity itself, including that of liberal Quakerism. We liberal Friends are waking up with nightmares partly because the liberal identity and sensibilities that drove the Clinton campaign are dominant elements of liberal Quaker culture and identity, as well, so his election feels like a personal assault and an existential threat.

But clearly Donald Trump speaks to the legitimate concerns of a lot of Americans whom the Democratic party has betrayed and abandoned—the white working class, especially those folks whose economic prosperity used to rest in the manufacturing sector, and especially their men, who, unlike some of their wives, have found jobs in the service and public sectors both demeaning and hard to find; folks in rural America and in those suburbs that have avoided becoming exurbs and remain predominantly white; and the strongly and overtly religious.

Both parties have some soul searching to do. Both are on trajectories aimed toward collapse. But what about us liberal Quakers (and Christ-centered Quakers, for that matter)?

Have we also abandoned the white working class? Do we have a message that speaks to folks whose jobs followed NAFTA’s “giant sucking sound” out of the country, as Ross Perrot put it so presciently way back when? Do we harbor veiled prejudice against “guys”—men who have not internalized the sensibilities we value in today’s liberal Quaker culture, men who don’t work behind a desk or in the secular church? And about the church . . .

Hillary Clinton may be a genuinely religious person, but you would never know it. She seems deaf to the voices of a large portion of one of the most religious countries in the world. I am glad she ran openly on a woman’s right to choose, so it was going to be uphill from there with evangelical Christians, granted.

But the gospel of Jesus is one of the most revolutionary ideologies on the planet. Did she have any advisors who know the many elements of the “good news for the poor”, as Jesus put it in Luke 4, with which she might fill out a meaningful progressive message to the Christian electorate? Either she didn’t have progressive Christian advisors or she decided against such a message, fearing she would push away her non-religious base, or I missed it.

So also with many of our meetings. Do we have members who know and cherish the progressive message of the gospel? Do some of us cringe when some vocal ministry invokes Jesus Christ or quotes the Bible, for fear that we will push away the non-religious among us? To that point, to what degree do we think of ourselves as “spiritual” but not “religious”?

And the gospel of Jesus is, at its core, a message about relief for the sufferings of the poor. Do we know the economics of redemption in the commonwealth of God, the planks in the platform of the new covenant Jesus offered? Are we equipped to offer the Christian electorate that voted for Trump an alternative vision for society that is fully grounded in the gospel and the rest of Christian scripture? Are we interested in taking our place in the progressive religious opposition to the proto-fascism that Donald Trump and his conservative and alt-conservative coattail riders will be shoveling up? Are we ready with the Word of wisdom and truth, the weapon of the Lamb’s War?

For surely, Donald Trump will betray his Christian voters. He only wanted their votes, and that not very badly. Otherwise, he really has nothing in common with them. Do we?

And he will betray his core, the abandoned white working class, not by failing to give them what he promised, but by delivering on promises that were never going to solve their problems in the first place, by driving the real economy into the dirt, by guaranteeing a global warming catastrophe, and by degrading all the shaky protections we have against an immoral and predatory capitalist system and its captive social and political cultures.

Like the Democratic party, we now need to examine our identity and our message. What do we have to say to the millions of Americans that we now think are either stupid, ignorant, or snookered by a dangerous con man?

Much of America is held together by the ties of religion, family, and community. Is liberal Quakerism a religion or a “spirituality”? Do we have a meaningful message for those who identify as religious? Do our meetings reach and retain young families? Do we know our local communities and share their struggles?

We are going to be a haven for those who are fleeing the reality of Trump. But will we also be a beacon for those who voted for him and whom he will probably ultimately betray?

§ 15 Responses to In the Shadow of Trump a Beacon?

  • lessonsongs says:

    Thank you for this, Steven, as well as your other blog posts. I always appreciate reading your perspective and the questions you raise. I appreciate all the responders’ thoughts as well. There is so much here to respond to, but for now I would like to add a few comments to the discussion.

