In an unusual move, North London Quakers formally expressed unity with a Quaker expelled from the movement three hundred years ago.
Benjamin Lay was disowned by Devonshire House Monthly Meeting, our predecessor body, for radical positions expressed in theatrical ways. Lay opposed slavery and also supported gender equality and vegetarianism. Quakers did not come down against their members owning slaves until 1727 and were absolute pioneers and the backbone of the national campaign against the slave trade in the 1770s.
The discussion aimed not just to redress a historical injustice but also asked us to consider how racial and other oppressions flourish, and what we do to address them. The minute reads:
We have received a letter, from Tim Gee of Peckham Local Meeting, previously of Bunhill Fields Local Meeting, about a previous member of Devonshire House Monthly Meeting, Benjamin Lay, who was disassociated with the Monthly Meeting in 1790 due to his radical activism in attempts to teach his peers to recognize the equality before God of all people, regardless of race or gender.
Quakers are proud of the times in history we have been ahead of our time on progressive social issues – but preceding those moments, there have often been long periods when we have not walked the path we would later understand to be the just one. At a time when racism seems as present and ugly as ever – both globally and nationally – and the structures of white supremacy are being defended and strengthened by powerful forces in our societies, this seems a timely moment for North London Area Meeting to reflect on its involvement in the struggle for racial justice.
North London Area Meeting recognises Benjamin Lay’s dedication to equality – and his willingness to repeatedly speak his messages of Truth. We also recognise Benjamin Lay as being a Friend of the Truth – and as being in unity with the spirit of our Area Meeting.
We ask our Clerking team to write to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Abington Monthly Meeting and Southern East Anglia Area Meeting (successor to Colchester & Coggeshall Monthly Meeting) to clarify that Lay is in good standing with North London Area Meeting (successor to Devonshire House Monthly Meeting).
We encourage Tim Gee to write an article about this matter for the Friend.