2022: A Centenary Year for the Quaker Socialists, Ada and Alfred Salter

This article is taken from the website of the ILP (Independent Labour Publications), which celebrates the history of the pre-1945 Independent Labour Party (also ILP), political home not only of Keir Hardie but also of many Quaker Socialists, including Ada and Alfred Salter.

Teas, Talks and Trees: Southwark Gets Set to Celebrate the Salters’ Centenary

The lives and achievements of ILPers and ethical socialist pioneers Ada and Alfred Salter are to be celebrated with a year-long series of events in south-east London where the Salters led their ‘Bermondsey Revolution’ in the early decades of the 20th century.

The Salter Centenary Project will mark the 100th anniversary of Alfred Salter’s election as a Labour MP in November 1922 when Ada also made history by becoming mayor of Bermondsey, making her the first woman mayor in London and the first Labour woman mayor in Britain.

The brainchild of Sheila and Graham Taylor, whose acclaimed biography of Ada Salter was published in 2016, the project has won cross-party backing from Southwark Council and is supported by the Quaker Socialist Society and the ILP, plus many other local and national organisations.

Graham’s book, Ada Salter: Pioneer of Ethical Socialism, helped to resurrect the memory of Ada and her impact on the community around her, including her ‘beautification’ of London slums with trees, flowers and music; her children’s playgrounds and model housing; and her defence of dockers and factory workers from dreadful pay and conditions. She also fought against conscription and spent a lifetime struggling for women’s equality and world peace.

Graham’s book described in detail how she worked selflessly over decades for the people of Bermondsey and London alongside her equally dedicated husband, a noted MP and innovative doctor, whose work for the poor prefigured the National Health Service.

The project’s ambitious programme kicks off on 10 January, when Graham leads a Quaker Socialist Society online discussion of his book. That will be followed by an imaginative series of events designed to remember the Salters’ remarkable legacy in putting ethical socialist ideas into practice in a local setting, while highlighting their continuing relevance today.

“Our aim is not just to celebrate what the Salters did a hundred years ago,” explains Sheila, who is coordinating the project, “but to connect their concerns with the issues of today, ones that remain highly relevant and vital, not only locally, but nationally and globally too.”

Three themes

Based around three themes of environmentalism, housing and public health – areas where the Salters’ groundbreaking ideas made a major difference to working people’s lives a century ago – the plans encompass everything from talks to walks, bike rides to theatre events, including cricket matches, picnics, pamphlets, tea parties and tree-planting initiatives.

Alfred’s birthday on Sunday 19 June will be marked by a cycle ride from Southwark to Fairby Grange, the 17th century farmhouse (now care home) run by the Salters as a plant nursery and convalescent centre for the Bermondsey poor, while Ada’s birthday on 16 July will be celebrated by an evening of women’s stand-up comedy.

Southwark Council will host a ‘civic day’ in honour of the Salters on Saturday 10 September when representatives of Ada’s hometown of Raunds will be guests of honour along with the Raunds Temperance Band and members of the town’s local history society.

Events that day  include the opening of a children’s orchard, a bandstand concert in Southwark Park, a tea party in Ada’s Wilson Grove Estate (where she built model public housing), speeches at the Salter statues on the banks of the Thames, and a performance of the play ‘Red Flag Over Bermondsey’ at Sands Film Studios.

Plans are also in train for a week-long celebration of Ada’s life at Southwark Playhouse in October, including three performances of a new drama in the 300-seat venue.

Organiser John Whelan, director of the People’s Company community theatre group, says the festival aims to “animate Ada’s life and commitment to the people of Bermondsey through a newly devised play, workshops, talks and art-based responses to this important part of our local history”.

Other activities to mark the year include 100 new street trees planted around the borough, primary school history lessons on the Salters, and a touring exhibition devised by the Southwark Local Studies Library. A new website dedicated to the Salter Centenary Project is due to be unveiled early in 2022.

[See the Independent Labour Publications website. Recommended.]

Salter Seminar 2021: Gatwick Detainees

“I didn’t know such things could happen in this country”, was one appalled reaction to watching the attached video about the ‘indefinite’ detention of Gatwick detainees. The video shows this year’s Salter Seminar, presented to the Quaker Socialist Society on Zoom at the end of November by Anna Pincus. The title of the seminar was: “Creating welcome to counter the hostile environment for people in detention“.  Anna is Director of the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, a group which aims to improve the welfare and well being of people held in indefinite immigration detention at the facilities near Gatwick Airport run by SERCO. Anna’s group offers friendship and support to the detainees, some of whom are detained for years, and also tries to secure fair treatment.

This is the link:https://1drv.ms/v/s!BOzmqALjpLL-gZMCBz43zbciXcGQCA?e=qX1QO2JAxkic7rmoUO6jIA&at=9

Universities and Colleges on Strike 2021

The Committee of the Quaker Socialist Society has issued this statement, prepared by Laurence Hall: “Quaker Socialists have always sought to live our faith by witnessing to and struggling against exploitation and inequality.

Insecure contracts, heavy workloads, low and decreasing pay, poor pensions and sizeable inequalities of race, gender & class that so define much of our economy are just such injustices we as Quakers are called to resist.

Our spiritual testimonies of equality, peace, simplicity and integrity demand that we stand in solidarity with one of the few British trade unions taking national sector-wide strike action against the horrors of precarious work that so badly affect their workplaces. Therefore, we the committee of the Quaker Socialist Society stand in solidarity with the members of the University & College Union in their national strike on 1st, 2nd and 3rd December 2021.

https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/11894/Following-the-action Follow all this week’s strike action and post your solidarity messages and picketline pics with #OneOfUsAllOfUs or #UCUStrikeUCU.ORG.UKFollowing the action!Live highlights on the action in higher education over pay & conditions and USS pens

Black History Month 2021

We Must Keep the Memory of British Chattel Slavery Alive

by Joyce Trotman


Inspired by the sympathetic foreword written by H.R.H Prince of Wales to the book Lily’s Promise, I write in this October’s Black History Month in memory of (and on behalf of) all those survivors of British chattel slavery generally in the Caribbean, but also specifically in British Guiana (now Guyana), of my great grandmother, Seebucka Trotman, daughter of freed slaves, and my great-great-grandfather, freed slave, Ben Conwright. Ten years after slavery was abolished, Ben Conwright joined with about 40 other freed slaves, pooled their savings and bought the old Dutch plantation of Williamsburg on 5th May, 1848. They renamed it Golden Grove, the home of my Trotman forebears.

The following is Prince Charles’ observation on the German holocaust: “It was the greatest crime of man against man, during which humanity showed itself capable of incomparable inhumanity on an incomprehensible scale…” This could also be said about the British slave trade and the system of chattel slavery. In the case of the enslaved Africans, complete cancellation of identity: branded with hot irons as is done with cattle, with either the name or initials of the plantation proprietor, to confirm ownership (DY for those ‘owned’ by James Stuart, Duke of York, S for the Church of England absentee landlords of sugar-cane plantations in Barbados); African first names and surnames replaced by European ones; African religion replaced by the Christian religion under the scheme of Amelioration; deprived of native language with the necessity of creating a patois or a creolese; African women raped by white plantation owners (hence the mixed race Caribbean people with skin colours of various shades of brown, devoid of family life); labour on the sugar-cane plantations in inhuman conditions; brutal beatings, cruel forms of punishments; right of the plantation owner to commit murder with impunity. “… a permanent reminder of the depths to which humankind can sink and the evil it can impart on a fellow human being,

Observance of Commonwealth Day takes place on the second Monday in March each year. In attendance is the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth supported by the full panoply of the Church of England clergy. The High Commissioners of the countries that are members of the Commonwealth are welcomed into the Abbey holding high their colourful flags of independence. Historically, this represents the end of the process that began with free Africans captured in Africa, converted into human cargo, transported in inhuman conditions across the Atlantic to the Caribbean Islands and British Guiana, through the slave trade, chattel slavery, apprenticeship (the semi-state of slavery); then graduation to the condition of a colonist, still under the power of the British government; and ending with independence.

On this day it is never mentioned that it all began with the trade in humans starting under the reign of Elizabeth Tudor, and continuing under the Stuarts, the Hanoverians, and Victoria, but fortunately the Observance of Commonwealth Day and of October’s Black and White History Month both constitute the “recognition that the responsibility of memory is slowly but surely passing from survivors to our generation and to future generations yet unborn“.

Like Prince Charles “I have seen the impact of survivors’ words and their sheer presence have had on others, in schools, communities, and organisations across our country and around the world” – in the NHS, the Services, carnival, cuisine, music, colour, academia, art, sport, television, theatre, education; Sir Sridath Rampal, Beryl Answick-Gilroy, Sir Herman Ouseley, Baroness Amos, Frank Bowling RA, Alift Harewood MBE, Thelma Lewis MBE, Gafton Shepherd MBE, Norman Beaton, Sir Trevor MacDonald, Moira Stuart, Baroness Scotland, Rudolph Walker (all except for Sir Sridath with European surnames – and now you know why) are some of the names that come to mind. These and all the multitude of mixed-race British Caribbean people under the umbrella title of the Windrush Generation, physical reminders of British chattel slavery, have “rebuilt their lives in the United Kingdom after the Second World War and contributed enormously to the fabric of our nation.

During this Black and White/British and African History month, while the usual good wishes are sincerely exchanged, there are two elephants in the room: (1) the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act instituted under a Conservative government which by Act of Parliament with royal assent converted loyal Commonwealth citizens into foreigners deprived of the right to visit or to reside in this country built on the labours of their African ancestors under chattel slavery, described as cruel and racist by Hugh Gaitskell, the then leader of the Labour opposition. The pledge of Denis Healey, then Labour’s spokesperson on colonial issues, to repeal the Act if elected, was ignored. Harold Wilson upheld it: “We do not contest the need for control of immigration into this country”, he said.

(2) The betrayal of the Windrush Generation languishing in a hostile environment. There is a warm welcome for the people from Hong Kong and Afghanistan, refugees and migrants, to this country founded on the blood, sweat and tears of our African ancestors as they laboured on the various British owned sugar plantations in the Caribbean so that those in Great Britain could have a teaspoon of sugar to sweeten their tea.

“Nothing is possible without the facts”, Maria Ressa, the 2021 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize reminds us. In our case the facts are clear, the evidence is obvious, no time for selective amnesia. The facts tell us that our joint history is connected with the production of sugar, now patented as Demerara sugar. If we are talking colour, black history and white history meet in a packet of brown Demerara sugar. As members of a common heritage, I think the time has come for us to meet and find a way to live together in harmony as we “recommit ourselves to the beliefs of tolerance and respect, and the central idea… that we are all, irrespective of race, colour, class or creed, created in the image of God“.

October, 2021.

Joyce Trotman is the author of Thomas Clarkson: My Saint (2014), and a member of Croydon Quaker Meeting.

Salter Lecture 2021: Quaker values in South Africa’s struggle

24 July, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come. that your carriage and life may preach among all people, and to them. 

then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering to God in everyone. Whereby in them you may be a blessing and make the witness of God in them to bless you. 

—George Fox, 1656 

It is a great honour for me to give the 2021 Salter Lecture on “Quaker values in South Africa’s struggle” at the Britain Yearly Meeting. I thank the Quaker Socialist Society for celebrating the amazing lives of Ada and Alfred Salter. I had been looking forward to joining you in person last year, but a year later, we are meeting online, due to the COVID 19 pandemic. I bring you greetings from the Quaker Community of Southern Africa Yearly Meeting, which is also meeting virtually at this time. 

Ada Salter’s life of activism and political engagement fascinates me, as it speaks of a deep commitment to transformative public service. Born a Methodist and of liberal background, she embraced radical and pacifist views in her youth. She not only opposed wars, she also campaigned for women’s suffrage, social justice and workers’ rights. I was fascinated that the Salters succeeded in bringing politics and health together in the service of all. 

When thinking about this talk, I went back and forth in time, looking at my own role as a social activist in the national liberation movement to end apartheid and in my role as a politician in a free South Africa. Even though I was not born a Quaker, the Quaker testimonies to peace alongside justice, equality, simplicity, integrity, community, and stewardship of the earth have had a tremendous influence on the decisions I took. 

Quaker Testimonies

Quakers believe in living life in the spirit of love and truth and peace, reaching for the best in oneself and answering “that of God” in everyone. Quaker testimonies or spiritual insights unite us worldwide and are expressions of the commitment to put those beliefs into practice. 

The Peace Testimony has evolved over three hundred and fifty years in response to a changing world. Quakers have been faithful throughout in maintaining a corporate witness against all war and violence. 

However, in our personal lives we have continually to wrestle with the difficulty of finding ways to reconcile our faith with practical ways of living it out in the world. It is not surprising, therefore, that we have not always all reached the same conclusions when dealing with the daunting complexities and moral dilemmas of society and its government. 

Growing up in SA and the Values that Shaped my Activism

I was raised on the African values of ubuntu – a person is a person through others. In ‘Guns and Gandhi in Africa’, by Bill Sutherland and Matt Meyer, Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes in the Foreword about ubuntu as the essence of what it means to be human as a source for compassion and that idea that “my humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be truly human together.” This is the fundamental principle for non-violent struggle. 

