the friend online
16 November 2007

Is Liberal British Quakerism under threat?
Anybody who catches sight of the right-wing press occasionally can't fail to notice the frequent articles about how British, apparently Christian, values are constantly under threat - from Brussels, from immigrants (and their religions), generally from the whole 'political correctness gone mad' brigade.

At a recent committee meeting we were invited to think about where Britain Yearly Meeting is currently 'at'; if the letters page of the Friend was any accurate barometer, one could be forgiven for thinking that where we are at is under threat.

I don't think anybody here would disagree with a statement that one of the whole points of Quakerism is its non-creedal nature. By non-creedal, what that means is not a lack of belief, or even a lack of willingness to state beliefs, but rather an unwillingness to mandate certain specific beliefs as a condition of entry.

To use a planning management analogy, what the spiritual basis of Quakerism is about is our faith being on a shared corporate strategy rather than a detailed operational plan; our strategy for faith is about building heaven on earth, and accessing the divine within and without. The operational detail of that we leave to the individual. We further divide our overarching strategy into sub-strategies - which we call the Quaker testimonies - which in turn can get divided still into further sub-strategies, but still being careful to keep the distinction between the goal, and the means of acheiving that goal.

But how many times do we read a letter in the Friend threatening the Liberal basis of British Quakerism, seeking to move us in an altogether more Evangelical - and I don't just mean in the explicitly Christian sense - direction?

How many letters do we see taking the strategic concern for a sound spiritual basis for our worship together and translating it into an operational creed demanding that we all read the Bible more and let Jesus into our hearts?

Or alternatively, thinking about the strategic concern for tolerance of belief, how many letters do we see demanding that in order for us to be more attractive to people who don't believe in God we drop all mention of that word, and all other religious language from our vocabularies?

What about the strategic concern for the environment? How many letters do we read demanding that all Quakers must give up car and plane use entirely, regardless of personal circumstance or whatever other efforts one might be personally making to turn the tide of climate change? Or the strategic concern for peace being translated into demands for pure vegetarianism, or even veganism amongst Quakers? Some months ago the strategic concern for equality was translated into demands for the closures of Quaker schools, with the implication that Quakers who send their children to such schools do not properly believe in equality - regardless of what else they might be practicing in their lives by way of a commitment to equality. Interestingly, during that particular correspondence nobody called for the closure of Quaker retirement homes - surely elderly Quakers should be just as required to take their chances with what the State provides as Quaker children?

From time to time, in Yearly Meeting sessions and elsewhere, we are invited to consider the unique qualities of Quakerism in Britain. Beyond all things, beyond even our Testimonies, what is truly unique about British Quakerism is our way of worship and our Liberal theology.

But the shift in emphasis from some directions - from a faith group with the simple demand 'to listen', into a group of individuals making their own demands that everybody else should subscribe to their own personal causes - is, I would submit, a far bigger threat to the integrity and sustainability of British Quakerism in the future than whether or not we continue to include the word 'religious' as part of our formal name.

simon gray


This week's .pdf
In this week's online edition... rss edition
Is Liberal British Quakerism under threat?
simon gray

QPSW conference
Dana Adler, West Kent Area Meeting
News round-up
Beth Allen & Trish Carn
Peasants’ long march
Kuldip Nayar
The fourth plinth
Rowena Loverance
Simply experiencing God in the moment
Jennifer Kavanagh, London West Area Meeting
‘You have to work very hard and lose all your friends’
Jamie Wrench
What makes God laugh?
Peter Fishpool

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