Quaker Faith and Practice: a digital response

What we learnt when we posted Quaker Faith and Practice quotes on social media

The current edition of Quaker Faith and Practice (Photo: BYM)

Last year it was decided that Quaker Faith and Practice – the anthology of Quaker spirituality – would be revised beginning in 2019. There’s a substantial section in the middle of the book on social action in which Quaker Socialists take a special interest. So to start preparing our contribution to the process we tried posting a passage every day to the Quaker Socialist Society Facebook page along with a picture, to see what would happen.

There’s a difference between social media interactions and traditional Quaker discernment. Nevertheless, part of our politics is also based on participation. With around 1000 followers of the Quaker Socialist page, we were interested in what we’d learn by freely inviting people to ‘like’, comment or discuss in an open way. As it turned out we learnt a huge amount. Here are some of the headlines: 

There’s a lot of it

It took us from the start of the year to the middle of April to get through a single chapter (and it’s a 29 chapter book!). Interest dipped at times, and long verbose sections got very little traction at all. The length is potentially a problem if the book is to become something that a reader might peruse before coming to their first Quaker Meeting.

We could be much more feminist than this     

The most popular three quotes by individuals (rather than groups) are all by women: namely Ursula Franklin, Elizabeth Fry and Eva Pinthus. Nevertheless, despite being the chapter that explores women’s rights, only one in three contributors to the chapter is a woman, and in the first 30 entries only two women are featured at all. To make matters worse, too much of the language of the male writers suffers from being gendered.

For a faith group that is majority female and has a long association with feminism, we can do much better than this, and this revision is an opportunity to do so. 

We need to address white privilege  

Despite several passages about racism and privilege, and a section on the Quakers’ anti-slavery activism, as far as we know there are no quotes by non-white individuals at all in this chapter. In the context of live conversations about power and privilege in Britain Yearly Meeting, including whose voices are heard and whose voices aren’t, this must be an urgent wake-up call, through the revision process and beyond. We can do much much better than this.

In fact we need to address privilege in general 

Many of the contributions on poverty and unemployment come from those who seem to be richer, that exclude by implication some readers who are not. Although Quakers are known for philanthropy, many well meaning passages have not aged well, attracting such descriptions as ‘condescending’, ‘patronising’, and in some cases, even ‘uninformed’. This revision again offers a chance for reflection, and amending those sections that don’t represent who we would like to be.

We still love the classics

Our book is improvable – which is why we’ve decided to improve it. Even whilst acknowledging the problems though – for example of gendered language – some parts of it remain well loved classics.

The top ten most ‘liked’ quotations are listed here.