Britain, Ireland and America in C17,and early Quakerism
This was a time of great political, religious, and social change in Britain and Ireland. British colonisation of North America and the Caribbean took off, and the transatlantic slave trade with it. This was the context in which Quakerism began.
Quakers soon became concerned about slavery. The notion of ‘that of God in everyone’ led naturally to equality. One human being owning another is totally incompatible with this.
QUNO: Quaker United Nations Office
Quakers/Friends have been active behind the scenes at the United Nations from the beginning, and in the League of Nations before that. Each of the two main UN centres - New York and Geneva – has a Quaker House, staffed by a small team. They listen, they contribute, and they facilitate quiet dialogue and solution building, especially with regard to peace, justice and human rights.
Many early Quakers were engaged in small local enterprises. They quickly became trusted and some grew into large family companies in C19, though are no longer in Quaker ownership today. Good business ethics continue to be a central concern.
Education for Peace
Education for peace aims to empower individuals to handle violence in themselves and others, and to help them to build peace wherever they can.
Individual Quakers have been and are involved in political processes sometimes as politicians, and more often as citizens. Friends are also involved collectively, through a variety of agencies, including QUNO at the UN, and QCEA in Europe.
Anti-Slavery: Some Quaker Leaders
Quakers contributed to the abolition of slavery in many ways - organisational, financial, academic and activist. Here are some outstanding examples. The work still continues, as slavery persists in modern forms.
Quakers address disarmament issues at two levels. Internationally they have helped weapons experts to meet across political divides. In their own countries, many Quakers are part of peace movement campaigns in favour of disarmament and non-military approaches to conflict resolution.
Friends have tried to help to build a peaceful world through Quaker ‘good offices’ at international level. They have often done this by acting as trusted hosts for quiet off the record meetings between diplomats.
Peace and Nonviolence
The Peace Testimony has remained at the core of Quakers belief for over 350 years. Every Quaker translates this into action in his/her own life, and three responses are commonly found – a refusal to bear arms or to take part in military service, an obligation to help the victims of wars and conflicts, and a commitment to active peace making.
Friends have often tried to help those suffering as a result of war, poverty or natural disaster, or because of their beliefs. As well as dealing with immediate needs, they have often done what they could to help build futures that make such suffering less likely. They have sought to do this without discrimination and in ways that respect the recipients’ beliefs and way of life.
Anti-Slavery in the modern world
Historic slavery was officially abolished in the 19th century. In the 20th century Quakers were part of a growing awareness of modern forms of slavery, and began to campaign against these.
The world is a very unequal place, in economic terms. Quakers have no easy answers to the challenges this poses. They contribute to thinking and action on aspects of economic justice such as equitable terms of trade, proper employment conditions, and fair recognition of intellectual property rights. Two Quaker agencies -QUNO at the UN and QCEA in the EU - do much work on economic justice issues.
The belief in equality led Quakers to aspire to good treatment of anyone who worked in a Quaker enterprise. As well as workplace conditions, many were also concerned with general welfare. QUNO works at the UN towards international labour standards.
International Mediation and Conciliation
Quakers have mediated, and worked for reconciliation, in several violent international conflicts. Their approach has been described as ‘balanced partiality’ – they do not take sides, but care about both parties.
Relief Given to Victims of Conflict
Quakers have long coupled their refusal to bear arms with the provision of relief to victims of conflict, regardless of which side they are on, if any. They have often remained involved long after hostilities have ceased, to help rebuild and develop devastated communities.
Missionaries and philanthropists over the centuries did much to develop the communities in which they lived. Much community development nowadays integrates peacebuilding with economic and other initiatives.
Quaker mission work over the centuries has had three strands – spreading the Quaker message to non-Friends, visiting and strengthening existing Friends, and service (educational, health…). These strands have often been interwoven, with varying thicknesses at different times and places, but all three continue to the present day.
Quakers have made significant contributions to science in many fields. Quaker scientists have typically found little conflict between their science and their faith. The Quaker concept of continuing revelation fits well with the need for scientists to remain open to ideas and observations that challenge received wisdom.
Aborigines Protection Society
The Society was set up in 1837 to advocate for the indigenous peoples in the British Empire. In 1909 it merged with the British and Foreign Antislavery Society to form what is now Anti-Slavery International
The interest of 18th and 19th century Quakers in observing the natural world led to a flourishing of Quaker scientists, including a small but influential group of entomologists.
The interest of 18th and 19th Century Quakers in observing the natural world led to a flourishing of Quaker scientists in both Britain and North America, including a number of ornithologists.
Quakers see action on climate change as a moral imperative and have said so in public statements. Many Quakers round the world are involved in climate change actions, and there are several initiatives focussing on disseminating their stories and encouraging collaboration and mutual learning.