God and the Book

It was kind of Simon Jenkins in the Guardian to write about the proposed revision of the Quaker handbook.  He managed to get it completely round his neck.  Christian Today also wrote a piece, which said we might revise it because of Sex.  That’s also not right.

Quaker Faith and Practice

has been revised every generation or so.  It is several things in one.

  • Advices and Queries -  a set of challenges and advice in 42 short paragraphs, aimed at individuals and groups.  It’s a distillation of British Quakerism.  You can read it online or get it in a free booklet.
  • A big compendium of things Quakers have said that still speak to us.  Sometimes there are a number of differing views.  Not every extract speaks to every Quaker – people’s experience and choice of words differs.
  • Practical stuff like who owns the burial grounds and how the central committee works.   And the spiritual underpinning of that.

Over one thousand two hundred Quakers adults and children will gather in London this weekend and seek to make a decision whether to revise the book.  I think they probably will.

On Sex (and gender), we’ll probably want to reflect on our growing understanding of trans and non-binary Friends.  We supported the legislation that allowed trans people’s identity to be more easily recognised.  Our successful campaign for same sex marriage has already been added.

Our understanding of the threat to the planet has moved on since 1994 and needs to be reflected.

On God, Quakers have never enforced a single statement of belief, seeing instead that faith must be lived rather than philosophically endorsed. When I came into British Quakers in 1994, I was at the tail end of the last revision.  There were people in the three meetings I used who believed in God in the same way as other liberal Christians did, those who believed in a whole range of things which they called God, and many who were uncertain about, or rejected the word altogether. That remains the case, although I guess the numbers may have shifted somewhat.

Friends often speak about ‘that of God in everyone’ which some see as one’s own higher self or a higher power in everyone, whereas others see it as the Holy Spirit poured out on us all without distinction. What matters is that we can meet together in worship.  Quaker worship is less about silence – you can’t stop birds – and more about a stillness.  In our worship we are changed, our worship and our service to others come from the same roots, and that we don’t let words get in the way of that.

I hope and expect that any revision will both bolster those who find traditional language useful and add to the voices in our existing writings who do not.

I for one have had a real change of heart as the decision approaches, seeing less the bumps in the road, and the possibilities of a revision.  The core of what being a Quaker means to me should remain.


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