The value of ubuntu aligns with the Quaker value of seeing that of God in the other. When Africans were converted to Christianity, some of these values were lost, together with a whole lot of other precious attributes that defined what it means to be an African. Despite this, great African leaders like Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere developed education for their newly independent countries based on philosophy as represented by Ujamaa (Swahili for familyhood). 

Education in this context is designed to make all citizens of Africa self-reliant. Self- reliance is portrayed in economics, politics, and social cultures. A self-reliant person does not exploit other people and at the same time they are not exploitable. Ujamaa is about African socialism, a belief in sharing economic resources in a traditional African way, as distinct from classical socialism. 

The Black Consciousness (BC) Movement slogan: ‘People Shall Share’ was an attempt to entrench and promote African Socialism while also addressing internalised racism and restoring a positive image of what it means to be black. 

I was introduced to black consciousness as a student when I attended a Youth Camp organised by Steve Biko and others at the Mahatma Gandhi Settlement in Phoenix, just outside Durban. 

They had chosen one of Gandhi ashrams for raising the awareness of young people like me about the importance of social awareness and non-violence. Gandhi developed the philosophy of Satyagraha, which influenced the national liberation struggle in South Africa, India and beyond. 

During the Camp, we visited the local village, to conduct a community survey and learn about people’s living conditions and basic needs. These Black Consciousness ideas of self-reliance are built into the Gandhian philosophy of Satyagraha or “soul force.” 

The thread which ties spiritual and social liberation together as inseparable forces is tightly and colourfully woven through Ubuntu and Ujamaa, from Black Consciousness to Satyagraha, from letting one’s life speak to the work of Ada Salter to my childhood to our virtual togetherness here today. 

Growing up as a child in an African village, I was taught to greet everyone, including strangers. In isiZulu, when two people meet, they stop and say “Sanibona” meaning, “We see you.” Often followed by “Ninjani?” – How are you?”, greetings are in plural form to indicate we are not meeting as individuals but as representatives of our families and communities. My family greets your family, my community greets your community. 

I saw a re-awakening of this tradition in Philadelphia during the COVID 19 lockdown, when strangers started to greet one another. Previously I had seen people walking past, wearing headphones, and not bothering to greet. 

A senior citizen in the community where I grew up often reminds me, with a broad smile, of how much she appreciated the gesture when I used to take her tea, when she was tilling her fields in the village. I am sure this would have been on instruction from my grandmother. We probably got paid back in kindness and madumbes (yams). 

And as the cry that Black Lives Matter went up around the US and the world considering the murder of George Floyd, the echoes brought me back to Sanibona: We can be certain that our lives matter when we are able to truly see one another. 

Raised as a Christian, I realised I made my grandmother uncomfortable when I asked why she had abandoned African spiritual beliefs. I now know that she too was struggling with these questions, even though she was grateful for the education she had received from the missionaries. 

In my adulthood, I am grateful to my grandmother, my mother, my teachers, the women in the Natal Organisation of Women and fellow activists in the struggle for freedom, who taught me resilience and the values of ubuntu – we are human because of others. 

When I was in solitary confinement, I often had vivid dreams of my grandmother who had died a few months before. I believe her spirit was present in my mind, at that difficult time. I drew immense strength from the power of struggle songs. Often sung in rallies and protest marches, they had the power to instil amazing courage and fearlessness. Even though I was alone I felt a sense of being connected to my comrades through singing struggle songs. 

I was attracted to Quakers through my interaction with a small Quaker community in Durban in the early eighties. In 1983 I had been part of establishing the Natal Organisation of Women (NOW), which joined the United Democratic Front (UDF). The UDF was formed as a broad coalition of civic organisations established in August 1983 to oppose the Whites-only referendum for a new constitution that created a tri-cameral parliament for Whites, Indians and Coloureds, while excluding the black African majority. 

NOW worked closely with the youth and we were concerned that the youth was getting militarised in their response to state violence. Our own strategy was to organise marches, peaceful protests, and night vigils. During one of our night vigils we invited Richard Steele, a Quaker and Conscientious Objector to address a night vigil as part of promoting non-violent forms of resistance. When he had been called up on 4 July 1979 to serve in the whites only South African Defence Force, Steele had written a letter explaining that he would be unable to report for duty due to him being a pacifist. When he was called again the following year, he refused to serve, and was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment. 

While in prison, he began to question his long-time congregation, the Baptists. He read about Mahatma Gandhi and came to respect his teachings. After his release, Steele travelled the world, learning and seeking a more integrated spirituality. On his return he served as caretaker of the Gandhi Centre in Durban and became a Quaker. He, his wife, Anita Kromberg, Jeremy Routledge and others, were active in the End Conscription Campaign and the Conscientious Objector Support Group. 

Jeremy was also an active member of the National Education Union of South Africa (NEUSA) – a non-racial teachers’ union. He, Richard, Anita and other young whites had joined the struggle to end apartheid, mobilising against militarism, and in solidarity with the oppressed black majority. As Quakers, they actively participated in campaigns in support of detainees and exposing and opposing state sponsored “black on black” violence. Jeremy was also active in the Detainees Support Group. 

Jeremy Routledge and I found love across the colour line, following our detention without trial. Jeremy was detained for a month during the national state of emergency in 1986. I was detained for just under a year in 1987, under the Internal Security Act, which gave the apartheid state powers to detain activists indefinitely without trial. We were married in January 1989 in a blended African traditional, Christian and Quaker ceremony, attended by friends, relatives, comrades and the local community. 

The wedding took place in the rural village where I was born, and the African traditional part of the ceremony included ilobolo, an exchange of gifts that united our two families and our peoples. To this day, Jeremy is loved and regarded as umkhwenyana or son-in-law by the whole village. Our children are their children. 

The backdrop to this was that the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, which prohibited marriage or a sexual relationship between White people and people of other race groups had been repealed (1985) while the Group Areas Act was still in place, and we were not allowed to live under one roof in a white designated area. 

Despite our different racial backgrounds, Jeremy and I had found we had much in common. We both had a parent who was a teacher, and we had both studied science; had grown up in rural KwaZulu Natal and we shared a concern to end racial injustice. We had become activists, mobilizing our communities and reaching across the artificial boundaries created by apartheid. 

Quakers believe we should let our work speak for us. These Friends, who were mostly white, connected their spiritual lives with political action, their connection to humanity and the God in all people, with their opposition to violence in the form of racist policy and militarized defence. 

They recognized that for them to be free, they needed to give up white privilege and join the struggle for a non-racial, democratic and equal society. All these actions connected with the African Values at the heart of my upbringing. 

On Non-violence and Armed Struggle

The question of whether to support the ANC in the struggle to end Apartheid caused intense debate among Quakers globally. Since the adoption of armed struggle in December 1961, the ANC’s strategy had moved from a totally non- violent struggle to one that incorporated violence, particularly under pressure from its youth wing, of which Mandela was part. 

The 1960s marked an important watershed in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid. The aftermath of the Sharpeville Massacre in March 1960 in a firing by the police that lasted for approximately two minutes, leaving 69 unarmed protesters dead and, according to the official inquest, 180 people seriously wounded. This killing of unarmed peaceful protestors signalled the beginning of a far more brutal and intensive phase of state repression that would crush internal resistance in the space of a few years. 

South African Quakers had challenged the abuse of race and power. However, the question of support for the ANC caused debate among Friends. I became aware of these debates during a Southern Africa Yearly Meeting I attended in 1988 in Botswana. 

A representative of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) challenged Friends about their ambivalence, and this raised a heated debate in the Meeting, whose main objection was the ANC’s association with the South African Communist Party and its embrace of armed struggle. 

Hendrik van der Merwe was a South African Quaker, academic and peacemaker who grew up in a conservative rural, Calvinist Afrikaner community in the Western Cape. He was actively involved as a mediator in South Africa, meeting with leaders from the ruling National Party and homelands, the exiled and imprisoned leaders of the banned African National Congress (ANC), and the internal resistance led by United Democratic Front. 

In aligning with the oppressed, HW gained their trust while continuing to put pressure on the powerful. HW explained that when forced to choose a side in a conflict, he would choose the side of the powerless or the oppressed. This explained to me that Quakers can be pragmatic yet principled when faced with complex decisions. 

I had not begun to challenge the ANC’s adoption of armed struggle, as one of the four pillars of the anti-apartheid struggle. I felt the ANC had made this decision as a last resort, in response to a massive onslaught on an unarmed resistance, as illustrated by the Sharpeville massacre of 1960. 

A way to think about this is that, firstly, my support for members of MK was informed by a belief that the system of Apartheid was cruel and unjust, and that we were fighting an illegitimate regime. I had not begun to question whether or not the means justify the end. 

Secondly, the armed struggle was only a tiny part of the pillars of the liberation struggle and that the defeat of Apartheid was due largely to the other pillars: underground organisation, mass mobilisation and international solidarity. Archie Gumede, a stalwart of the liberation struggle and former chairperson of the UDF stated that, “The armed struggle did have some effect in showing that people could resist oppression. It boosted morale” (p163 ‘Guns and Gandhi’). 

My position began to shift after engaging with Quakers in my small meeting in Durban. However, violence had broken out in our townships, led by armed Zulu warriors recruited by and aligned to Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party. 

During one of the attacks, someone had fired a gun into the air, which caused the warriors to disperse. This caused debate among us about whether the use of violence to counter violence was ever justified. There was reason to think, if the Police were not protecting us, we would have to protect ourselves, especially following the advent of state sponsored “black on black” violent attacks. 

I now fully embrace non-violence as a method of struggle, as both the means and the end. Today, as a Quaker, I support the peace testimony in full as I look at the aftermath of Apartheid and colonial violence in South Africa. The deep-seated culture of violence is proving difficult to uproot, confirming the adage that violence breeds violence and that we should continue to oppose all wars and preparation for war. However, while always anti-military, our nonviolence must be ever-more militant, supporting revolutionary change in the face of oppression, through mass unarmed civil resistance and non-military means. 

A Quaker and Deputy Minister of Defence?

My appointment as Deputy Minister of Defence in 1999 came as a total surprise and I wrestled with this issue, which questioned by pacifist beliefs and caused debate among Quakers and the media. The Christian Science Monitor commented that it was either “a stroke of brilliance or a monumental gaffe.” 

When I got the call from the Secretary General of the ANC, on behalf of President Mbeki, I told him he had called the wrong number. When he insisted, he had the right number, I told him I would need time to think about it. He gave me half an hour! I was alone in the house and the first thing I did was go on my knees to pray for guidance. 

People have asked me why I chose politics as a career. My answer is that I did not choose politics, politics chose me. By that I mean, it was impossible to ignore the injustice around me and not be involved. My entry into politics was through the national liberation struggle. 

Growing up in rural Apartheid South Africa, I did not even begin to dream of becoming a Member of Parliament. In any case, this was not even possible at the time. Blacks were not allowed to vote, let alone to be voted into positions of power.

There were good reasons for feeling that it would be right to accept the challenge as South Africa’s first female pacifist deputy Minister of Defence. 

  • I found support among Quakers who debated the issue at our Yearly Meeting in 2000. We adopted a Statement on Peace in Africa, an outcome and testimony to the Quaker process of consensus building. 
  • South Africa and the world had witnessed a miracle, something I had never dreamed would happen in my lifetime. 
  • We had seen Mandela walking out of prison and start negotiations to end apartheid. 
  • South Africa had installed our first democratically elected non-racial, non- sexist parliament with Mandela as our President. 
  • As a newly elected Member of Parliament, I had sat across from my former enemies in the Parliamentary Chamber and had witnessed a military fly past in the colours of our new flag salute Mandela at the inauguration, where I had seen global leaders who came to witness this amazing change. 
  • Our country had been welcomed back into the global community as an important player in the effort to achieve global peace. 
  • This was a time of change and optimism both locally and globally. 

Under the new Constitution, the policy and defence posture began to undergo radical transformation from state security to an all-encompassing condition, in which individual citizens: 

  • live in freedom, peace, and safety. 
  • participate fully in the process of governance. 
  • enjoy the protection of fundamental rights; have access to resources and 

the necessities of life. 

  • and an environment which is not detrimental to their health and well- 


I have a dog-eared signed copy of the Human Security Now Report that our former Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Frene Ginwala gave me. She was democratic South Africa’s first woman Speaker and was one of the 12-person Commission on Human Security that produced the UN Report in 2003. 

The report describes the concept of human security as freedom from want and freedom from fear. This is the concept of security South Africa had embraced, and which made it easy for me to relate to my role in the Ministry of Defence. We had argued that it was important to increase the participation of women in all the Peace and Security structures and processes, and at all levels of decision making. 

We stressed the importance of their presence in sufficient numbers to form a critical mass – at least a third – to make a difference. As MP’s and as part of the women’s movement, we had established strong connections with feminists outside of Parliament, who helped shape national policy and legislation. I could therefore draw on a large pool of activists who were more than willing to help me develop programmes aimed at transforming the role of the military in a democracy. 

I became aware of the work of Sydney Bailey at the United Nations when his widow sent me a copy of his book: ‘Peace is a Process’ published by the Quaker Home Service and Woodbrooke College in 1993. This assured me of the important role Quakers can play in influencing high level diplomacy. Bailey was
a conscientious objector during World War II, spending several years in the Friends Ambulance Service. 

