What do love and justice require of us? Our theme was Faith, Community, Action, so we considered what we might do. Preparing, we heard of problematic Quaker history.
Quakers in Lancaster owned slave plantations in the Caribbean as late as 1796, and transported at least 3916 slaves. Research continues, and the number may be greater. Profits from slavery enriched Quakers who donated to the Society. Our capital is tainted.
A Friend ministered that other area meetings should research their own records, to see if other traders or holders of slaves were Quakers. We would not have minuted in 1761 that such people who would not be dissuaded should be disowned, if they were not amongst us. Janet Scott, of the Quaker Committee on Christian and Interfaith Relations, pointed out that other churches are doing their own work on finding their profits from slavery, and considering reparations, and we should learn from them, not start from scratch.
The British Empire remains a system of oppression. There are fourteen British Overseas Territories, remnants of that empire. They include the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, among the top ten tax havens in the world. I am part of systems of oppression when I buy food or clothes. Benjamin Lay avoided that by growing his own cotton.
We are proud of the work of Quakers against the slave trade, and of the achievements and writings of William Penn, who owned slaves. Penn, and our Society, did great good and great evil. I too do good and evil.
We automatically do wrong, but slowly come to notice it. For example when we welcomed Friends from other yearly meetings, a Friend said she came from what was “originally” the Welsh tract of Pennsylvania, where Welsh Quakers made their home. Later, she asked for her apology to be read out, saying she had been white supremacist. Originally, the land was the home of the Lenape people. The clerk apologised for not checking the pronunciation of Lenape- Wikipedia says it’s /ləˈnɑːpi/.
The draft epistle said, “we need to get outside our comfort zones and feel the pain of those less privileged”, as if we are the privileged people, and the less privileged among us are not part of us. Someone noticed, and that was deleted. Increasingly we challenge each other.
We are not all of one mind. A Friend ministered online that he had read replacing the word “overseer” was “decolonising” our language, because of the association with slave plantations, but elder and overseer are the correct translations of presbuteros and episkopos, and are part of our Gospel Order. I believe the testimony to equality requires us to work to counter the privilege in our thought, word and deed, and see the beauty in his view. Another stood repeatedly to speak of God’s grace, and was not called. When he stood to ask to add the phrase to the minute, it was not added as it had not been heard in ministry.
I was delighted that several people told me how they liked what I write in The Friend. A typical comment is, “Well-written and to the point”. I am tempted to name those whose names Friends will know. I stood to correct minute 17, with the additional word which met the meaning of the ministry. We are broken open by the Spirit. Several Friends thanked me. Too full of myself, I stood to alter minute 22. I wanted two questions at the end of the minute changed to statements. I prosed on about indicative and interrogative moods. It was changed, but I think not improved.
I counted three paid poets in the meeting. There may be more. From ministry, a phrase was added to the epistle: a Friend wanted to be “planting flowers as well as pulling up weeds,” an image I loved as soon as I heard it. Our words in ministry and minutes matter, because they encourage us, form us, and from them come our actions.
We are all complex people, being steadily purified by the Spirit of grace. We might like an achievable, comprehensible solution to hurry the process along, but it happens in God’s good time. I would feel so much more comfortable if I thought I was perfect, but my Friends and experiences slowly fit me for Heaven. I do good, as well as harm. I celebrate the beauty of my Friends and our Society.
The picture is of a pig farm, from the Taiwan Presidential Office.