    As someone from a working class, Catholic family, whose college and graduate school education exposed me to ideas and experiences that ultimately led me away from my religious upbringing and culture, I felt some sadness when I realized the Quaker path was one I wanted to go on. As I said to my clearness committee on membership: “I know I will not find many people here like my dad.” I regretted, too, that it seemed unlikely I would meet many, like myself, who had worked with unions and understood the meaning and value of collective bargaining in the workplace. Unprogrammed Friends have attracted liberal minded, intellectually oriented people, and that has its benefits …. and its weaknesses.

    The benefits, in my opinion, include the privilege of being with people who are able to think beyond individual survival and even beyond how we treat other humans individually, such as is addressed by Matthew 25, to thinking about the effects of policies and regulations on Creation itself. When I face the effects of a Trump presidency, I grieve the loss of mountain tops, the effect of future oil spills on water, the decline in animals and other forms of life, and the general eroding of the biosphere. I know these things are not God’s will, and I’m coming to believe that God cries with us. I do believe that our faith calls us to be part of those who analyze how our country ended up with such a man as its leader who would put personal wealth acquisition above protection of the web of life as well as above preservation of civil rights. For instance, I think as Quakers, we must speak in prophetic voice and cry out the role that the corporate owned media has played in shaping people’s thinking for years. (My family, like so many others, gradually changed their views to right wing primarily as a result of a steady diet of Fox News over the years.) It will take concerted effort to arrive at ways to counter the results of billions of dollars invested to gain control of media outlets to propagandize a people. And it’s not just Fox News, but an entire system that links decisions about news broadcasting to corporate profit.

    One weakness I see inherent in a faith group made up primarily of white, raised middle class people include the tendency to think that we are in charge, individually, of our lives at all times. The concept of humbling turning our lives over to God or Spirit is harder to understand, much less enact. People who have been oppressed for generations often know better the need for humility, collectivity, patience and endurance. The less encumbered can experience a deeper way of knowing, too, which we might call “that still small voice.” I think it’s not an either/or that is needed, but a yes/and. Yes, we need to practice surrender and deep listening to the Christ spirit within us, AND yes, we need to engage with the world to understand and change the conditions that keep people in darkness — the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of greed, the darkness of isolation and individualism, the darkness of confusion and distraction, and the darkness of violence.

    Thanks to all!

    • Thanks, Paulette. I have tried to reply to Jim Schultz and to continue this conversation—I have more words waiting. But I have discovered how hard it is not to speak from my utter inability to understand emotionally where support for Donald Trump comes from. I keep reading the inevitable and apparently ceaseless pundit analysis about the Trump victory, so I feel I understand it intellectually better and better. But my soul and heart are reeling from the reality that people I love and respect would vote for such an obviously morally flawed man, for such dangerous and unloving promises, for such a caustic political strategy, for such a regressive agenda. The more I think about it, the more desperate and angry I get, the farther away from love. So I have been schooling myself to silence, waiting for some kind of equilibrium and lovingkindness to return.

      • Don Badgley says:


        I understand your “utter inability to understand emotionally where support for Donald Trump comes from.” I too have dear friends and colleagues who chose that path. I will not judge them until the beam in my own eye is cleared. In fact it was difficult for me to vote at all in this election and yet I did with the knowledge that my vote in NY was relatively meaningless. I am hardly proud of my vote.

        I too have reverted to silence except to ask myself rhetorically what it says about someone if they choose to lift into power a man who is openly a racist, a narcissist and wholly incompetent to perform the functions of President of the United States. This is a man who, in the most powerful office on earth, will put millions of people at risk. What we will continue to hear as justification are meaningless statements regarding Clinton’s unsuitability. I am very sad. I will trust stillness and the Light.

        Don Badgley

      • lessonsongs says:

        Steven, thank you for sharing the depth of your feelings. I know I have been steeling myself emotionally against the reality of what is coming down on the world, I think in large part because I do not have a community or a family to cry with. When my mind starts to take in the scope of the damage that is clearly going to occur, I stop and cannot go there. But I have begun to meditate and pray more faithfully. My longing to live in community is stronger than ever, seeing the need for less isolation and more time for collective effort to do whatever we can.
        There was an article in the New Yorker Sunday that someone sent me, which I thought had good insights about why people voted for D.T., looking at psychological research. The insights about group bias are something it would be good for me to be aware of in myself as well.
        Blessings to you!