Through the opportunities afforded me in the new South Africa we had fought for, the core beliefs which always guided me, and my new experiences from leading fellow Parliamentarians, UN experts, and Quaker-informed diplomacy, my work as a Deputy Minister of Defence while attending Quaker meeting opened a world not of conflict or contradiction but of challenging questions about creative nation-building. 

Speaking Truth to Power 

As Deputy Minister of Health during the HIV and AIDS crisis in South Africa, I drew strength from the call to speak truth to power. I was saddened to see people dying needlessly from AIDS when they were refused treatment in our public health facilities. I could not understand the refusal by my government to deny HIV positive pregnant women access to Nevirapine to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child. 

When I heard about babies dying at Frere Hospital in the Eastern Cape and went on an unannounced visit to investigate the cause. This angered the Minister of Health, Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang who was promoting only the use of nutrition and traditional remedies instead of the scientific approach to the treatment of people with AIDS. I took the decision to speak publicly in support of science based interventions and this led to my dismissal by the President, after several warnings for me to say only what the Minister of Health was saying. 

In speaking truth to power my aim was not to embarrass the President but to take a principled stand on the side of the powerless, the people who were dying needlessly because they were being denied life-prolonging medicines by their own government. Though I was famously fired from the position as Deputy Minister of Health, in an act which still casts more criticism on the President who fired me than on my own forthright acts, my Quaker orientation helped make it clear on what side of the principled/pragmatic poll I should fall. 

Friends have never been diffident about offering advice to rulers about how to achieve peace. I am inspired by the Quaker Mission to Tsar Nicholas in 1854 in the hope to avert the Crimean War. A panel from the Quaker Tapestry by Mary Mason and family illustrates this Quaker effort to prevent war. The inscription on the tapestry says, “O Mighty Prince, may the miseries and devastation of war be averted. Speak Truth to Power.” 

Looking at the compromise in diplomatic work, Sidney Bailey answers the question of how we can distinguish between a concession of marginal importance, a sacrifice of vital national interest, and a violation of personal conscience. He says, “Friends often ask for an enhancement of the moral element in international decision making, and they are quite right to do so. 

At the same time, we should recognise that for the harassed foreign minister or ambassador, the distinction between the pragmatic and the ethical is often blurred…Our commitment to peace and justice should be infectious, so that we inspire others to share in the process.” 

I was inspired by Audre Lorde, an American writer who dedicated her life and her work to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, capitalism, heterosexism, and homophobia serves as inspiration. She says: 

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision Then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid. 

Freedom is a Constant Struggle – A lifetime of Activism

I have learned that freedom is a constant struggle and that every generation must play their part in defending the gains made by those before it. Recently, I was thinking about my role as an activist and Psalms 121, which I had learned to recite as a child, came to me. I thought of an activist as someone who stands up for others, who is willing to sacrifice his or her own freedom to help others gain theirs. I thought of Mandela who said we are not free until all are free. 

So, when I left formal party politics in 2009, after serving for 15 years, I had not abandoned my role as a catalyst for change. I feel strongly that wide ranging basic rights in the Constitution MUST be given expression in people’s lives, which includes mobilising them to become active citizens, participating in elections and in between elections, through public participation. 

Jeremy and I established Embrace Dignity, a non-profit abolitionist feminist organisation that seeks to challenge gendered power inequalities that continue to oppress women, girls, and other marginalised people through the system of prostitution, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, and patriarchy. We are campaigning for the abolitionist Equality Model Law pioneered in Sweden and adopted by a growing number of countries. Our aim is to restore the rights of women and girls to equality, life, dignity, human security and psychological integrity, rights our Constitution has promised to all South Africans. 

What are the most pressing issues facing us and the world today, and how should we respond as Quakers? How do we ensure social, economic and climate justice for all? How do we respond to the call for reparations for colonization, slavery, and apartheid – as well as the intergenerational trauma that these systems of oppression have caused? 

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust issued a statement on 15 April 2021, acknowledging “that the roots of the trusts’ wealth stems from “slavery, colonialism and white supremacy.” In the statement the Trust stated that “The Rowntree Company purchased cocoa and other goods produced by enslaved people while the company itself benefitted from the system of colonial indenture.” 

The statement says, “Wilson Rowntree, the South African subsidiary of the Rowntree Company, was also responsible for highly oppressive and exploitative practices during the apartheid era.” 

Additionally, how do we respond to the #Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo campaigns? How do we ensure a just peace in Palestine, Ethiopia, and Myanmar, to name but a few places of violent conflict? As the saying goes, “We Do Not Inherit the Earth from Our Ancestors; We Borrow It from Our Children.” 

How do we contribute to righting the wrongs of the past? The Statement issued by the Joseph Rowntree Trust opens an opportunity for British Quakers to partner with the Southern African Quaker Community in our effort to end poverty through the work of our Yearly Meeting. 

Thank you for listening. I hope I have inspired you to continue the good work you are doing to make the world better than you found it. 

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge giving the Salter Lecture from her home studio. Photo by Jeremy Madlala-Routledge

Jesus Was a Working Class Hero

This article by Tim Gee first appeared in Quaker Socialist. Subscribe by joining QSS here.

For as long as there has been ‘civilisation’ there have been systems of class inequality. Many in working-class movements have concurred with the view that the history of society is the history of struggle between oppressor and oppressed.

When we study the Bible, there’s little doubt as to Jesus’ economic position. In common with Joseph, his paid work is as a tekton – a word that can be read both as carpenter and low paid labourer on construction sites. Later in life Jesus recalls having been hungry, thirsty and in need of clothes. His mother Mary describes herself as a servant-girl. We learn something about her beliefs when she describes God as one who brings down rulers from their thrones, lifts up the humble, fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty. 

Jesus’ first major speech begins “Blessed are the poor” to whom the Kingdom of Heaven belongs. Translating directly from Aramaic into English, Palestinian priest Elias Chacour points out that in Jesus’ native language the word rendered into English as ‘blessed’ means something like ‘get up, go ahead, do something, move’. Today perhaps he’d say “Rise up and take action, fellow people of the working class: the revolution is yours”. 

The first recruits to Jesus’ team are fishermen who lack formal education. Matthew is something akin to a bailiff, collecting taxes to be sent back to Rome. Like Jesus’ mother, Joanna is part of a servant family, albeit one earning enough to donate some money to the movement. Others in the movement are rumoured to be sex-workers. 

It’s notable that while Jesus critiques the system, he doesn’t blame working class people for the jobs that they do and declares that prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the Kingdom of God long before rich lawyers and priests. Meanwhile he describes the rich as a “brood of vipers” who are “full of greed and self-indulgence”. When a privileged man asks to join the movement, Jesus tells him to sell all he owns and give it to the poor. When he doesn’t, Jesus tells his followers that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. 

There’s also a realistic assessment of how difficult winning this change will be. One of Jesus’ last parables tells of a servant who stands up to his boss and refuses to be complicit in making unearned wealth for his cruel master. For this he is thrown out into obscurity. Sometimes in rich countries preachers have suggested that the master in the story represents God and the servant is to blame for his poverty. Increasingly though, especially in the Global South, Christians are seeing it from the servant’s perspective. 

After Jesus’ crucifixion (a punishment reserved for rebels), the struggle continues led by James, Jesus’ brother. The New Testament letter that carries his name – possibly a transcription of a sermon (or sermons) he made – is full of challenge to wealth and power: “Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you”, “the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you”, “the rich will fade away”. To communities who perpetuate inequality by giving a good seat to rich visitors while telling poor visitors to sit on the floor, James asks a series of rhetorical questions: “doesn’t this show your judgments are led by evil motives? Hasn’t God chosen the poor to inherit the Kingdom? Isn’t it the rich who oppress and slander you?”  

The movement in Jerusalem that followed James were called the Ebionites which translates into English as ‘the poor’. As proudly working-class Bible scholar Alan Saxby points out, this raises some tantalising possibilities. When Jesus says ‘blessed are the poor’ could he be talking about an organised working-class political movement? When he suggests the rich man gives all his money to ‘the poor’ did he mean he should donate it to the struggle? And when James says ‘the poor’ will inherit the Kingdom is he making a revolutionary declaration?  

It’s impossible to be certain in our answers to these questions, but there are some things we can be sure of: When Jesus describes what the Kingdom is like he depicts labourers earning an equal wage, people’s debts being cancelled, and the first being last and the last being first. In the light of such a vision, the words “your Kingdom come”, recited in churches around the world, have profoundly radical implications. 

At his trial Jesus said “my Kingdom is not of this world”. Some have understood this to mean that it exists only on a celestial plane. That’s not how I read it though. I hear it echoed in a cry that brings hope all around world: 

“Another world is possible, another world is necessary, another world is coming”.   

Creating Heaven on Earth: The Radical Vision of Early Quakers

Well it’s absolutely wonderful to see such a large number of people in the room this
evening and in particular such an international gathering. Welcome friends and
thank you so much to the Quaker Socialist Society for offering this opportunity for
me to share with you something that I spend quite a lot of time thinking about.
We’re going to focus on something essential about the beginnings of Quakerism and
this is really quite a fleeting period, right at the beginning of the Quaker movement,
when in a sense friends are literally turning the world upside down – an experience
of living in heaven on earth. And so our focus is going to be very much on that
earliest vision, how we can understand it, but also the radical implications that flow
from it. And they are significant.

Now this material, I hope, will be inspiring to you. But I guess it will also be
somewhat discomforting and I think there’s two reasons for that. The first one is
that if you are less than happy with traditional religious language and, in particular,
biblical language, we need to recognize that the first generation of friends are
operating within a biblical worldview, and the language of the King James Bible is
very much their language. If you struggle with that, try and see beyond those
limitations to what friends are trying to communicate about their experience. The
other really key element that will probably be disconcerting to us is that this radical
vision really didn’t last very long, and we’ll see the ways in which the Quaker
community corporately becomes increasingly accommodated to the ways of the
world, and increasingly conservative with a small “c”, and really concerned for
maintaining a public image of respectability. And that has serious negative
consequences for the radical vision of early friends, and it’s a legacy that has
affected us across our history. Let’s hope though that in this first session, which is
going to look at the radical vision, we’ll see why it is that we should be inspired by
our founding fathers and mothers.

Part One – The World Turned Upside-Down

I’m calling this particular section, The World Turned Upside-down. It’s a phrase
that’s often used associated with the period of the English Revolution and the
English Commonwealth, famously used as the title of a book by Christopher Hill. But
we can say that something about what the Quakers were doing in those earliest few
years really did threaten to turn the way the world was at the time upside-down,
and offer a very different vision for the future. Let’s look at that context. Just for a
moment think about the situation in 17th century England. It’s very much a
watershed period within English history. But we see, essentially, it’s the main point
of transition between medieval feudalism, an agricultural based society, a society
that’s rigidly hierarchical and structured along the lines of the king at the top and
then the aristocracy and then a middle class and then a peasantry at the bottom,
and the idea that that is actually divinely ordained. That’s a solid aspect of medieval
Christendom. And this is the period when that’s beginning to break down – the king
being ordained by God, having absolute power. We’re seeing in the English
revolution, in a sense, a bourgeois revolution. It’s a movement from feudalism to
capitalism. This is the period when in English society, certainly that’s really becoming
clear – that we’re in a watershed time. And from then on capitalism develops,
colonialism develops, English society becomes enriched by the development of
capitalism and the exploitation of other peoples and other parts of the world, in
colonialism. And, of course, slavery is an essential part of that. And it’s part of the
story that we’re going to be talking about.

The Quaker scholar, Doug Gwyn, has argued in one of his books that in the 1650s, at
this watershed time, Quakers offered a fundamentally different possible way
forward for English society and for the world. And he uses the word covenant. Now
covenant is a word we’re going to come back to. Covenant is about a relationship,
essentially in biblical terms, it’s the basis of the relationship between God and
humanity and so Gwyn suggests that the radical vision of that first generation of
Friends offered an alternative way forward based on a particular relationship
between God and humanity that would create a particular set of circumstances
within the world, the heaven on earth that we’re going to be talking about. However
it didn’t last very long. The world rejected it. The world fought it. The world sought
to crush it. Gwyn argues that the covenant was crucified and, with the death of that
alternative way forward, it was the capitalist and colonialist vision that became

Let’s just think though about the situation and one or two key points here. At the
time, if you were an ordinary person living in this society, you would be regarded as
fundamentally inferior to the gentry, the aristocracy, the royalty. A very rigid
distinction – those who were born to rule and those who were born to serve. And of
course, even with the parliament, it’s only the gentry, the land owners, who are
represented. The mass of people are not. Early Friends are actually called the dregs
of the common people. They tend to be fairly middling sorts. But that kind of gives
you a sense of the way in which ordinary people are seen to be fundamentally
inferior to those who run society. And, of course, this is even more the case when
we see the distinctions between men and women. Women are seen to be
fundamentally inferior to men, essentially owned by either their fathers or their
husbands, and really having no place at all within the public sphere of any
significance. And in religion of course, having no place in the ministry, having no
rights to be in a leadership role, having any kind of significant role to play. George
Fox talks about coming across some men who say women of course don’t have souls
any more than geese or ducks. So that’s the kind of situation we find ourselves in – a
very rigidly patriarchal society. Women seem to be inferior to men, and of course
what we’re really talking about is men of a certain social class being the ones who
are born to rule and everyone else being inferior.

