During our Quaker Meeting for Worship this morning, a Friend asked that we hold in the Light the people of the United States as they choose their next president.
He referred to the impact of this choice on all the peoples of the world and the planet on which they live, asking that the American electorate might be enabled to consider not just what the candidates are saying now, but that they exercise discernment in judging the past statements and actions of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. In other words, that the candidates' integrity, as understood by Quakers, should be the touchstone of the momentous decision which will be taken on 6 November.
Quaker Faith and Practice offers us this definition of integrity: “a condition in which a person's response to a total situation can be trusted: the opposite of a condition in which he or she would be moved by opportunism or self-seeking impulses.”
A counsel of perfection you may say. An impossible ideal which will never be applicable in the harsh world of realpolitik. But let us look at the idea from another angle – may it be applied in the inter-relations of family, workplace, local and national government? Because if the answer is 'no', then the world's largest national economy and military power has neither reason to make such consideration part of its approach, nor example on which to draw.
The groundswell of contempt for politicians and their opportunism and self seeking impulses grows by the day. From outright lies to careless inconsistencies; from cynical expediency to the 'flip-flopping' which arises from ill-thought through policy ideas, the coherence and truth which can only be rooted in ideals which do not always and everywhere put self first, are in diminishing supply.
Politicians do not come into the world fully formed. They are taken from among us and generally manifest the values and mindsets dominant in their culture. The responsibility to build something better lies with each and every one of us. If we are willing to remain the captives of vested interests which deliver us advantage at the expense of others; if we are quick to condemn all policy change as 'u-turns' worthy of derision and to place partisan point-scoring above truth, we can hardly be surprised when politics reflects these conditions back to us.
Last week, a Democrat president and Republican mayors came together to meet the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy and to offer comfort and support to those left homeless or bereaved. This weekend, they were back to criss-crossing the country and shouting at each other. If the first model is that which speaks best to our condition, let us first make that clear in our own lives and then demand it of those who exercise power.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger  You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen