The Quaker process for discerning what a ‘true social order’ should look like tends to produce some moments of clear vision and some overarching principles – and the sense of a gap between that vision and the state of the world at present. Our interviews with Quakers and staff members working on these topics today explored the process of development from the vision to actual policy. Talking about the work on economic justice which arose from minutes written by Yearly Meeting, Suzanne Ismail called it “a logical working”, a process of asking “what might this actually mean in practice?” and offering suggestions about how change might be made.
This does mean that there can be different levels of acceptance for ideas about economic justice among the Quaker community today. Some Quakers prefer to keep religion and politics more separate than this current central work does, although others see their faith and their social and political action as completely intertwined.
Suzanne Ismail, a staff member for Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) says about the Principles for a New Economy document:
“things like inequality or lack of equality and about needing to live within the constraints of the planet – to me those are like the big high level things […which are] completely fundamental. Some of the other things [in the Principles for a New Economy] are a bit more of an outworking and therefore I think there’s a bit more scope for debate around them. I mean personally I agree with everything in there and to me it is a completely logical outworking of all the things that Quakers say and do. But the point of the document was to promote discussion and discernment… there’s got to be scope for that.”
The history of the debate around the Foundations shows that Quakers are able to hold such disagreement – partly created by the diversity of the community, and partly by what Cait Crosse, a staff member for Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW), called the “large and complex” scale of the problems involved. In the long run, Quakers can allow this disagreement about some aspects of a problem to feed their discernment processes. This is perhaps enabled by a high level of agreement, across the community and through time, about the fundamental principles which can then be worked out or manifested in a variety of social policies.