Also the cultural attitudes to people of other religions and other cultures is very
negative. For example, across medieval Christendom in Europe, the Jewish people,
the Jewish communities were often regarded as the enemy within, the scapegoats,
the people who were time and time again blamed for things that went wrong. And
there were pogroms, you know mass kind of murders of Jewish people, significant
persecution, constant movement based on being booted out of various places. You
see that very negative attitude to the Jewish people in this kind of context. But if the
Jews were seen to be the enemy within (of course it’s slightly different in England
because they’ve been excluded from England for hundreds of years), the Turk or the
Muslim, the followers of Islam were regarded as the enemy without, the marauding
heathen evil kind of powers that threaten European Christendom. And, of course,
other people of other religions also seem to be fundamentally outside of this
acceptable form of humanity – pagans or heathens, people of other religions. And
we’ll talk a little bit about native Americans of course, and the attitude of Europeans
to black Africans in terms of the transatlantic slave trade. We can see fundamental,
rigid, unjust social distinctions and divisions and conflicts within this society. And it’s
in that context the Quakers are offering an alternative way forward, that in some
ways breaks down very radically the fundamental basis of all of those social
divisions. It really is an assault on a fundamentally divided, unjust and hierarchical
society. And we’ll see that as we work through this early Quaker vision.

What I want to argue is that if you look at the early Quaker experience and
interpretation you will see that there are a number of building blocks that help us
understand their conception of the coming of heaven on earth, and the fact that
they feel as though they are already part of that process. They’re in the vanguard, in
a sense, of the fundamental transformation of all things. And the coming of heaven
on earth, the coming of the rule of God, the coming of the kingdom of God. And
we’re going to look at these in some detail. But just as a summary what we need to
understand is that early Friends are often accused of neglecting the importance of
the historical Jesus. Now it’s true to the extent to which they focus on something
else, but we need to start by recognizing that for early Friends, as biblical people, it
is the Jesus event, what we often call the incarnation, the coming of Jesus as the
word made flesh, God incarnate, that it’s the action of Christ, the work of Christ that
makes all of these things possible. We often see, particularly in the writings of James
Nayler, the sense that Christ achieves a number of things in his life, his death and his
resurrection. He establishes a new humanity, a new way being of being human, fully
reconciled to God, fully in the image of God. He establishes a new covenant, a new
relationship between God and humanity that’s very different from the one that
existed before. He establishes a new understanding of the people of God, and he
establishes the basis of a whole new creation – heaven on earth, the kingdom of
God. That’s what Friends feel they’re participating in.

What makes that possible and what are the implications? Well the first thing to say
is that Pentecost is the key catalyst and enabler, and the availability of the Holy
Spirit prompting these changes, enabling this transformation. That brings people
into a new covenant relationship with God, which is inward and intimate and direct.
That makes possible being in a new way of being human, what I’m calling prophetic –
the idea that in this new humanity God lives and speaks through the human
creature. And a fundamentally new vision, a new perception of all things, what I’m
calling the apocalyptic – what had been hidden is now being revealed. But we’ll look
at each of those in just a little bit more detail.

The early Quaker movement is a Pentecostal movement. And if you’re aware of
contemporary charismatic Christianity you’ll know what I mean here. This is a spirit-
led, strongly physically embodied spirituality. Quakers aren’t called Quakers because
they’re very quiet and unassuming. They’re called Quakers because they physically
reveal the way the spirit is working within them in an outward and embodied way.
They physically shake and quake in the power of the spirit. Now for early Friends,
they take very seriously the proclamation that we see in the New Testament in the
book of the Acts of the Apostles at Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit has been poured
out on all flesh. This is a promise that God makes through the Hebrew prophet Joel,
that the early church says has been fulfilled as a result of the Jesus event, the
incarnation. Now for early Friends the sense is that generally speaking the Christian
tradition for many hundreds of years has massively underestimated the radical
implications of the idea that the Holy Spirit is genuinely being poured out on all
flesh. All people, regardless of who they are, what their ethnicity is, what their
proclaimed religion is, what their gender is, what their level of education is,
everyone has God in spirit dwelling within them without exception. Think about how
radical that is.

Of course, the early Friends, they felt that not everybody recognized
that, in fact most people didn’t recognize that. They often talk about the spirit being
held in prison, you’ve got God within you, but somehow, you’re not aware of it, and
it’s constrained and in bondage, and can’t do the work that it’s meant to do. But for
Friends, they felt they’d had the Pentecostal breakthrough, they’d recognize the
reality of this spirit poured out on all flesh. They were allowing the spirit to come
out of prison to liberate the human creature through cleansing and transformation.
And they draw very much on the words of the apostle Paul. He’s one of the most
important biblical writers for the earliest Friends. And one of the things that Paul
says in the first letter to the Corinthians is, you do not realize that you are the
temples of the living God and that the Holy Spirit dwells within you. This strongly
embodied spirituality is based on this experience of knowing God dwelling within
you and living through you. It’s the very basis of the Quaker idea of that of God in
everyone. We’re not saying that humans have got a physical part of God within
them. But what early Friends are saying is, because of Pentecost and the fulfilment
of that promise, everyone has God in spirit available to them and dwelling within
them. And if it’s held in prison, it needs to be liberated so that it can do its work.
This is an empowering and sanctifying process, a presence. It drives out fear. It
destroys sin. It liberates people from all the limitations that they find themselves in.
And it takes them out into the world to proclaim this new possibility. Pentecost is
very much the catalyst and the enabler of this vision that we’re talking about.
Quakerism in its earliest stages as a Pentecostal movement, a charismatic embodied

What this brings with it as the enabler and the catalyst is this possibility of being in a
fundamentally different relationship with God in spirit. And so, covenant is this idea
of covenant being the basis of a relationship. It’s not a contract, it’s the way in which
God and humanity relate to one another. And because of the Jesus event, and
because of the Holy Spirit being poured out on all flesh, everyone now can enjoy a
new relationship with God in spirit that is both inward, intimate and direct. And
again, for early Friends, what they notice is that this is a promise that God makes
through the prophet Jeremiah. Chapter 31 of Jeremiah that the New Testament
writers proclaim, has been fulfilled as a result of the Jesus event.

We see in the book of Hebrews a very clear proclamation that the description of this
new covenant that’s promised through the prophet Joel has now been fulfilled. And
it’s a very different one. Instead of being somehow disconnected from God and only
connected through sort of secondary means, or mediated means through a
priesthood, through an outward physical temple, through the guidance of an
outwardly written law in the Bible and so on, this is now a direct inward intimate
experience that is universally available because the Holy Spirit has been poured out
on all flesh. And really crucially for early Friends this means that when people allow
the spirit to do its work, when they come into this new relationship, they now have
the inward law and the inward teacher. They know in their hearts what God requires
of them because it’s written within them. They don’t need to be constrained
externally and try and follow an external law because it’s written within their hearts.
They no longer need human teachers because they now have the divine inward
teacher who will show them what God is like, who will teach them what God
requires, who will reveal new things to them and bring them into God’s kingdom,
into heaven on earth.

It’s hard to underestimate the significance of this for early Friends. And again, they
felt that mainstream Christianity across many hundreds of years had neglected the
radical implications of all this. In a sense early friends are saying what went wrong
was the church turned away from this new possibility and got caught up again in a
rather second-hand, mediated style of religion that relied on external physical
things, when actually everybody had this possibility of the direct inward
transformational experience, in every single person, every single human all across
the globe without restriction. You can see how radical that might be, but also how
threatening to an institutional kind of understanding of the church, and also to the
power structures of society. This is somewhat outside of their control and therefore
very dangerous. Everybody has that direct relationship. You can’t kind of control it
from the normal ways that the human power structures have sought to control
religion, and use it to maintain social order in an unjust society. Pentecost – spirit
poured out on all flesh. New covenant – direct inward relationship with God in spirit,
so that you know God’s law written within your hearts and you have a divine
teacher, which means you no longer need human teachers.

And this leads to a new way of being human. This is absolutely one of the most
crucial things that Christ achieves in the Jesus events, what I’ve called the Jesus
event, the Jesus, the historical incarnation events. What has happened is that
humans were created to be the image and likeness of God within creation.
Something goes wrong and they lose that ability. They turn away from God. They
turn away from that inward intimate relationship with God. This is part of the,
metaphorically what’s described in the fall out of the Garden of Eden. And what the
work of Christ is all about is re-establishing that possibility, taking things back to the
way they were at the beginning, what’s often called in the patristic early church,
recapitulation – taking things back to the way they were. Things have gone wrong.

Take them back to where they’d started from, which was right. And one of the
essential things about that is that Christ establishes a new humanity, fully in the
image and likeness of God and humans can now participate in that inwardly and
spiritually, and reveal that new humanity in their own lives. And again, this is
something that Quakers feel they’re reconnecting with, that has been lost
significantly in the kind of Christianity they feel has dominated their culture in
recent years. And they draw again on the writings of the apostle Paul. This time
from Galatians, this idea that it is no longer I that live but Christ that lives in me, my
old humanity, what early Friends often called life in Adam, the form of humanity
where the world had gone wrong, where human nature had become corrupted, that
would die through the work of the Holy Spirit so that Christ could be born within
you, and this new life is now revealed within you as a creature. It’s not that you are
Christ, and this is often what’s misunderstood about the early Quaker message, but
it’s you becoming a vessel through which the spirit lives and acts, Christ living, the
new humanity living and acting through us as creatures. We become vessels through
which God speaks and acts and that is essentially the definition of the prophetic. To
be a prophet is to be a vessel through which God speaks and acts within creation.
And one of the radical implications of the early Quaker understanding is that all
people potentially now can live in that prophetic way. Because everyone has a spirit
within them, because they can enter into that new inward intimate relationship with
God, and because they can now reveal this new way of being human, all of us can
act in that prophetic way. And indeed, for Friends, people living in this new
possibility, it was always a divine action, divine utterance that was flowing through
them, not their own self being revealed. It’s very much an idea that what’s intended
for humanity within creation is that they are, they live in that prophetic way, live as
a vessel through which God speaks and acts within the world. And this is really
fundamental to understanding the transformational experience that early Friends
are having. Can you imagine what it means for all people to now be effectively
vessels through which the way of Christ is revealed within the world – the justice,
humility, non-violence and compassion of Christ being revealed through all people,
and the significance of that in terms of how it transforms human society, how it
transforms the whole of the creation, how they could understand that this might be
actually heaven on earth.

And finally, of course, what goes with all of this as well, is the apocalyptic. Now
that’s often a very misunderstood term but basically, what it means biblically, is that
the veil is being pulled back. So that’s the picture I’m using. There the curtain’s been
pulled back. What had previously been hidden to humanity is now being revealed.
It’s not about destruction, which is often the common understanding. It’s about a
new vision, a new understanding. God through the spirit because of Pentecost, in
this new relationship, in this new humanity, revealing how creation really is
revealing what God is really like – revealing the divine intention for the whole of the
creation to be completely transfigured and transformed, so that the kingdom of God
comes, so that heaven is known on earth. In many ways, for early Friends, they feel
that they’re seeing things in a fundamentally different way. They’re seeing creation
through divine eyes rather than through the limited perception of the creaturely
human. You can see here quite a radical vision of new possibility. And in the earliest
years of the Quaker movement it’s that new possibility that really fires Friends up, to
go out into the world and proclaim that all things are being transformed, come and
join this because God is acting in our time to transform all things, to overcome the
evil powers of the world, to establish heaven on earth.

For early friends, in a sense, to the extent to which they were experiencing this.
heaven had already come to earth. It was something that they felt dwelt within
them, and that they dwelled within it. The inward experience of the spirit created an
outward life in which heaven and earth were overlapping, the two would become
indistinct in a sense, and that heaven was no longer separated from earth but was
something that humans could experience. And remember again – all humans, it’s a
possibility for everyone. They won’t necessarily take the offer, but it’s a possibility
for everyone. And here’s Dorothy White, an important prophetic woman writer of
the first generation, giving a very clear, I think, and powerful description of this new
experience. And this is what she writes in 1660. “Thus is the living God purifying his
Temples, and he is making a Glorious situation, a Heavenly Habitation, and an
Everlasting dwelling place in the sons and daughters of men; for God is now come to
dwell in his people.”

