Introducing Quakers: Quakers as People
Throughout Quaker history, Quakers have mostly been ordinary people, as they still are today. Managers and shop floor workers, school teachers and shop assistants, social workers and dock workers, business managers and police officers, journalists and actors, students and lecturers.
It is impossible accurately to generalise about who individual Quakers are. In Britain Yearly Meeting, there are Black people, white people, Asian British people, and so on. There are gay people and straight people, and people elsewhere on the LGBT spectrum. There are young people and young adults (Young Friends), middle-aged people, retired people and people approaching the end of their life; single people, parents with families, divorcees and those who are widowed. There are able-bodied people, and people with disabilities. There are people who are therapists, and people who are mental health service users.
There are people who have been Quakers all their life (birthright Friends), and people who have found the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers by convincement), some of whom may still be trying Quakerism on for size. There are people who have arrived from another church, such as the Church of England, or the Methodist Church, or the Roman Catholic Church, some of whom retain their previous affiliation whereas others choose not to. There are people who arrive from other faiths, such as Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, to name but three. There are also people who have previously experienced little or no religious observance, but recognise that their life has a spiritual dimension.
It is sometimes suggested that Quakers are especially good people. The truth of this is not clear. Indeed, there are plenty of Quakers whose past has been somewhat chequered, and have found that the Quaker way helps them to lead a more satisfying life. What is true is that many Quakers attempt to live their life in accordance with a set of principles, placing love and truth at the centre.
Sometimes events have demanded that ordinary people do extraordinary things, such as during time of war. Sometimes the way that society is, or is going, demands that ordinary people speak out in a prophetic manner. It has not been unusual for individual Quakers to be willing to lead from the front at such times and on such issues. Quakers often speak with one voice on social issues.
Although John Archdale was the first Quaker to be elected as an MP, in 1698, he was not permitted to take his seat in the House of Commons because, as a Quaker, he refused to swear an oath (of allegiance to the King). The first Quaker MP to take his seat was Joseph Pease in 1832, followed by John Bright in 1843. As of 2015 there are two MPs who are Quakers (Ruth Cadbury and Catherine West), and two Quaker MEPs (Judith Kirton-Darling and Molly Scott Cato). There are also local government councillors who are Quakers.