I ask whether middle-class cultural primacy in the Society of Friends distances us from working-class people and people like farmers. There used to be a lot of Quaker farmers in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and in the spring I doubt that they went to pray each day to ask God to tell them when to plough, or whether to pick the ripening apples. Farming is a craft, and that’s how I see Quaker activism. You learn a craft, and you practice it. It’s plenty challenging, and I often lean on Spirit for inspiration and to get through the hard parts, but the craft of activism is already there to be used.
Waiting for a leading might be right, and support in discernment, especially for high-risk action, can be useful, but not because waiting and discernment are themselves holy activities meant to delay or add a glow to the action. Slowing things down in business meeting is only a positive if it’s actually needed; it diminishes us when it’s not needed. Slowing things down may have become a go-to for Friends because our culture has become conflict-averse.
It’s very middle-class, professional behavior to mince words, not to tell the truth that’s uncomfortable, and to avoid conflict. Managers aren’t likely to get promoted if they have conflict in their department. Teachers aren’t likely to get praise from supervisors for classrooms that support conflict. Middle-class professions tend to reward smoothness.
Don: When I became a Quaker, I got the impression that all anger and conflict was unquakerly. Then I watched a video about the life of George Fox and realized: hey, wait a minute, he got really angry sometimes!
We also became reluctant to state hard truths. There is solid research that shows that there is a ruling class in America and that they are running things, but it’s still very, very hard for Quakers to say that. That wasn’t true of early Quakers: they were willing to call things as they saw them, being chiefly concerned to be faithful to the truth even at considerable cost.The Middle-class Capture of Quakerism and Quaker Process – Friends Journal