You might struggle a bit with the language there but I hope you can see how radical
that vision is. When Dorothy White says that God’s purifying his temples, what she
means is that the human creature, that humans collectively, are the temples of the
living God. And what has gone wrong with them, in a sense the way they become
corrupted, spiritually dead, unable to see the truth, that is being purified, that’s
being cleansed, it’s made possible that they can have this glorious situation, this
heavenly habitation of knowing God dwelling within them. And note, sons and
daughters. This is something that transcends those sorts of gender divisions. God
has come to dwell in his people and his people, God’s people, is now anyone living in
that new possibility. And we’ve already noted on a number of occasions that that
possibility is not confined – it’s universal, it’s available to everyone, because the
spirit has been poured out on all flesh. In many ways, for early Friends, heaven on
earth was something to do with the experience of abiding in the divine dimension of
reality. This was a fundamentally new way of being human, a new experience, a new
relationship, a new perception. It’s not that it wasn’t always there, but it’s just that
humans were incapable of understanding it and knowing it until this new possibility
had been started and enabled by first the Jesus event, and then the pouring out of
the Holy Spirit of Pentecost. And there’s a very strong sense for early Friends that,
when the world had gone wrong, when human nature had become corrupted,
humans were scattered and divided – scattered around the globe, divided by all sorts
of forms of divisions, cultural, language, religion, social class, the divisions between
men and women. This is the negative implications of wrong relationship with God,
wrong relationship with one another, a wrong relationship with the whole of
creation. We are scattered and we are divided. But in this new possibility we see
humanity being gathered into a oneness. In a sense what had been, what had gone
wrong, was being put right. What had been scattered and divided was being drawn
back into a oneness. But it’s important to emphasize that that oneness is not
sameness. We see very strongly the sense of a unity in diversity. And again for early
Friends the way in which Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians talks about the
human community by comparing it to the body, using a body metaphor, this is
helpful in understanding this idea of oneness as a unity in diversity. The body is one
but it has lots of parts and all of the parts need to do their role, and they have
different functions, and they all have a significance. In fact Paul actually says that
the bits of the body that we usually think of as the least important are actually the
most important. This is another way in which the ways of the world are turned
upside down. But this is quite an ecological kind of idea. In this oneness, in this
unity, it’s a unity in diversity with lots of different aspects to it that need to all work
together to make it function as a healthy body. What’s most important for Friends
though is, who is the head of that body? And of course in this new humanity it’s God
who is the head of humanity. It is Christ in spirit that rules within his people. And
we’ll see some of the radical implications of that as we work through this material.

We see Quakers feeling as though they are transcending some of the limitations of
the earthly and they’re finding their true being in the eternal. Fox often talked
about, “meet together in the things that are eternal”. And so the heavenly
dimension of reality is, in a sense, eternal, unchanging. It is the fundamental deeper
truth about how things really are, and how they are ordered, and how they fit
together. And in that context of course earthly structures, earthly human authorities
and governments and so on, and the dominant social structures that we were
talking about earlier, are actually not eternal and not unchanging. They are
temporary. They are forever changing. And certainly for early Friends the sense was
that these old ways were dying because a new way was coming. The old structures,
the old authorities of the earthly dimension of reality were fading away and dying
because the divine rule, the divine authority, heaven on earth, was coming to take
their place. That raises really big questions about what place do those outward
divisions have in heaven on earth? Does social class; do gender divisions; does the
religious divisions, and cultural divisions, and different governments, and power
systems have any validity within this new vision of heaven on earth? In a sense we
might argue that those are all temporary and ephemeral things and they are actually
being transcended by a deeper truth, a deeper reality, the eternal the heavenly
dimension, the transfiguration and transformation of all things, humanity and the
rest of the creation. This is something of this radical vision that we see in those
earliest years.

You can see how radical this is for some people. It seemed complete madness, and
you may take that view. But of course, for Friends they felt that they could do no
other than affirm what they’d found to be true in their own experience. And it has
all sorts of radical implications for the way the world is, and for the way Friends feel
it’s going to be, and for the way Quakers operate as a people in these earliest few
years. First of all let’s think about social hierarchy and inequality – this very rigid
hierarchically divided society with a small number of people at the top, tending to
be the king or the emperor right at the top, and then the aristocracy and the gentry
and the mass of ordinary people, the dregs of the common people, as we said
before, at the bottom, fundamentally inferior, fundamentally born to serve, some
small numbers of people born ordained by God to rule the mass of people born and
ordained by God to serve. Well what we see with early Friends is time and time
again they use the words of the apostle Peter in the Acts of the Apostles. where
Peter says, “God is no respecter of persons”. The divine dimension doesn’t recognize
those outward divisions that have been created in a world gone wrong. All creatures
are creatures. They are not God. All creatures are to be equally humble before God.
This somehow is a slightly different understanding than our modern conceptions of
equality. But it’s a recognition that God is God, humans are humans, and it is God
that is the one that’s above, in a sense. And all creatures, all humans are equally
humble before God. And the social divisions, the rigid hierarchy, the social class
structures of the world are the consequences of this fallen state, this world gone
wrong, this human nature having been corrupted. And that turns the dominant
understanding of European culture on its head. In European Christendom the
accepted position was that the fundamental structure of society, this pyramid, had
been divinely ordained. It was God’s intention for some to rule and some to serve.

But Quakers, like other radical groups of the time, are essentially saying no. Social
divisions are a consequence of the fall. They’re a consequence of something that’s
gone wrong. They are unjust and they do not reflect how humanity is meant to be in
the image of likeness of God. And indeed when some people raise themselves up
above their brothers and sisters and regard themselves as fundamentally superior,
and regard everyone else as fundamentally inferior, and require acts of deference
towards them because they’re superior in their view, that is idolatry because it is
people demanding the worship of other humans when only God is to be

You can see how threatening this might be to a class-based hierarchical society. God
no respecter of persons, everyone’s equally humble before God, social divisions are
actually something that’s happened because of the way things have gone wrong,
and those people who raise themselves up above everybody else are guilty of
idolatry, a great sin in a sense. And here’s James Nayler in full prophetic form,
denouncing this this corrupted reality. It’s in his first self-authored tract, A Discovery
of the First Wisdom from Below and the Second Wisdom from Above
, published in
1653, right at the beginning.

And he writes, “God is against you, you covetous cruel
oppressors who grind the faces of the poor and needy, taking your advantage of the
necessities of the poor, falsifying the measures and using deceitful weights …
deceiving the simple, and hereby getting great estates in the world, laying house to
house and land to land till they be no place for the poor; and when they become
poor through your deceits then you despise them and exalt yourselves above them
… what shall your riches avail you at that day when you must account how you have
gotten them and whom you have oppressed?”

This is a very powerful denunciation
of social injustice, economic injustice. Some people cruelly oppress others, grind the
faces, exploit ordinary poor people. Not only exploit them but also trick them, and
cheat them, and falsify things in order to gain wealth and power. And in doing that
they do gain great power, and that gives them greater authority and great
respectability and all the rest of it. And in doing that, then they begin to look down
on the very people they’ve exploited and treated so badly in order to gain their
wealth in the first place. And this is contrary to God’s intention. And indeed, what
Nayler is suggesting here, is that those who oppress the poor in order to gain
wealth, and look down on people, will face judgment. They will face the
consequences of that because that’s not the order of things in the heavenly
dimension, in the divine dimension of reality. And you can see why that might be
threatening to those in power. Maybe it’s no surprise that James Nayler is the one
who suffers a show trial, brutal kind of torture and imprisonment, and a crushing by
those in power, given how threatening that must be to the powers of his day.

We come on to gender divisions, another key division that’s associated with a world
that’s gone wrong. The division between men and women and the inequality and
injustice of that are very much seen to be a consequence of this fallen out of right
relationship with God, the fallout of the garden of Eden metaphorically. Now for
early Friends, because they believe that that’s being put right, and people are
entering into a new relationship with God in spirit, and entering into that new way
of being human that transcends those old ways, they feel that that’s also healing the
divisions between men and women. This is quite binary because of course in the
culture of the time. There wasn’t the same awareness we have today about gender
and sexual diversity. But it’s still one of the most radical aspects of the early Quaker
experience and message – the fundamental spiritual equality of women and men.
And again early Friends are drawing on what they see the apostle Paul writing about
this in the earliest church. As we said before, Paul in Galatians writes that it’s no
longer he who lives but Christ that lives in him. And so actually, for a woman it is no
longer her old way in the outward fallen form of humanity that’s living, it’s now that
Christ is living through the woman. And if Christ is living, and speaking, and acting
through the woman, how dare anyone stop that happening? How dare anyone stop
Christ acting and speaking through the sister, through the woman? That’s a great sin
to do that. For early Quaker women this was a massively empowering possibility. I’m
not limited by those outward physical divisions anymore because I have God
dwelling within me, and living through me, and speaking and acting through me, and
that gives me great power and great validity, in a sense an authority. It’s not in my
creaturely self that I have that authority, but it’s that sense of God acting through
me. And Paul also says of course in the same letter to the Galatians, in this new
possibility there is no longer male or female for all or one in Christ Jesus. This is a
sense in which in this new possibility, the old divisions are transcended in some
fundamental way. In the new life, women could affirm that Christ was speaking and
acting through them as well as the men. And they could be publicly visible prophets,
preachers, writers, and often in a very kind of powerful way. Now in a rigidly
patriarchal society the visible presence of fearless, powerful women preaching and
speaking and acting in society, was deeply outrageous and threatening to the
accepted social structures. Here we see a couple of short words from early Friends.
First of all from Sarah Blackborow. These are both writings from the 1650s. Sarah
Blackborow writes, “Christ was one in the male and in the female; and as he arises
in both.” We get that sense of, in this new possibility, the spirit working within
people means that Christ arises within them, becomes the very source of their life,
and what lives through them, both men and women, transcending the limitations
that had previously been experienced. And then two other first generation Quaker
women, Priscilla Cotton and Mary Cole, again referring to Paul’s words, “Thou tellest
the people, Women must not speak in church, whereas it is spoke only of a Female,
for we are all both male and female in Christ Jesus…”. There’s a sense in which the
church is both the body of Christ with Christ being the head; the body is the bride,
Christ is the bridegroom; the church is the is the woman, Christ is the is the
husband. And the union of those things transcends the old outward ways of
understanding things. And women take their place in that new body, in that new
humanity. And people should not seek to prevent women who are living in that new
birth from speaking and acting publicly because it’s Christ that’s speaking and acting
through them – a radical kind of vision in a deeply rigidly patriarchal society.
We also see a similar process happening in terms of Quaker attitudes to other
cultures, other races and other religions. If you think about it, this idea of the inward
intimate relationship with God being possible for everyone, universally because the
holy spirit has been poured out on all flesh, then it has to be possible for people who
are living outside of a Christian culture, outside of the European context. Early
Friends very strongly asserted the idea that people elsewhere in the world, whether
they knew about Jesus or not, whether they had access to the Bible or not, had that
spirit within them. And if they turned to it, it would do its work and transform them
and bring them into this new possibility. These cultural divisions become regarded
as earthly and temporary. They are not the fundamental truth at a deeper level, and
that enables early Friends to have a relatively enlightened attitude to people of
other religions, of other cultures, when normally within European culture and
English culture those other cultures and peoples were regarded in a very, very
negative way. And Quakers have contacts fairly early on because they travel so
widely with Jewish communities, with Muslims in various parts of the world, in the
Ottoman Empire, north Africa, and with native Americans, in the colonies, in
America. And there are real limitations to this. And we’ll see that in the second part
of this seminar. But it does enable a slightly different view. All people have this
possibility, and we need to take that seriously. That changes our perception of
people who are different from us.

This is quite a famous piece from Mary Fisher who’s one of the people that goes to
the Ottoman Empire and meets with the Sultan, who was obviously what they
would call a Turk, and a follower of Islam, a Muslim. And she writes, “There is a royal
seed amongst them which in time God will raise. They are more near Truth than
many nations; there is a love begot in me towards them which is endless, but this is
my hope concerning them, that he who hath raised me to love them more than
many others will also raise his seed in them unto which my love is. Nevertheless,
though they be called Turks, the seed of them is near unto God, and their kindness
hath in some measure been shown towards his servants.” We can see that what this
new experience makes possible for Mary Fisher, is to recognize the potential in
people such as the Turk, who’s regarded normally as the great threat, evil,
separated from true faith, destined to hell. Actually the truth is close to them, the
potential is in them, the spirit is available to them. They can experience what we’ve
experienced. It’s not limited by where they are and who they are.

And then we have this whole new perception of the physical creation in spirit, in this
new possibility. The creation can be seen through divine eyes. In the new life people
are brought out of a dysfunctional and wrong relationship with God and brought
into a right and harmonious relationship with God, and therefore with the rest of
the creation. We see again the healing of a fundamental division – the division
between the human creature and the rest of the creation. James Nayler talks about
life in Adam, life in the first birth. Humans have become devourers of the just and
the creation. But in this new possibility they’re brought back into right relationship
with the creation – really significant for our contemporary concerns for
environmental sustainability and ecology. But more than that, in this new possibility
humans become vessels through which divine love and wisdom flows out onto the
rest of the creation. Instead of being devourers of the creation, a curse on the
creation, humans being a destructive relationship with the rest of the natural world.
In this new possibility humans can again become the vessel through which
something really health-giving and vital is poured out on the rest of the creation –
divine love and wisdom.

We see this hinted at in this amazing piece by George Fox, quite famous I think, that
gives this sense of this new perception. I call it the creation apocalyptic, the new
vision of all things. And Fox writes, “Now I was come up in the spirit through the
flaming sword, into the paradise of God. All things were new; and all the creation
gave unto me another smell than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew
nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness; being reviewed into the
image of God by Christ Jesus, to the state of Adam, which he was in before he fell.
The creation was opened to me; and was shown me how all things had their names
given them according to their nature and virtue.” You can see in this vision a sense
of a fundamentally different perception of the whole of the rest of the creation. We
can see a very physical and visceral change in understanding. Fox talks about getting
another smell beyond what words can offer. This is a very mystical and
transformational understanding that is a possibility because of this new experience –
the veil having been pulled aside, seeing all things new.

