Study Session 4: No Restriction of Race, Sex or Social Class

This session explores questions about the role of race and ethnicity, sex and gender, and social class in our society as a whole and in the Society of Friends.

Resources needed: for exercise 1, copies of the texts, Quaker faith & practice, and the Bible; for exercise 2A, four pieces of flipchart or other large paper and pens for everyone; for exercise 2B, paper and pens for each small group; for exercise 3, a ‘magic microphone’ and a copy of Quaker faith & practice.

Opening worship – 5 mins

Introduction – 5 mins

You may like to invite members of the group to say their names and share either why they have chosen to attend this study session, or something they are leaving behind to be with the group. It is also often helpful to say something about why you have chosen to offer this study session and what interests you about the content.

1. Questioning the Foundations – 20 mins

Read aloud the first statement from the Foundations, “The Fatherhood of God, as revealed by Jesus Christ, should lead us toward a brotherhood which knows no restriction of race, sex or social class.” Ask the group what they first notice about it – in taking answers, encourage listening but not direct responses to one another or discussion.

Read aloud the first sentence from the Draft of the Revised Eight Points, written in the 1940s but never approved by Yearly Meeting: “Jesus taught that we are all members of one family which knows no barriers of race, sex or class.” Ask the group how they think this changes the effect of the statement. Is it better or worse? Would you want to make other changes? This can be allowed to develop into a discussion – either in the whole group, or by splitting into smaller groups (of about four-six people).

Topics which are likely to come up include:

  • Did Jesus actually teach that? (It might help to offer people the story of Jesus and the Samaritan women in John 4 and Galatians 3:28.)
  • What do we lose if we abandon phrases like ‘the Fatherhood of God’ and ‘the brotherhood of man’? What do we gain by replacing them with phrases more inclusive of women?
  • Are race and class represented in language in similar, if more subtle, ways? What about the educational level required to understand texts published by Quakers? What about the cultural assumptions, such as a knowledge of the Bible or having money to choose to spend, which might be embedded in what Quakers say and write?

2A. Exploring modern terminology – 30 mins

The terms used in English for discussing ‘race, sex and social class’ has changed considerably over the last century. They have, of course, also always varied depending on context: academic terminology, slang, and polite but general language exist for all these topics. Lay out four sheets of flipchart paper in the corners of the room (on tables if space permits). Each sheet of paper should have one of the following headings: race, sex, class, other.

Give everyone a pen (or ask someone to act as scribe for any member of the group who cannot write), and ask them to circulate around the room, writing on each sheet words which they have heard used to describe people in these categories. Reassure them that having heard a word does not mean they would ever use it, and that acknowledging that language exists for describing differences is not the same as saying that difference matters in the eyes of God.

As an example, on the ‘race’ sheet people might write terms such as: ethnicity, BME, non-white, coloured, Negro, Black, Asian, nigger or Paki. The ‘other’ sheet can include terms for social differences not mentioned in the Foundations, such as sexuality, disability, religion, age, or nationality.

Allow this stage to run for ten to fifteen minutes – if people have stopped writing and started talking about the words on the sheets, it’s time to move on. People can keep thinking of and adding words during the next stage, too.

Move the sheets to the centre of the circle and ask the whole group to look at them. Read through the following list of categories, asking people whether they can give examples:

  • A word I learned as a child but now consider rude
  • A word I haven’t heard before (ask other members of the group to give examples of the use of the term)
  • A word which seems over-polite or ‘politically correct’
  • A word which has been applied to me (if appropriate, ask how it feels when that word is used)
  • A word describing a kind of person I have never (knowingly) met

2B. Being prevented – 30 mins

One of the things which concerned the War and Social Order Committee while they were writing the Foundations was the lack of “working class Friends” on the committee. Read out or share copies of our page on Questions of Class and draw attention to the reason for the socio-economic division among Quakers at that time – not paying expenses for committee service. Split into groups of three or four people and ask each group to write two lists:

  • What prevents me now?
  • What would prevent me if I had half my current income?

There are so many Quaker events and opportunities for service that most Friends will have had the experience of being prevented from attending a meeting or accepting a nomination. Financial reasons are only one aspect of this: time, transport, work, family, and other responsibilities all feature.

Many Friends will have experience of living on a low income at some point in their lives. Even if they don’t, contemplating half their current income is a big difference but hopefully not too big a leap for the imagination. If it seems like little would change, ask what would happen if they had never had more than half their current income. Would they be living in the same houses? Would they know the same people?

Allow about ten minutes to discuss each question before asking groups if they wish to share some answers with the whole group.

3. Spotting our assumptions – 20 mins

Ask the group to settle into a worship-sharing mode, and place a ‘magic microphone’ (such as a stone, small ornament or cuddly toy) on a table in the centre of the circle. Explain the guidelines for worship sharing: speak into silence, listen to the person holding the magic microphone even if they aren’t speaking aloud, and keep what is said here within the group. (More information about worship sharing can be found at Being Friends Together.) Ask Friends to only speak when they are holding the magic microphone, and to return it to the centre table when they are finished.

Read aloud Qf&p 29.15, the 1991 epistle from Black, white, asian and mixed-heritage Friends. At the end, allow a brief pause, and then ask: “In your experience, what spoken and unspoken assumptions prevent people from fully participating in our Quaker community?”

As facilitator, you will probably need to hold the silence, speaking only to remind Friends of the guidelines for worship sharing if necessary, and to let people know when there are only a few minutes left. It is sometimes appropriate to let this move straight into the closing worship and give any notices at the very end of the session.

Notices and closing worship – 10 mins