Why can’t Quaker meetings be more diverse and attract a variety of members? As everyone knows, most liberal Quakers are white, older, and relatively well-to-do. Where are the African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and youth in their twenties or thirties?
I would argue that ethnic minorities and younger people are often disadvantaged and therefore feel uncomfortable among privileged liberal Quakers. Such Friends make more money and are better educated than their poorer compatriots.
Consider Two Kinds of Quakers: a Latent Class Analysis . This study by Cary and Weber divides the members of 10 Philadelphia-area meetings into a “G” (God) group and an “S” (social activist) group. 33.7% of the “G” Friends make $100,000 or more per year. 41.4% of the “S” Quakers make at least $100,000. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the annual real median income in 2019 was $35, 977. How would a Walmart employee making $25,000 a year feel in the company of Friends making four times as much?
And then there’s education. The Census Bureau says that in 2019, 36% of people 25 or older had a bachelor’s degree or better. 91% of G Quakers had a bachelor’s degree or better. Over 50% of Quakers in the Philadelphia meetings had a master’s or Ph.D. How would our Walmart high school graduate interact with the Quaker Ph.D. in Physics? Certainly, they wouldn’t be discussing Quantum Mechanics or String Theory. Fact is—ordinary, average people would likely never return to a Monthly Meeting after an initial visit. Ordinary people are generally neither stupid nor lazy, but they simply wouldn’t fit well in the upper middle class Friendly milieu.
Of course, not all monthly meetings are as high in the socioeconomic scale as those analyzed by Cary and Weber. Moreover, the 572 Friends of the study are an exceedingly small sample. I can easily imagine that most Friends don’t individually make anything close to a $100,000 salary. And I don’t know that—nation wide—half of us have advanced degrees. We need more statistically significant studies before generalizing too much. Still, as educated white people, we Quakers are undoubtedly privileged.
Related to privilege is the matter of talents and gifts. Not everyone has the ability or experience to be the treasurer or clerk of a meeting. Not everyone is equally inspirational as they speak or testify in a meeting. God has chosen some people to be witnesses and prophets. Other people do not even have “ears to hear” the truth of a testimony.
In general, God has distributed gifts and talents unequally. How can a person receiving little not feel humiliated or envious? How can the person receiving much not succumb to pride or arrogance? Where is the justice in one person being given genius while someone else is born an imbecile? Why does one human being receive strength and health while another is saddled with weakness and disease? Why is this man or woman a saint while another is criminal and evil?
In his book The New Being, Paul Tillich has what I believe to be the answer:
There is an ultimate unity of all beings, rooted in the divine
life from which they emerge and to which they return.
All beings, non-human as well as human, participate in it. And
therefore they all participate in each other. And we participate
in each other’s having and in each other’s not having. When we
become aware of this unity of all beings, something happens to
us. The fact that others do not have changes the character of
our having; it undercuts our security and drives us beyond our-
selves, to understand, to give, to share, to help.
Friends are—in my opinion—good at understanding and helping. With a distinctive style of worship and unusual inclusiveness, we have much to offer seekers of Truth. May we continue to share our gifts!
~ Richard Russell
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