And finally human government. What implications does this have for human
authorities. Well in the new life Christ is the only true king. The authority of earthly
governments therefore are strictly limited. Christ is the eternal ruler, law giver, and
teacher. And therefore in the new humanity people are ruled by Christ, and
therefore no longer need to be constrained by earthly authority. This is something
about heaven on earth, something about new kingdom. It’s the rule of Christ in spirit
within people. They know the law within them, they know what’s required of them,
they’re able to live, Christ lived through them and therefore no longer need the
constraining power of human authority. Now early Friends accepted that human
government was ordained by God to control evil in the context of a world gone
wrong, but in this new possibility its use was being lost in this new life. People lived
with the rule of Christ and they didn’t need to be constrained by human authority.
Now again you can see how threatening that might be to earthly governments at the
time. Where do people’s loyalty lie? Well our loyalty is to Christ and the rule of
Christ that’s living through us. Our ultimate authority is there and so our authority,
our loyalty to earthly authorities, is inevitably limited in some way.
And here, just to end here, Nayler is describing that in one of his later tracts. “There
is no kingdom nor people (that) can be truly said to be the Lord’s and his Christ’s,
but as they come to be guided and governed by the law of his Spirit in their
consciences, which Spirit and anointing all must wait for, even from the king that sits
on high to the least place of government in any people, that with it all may know
judgment and do justice, which is of God and not of men.” This vision of how are
humans governed in heaven on earth, in the kingdom of God? Well they’re
governed by this inward experience of God’s law within them, God’s teaching within
them. They are ruled by Christ. They live in the new humanity by that that means.
They don’t need the constraining power of human authority structures in order for
them to live this new life in justice, in peace, and in compassion. This is essentially
what’s so radical about the early vision, why for a very short period of time it
seemed like the Quakers were going to turn the world upside-down. Everything that
was assumed to be normal within the outward earthly form was being overturned
by this new possibility – Christ ruling within people, divisions between classes and
genders and cultures being overcome, everything that had been scattered and
divided brought back into a unity in diversity. Sadly it’s a vision that had a major
impact for a short period of time, but it didn’t last very long because the world
attacked it and sought to destroy it. And we’ll look at the implications of that in the
second part of our seminar.

Part Two – The World Strikes Back

Now we’re going to move into part two, now part two is maybe the more
discomforting bit. I was asked about how Quakers survived, well I think one of
the reasons that Quakers survived is that they became very pragmatic they became
very selective about what they would get into conflict with the powers of the world
about and what they wouldn’t, and they narrowed down their focus in all sorts of
ways that limited and played down some of the more radical aspects of the first
generation that were particularly outrageous to the wider society. Just to set it into
context, Quakers were regarded as a disruptive and potentially dangerous group
within the commonwealth period, so within the period when Oliver Cromwell is the
head of state and during the commonwealth parliaments. But things got even more
difficult in 1660 when the commonwealth fell and the monarchy was restored under

Charles II. One of the things that the new regime were intent on doing was re-
establishing social order by enforcing again one official church for the whole of the
country, so the Anglican church for the whole of the country. Therefore all non-
conforming groups, all groups that weren’t part of the Anglican church, their

worship was effectively outlawed. And things got particularly difficult after a radical
group called the fifth monarchists, I sometimes call them the paramilitary wing of
the Baptists, but they actually organized an insurrection which was a token one that
was very much about king Jesus coming back physically and overthrowing the
earthly authorities, and of course that scuppered any possibility of religious
toleration in the commonwealth, in the restored restoration period. Quakers in
many ways are enemy number one, they’re the largest most vocal of those more
radical groups surviving into the restoration, their worship is specifically outlawed,
Quakers are being arrested in large numbers. There’s a real question about whether
Quakers can survive. What do they do in order to survive and what implications
does that have for the radical vision that we looked at in part one?

First of all, what’s really interesting is that within a generation Quaker leaders move
from the radical position that we saw with James Nayler in the first section, which
argued that effectively social inequality was a product of fallen humanity and that in
the new life in Christ people would live in in a more sharing and equal way and that
actually oppressing people, exploiting them, gaining riches and then looking down
on people was really an indication of your fallen state. By the time Robert Barclay
writes his apology for the true Christian divinity in 1678, Quakers are moving to a
position in which they argue that actually social inequalities are ordained by God,
they are God’s intention. This is a short section from Robert Barclay’s apology. “I
would not have any judge that hereby we intend to destroy the mutual relationship
that either is betwixt prince and people, master and servants, parents and children,
nay not at all. We say not hereby that no man may use the creation more or less
than another, for we know as it has pleased god to dispense it diversely giving to
some more and to some less, so they may use it accordingly.” Now that’s a pretty
stark difference in only about 20 years. Quakers have moved from an argument that
the kingdom is coming and in the kingdom these divisions will be overthrown,
because they are a product of our fallenness, they are evil, they are sinful, to a
situation in which Quakers are arguing… quite significant Quaker leaders are
arguing, that we are no threat to those relationships, indeed we accept that god has
created those divisions and those inequalities because god has given some more
than others and that’s perfectly acceptable as far as we’re concerned. Now of course
if you’re trying to survive in a position of severe persecution, if you’re arguing for
religious toleration, if you want to be accepted, what you have to do is present
yourselves as a group that is not a threat to those in power and so a lot of this is
about saying: what matters to us most is surviving as a religious group, we need our
worship to be tolerated, we need to be accepted as part of society, what we need to
do is stop threatening those in power and saying things that are likely to perceive to
be threatening to the social order. And this is one of the consequences, social
inequality is no longer a sin it’s what god’s intended. Very significant change into the
second generation.

Gender divisions are a little bit more complicated, in the sense that Quakers never
give up on the basic principle of the spiritual equality of women. However, very
quickly they find the need to manage the role of women in a way that’s much more
acceptable to the wider society and so the freedom of women to be public ministers
and prophets is weakened to a significant degree. Women were often the more
prophetic and the more forceful and the more challenging prophetic speakers and
writers and preachers and challenging public messages and warnings were
increasingly discouraged. Women were less encouraged to be publicly visible, they
increasingly came under the oversight of male elders and although the development
of separate women’s business meetings was, on one level, quite a positive thing
because it created women’s only spaces, where women could exercise some
authority, it also channelled the actions of women into things that are perceived to
be more appropriately feminine: oversight of weddings, care for children, charitable
activities. What we see here is Quakers being quite pragmatic and managing their
public image, stopping doing some of the things that seem particularly outrageous,
women exercising a public ministry in a very prophetic way, being very kind of
assertive and challenging of male authority and channelling women into activities
that seem more acceptable to the wider society without laying down the basic
spiritual principle that there is – at least you know in the church, in the religious
community – women have an equal place to the extent to which it is Christ living and
speaking through them. We see a loss of radical freedom, I mean I think this is one
of the things that’s going on in the massive dispute that happens in 1656 between
James Nayler and George Fox and all the things that flow from that. I think the
women around Nayler begin to see male elders putting them in their place, begin to
rebel against that, see Nayler as the kind of person who’s least likely to threaten
their autonomy and that causes all the conflict in in 1656 that leads to the sign of
Bristol and all that follows. This is happening very early on because the idea of
women’s equality and place in a public situation, and in particular in a spiritual
situation, is so unsettling for a rigidly patriarchal society. This is another example of
Quakers managing their public image in order to be less threatening to society
because what matters most in terms of survival is having religious toleration, being
allowed to be who you are, a peculiar people within the wider society. But it does
have some negative implications for women: women are less free, some women are
silenced. Dorothy Whiter, we quoted earlier, her early tracts are published by
Quakers, the Quakers stop being prepared to publish them and she has to publish
things in her own right and we see a loss of the radical charismatic freedom for
women in the first generation.

When it comes to culture race and religion, this is also quite a discomforting area,
there does seem to be for example, Quakers are almost from the beginning but
certainly from very early on, fully implicated in the colonial slave-based systems in
Barbados and in the American colonies. We see a conflict within the Quaker
community between this kind of universal spiritual equality and the personal
interests of some Friends in the slave-based economy. And again, this leads to a
pragmatic managing of the Quaker position on all of this. I don’t know whether you
know this but it is quite shocking that George Fox finds a way to justify slavery in a
way that upholds the spiritual equality of the slave but supports the basic system.
He called it a covenant slavery. It’s about saying we will manage slavery in a more
acceptable way, a slave will be part of the family, a slave will be treated well, a slave
will be released after a certain period of time but ultimately it was a theological
argument to justify Quakers being slaveholders and involved in the slave trade.
George Fox himself made a huge amount of wealth later in his life through
investments in shipping and it’s hard to avoid the fact that that was probably
implicated in the transatlantic slave trade because shipping was such an important
part of it. We see Quakers in all of this, getting caught between something they’ve
glimpsed of heaven on earth, something that’s a possibility but also recognizing
that’s not going to happen and we’ve got to find a way to survive within the world
and we’re prepared to make compromises in order to do that. We compromise on
social inequality, we compromise on the more radical side of women’s spiritual
equality, we compromise on issues around not just the spiritual equality of slaves
but their physical social equality. We get the beginning of a separation between
spiritual liberation and outward social liberation. Fox is able to say: well of course in
the spirit, the slave is free spiritually. And you get an emphasis on spiritual freedom
over social freedom. And that, of course, limits the radical implications of that
earliest vision in all sorts of ways. And of course if we talk about facing up to
privilege and power, and so on, in our current Quaker communities, we can see how
long Quakers have been implicated in colonial exploitation and into the slave
system, even though of course they are relatively early in in seeking abolition.

When it comes to the creation, again what’s interesting is that wonderfully inspiring
kind of mystical apocalyptic understanding of the creation we saw within George
Fox’s writings, it doesn’t survive really in terms of the first generation. That kind of
vision becomes associated with improper religious enthusiasm. It’s the kind of
outrageous thing that people who are completely, you know, are off the scale in
terms of social acceptability are getting into, it’s showing that you’re just not a
respectable member of society, you’re signing up to all sorts of outrageous things.
Here againis an accommodation to the world, a playing down of some of the things
that were very strongly experienced and communicated in the first generation, but
in the second generation are either neglected or rejected altogether, or at least
Quakers are managing the extent to which the world can see that sort of stuff. And
so that mystical vision of the creation is lost and a more practical and utilitarian view
takes its place. And, of course, you know Quakers then become extremely successful
in business, they become very, very effective capitalists in the developing capitalist
economy, they’re at the centre of industrialization and science, and this is all part of
finding a way to survive in a world as it is, rather than the world that they glimpsed
in their earliest experiences. Now you might accept… you might feel that the earliest
vision was just a bit bonkers and actually they got sensible later on and that’s one
way of looking at it, and some people do take that view. Or you can say Quakers in
the earliest times glimpsed something of the deeper nature of reality as at a divine
level and lost it when, in a sense, it was kind of crucified by the world around them –
you have to kind of take your own position on that. But it has certain negative
implications about how the rest of the physical creation is viewed. The creation
again becomes something that you can use and exploit and become rich by using,
whereas before it was something you were in awe of and you suddenly understood
your relationship to it in a fundamentally different way. If we look at government
and politics – and if you’re following the basic theme of all of this, it’s very clear that
the sort of position that Quakers were taking in the first generation, that they were
no longer really subject to human authority, Christ was ruling within them and that
was their ultimate authority, human governments are about to die, the kingdom of
heaven is coming – when that doesn’t happen and Quakers have to survive in the
world as it is and they want toleration and they want to be respected and they want
to be seen to be not a threat to those in power, apocalyptic pronouncements and
prophetic warnings are discouraged, attention turns to preserving certain Quaker
peculiarities and arguing for religious toleration, rather than that more, what you
might call in a sense, a kind of Christian anarchist position that was strong within
that first generation. I think this is an example of Quakers deciding that they can’t
win on all levels and if they’re going to win on being tolerated, they’ve got to prove
that they’re a respectable people, not a threatening people, they’re not going to
threaten the basic social order. And so this final quote on here is actually from an
Anabaptist scholar called Gerald Biesecker-Mast and he’s writing about the second
and third generation Mennonites, but the words apply exactly the same to the
second-generation Quakers: Quakers struggled less against the social order and
worked instead to open up spaces within which their unique religious practices
could be tolerated. You give up threatening key aspects of the social order with the
kingdom of god and you focus more on creating a space in the world that you can
survive within. But that has negative implications again for the radical vision of the
first generation. It’s just something that Quakers don’t feel able to do and in some
ways I don’t blame them. If you’re being carted off to jail on a daily basis, if you can’t
worship as you see fit, if your whole future is threatened as a community, it’s no
surprise that Quakers are forced to operate in a different way.

