Hello Friends and Friends of Friends! I am your host, Pendle Hill, and this is A Quaker's View. In this column, I'd like to consider Quakers and their money.
Most early Friends were unpretentious people with little wealth. Mary Fisher, for example, entered adulthood as a servant in someone else's home. In spite of her humble beginnings, Mary traveled across the Atlantic to proclaim the Quaker message in Puritan Boston. Then, later in life, she secured an audience with the Sultan of Turkey.
George Fox (to cite another example) was apprenticed to a shoemaker in his youth. It was a time when ordinary people did extraordinary things.
While most early Friends were farmers or craftspeople, a few of them were from the upper echelons of British society. William Penn, for example, was the son of an admiral. Isaac Penington's father had served as the Lord Mayor of London. Robert Barclay's family had distant ties to the House of Stuart.
At least one historian credits these "Quaker Aristocrats" with the survival of the Friends movement. Adding Thomas Ellwood to his list of highborn Friends, D. Elton Trueblood writes:
"Without these four men, Penington, Ellwood, Penn and Barclay, it is doubtful if the Movement would have survived, or that the People Called Quakers would be generally known today."
Actually, these "Quaker Aristocrats" lost much of their wealth and influence simply by becoming Friends. They were scorned by their families and held in contempt by their peers. Despite these setbacks, they still possessed the tools of their privileged station -- they could speak like scholars, argue like lawyers and act with the refined manners of courtiers. In short, they could advocate for Friends at the highest levels of society.
Perhaps it is overly dramatic to credit the "Quaker Aristocrats" with the survival of the Friends movement. However, from the earliest days of our tradition, money has been helpful to our cause. Because King Charles II owed money to Admiral Penn, Friend William was able to establish the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania.
Among other things, Pennsylvania provided a safe haven for persecution-weary Friends. Not only did Friends back in England face the penalty of heavy fines, but zealous prosecutors could rob Friends of their ability to support themselves: land could be confiscated from farmers, tools could be confiscated from craftspeople.
Partly as a defense against this sort of persecution, Quakers turned to commerce. Quaker merchants earned such a reputation for honesty that others started to actually prefer them as partners in business.
Quakers became a relatively wealthy segment of the population in surprisingly short order. Friends grew wealthy as bankers and entrepreneurs.
Philadelphia became a bustling and prosperous center of commerce. In fact, some have quipped that "Quakers came to America to do good, and they did well."
As they prospered, Friends committed themselves to works of philanthropy.
Actually, even the first Friends gave money in order to relieve the suffering of others. In those early years, however, donations were usually given to alleviate the sufferings of fellow Quakers. The families of imprisoned Friends were supported in this way, as were those who's land or tools were confiscated.
In later years, Quaker money often went to those outside the Society. For example, funds were raised to support the poor and victims of war.
John Bellers was an early Quaker philanthropist. Beginning in 1680, Bellers administered a program to employ poor Friends. Throughout his life, he was an advocate for the poor, believing the poor could easily support themselves and add to the wealth of the nation if they were simply trained and given work.
By the middle of the 19th Century, Friends were raising money to compensate victims of war.
Sometimes, money is perceived as a the antithesis of everything spiritual. Indeed, another Friend, John Woolman, chose to divest himself of certain business concerns in order to concentrate on his own spiritual development.
When money is employed as a tool for spiritual purposes, however, it can provide a home, an education and relief from suffering.
Here are some questions to consider:
1. (From our Faith & Practice:) Do you give generous financial support to the work of Friends? Do you contribute regularly to the ministry of your church and to the wider outreach of the Yearly Meeting? Are you and your meeting aware of those likely to require material aid, and do you give freely to those in need?
2. Why do questions like those listed above make us so uncomfortable?
3. Are there constructive and helpful ways we might speak to one another about money?