Chapter 7 of Speak Truth To Power

An Affirmation

. . . . there is only one thing that has power completely, and that is love; because when a man loves, he seeks no power, and therefore he has power." [18]

--ALAN PATON, Cry, the Beloved Country

There is a politics of time, but there is also a politics of eternity that man would ignore, but cannot. He plays with the politics of time, sees it, manipulates it, imagines it is of himself alone; but both the politics of time and of eternity are of God. Only the eye of faith perceives the relationship, for it alone glimpses the dimension of eternity. Man sees but dimly, yet enough to know the overarching Power that moves in the affairs of men. Because we are first men of faith, and only secondarily political analysts, we would speak now, finally, of the politics of eternity which has undergirded the whole.

An American living in France during the agonizing months of the Nazi advance saw with the clarity of vision sometimes given to those who face last things that the world is not saved by discoveries or inventions, by the trample of iron hoofs nor the thunder of bombing planes, but by the quiet pervasive influence of the small company of people who in all lands and in all times, in spite of all that has happened or may come to pass, steadfastly continue to say, "Nevertheless ... I believe." Faith is relevant, and in an Age of Anxiety, we affirm ours.

The American Friends Service Committee is deeply rooted in the faith that there is that of God in every man which gives him inalienable worth and dignity. He may not therefore be exploited or expended by any man for any purpose. We have been and we continue to be opposed to all wars, but we are not among those who deny the reality of evil, or assume that peace is merely the absence of war. Rather, believing that peace-making in the nuclear age has become not only the central but the most complex issue for mankind, we are constrained to make peace. Mankind, we believe, has a higher destiny than self-destruction.

Years ago, Rufus Jones wrote: "It takes immense faith to swing out thus from the main social current of the world on a unique venture, to make an experiment in the practice of Love when everybody else insists that nothing will work but force. It means flying in the face of 'hard facts.' It is a course of action which 'common sense' at once refuses."

We have tried to face the hard facts; to put the case for non-violence in terms of common sense. Yet, we are aware that the man who chooses in these terms alone cannot sustain himself against the mass pressures of an age of violence. If ever truth reaches power, if ever it speaks to the individual citizen, it will not be the argument that convinces. Rather it will be his own inner sense of integrity that impels him to say, "Here I stand. Regardless of relevance or consequence, I can do no other."

This is not "reasonable": the politics of eternity is not ruled by reason alone, but by reason ennobled by right. Indeed "faith is reason grown courageous." Reason alone may dictate destroying an enemy who would destroy liberty, but conscience balks, and conscience must be heeded, for nothing in our reading of history, or in our experience of religion, persuades us that at this point conscience is wrong. We do not end violence by compounding violence, nor conquer evil by destroying the evildoer. Evil cannot overcome evil, and the end does not justify the means. Rather, we are convinced that evil means corrupt good ends; and we know with a terrible certainty demonstrated by two world wars in our time, that when we undertake to overcome evil with evil, we ourselves tend to become the evil that we seek to overcome. We believe that the editors of Life reached a sound conclusion when, on August 20, 1945, following Hiroshima, they wrote: "Our sole safeguard against the very real danger of a reversion to barbarism is the kind of morality which compels the individual conscience, be the group right or wrong. The individual conscience against the atomic bomb? Yes. There is no other way."

We know of but one way to meet the forces of disintegration that threaten us. The first step is to release into society integrated men and women, whose lives are at one with God, with themselves and with their fellow men. But even this is not enough. If there is to be a religious solution to the social problem there must also be renewed in a disintegrating society the sense of community, of mutuality, of responsible brotherhood for all men everywhere. Such community is built on trust and confidence, which some will say is not possible now because the communist cannot be trusted. The politics of eternity does not require that we trust him. They require us to love him and to trust God. Our affirmation in this day is that of John Woolman in his: "I have no cause to promote but the cause of pure universal love." We call for no calculated risk on behalf of national interest or preservation; rather for an uncalculated risk in living by the claims of the Kingdom, on behalf of the whole family of man conceived as a divine-human society.

The politics of eternity works not by might but by spirit; a Spirit whose redemptive power is released among men through suffering endured on behalf of the evildoer, and in obedience to the divine command to love all men. Such love is worlds apart from the expedient of loving those who love us, of doing good to those who have done good to us. It is the essence of such love that it does not require an advance guarantee that it will succeed, will prove easy or cheap, or that it will be met with swift answering love. Whether practiced by men or nations, it well may encounter opposition) hate, humiliation, utter defeat. In the familiar words of the epistle, such love suffers long, is always kind, never fails. It is a principle deeply grounded in the years of Quaker sufferings, imprisonments and death. From the dungeons of Lancaster Castle Friends spoke this Truth to Power: "But if ... not . . . then shall wee lye downe in the peace of our God and patiently Suffer under you."[19] This is the Spirit that overcomes the world.

To act on such a faith, the politics of eternity demand of us, first, repentance. As individuals and as a nation we must literally turn about. We must turn from our self-righteousness and arrogance and confess that we do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord. We must turn from the substitution of material for spiritual values; we must turn not only from our use of mass violence but from what is worse, our readiness to use this violence whenever it suits our purpose, regardless of the pain it inflicts on others. We must turn about.

The race is on; it may be almost run. Man plays with the politics of time, thinking to be master of his own destiny. But God is not mocked: His politics still govern, for the human soul is perplexed and afflicted by the pervading pressure of power exercised by men and nations in their pursuit of the politics of time alone. The weak are impotent, the strong dictate. Claims of national interest or group loyalty are made to Justify the crushing of human personality. There is an arrogance that identifies self-interest with virtue, and deafens men to the needs and voices of others outside their own group or nation. Men strive for security in a world where security cannot exist. The more we cling to security the less secure we feel; the more we cling to armaments and economic privilege the more frightened we become. How shall man be released from his besetting fears, and from his prevailing sense of futility?

To risk all may be to gain all. We do not fear death, but we want to live and we want our children to live and fulfill their lives. Men have ventured all and cheerfully risked death and starvation for many causes. There can hardly be a greater cause than the release of man from the terror and hate that now enslave him. Each man has the source of freedom within himself. He can say "No" whenever he sees himself compromised. We call on all men to say "No" to the war machine and to immoral claims of power wherever they exist and whatever the consequences may be. We call on all men to say "Yes" to courageous non-violence, which alone can overcome injustice, persecution, and tyranny.

Such acts of revolutionary love involve putting into action the laws of the Kingdom before the Kingdom has really come. The early Friends realized only too clearly that the Kingdom of God had not come, but they had an inward sense that it would never come until somebody believed in its principles enough to try them in actual operation. They resolved to go forward then, and make the experimental trial, and take the consequences.

So we believe and so we advise.

Russell Nelson
Last modified: Tue Oct 3 15:15:40 EDT 2006