Spirituality and Politics

There has been discussion among Friends about the role of political and other worldly concerns in the life of the meeting, particularly about the extent to which such concerns should be brought into meeting for worship. The following are my thoughts on this matter.

When national and world events become threatening, one has some choices in responding. One can throw oneself into activism without much reflection or spiritual grounding. The risk here is in becoming bitter, getting burned out, and losing one’s sense of why we’re doing all this.

At the other extreme, one can retreat into the spiritual world, striving for self-improvement through prayer, contemplation, reading, etc., and not let one’s inner life become contaminated by world events: "Hopefully, things will work out, and in the meantime I’ll just work on myself." This form of avoidance denies the world the benefit of one’s knowledge, skills, and energy. While inner work is a necessary prerequisite, too often we never progress beyond that.

The third way is a blend of these two: spiritually grounded activism—summoning the courage and generosity of spirit to act in the world while remaining centered and true to one’s Inner Light. This is the way for which Quakers have been known, respected, and admired throughout our existence—and the way by which this small band of people has achieved profound results. It is also the way of engaged Buddhism, liberation theology, and similar faith-based initiatives, and it is reflected in the teachings of Jesus, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, and many others.

I believe that Quaker spirituality and actions in the world are by their nature profoundly intertwined. When I am at my best as a Quaker and as a human being, both these aspects of my being are honored and nourished.

Politics is an important aspect of the worldly arena. Political decisions profoundly affect the lives of people and the well-being of the entire planet. Politics is therefore inextricably bound up with human lives, and to attempt to exclude politics from the personal lives of Quakers and the lives of meetings is to ignore a major part of one’s being.

Now, political engagement is more crucial than ever. The actions of political leaders of the United States threaten everything its citizens cherish and have striven to achieve. Political forces are manipulating the voting process, and this country’s leaders are systematically and rapidly dismantling decades of progress in areas such as human rights, arms control, and the protection of the Earth’s biodiversity. The entire planet is being assaulted in the interests of domination and wealth extraction, with little thought for future consequences. Present and future lives depend on how those of us who happen to live in midst of this raging new empire respond. If we don’t get involved, who will?