“Quakers, Politics, and Economics” great resource

Mary Thomas Watts - Contributing columnist

Serious times require serious reading, and one of my serious reads this summer is “Quakers, Politics, and Economics,” edited by Bryn Mawr College associate professor of economics David R Ross and Wilmington College political science professor Michael T. Snarr.

Published in May, this is the fifth volume in the Friends Association for Higher Education series, “Quakers and the Disciplines,” and it includes sixteen topical and biographical essays, arranged under five major headings, beginning with “Theorising Quakers and Enterprise,” moving to “Perspectives on Current Economic Issues,” “Contributions and Challenges of Quaker Organizations,” “Historical Engagement by Friends,” and ending with “Contributions by Prominent Quakers.”

Don’t let the stuffy section titles fool you. Rare was the page that didn’t increase my appreciation for Quaker engagement in the public square and challenge me to delve deeper into my own beliefs about the intersection of the sacred and the secular in our own time.

Local authors featured in the collection are Paul Moke, “Quakers in the Coalfields: Economic Justice and the American Friends Committee, 1920-Present,” Ron Rembert, “Thomas Kelly on ‘The Eternal Now and Social Concern,” and Jean Mulhern and Cathy Pitzer, who co-wrote “Lucretia Coffin Mott: A Rebel for Social Change.”

As books sometimes seem to do do, this one came into my hands exactly when I needed it. I was in something of a state over the U.S. Attorney General and the White House press secretary weaponizing Christian scripture to justify the inhumane separation of immigrant families coming across the U.S. southern border, and digesting these essays about the moral clarity and public witness of Quakers restored my hope that justice and equality are within reach of the collective faithful.

You might call it my remedial Vacation Bible School, snacks and popsicle stick crafts not provided.

Snarr says about his editorial oversight of the book, “For me, the project was very interesting as I learned lots of things I did not know about the faith I grew up in. It really is pretty amazing to learn about the impact Quakers have had on such a wide array of issues throughout the past 350 years.”

The essays are directed at university level classes, Quaker scholars, and anyone seeking a broader knowledge about the influence of Quaker organizations and individuals in American and global public affairs.

In the introduction, Oregon’s George Fox University economics professor Tom Head, whose work focuses on world religions and the global economy, writes, “Throughout this collection of essays, the stories we encounter invite us to center down and to discern what ‘speaking truth’ to both wealth and power has meant and will mean. In whatever ways we might frame our terminology — Truth-seeking, Mindfulness, Christ-likeness, the Eternal Now, the Light — spiritual centeredness is the fount from which our economics and politics must flow if we are to shape our lives and our communities for the betterment of all.”

Not a Quaker myself, I came to the essays as an Episcopalian who, over the years I have called Wilmington home, has found much common ground with Friends, in community organizations, on the Wilmington College campus, and occasionally in the pew.

I have worked 40 years for an Episcopal seminary, training mentors throughout the United States and in other countries to lead adult theological reflection groups, whose focus was to bring Christianity’s sacred texts, events, and people into conversation with students’ personal experiences and the wider culture that influences their beliefs and actions, so that they might live more fully into their Baptismal covenant and Christ’s call to be God’s people in the world.

I know that’s a mouthful, but I have a point, and it’s that I recommend “Quakers, Politics, and Economics” as a ready-made, advanced resource for Christian education classes and study groups, and not for Quakers only.

Local pastors who might use the book, or at least selected essays from it, for adult curricula would have the advantage of the possible availability of Snarr and the previously mentioned local contributors.

“Quakers, Politics, and Economics” is carried locally at booksnmore.indielite.org.


Mary Thomas Watts

Contributing columnist