  • Jim Schultz says:

    Speaking for myself as a Trump voter, I saw as many things wrong with Hillary as you do with Donald. Voting in NY my vote never matters but I exercise my right anyway knowing I hardly ever vote for a winner. It was a pleasant change to see this was one of the exceptions. Having said that I am afraid there is no room for me in the inn of Quakerville but I will stay in the barn as long as possible. I leave all my liberal friends with this advice: Stop looking to Cesar and start looking to God and remember a spiritual journey is about spirituality not legislation. It’s time to take Matthew 25 seriously and to share from our own personal resources and not someone else’s. Please don’t reply with the judgmental hate that I have already experienced. My cup runneth over. Just ignore me. You made a good faith attempt to engage Trump voters and I am responding in kind.

    • Thank you for responding, Jim, for telling what’s important to you, and for staying in the Quaker tent.

    • Howard Brod says:

      Jim, your thinking is correct that as Quakers politics are merely a personal/individual tool, and has NO place in the meetinghouse!! We are NOT a political club!!

      I am grateful that I am part of a liberal Quaker meeting that insists this be the case within the meeting. As a result, we have attracted a number of Republicans, Libertarians, and God knows what else. And guess what? As a result, our meeting is vibrant, open, REAL, and oh so loving.

      All political parties need Quakers as part of them.

      If a meeting equates a particular political bent to spirituality, they are missing the inner peace and unconditional love that makes the meeting community’s life a pure joy.

  • Ellis Hein says:

    Steve, you are asking some pertinent, searching questions that must be grappled with. Do we offer the world, the country, the family next door any answers to the persistent difficulties that we all face. The answer to such problems will not come from liberalism, conservatism, or the religious institutions. All thse offer answers, but The Answer is found in the message proclaimed by George Fox and the early Quakers. In his abridgment of his message, Fox often stated that Christ is come to teach his people himself. It would seem liberals are busy trying to distance themselves from any association with Christ or Christianity. Conservative Christianity is caught up in speculations on “the second coming of Christ.” Political institutions can offer us no voice other than the sound of our own voice. We have followed that already to our grief.

    Jesus began his public ministry with the proclamation of “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” And we have generations piled upon generations of misunderstanding that proclamation. We take that statement to mean something other than “Repent for I, who am the kingdom of God, am come.” When God spoke from the cloud at the mount of Transfiguration saying, “This is my son, my chosen one, hear ye him” He was issuing a universal invitation to enter the kingdom. This brings all the teaching of the old covenant into focus: the prophet like Moses of Deut. 18, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word proceeding out of the mouth of God shall man live of Deut. 8, all the prophecies of Isaiah concerning the messiah who is given for the covenant of light to the people, Jeremiah’s announcement of the new covenant. All these and more point to this one thing, in the presence of the Messiah, the kingdom of God is at hand. So Fox’s and the early Quaker’s proclamation “Christ is come to teach his people himself” is a continuation of the announcement of the kingdom of God come. “Where two or three are gathered in my authority, there am I in the midst of them,” said Jesus. This the early Friends proved through unnumbered trials and persecutions. Here they received the strength, the wisdom, and the power to live the kingdom of God in a hostile world. The world is no less hostile today, perhaps especially today. There is no other place to receive the required power, wisdom, and strength to live the kingdom today than to gather to experience the risen Christ in our midst fulfilling all his offices in and among us. Only then will we have anything worth offering to others who are struggling to find answers to the real problems of life. Only then will we know the sound of the angel proclaiming “The kingdoms of man have become the kingdom of our God.”

    On Sat, 17 Dec 2016 14:13:53 +0000

  • Christine Greenland says:

    Thanks so much for this. I don’t think of myself as “liberal” politically or in terms of religion. Privileged, perhaps.

    Many in my family might have leaned toward a more “conservative” stance. Many mistrusted intellectual pursuits that fascinated me, as well as my mother and grandmothers.

