Quakers in Britain – Statement on Equality

“We value that of God in each person, and affirm the right of everyone to contribute to society and share in life’s good things, beyond the basic necessities.”   

Quaker faith and practice 23.21
 

A commitment to equality is a hallmark of the world’s great religions and a foundation of our Quaker faith . We are called by our experience of equality to voice deep concern over the widening gulf between rich and poor. Equality is the heart of good relationships. It is about our right to equal respect, regardless of gender, race, sexuality, health, disability, nationality, age or social class. It is the cornerstone of a society that affirms our common humanity and recognises wellbeing and human fulfilment as the desire of us all. A society that values equality cannot restrict the goods and benefits of society to any one country, caste or class.

We applaud progress that has been made towards equality in some parts of the world but lament the gross disparity between the life chances of those born in the wealthier countries and those born in the poorer countries, and the continued widespread poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition in many parts of the world. Quakers in Britain deplore the increasing concentration of economic authority and the social stratification that transmits inequality across generations. We are angered that the UK now has a greater disparity in income than at any time since the Second World War and are compelled to speak out against government policy that makes cuts in spending that promote inequality. We challenge the culture and ethos that enable the leaders of finance and industry to take salaries and bonuses that are many hundreds of times larger than those of their employees. Deepening economic inequality cannot continue indefinitely without a risk of violence and oppression. We are dismayed that the government is giving so little consideration to the long term impacts of spending cuts on whole communities. Under-investment and short term accounting are putting the wellbeing of future generations at risk. 
 
Quakers strive to uphold the values of justice and equality in the face of spending cuts that increase poverty and have a disproportionate impact on the poorest among us. Sacrifices shared can strengthen our society. We urge policy makers to address the deficit through a fairer tax system and measures that increase solidarity.

“…what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6.8

New International Version

Approved by Meeting for Sufferings by minute S/12/03/3, 31 March 2012.

 I approve

David R Harries

Eight Quakers and Job and Loss – a study workshop at Woodbrooke, Birmingham, March 2014 – led by Joy Croft

The stories

In Job, there are two stories. The first comprises the beginning and the end.  This reads like an older, simple fairy tale.  Job is a good man.  He is rewarded for his patience and obedience to God.  In this part, there is a reason for what happens (God allows Satan to afflict Job).

The second story (the middle part) is poetic and challenging and unsettling. Compare the wisdom books and the Psalms, which date back to the time of the Exile. 

Job (the middle part) makes plain what we all experience: often, good deeds are not rewarded and bad deeds are not punished. In other words, bad things happen to good people. This is the world that exists, despite what the prose ending of Job says.

The middle part may be a response to a folk tale.  It can be read from any angle; it can be regarded as a tragedy or a comedy, treated with great seriousness or irony, by the same people at different times.  

The comforters draw on time-honoured arguments.  Their explanations are inadequate, and indeed God rejects them.  At the end, God says that the friends got it wrong, Job got it right.

Job and God

Job wants an advocate in court, a hearing.

He wants to see God.  He wants to know why the awful things are happening.

He gets to see God (compare Moses and Elijah).

When presented or reminded of the amazingness of the divine universe, he says, “Now I understand.”  The reader is left wondering what he means.  Job, however, appears to be satisfied.  Something has changed within him, deep inside.

Job does not supply simple answers; but it may tell us what we need to know; and it points towards lessons for our own emotional life.

Loss and Grief

Job goes through the classical stages of grievingAnger (one of the stages of the grieving process) can help us move forward, so long as we do not get stuck in a blame game.  We all suffer anger; and it is natural to look around for someone to blame (it can be ourselves).  Loss also brings a degree of isolation.  It is hard for those who have suffered loss to communicate with others.  It is hard too to talk to the bereaved (to find the right words) – but this is where listening come in.

Our tasks then are: (i) to work through our own losses (often inexplicable!), and (ii) to sit with others when they experience loss, patiently.  We can at least try to act better than Job’s friends, by listening and not offering simplistic explanations to the bereaved.

A fulfilled grieving process may include the need for forgiveness.  (Compare the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke.)

APPENDIX: a few notes on Joy Croft’s own Master of Theology thesis, University of Glasgow, 1992 (unpublished)

Joy’s first interpretation of Job has to do with sympathy with Job.  In her second interpretation, she reflects upon the way we are called upon to live our lives:

“The moral is that there is no reward to be expected for right action.  Virtue is its own reward; the life of integrity is its own justification.  We live lives of integrity because God asks it and because it is part of the human nature God has given us.”

In her third interpretation, Joy reflects upon the implications for our emotional lives:

“I have come to focus on the importance of loving relationships as the means to personal and spiritual growth…. [I find myself] reading it as a story of therapeutic relationships.”

 

David R Harries

April 2014