Study Session 5: Unfortunate Association with Socialism?

This session explores the relationship of Quaker ideas to political positions, past and present. It looks at the political background to the writing of the Foundations, and uncovers assumptions sometimes made about Quakers and politics today.

Resources needed: for exercise 1, four large pieces of paper and pens; for exercise 2, courage; for exercise 3, notepaper and pens and, if desired, card to record possible actions.

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: The ‘Social Order’? – 20 mins

As described on our page about ‘An Unfortunate Association with Socialism‘, the War and Social Order Committee considered removing the phrase ‘social order’ from their name because of this connection. This exercise considers the implications of the phrase today, and of other terms we might use.

Take four large pieces of paper and write one of the following phrases on each one: ‘true social order’, ‘better world’, ‘peaceable kingdom’ and ‘gospel order’. Split your group into four smaller groups (down to pairs if you are a small group; if you have fewer than eight people, leave out one or two of the phrases). Ask each group to write down, around the words, what the phrase means to them. After two or three minutes, pass the sheet on to another group, until every group has seen every phrase and the sheets of paper contain ideas from all four groups.

Pass the sheets on one final time, so that they come back to the group who first wrote on them, and ask them to summarise – in no more than two minutes each – the kinds of responses which have been given. If a focus question is needed, ask, “Would we use this phrase today to describe what we are aiming to build?”

For further resources especially on the ‘peaceable kingdom’, you might also like to read this page about ‘Being Peace-able’ at Living with Conflict.

2: Talking about politics – 30 mins

Quakers are often hesitant to talk directly about politics – partly because of the rules of polite society in general, and also because there is a feeling that as a religious society Quakers should not be taking directly political positions. However, Advices and Queries 34 also asks Quakers to be involved in ‘local, national and international affairs’. This exercise asks your group to suspend the taboos for half an hour and share their political views.

Begin by pointing the taboos out to the group. The situation may vary locally, so note if you can specific aspects of them which you have noticed in your local meeting or community. Then ask the group to agree to the following ground rules: nobody has to say anything, but what they do say will be taken seriously and respectfully. Disagreements, even explicit disagreements, do not automatically lead to falling out.

Split into pairs and take turns to answer the following questions – those who are not answering should be listening carefully rather than planning their own answers or interrupting.

  1. Where in politics today do you see people working for peace, even if they do not succeed?
  2. Where in politics today do you see people telling the truth as they see it?
  3. Where in politics today do you see people working for greater equality in our society?

Each question may need four or five minutes to allow both people to answer fully. At the end, bring the group back together but do not ask for feedback from the pairs. Instead, ask Friends to reflect on the whole session and consider the question “Where can Quakers find allies in building a better world?” Allow ten to fifteen minutes for Friends to respond to this in worship-sharing mode.

3: Quakers in Politics – 20 mins

How many people can you name who are actively involved in both Quakers and politics? Give small groups of three or four people five minutes to come up with as many as they can. These people could be local Friends, historical figures like John Archdale, or those on the national stage in 2016, such as Ruth Cadbury or Tania Mathias. They could be people with a strong party political identity, or those who speak out on specific political issues.

When each group has written a list, ask the groups to discuss which of these people they consider to be role models. Who would you want to be like?

After five minutes of discussion on this, bring the whole group together to share ideas. In this plenary time, you could ask people to reflect on what steps they could take to be more like those they had identified as role models. These could be spoken out loud, held privately in silence, or written on a small piece of card, as suits individuals or the group.

Notices and closing worship – 10 mins