From Reparations to Energy prices
The concept of reparations seems to trigger some fierce responses among Friends. To an extent they mirror a wider national controversy over responsibility in the present for sins of the past. We weren’t personally involved in chattel slavery or the exploitation of empire; the British working class were also poor and exploited; and anyway there seems no way to reliably measure the vast monetary implications or to agree on a payment formula with worthy recipients.
For Quakers, further objections may arise from pride in our record as pioneering renouncers and campaigners, and from the fact that even our entire resources in the present day could be no more than a drop in the ocean of indebtedness. Why squander them on merely signalling our virtue and contrition? Part of the answer may lie in the importance of signals. If Quakers – as enslavers, bankers and industrialists – were among the first to (personally and corporately) face the conflict between the foundations of their faith and the foundations of their prosperity; and if we believe that they made a significant difference as exemplars; how can Quakers today seek to minimise the enduring legacy of their own participation? Woke (without sarcasm) to this legacy we must, at the very least, consider what reparation is possible and necessary. So the signal in Britain Yearly Meeting’s (BYM) decision is a start. Reparation, whatever else it means, cannot mean repairing the harm to lives that were lived and lost in the past. Nor are legalistic definitions of much more use than analogies with post-war vengeance on defeated enemies.
A financial legacy to BYM of £6 million, designated for ‘fostering the gifts of children’, has been mooted as a sum that could be made available for the commitment to reparations. We understand every child to be born gifted with that of God, a spiritual gift that ‘delights to do no evil’ but must be fostered. The implications for human equality and communion have often been overlooked or denied. Money doesn’t fix the wrongs of the past but, insofar as BYM’s residual wealth was ‘ill gotten’, it can be used for urgent repair in the present.
I feel I have to reply to Tina Day’s letter in the Friend of 24 June as I, too, have been having similar thoughts about my membership of the Society of Friends.
In the last three to four years, the emphasis has changed from one where it was the action and inspiration of individuals backed by their Meeting for Worship, which directed our policies. Quite often it was very small acts of kindness done out of love which started the spread of something bigger, but they were remembered by all who had contact with them.
Now, it appears that management methods have taken over.
We are a Religious Society, trying to put our faith of love and caring into our everyday lives and, I believe, showing that humans are not whole unless we recognise the spiritual side of our nature.
What is the use of outreach if it doesn’t come from the heart?
So, for the first time in my many years as a Quaker, I feel disconnected with those who are at the centre of our organisation. However, I’ve decided not to resign as I would then not have the chance to change things.
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