Role of discernment

Many Quakers today stress the role of the Quaker business method or discernment process – a way of the seeking the right path which goes beyond democracy or consensus to ‘the will of God’ – in legitimating the positions Quakers take. This might not matter so much to people outside the Quaker community, but within it, it’s often very important.

  • One interviewee said that the Quaker business method “legitimates [Quaker social witness] as a Quaker perspective, as opposed to just any other of the vast numbers that there are.”
  • A discernment process ends with a Meeting for Worship for Business and a minute, such as the minute 36 of Yearly Meeting 2011 which bound Quakers in Britain to the ‘Canterbury Commitment’ on sustainability. However, it begins with a discussion and consultation process in which ideas can explored in many ways – currently Quakers are running blogs (like Quakernomics), publishing booklets and guides for study groups (like those from the New Economics project), and using social media as well as traditional methods for this stage of the process.
  • When something is approved by Yearly Meeting, it can make a big impact on those who are present. For those involved in the process, it can be “momentous” especially if the outcome had not been predicted, as we were told by interviewee Lis Burch (a former clerk of Britain Yearly Meeting). However, even within the Quaker community there are also some people who do not “feel bound by the Yearly Meeting decision.” In theory, all Quakers in Britain should be taking this commitment seriously and thinking about how it affects their lives, but this isn’t something which always happens in practice.