What we see is that, you know, in many ways, for many of us I think, quite a
disappointing kind of second-generation vision, you know in a sense the world
crushes this new vision. You know, the world killed the prophets, the world crucified
Jesus, the world crushes the Quakers. But the Quakers survive because they’re
pragmatic, they pick their battles, they manage their public image. But at some cost
I think in terms of the radical dimensions of Quaker testimony and witness. What
can we learn from that experience? I just want to offer some themes that come out
of that story, maybe things we want to think about in terms of what it means to be a
Quaker today, and in particular what it means to be a Quaker Socialist today. I offer,
I put this forward with no personal authority on all of this. I’m not speaking with any
special insight, but these are things that seem to me to be prompted by the story of
the early Quaker vision and the way in which it’s watered down in the second

Three key things I think we see going on here. The first one is this idea that there are
two ways of being human. There is life in the old way in Adam, associated with
pride, greed, injustice and oppression. And there is a new way of being human in
Christ which is associated with humility, generosity, justice and compassion. Now for
early Friends, they said you’re either in one or you’re in the other. I suspect today
we might want to look at this much more as potentials that are both within us all
the time. Which rules within us? What does it mean to allow the Christ side to rule
rather than the Adam side? That’s something I think we need to think about in terms
of our contemporary situation. Then obviously there’s the whole issue of the
relationship of Quakers to the surrounding culture, to the dominant powers and
culture of the society that we live within. To what extent are we in conflict with that
world, and to what extent are we in conformity to it? And, of course, that’s a big
issue in the early years of Quakerism. Quakers are massively in conflict with the
world in the very first generation, and are significantly finding ways to be in
conformity to the world in the second generation without losing some of the
essentials of their spiritual practice – the way they worship, the way they make
decisions, the peculiarities of the Quaker way. What does that mean for us today in
terms of our relationship with the world? Then there’s the whole issue of, politically
Socialists have tended to focus on the need to transform political structures, the
need to transform the way in which the economy is managed. And that requires
political power. It means gaining control of things – structural change. But the early
Quaker vision obviously prompts a very serious consideration about whether true
ethical Socialism is possible without a fundamental transformation in human nature.
This idea of the Spirit rising up within people, and a new way of being human, seems
to me to be something we don’t want to separate from structural change. But we
might want to think carefully about the relationship between the two.
Rachel Muers, a Quaker theologian in England, in Leeds has done some really
interesting work on the nature of Quaker testimony. And what she said is that
Quaker testimony has historically been both negative and positive. It’s negative in
the sense that it involves interrupting and refusing to go along with ways of the
world that we find unacceptable, that we discern to be unacceptable. And so she
says, “it’s a sustained enacted opposition to some power or structure of thought
that claims to shape and uphold the world but in fact destroys it.” The negative side
of our testimony is that we want to interrupt and refuse to go along with aspects of
the world that we see to be destructive and unjust. On the positive side however,
Quaker testimony has had a tradition of hope – what she calls “holy experiments”.
“A testimony against something leads to actions that express the hope for positive
change.” And this prompts questions for us about how we balance the negative,
interrupting, and refusing side, with the more creative, try out new options, model
new ways of doing things, that’s often more of a bottom-up thing. You know, let’s
show by the way we do stuff that we can show a better way. How do we balance
those two dimensions to Quaker testimony?

Let’s just look in a little bit more detail at those three issues. Two ways of being
human. How do we interrupt and refuse those things in us, and in the world, that
are associated with what early Friends called the way of Adam, the way of being
human that is in a sense in bondage to insatiable desires, to own and control things,
the desire to make wealth and power by exploiting others, the violence that comes
with that, the social inequality and injustice that comes with that? How do we
interrupt and refuse that? And I’m saying here in ourselves, in our communities, in
the workplace, in social institutions, and in political structures. This is a way in which
politics is not something for the electoral system only, for governments. It’s all of
life. How do we interrupt those negative aspects of human life in ourselves and in
the world around us, and how do we encourage a way of experimenting with a new
way of being human, what the early Friends called the way of Christ? Again, at all
levels, think about it within ourselves, think about it within our communities, in our
workplaces, but also in our social institutions and political structures. What does
that say to us today? Where are we being led by the Spirit in relation to those things
today? What do we discern we are being called to?

How should we relate to the world that surrounds us, and that we’re part of? To
what extent are we simply, by being part of the society that we’re in, to what extent
are we simply implicated in oppression and injustice because of that? What can we
do about that? What are we led to interrupt and refuse in the world, and what
should we affirm? This is not necessarily about rejecting everything, being in conflict
with everything. It’s about what is the Spirit leading us to interrupt and refuse?
What is it about contemporary society that we want to affirm? I mean, one of the
arguments might be that the way of Christ actually, as early Friends called it, has
become more important, has begun to have an influence on human society. The
focus on human rights, on the equality of women, on sexual diversity, on cultural
diversity, all of those sorts of issues, beginning to focus on racial oppression,
colonialism and so on. Are these signs of the way of Christ working within human
culture? And if that’s true we won’t necessarily want to reject and refuse all of
human culture. But we will want to discern which bits of human culture, that we’re
in at the moment, need to be interrupted and refused. And at the same time, on the
positive side, what kind of holy experiments are needed today? What can Quakers
do? What is it that might be unique that we can offer in showing different ways,
new ways, new possibilities? What are we called to do? We can’t do everything.

What’s the specific thing that we may be called to do around our relationship with
the world – what we reject, but also what we affirm and what we try to do
differently as a model of new possibilities.

And finally on that sort of dilemma between individual and structural
transformation and the binding together of the two, if everything is both spiritual
and political then transformation needs to happen at all levels. Transformation is
needed within ourselves, again within our communities, within our workplaces, as
well as in social institutions, and political structures, and global systems. This is
something that can’t be compartmentalized into one particular area. There’s a
personal dimension to it and there’s a structural one. And where do we feel that we
need to act at this point in time? Do we give too much attention to the structural
and fail to focus on the need to transform ourselves? Or do we actually spend so
much time thinking about ourselves and our own particular community that we
neglect some of the important things that are going on in the world? So where does
transformation come from? What’s most likely to lead to positive changes over
time, both in terms of economics, social arrangements, the relationship between
people who are different, our relationship with the rest of the creation, and how we
prevent that becoming a complete disaster for our species and for most others as

I just want to end with, I mean, one of the things I’ve argued here is that Quakers
had this massively radical vision at the very beginning – the world crucifies it in many
ways and they have to find a way of surviving in the world, which means a lot of the
more radical edges are played down. And what that means is that, whether we like
it or not, corporately Quakers in Britain and in other parts of the world across
history have more often been part of the power structures, part of the richer and
more powerful people, more accommodated to the society, conservative with a
small “c”, wanting to be respectable. But that early vision has never been lost. It’s
like someone’s tattooed the skin of Quakerism in a sense, and it’s never gone away
completely. And it bubbles up through individuals and groups over time. And so
actually, John Woolman and Lucretia Mott maybe two examples of the way in which
that more radical vision has bubbled up both in the 18th century and in the 19th
century. I’m just finishing with a couple of interesting quotes here. Woolman, from
Plea for the Poor, “To labour for a perfect redemption from the spirit of oppression
is the great business of the whole family of Christ Jesus in the world.” Again, this is
traditional language which may or may not work for you but you see in Woolman
something that’s recognizable in terms of that radicalism of the first generation.
What is it we’re called to do if we’re God’s people? Well it’s to redeem the whole
creation from that spirit of oppression. It’s about liberation, not just inwardly and
spiritually, but outwardly and physically within the world. And Woolman seems to
have great insights and in many ways is, in a sense, a re-emergence of some of that
radical vision of the first generation.

And then Lucretia Mott, 19th century (of course these are both American Friends)
points out a slightly uncomfortable truth. She says, “Any great change must expect
opposition, because it shakes the very foundation of privilege.” We need to learn
from our history because we need to know that if we’re genuinely challenging
injustice, violence and oppression, we will face opposition. We will face being
portrayed as wrong, as dangerous. We will face being deliberately misrepresented.
That’s what the powers do to those people who threaten their interests. They are
attacked, they are misrepresented, their reputations are destroyed. And we need to
accept that that goes with this challenging work, and that our testimony will get
caught up in that. It will bring us into opposition. It will bring us into conflict.
Hopefully we can hold on to our peaceable principles, that we seek the kingdom of
God by entreaty and not contention, to use the word of James Nayler. But this is not
an easy path, and one of the dangers that Quakers always face is to give priority to a
phony peace over justice. Peace and justice are bound together and to seek them
will bring us into conflict, not for its own sake, but simply that’s the way the world
reacts to being faced with the vision that we’ve been talking about.

Some Quaker writings summarised

During the first Coronavirus lockdown Quaker socialists read and shared summaries of Quaker texts. As the UK returns to significant restrictions, here’s an easy introduction to some books that you might enjoy.

The World Turned Upside Down, Christopher Hill

“Popular revolt was for many centuries an essential feature of the English tradition and the middle decades of the seventeenth century saw the greatest upheaval that has yet occurred in Britain” 

Accounts of Quaker history have typically followed the narrative as told by George Fox in his journal, through his childhood, wanderings, openings and alliance with Margaret Fell, leading to the Children of Light, later known as Quakers. 

‘The World Turned Upside Down’ changed that, beginning instead by exploring the class character of the time, the divisions between north and south, the freedom of the forest and the emergence of London as a place people could live without masters. 

Whereas Fox’s Journal claims his organisation as the one with the answers, Hill recognises it was part of an interconnected movement, in which people moved easily between dissenting groups such as Levellers, Ranters, Muggletonians and many others who frequently adopted the pejorative terms given them.  

On the basis that the common people of the past should be taken on their own terms rather than those of their critics, Hill resurfaced and repopularised the democratic theologies of such figures as Gerrard Winstanley, Abiezer Coppe, Joseph Salmon and Samuel Fisher. He also helped resuscitate the reputation of James Nayler (pictured on the cover) to whom Quaker narratives had sometimes been unsympathetic. 

Rather than dismiss the daring ideas of the time, he recasts them as rational responses to the situation they faced, and their pioneers as leaders of a radical revolution-within-the-revolution who only now are being better understood. Of this radical milieu only Quakers and Anabaptists still exist. But a new generation is asking new questions of the past, as we relive different aspects of the experience of our predecessors, and ask how we act on them today. 

Women’s Speaking Justified, Margaret Fell

“The church of Christ is a woman and those that speak against the women’s speaking, speak against the church of Christ”

The plague of 1665-66 coincided with the persecution of Quakers during which many suffered prison. While incarcerated, Margaret Fell wrote ‘Women’s Speaking Justified’, a forerunner of modern Feminist Theology. 

In it she argues: 

– That God puts enmity between women and the serpent/the dragon (evil)
– That the prophet Jeremiah speaks of a time when gender relations will be different and a woman will protect a man
– That there were many female leaders who worked with Jesus, including Mary, Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Martha. Jesus also spoke to the woman from Samaria at Jacob’s Well and celebrated the woman who anointed his feet with ointment 
– That women were there at the crucifixion even when most male disciples had fled, and women were the first witnesses to the resurrection.
– That there are female leaders in the early church mentioned in Paul’s letters, especially Priscilla, and the letters make clear that all are prophesying 
– That with the Light of Christ in all, the promise is fulfilled and all have the Spirit poured upon them  
– That the new Jerusalem spoken of in Revelation is a woman, signifying gender equality 

If you have ever heard a man trying to use the Bible to justify the oppression of women, then Fell’s ‘Women’s Speaking Justified’ is a refreshing rejoinder.

Full text: http://www.qhpress.org/texts/fell.html

A Caution to the Rich, John Woolman

“How many are spending their time and money in vanity and superfluities while thousands and tens of thousands want the necessaries of life?” 

‘A Word of Remembrance and Caution to the Rich, 1793’ is usually published as an appendix to John Woolman’s Journal. 

This deathbed query of John Woolman, shocked by the inequality of England, remains relevant today. As we begin to imagine how the world could be built back better, some ideas from Woolman’s 1793 essay ‘Caution to the Rich’ are worth remembering: 

1. Put limits on rent

“Rents are often so high that persons…often find occasion to labour harder than was intended by our gracious creator…These things are common when in health but through sickness and inability to labour…many are so straitened that much of their increase goes to pay rent, and they have not the wherewith to buy what they require.”

2. Check your privilege

“Now when some who have never experienced hard labour themselves live in fullness on the labour of others there is often a danger of their not having a right feeling of the labourer’s condition and of being thereby disqualified to judge candidly in their case” 

3. Stand up for migrants 

“”Ye know the heart of a stranger seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt”. He who hath been a stranger among unkind people, or under the government of those who were hardhearted has experienced this feeling; but a person who has never felt the weight of misapplied power comes not to this knowledge but by an inward tenderness, in which the heart is prepared to sympathise with others.”

4. Better wages, less work, more employment

“If four men working eight hours per day can do a portion of labour in a certain number of days, then five men, equally capable could do the same business by the same time by working only six hours and twenty-four minutes per day” 

5. Redistribute wealth

“Did a man possess as much land as would suffice for twenty industrious frugal people and…did we believe that after our death our estates would go equally among our children and the children of the poor it would be likely to give us uneasiness. This may show to a thoughtful person that to be redeemed from all the remains of selfishness..we must constantly attend to the influences of His spirit”

6. Make peace

“The rising up of a desire to obtain wealth is the beginning…wealth is attended with power by which bargains and proceedings contrary to universal righteousness are supported, and hence oppression carried on with worldly policy and order and..so the seeds of war swell and sprout and grow”

7. Respect indigenous peoples

“The offspring of those ancient possessors of the country in whose eyes we appear as newcomers are yet owners and inhabitants of the land adjoining us, and that their way of life, requiring much room, hath been transmitted to them from their predecessors and probably settled by the custom of a great many ages”.  

