Joys of the Quaker Way: One More Branching—Quakers & Capitalism

November 22, 2014 § 4 Comments

One more branching—Quakers and capitalism

Prologue

So I have laid out the general outline of my joyful experience in unfolding of ministry as a Friend. This has followed a pattern:

Openings, the flaring of bright moments of insight that come as gifts of the Holy Spirit, which I experience as moments of joy that are sometimes quite sublime. Furthermore, some of these openings have led to . . .

Leadings, specific tasks laid upon me by G*d that, even when they have become a burden, and sometimes they have, still in their pursuit I have found fulfillment, a sustained joy in knowing what I am to do and joy in the doing of it. And then, blessing upon blessing, sometimes these leadings have given birth to . . .

Ministries, calls to service that are broader in scope, deeper in demand, and longer lasting than individual leadings—and even more fulfilling, more full of the joy of service to the community and to G*d.

There is one more layer to this onion—what I call my calling. But I have one more branch in my personal story to tell, another instance in which a leading and the study it required uncovered a new door into service, a new opening that led to a new leading and then to a new ministry.

The opening. I was rummaging through Pendle Hill’s library—i forget what I was looking for—when I “happened upon” the book of proceedings of the first Friends World Conference, held in London in 1920. This book was in amongst other books related to the other world gatherings. I knew nothing about this first gathering, or any of them, for that matter, so I sat down to read for a while. And here was a new discovery: the Eight Principles of a Just Social Order and accounts of the debates that it evoked at the Conference, plus hints about an even more intense debate at the 1918 London Yearly Meeting sessions.

London Yearly Meeting (now Britain Yearly Meeting) had convened a Committee on War and the Social Order in 1915 whose charge was to explore the causes of the Great War. It came back to London Yearly Meeting with its final report in 1918, with a thoroughly-thought out critique and the Eight Principles. The Committee blamed the industrial system—capitalism—in part for the war and the first draft of the Eight Principles, which had been watered down in the final draft after they had been sent to the quarterly meetings for consideration, were quite critical of the economic-industrial system of the time. Meanwhile, the Friends receiving the report were captains of industry in the very system being criticized. In a sense, these Friends were criticizing themselves.

The leading. I was hooked. I now wanted to learn everything I could about Quaker attitudes toward the capitalist system, given especially the tremendous wealth of British Friends through the centuries. Soon, I felt led to write a history of Quaker economics—a history of Quaker contributions to capitalist culture, Quaker economic attitudes, and an economic history of the movement. The resulting research and writing became the unfinished book published in installments as the first posts of this blog (available as pdf files from the link in the sidebar to the left labeled Quakers & Capitalism).

It felt so natural. I had already been studying biblical economics for years. Also I worked at the time as the marketing communications person for a high-end speakers bureau that represented many of the most important thought leaders in the business world and many of the world’s first-tier economists. it was my job to know what these people were thinking and writing and saying, and then present it to the business speakers market. So i was learning how the system worked from the inside, while I was simultaneously learning how Jesus had reformed the economic instructions of Torah.

And I discovered that the history itself, of Quakers and capitalism, was not only fascinating but also virtually unknown to Friends. As I like to put it, the industrial revolution would have taken place without Quakers—but it didn’t. Friends developed most of the foundational, indispensable industries, businesses, infrastructure, and financing of the British industrial revolution, and they became fabulously wealthy as a result. Yet almost no Friends I have ever met know much about it. Every time I give a presentation on this material, it blows my audience members’ minds.

The ministry. Then, following the pattern I was used to now, the leading to write this book led to a ministry of teaching about not only our economic history and our contributions to capitalist culture, but also a prophetic ministry of awakening to economic testimony.

We stand in a similar relation to the capitalist system as we do to the prison system—we helped create something that has become a monster. And not only are we nearly oblivious of this relationship; we are weirdly neurotic about it. Our amnesia in this area is very strange for a community so obsessed with its own history, and so proud of it. i feel that the collective consciousness of modern Quakerism is neurotic about money and economics.

My ministry is to explore why this is so and to call Friends to “stand still in the light” until the shadow we live under in this matter burns away, and we come up through the flaming sword into a new relation to money and our economic system, until we are open to G*d’s wish for us regarding the economic system we helped launch.

Meanwhile, however, the openings, the leading to write the book, the ministry of writing and teaching about Quakerism and capitalism—all this has been a ceaseless cascade of passion, discovery—and joy. I thank G*d for it.

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§ 4 Responses to Joys of the Quaker Way: One More Branching—Quakers & Capitalism

  • At its base, “Capitalism” can mean keeping score with money, no more than that. Within that framework a great variety of capitalism-based social systems may be practiced.

    Capitalism as practiced by the earliest Friends was often a matter of individual Meetings setting up one indigent member after another in businesses. Friends became dominant in the world trade of chocolate and coffee because the Religious Society operated as one extremely honest, vertically integrated worldwide trading company. Moses Brown started what turned into the American Industrial Revolution because the local unemployment rate was too high in Quaker-dominated northern Rhode Island.

    I see mass unemployment as a personal issue between each person and God. Mass unemployment will change when we can see all the way to the bench across the room where someone is unemployed, where someone may be suicidal because of no way to earn money.

  • @ barbarakay1 – which Testimonies result in your having no money? just curious…

    @ steve – I wrote a paper once long ago about the Malones (of Malone University in Canton OH) and their difference with the old Five Years Meeting over “urban ministry” (like Salvation Army; what the Malones felt led to) vs attending to the needs of still-rural Friends. I guess that was around the late 1800s… I wish I could open my old computer files from the 1990s…. anyway, the way urbanization dovetailed with rising evangelicalism is a side of Quaker economic history I think would be worth exploring.

    also the liberal/progressive economic lives of FGC-type Friends today… employment in non-profits and helping professions, disdain for business and most manual labor….

    I’m not able to spend much time on the computer, but perhaps I can figure out how to print your posted book portions. It’s definitely an interest of mine.

    There used to be an online or email-based Quaker economics discussion group. You wouldn’t happen to know of such a thing nowadays, would you?

    Thanks!!!!

    Susan Jeffers
    susan@read-the-bible.org

    • barbarakay1 says:

      Following the Peace Testimony I limited my income to below the federal income tax level as much as possible: which means my Social Security income is extremely low (and the income from my husband’s estate is even lower). I DO work with my hands, but few people are willing to pay a decent wage for handwork. Just because one can buy something from China at low cost does NOT mean an American can make a similar item at that cost. Mass produced on a machine is not the same as hand work.

  • barbarakay1 says:

    On the other hand, as a Convinced Friend, I take the Testimonies seriously and thus have no money and no ax to grind about keeping the current Capitalist system….

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