    What I often find is that the ideas that resonate most clearly come from Hispanic or African-American evangelical traditions.

    Today, in our meeting for business, I lifted up my need — and our meeting’s need — to be quite clear about how we follow Christ. I asked Friends to consider “How are we led to witness?”

    I recall Martin Corbin’s admonition about civil disobedience: “If you are not led to this witness, stay home.” Martin was very active in peace vigils from the early 1950s. He knew from experience that anything could happen.

    • Howard Brod says:

      Christine, when you stated that you don’t think of yourself as politically liberal, it brought to my mind an observation I’ve made. At those meetings where politics is traditionally de-emphasized and instead the spiritual basis of our testimonies is emphasized, they seem to have faired better emotionally in this election aftermath. A good number of Friends in my meeting, as well as the meeting itself, historically have taken a spiritual approach rather than a political approach in worship, discussions, and peace and social action. And in humility, it is recognized at my meeting by most that not just democrats want simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship. Activism for those charitable groups working for peace, equality, earth stewardship, and so on is more in line with Jesus’ wise course of action. Activism for political parties will always lead to disappointment as they loose an election or fail to carry out our long-hoped-for changes that really only can occur in the human heart.

  • Don Badgley says:

    This post resonated with me on many levels and it well describes my worldly suffering at Trump’s election. I rant at and with all who will listen. However, I have begun to realize that this is a path to more suffering. My faith provides the balm and balance that calms my fears. In that Light I become aware that a vote for the warrior Hillary Clinton was hardly an act that well served the Light.

    Am I a “liberal” Friend? My Quakerism arises in the Experience of the Divine Source. This Experience orders my life and calls me to call others into worship where they may also be transformed by the Light. The simple traditional approach to experiential faith and worship is in fact far more conservative than any of the religious approaches, (including many branches of Friends), that are dependent upon the creeds, doctrines, literalist interpretations and hierarchies that obscure the Kingdom, the Kingdom toward which Jesus pointed.

    I am unconcerned whether people identify as “religious” or “spiritual.” If people are led to the Light through other religious forms or spiritual journeys then I am grateful. My task is to order my life in the Light and to publish the Truth that I find there. I can do no more and no less and if others are served by that, then it is a blessing.

  • QuaCarol says:

    Jim Wallis gathered a group of religious/spiritual leaders and they prayed about what to do in the face of the election. They came up with the Matthew 25 pledge.

    It’s highly unlikely that my meeting would sign it. Individuals in the meeting are working on the respective concerns in the Matthew 25 pledge. But the meeting as a whole . . . ? No.

    That grieves me.

  • Thank you for this, Steven. I don’t know what lies ahead for the United States, for the world, or for myself. But I do know three things: (1) that an almighty, loving, and just God still rules supreme over all creation, and is worthy of absolute trust. (2) That if anyone were to say in the name of a Trump government, “Don’t you know that I can kill you if I like?” we all have the option of giving Jesus’ answer to Pilate (John 19:11 NRSV), “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.” For this is true of all of us at all times. (3) That God calls us to be embodiments of God’s perfect love. Perfect love loves the enemy (Matt 5:44), forgives all debts and offenses (Matt 6:14), and casts out fear (1 John 4:18).
    If we don’t have the faith to live up to such a higher standard as now calls to us, we all have the option of saying, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5), and then letting God do it. If it’s love we lack, rather than faith, then let’s ask for deeper, purer love. God may have allowed Trump to claim the reins of government just so that we’d ask for such a transformation.

  • Howard Brod says:

    Perhaps we need to follow the example of Jesus in this. He did not place his hopes and energy in governmental or political factions to bring about the spiritual values of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship. His disciples wanted him to. But he told them, “The Kingdom of God is within”. In other words, the answer is to help people to change their own hearts. The answer is not to control other people by using ‘Caesar’ to force them to embrace ‘Love’ and ‘Light’.

    Many Friends need to return to that simple spiritual truth. There is indeed much work to do and an eternity to accomplish it.

  • You are asking reallly important questions for liberal Friends to take to heart. Thank you.

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