The Journal is available to read online here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/37311/37311-h/37311-h.htm

Search for Reality in Religion, John MacMurray

John MacMurray

One of the influential figures of 20th century Christian Socialism was the philosopher John MacMurray, who gave the Swarthmore Lecture in 1965. 

Given towards the end of the life, the lecture begins with an autobiographical section detailing his spiritual and political journey before sharing what he describes as his”‘conclusions – necessarily personal and tentative towards which I have been led”:

– What makes humans distinct from animals is reflection, and the original form of reflection is religion, which is an expression of the consciousness of fellowship  
– The principal society which achieved a progress to maturity without breaking this religious unity, is Judaism 
– Jesus was a social reformer, and an answer to anyone who says he was actually a religious teacher must be to ask how any Hebrew prophet could be a religious teacher without being a social reformer, as the distinction did not exist 
– Friendship is a spiritual relationship, and in this sense any religious unity is a spiritual not a biological unity.  
– Any dualism of classes makes such a unity impossible 
– The purpose of God is the establishing of a permanent co-operative fellowship to be achieved with full human consent, which must do away with enmity
– That the example of Jesus and those who followed him shows that the new must be established in the shell of the old rather than relying on government 
– That Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere shows us the form society should take 
– That this will involve neither withdrawing from the world nor joining the ’empire’ versions of religion which were what Marx so famously critiqued 
– That the ‘church’ should be understood to mean the community of the disciples of Jesus working to establish the Kingdom of heaven on earth, which will be inclusive, international and interdenominational.
– That this is a religious task based not on self interest or legal compulsion but on love working in freedom

Fit for Freedom Not for Friendship, Vanessa Julye and Donna McDaniel

For a number of years Quakers in the US and Europe have been engaged in a process of reflection on – and uprooting of – racism and white supremacy, in society and in the Society of Friends. 

An essential resource in this has been Vanessa Julye and Donna McDaniel’s history ‘Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship’. The book investigates Quaker work for racial justice, especially in the US anti-slavery and civil rights movements and notes that while many Quakers did play a role in these movements, the people we celebrate today were often radical outliers, while the mainstream of white Quaker opinion was rarely dissimilar from white opinion at large. The result is that the Quaker record on anti-racism is not as consistent as many today would like to think. 

It records: 

– That Quakers were the first Christian denomination to free itself of enslaving Africans, but this followed a century of prevarication. Prior to this there were many Quakers who ‘owned’ slaves, including, most prominently, William Penn.

– Quaker history tells the stories of John Woolman, Lucretia Mott and Levi Coffin for their prominent roles in anti-slavery campaigns. To truly learn though we also need to remember Benjamin Lay who had his Quaker membership removed for the stridency of his anti-slavery activism, and Sarah Mapps-Douglass who never joined the Society of Friends, because of the segregation that was practiced at that time  

– Individual Quakers played a role in most of the major civil rights campaigns, including the Montgomery bus boycott, the Freedom Rides and the Poor People’s Campaign. Friends in Baltimore and Philadelphia also ran joint social project with Black Panthers. Progress towards racial equality and diversity in Quaker Meetings and schools however was slow.  

For those who prefer to think of Quakers as consistently on the right side of history it is an uncomfortable read. In honouring of our testimony to truth though, it’s essential to engage with our ‘roses and warts’ history, in order to be able to transform

“The phrase, “practical mystic” seems to be a contradiction in terms. It has often been applied to Quakers, for whom the communal Meeting for Worship is a central experience.” 

Practical Mystics, Jennifer Kavanagh

“The phrase, “practical mystic” seems to be a contradiction in terms. It has often been applied to Quakers, for whom the communal Meeting for Worship is a central experience. It is a meeting in stillness, not in passivity, but in expectant waiting on the Presence”

Practical Mystics explores the often mysterious connection between faith and action. It looks at not just how the contemplative and active lives can co-exist but how in essence they are the same. Practical people, all of whom can be mystics; mystics who can also be practical. And, more than that, how the action stems from that very faith, how the two are intertwined, and how crucial that interaction is.

The popular conception of mystical experience is that it is something exclusive, elite, soaring above the scope of the ordinary person. This is very far from the truth. If we define mysticism as a direct experience of the Divine – whatever that means to you – this is an experience that is open to all. Mysticism, in its very nature unconfined by institution or creed, inherently tends to universalism.

The phrase, “practical mystic” seems to be a contradiction in terms. It has often been applied to Quakers, for whom the communal Meeting for Worship is a central experience. It is a meeting in stillness, not in passivity, but in expectant waiting on the Presence, waiting for guidance on how to make the world a better place. It is where faith and a leading to action come together.

The relation between our faith experience and our action is not a simple causal relationship.

That we are changed, that is certain – we become part of a larger consciousness, aware of our connection with other human beings and other creatures. What we are called to is not an externally imposed duty but an inner imperative.

Maybe we feel that “mystic” is too big a word for us individually, but the Quaker way is without doubt a mystical one. We might conclude that not all Quakers are mystics, but that we will all, in some way and to some degree, be touched by the mystical, sometimes held by it and even, in some, be taken up in its all-encompassing embrace.

So far from being a contradiction in terms, the practical is the lifeblood of mysticism: we are not being asked to detach ourselves from our humanness, to float off into some kind of numinous ethereal space. Even in our mysticism, we are relating to others. The practical is both the natural outcome of the mystic experience and intrinsic to the experience itself. There is no division between being and doing.”

A post with some of the summaries of books on socialism will follow

Video: Heaven on Earth (Salter Seminar 2020)

The Quaker Socialist Society Salter event for 2020 took place in the form of a seminar given by Woodbrooke tutor Stuart Masters.

Ahead of the talk he said “I hope to be able to convey something of the Spirit-empowered fearlessness and radicalism of the early Quaker movement, which very nearly turned the world upside-down. We’ll look at how this experience helped shape our social testimonies, and what it has to teach us about sustaining a radical witness to peace and social justice in a hostile world.”

The presentation is in two parts, each followed by a Q and A

Top 5 books for Quaker socialists

During the 2020 coronavirus lockdown we posted summaries of more than 30 Quaker, socialist and left wing writings to social media. The following were the most popular:

1. Race and Privilege in Europe by QCEA 

“One cannot be passively non-racist in a society whose very economy has been structured on a racist past” 

The 2019 publication Race and Privilege in Europe from Quaker Council for European Affairs is a concise and deeply relevant text, available to read for free online.

It argues: 

  • Racism is about more than the use of offensive language: it is racial prejudice reinforced by power and privilege  
  • The structures of racism can be hard for white people to see, especially, for example, if they have rarely or never been followed by staff in a shop, or asked where they are ‘really from’ 
  • When we see few or no people of colour in a place or an activity, then there are probably structures and processes that are excluding people of colour 
  • Race is socially constructed and was created to divide labourers who were resisting oppression. Telling dehumanising stories allowed white people to commit extreme violence and feel justified. 
  • Military violence, climate change and anti-immigration policies today are products of racial injustice, as are poverty, hunger, poor schooling and healthcare, lack of safety for people of colour and differences in access to employment 
  • Racism is not an aberration in Britain linked to Brexit. The Leave campaign revealed the virulence of racism under the skin of social life 
  • We must also resist any version of ‘Europeaness’ that resembles a racial project. Many of the EU institutions are overwhelmingly white, and the anti-immigration actions of many European states are rooted in racism.  
  • Quakers need to be careful not to overstate the Quaker role in the abolition of the slave trade in the British empire as this can obscure the much bigger story of resistance by enslaved people  
  • Active anti-racism is a necessary part of the Quaker commitment to equality, peace, truth and simplicity

2. Poems of Percy Shelley 

“Rise like lions after slumber/In unvanquishable number/Shake your chains to earth like dew/ Which in sleep had fallen on you/ – Ye are many, they are few.”

  • There has been one poet regularly quoted by democratic socialists from the Chartists to Hardie and Corbyn – Percy Shelley. 
  • After the Peterloo Massacre he called on the people in verse: “Rise like lions after slumber/In unvanquishable number/Shake your chains to earth like dew/ Which in sleep had fallen on you/ – Ye are many, they are few.”
  • He wasn’t calling for an uprising (he was an advocate of non-violence) but simply believed that if enough people (“unvanquishable number”) stood in solidarity, oppression would be defeated. His wife, Mary, wrote: :”Shelley believed that a clash between the two classes of society was inevitable, and he eagerly ranged himself on the people’s side.” 
  • His politics are vividly described in ‘Red Shelley’ by Paul Foot. But how did Shelley arrive at his political views?
  • His first political action was a visit to Dublin in 1812 to distribute his ‘Address to the Irish People’. In it he praises the Quakers. He never became a Quaker but he’d learnt his political activism by campaigning with the Quakers against the Napoleonic wars and by studying Paine, from a Quaker family.
  • All his poetry is saturated with love for ‘the universal Spirit’, pacifism and equality for all. 

3. Revolutionary Christianity by Tony Benn

“The teachings of Jesus can be seen as truly revolutionary and to have spread its influence far beyond the bounds of Christendom.” 

In his essay ‘Revolutionary Christianity‘, first published in 1980, Tony Benn shares his belief: 

  • That ‘thou shalt love your neighbour as yourself’ must be the starting point for exploring Jesus’ revolutionary teaching 
  • That despite this, many churches seem more interested in preaching personal salvation than the social imperative of Jesus’ words 
  • That the radical nature of the Bible helps explain the reason why the authorities were so keen to keep it out of the hands of the masses for so long  
  • That John Wycliffe, the Lollards, the Diggers, the Levellers and the Quakers have all based their actions on Jesus’ social message 
  • That through these and other movements, the ethics of Jesus were incorporated in to human rights, environmentalism, democracy and socialism  
  • That these movements need to practice neighbourly love, to build the social, political and economic institutions that express it. 
  • The threat of nuclear weapons makes this task all the more urgent 

The essay forms part of ‘The Best of Benn’ edited by Ruth Winstone.

4. Age of Reason by Tom Paine

“My mind is my own church” 

Tom Paine is best known for his anti-monarchist text ‘Common Sense’ and his defence of revolt ‘The Rights of Man’, which between them helped catalyse revolutionary movements of America, France and Britain. He also wrote a book on religion which proved so controversial that he had to escape England. 

Although by that stage he was no longer a member of the Society of Friends, he retained a connection throughout his life, and Friends will recognise the Quaker influence on his thought. 

In The Age of Reason he states: 

  • He believes in God, in equality and the idea that religious duties involve doing justice, mercy and making fellow creatures happy  
  • That he does not believe in any creed professed by any church in the world and that organised religion has a tendency to be an instrument of oppression  
  • That divine revelation is real, but must be experienced first-hand, rather than through the words of others
  • That Jesus’ morality has not been exceeded by any, but that Christian mythologists have layered on top of this some supernatural aspects, which people shouldn’t be forced to believe 
  • That in a number of important and specific ways, the Bible contradicts itself, so cannot be read as the literal word of God  
  • That a revolution in the system of government should be followed by a revolution in the system of religion

5. Immediate not gradual abolition by Elizabeth Heyrick 

“The whole nation must now divide itself into the active supporters and the active opposers of slavery. There is no longer any ground for a neutral party to stand upon” 

Elizabeth Heyrick’s 1824 pamphlet ‘Immediate not Gradual Abolition‘ feels relevant to the present times. In it she argues: 

  • That Britain is hypocritical, because on the one hand it asks other countries to end slavery, but on the other hand still profits from it
  • As a result everyone in Britain is implicated, and this must be admitted as a step towards change 
  • That emancipation has long been argued for through petitions and persuasion 
  • That the cause now needs something more decisive, namely a solemn commitment from abolitionists to no longer participate in the crime of bondage by consuming its products
  • That moderate opponents of slavery have ruined their case by calling for gradual emancipation. The slaveholder likes this ‘demand’ very much, because it will lead to gradual indifference 
  • That is is ridiculous to suggest that the interests of an enslaved person are best secured by remaining in slavery 
  • That great effects often result from small beginnings as a resolution to change will influence family and friends, and their family and friends likewise  
  • That everyone must now decide whether they truly stand for emancipation or for perpetual slavery. People who stand for emancipation must act on it. 

The essay is included in the Penguin Book of Quaker Writings edited by Thomas Hamm.

Further reading

Some writings about Quakers that might also be enjoyed by socialists, include Margaret Fell’s  Women’s Speaking Justified, John Woolman’s Journal, Christopher Hill’s  The World Turned Upside Down, Vanessa Julye and Donna McDaniel’s Fit for Freedom Not for Friendship and Catherine West’s Swarthmore Lecture .

Writings about socialism and progressive politics that might also be enjoyed by Quakers include William Morris’ Useful work vs Useless Toil, Peter Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid , Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, Steve Cohen’s That’s funny you don’t look antisemitic and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer talking to White People about Race.

If you prefer real live books to reading online, you can get many of them from the Quaker Bookshop