Saturday, 5 August 2017

Swarthmore Lecture 2017

I sent this rather tart letter to The Friend, which they have published

Edward Burrough wrote in 1659 that 'We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for this party nor against the other' (QF&P 23.11).  It is therefore with some surprise that I have learned that this year's Swarthmore Lecture is to be given by Catherine West, a Labour MP and member of the Corbynite faction, who happens to be a Quaker.

The Swarthmore Lecture has two purposes: firstly to interpret to Quakers their message and mission, and secondly to make the wider public aware of the spirit, the aims and fundamental principles of Quakers.  Ms West’s will focus on addressing inequality, tackling poverty and promoting social justice. As warm words about such issues are on the lips of politicians of all parties, including the Prime Minister, a concern for social justice cannot be the distinguishing mark of a Quaker.  This calls into question whether the Swarthmore Lecture is the proper platform for what sounds like an address to voters.  No doubt what Ms West has to say will be of interest to those, Friends and others, with a secular and civic concern about socio-economic equality (see A&Q 34) but whether it fits within Burrough's rubric and the purposes of the Swarthmore Lecture is less clear. 

I have sent this further letter:

This year’s Swarthmore Lecture, which was given by a Member of Parliament, is an opportunity to remind ourselves of a previous such occasion.  In 1921 the Lecture was given by Edmund Harvey, who had been local government councillor before the First World War and during the War had been a Liberal MP, when he had won the legal right for exemption from military conscription.  Harvey’s Swarthmore Lecture did not proclaim his accomplishments in office, considerable though these had been, nor was it co-authored with a non-Quaker to boost his party of choice.  On the contrary, The Long Pilgrimage was a profound and scholarly lesson in the mission and principles of Quakerism. Harvey taught the moral development of the personality, supremely through the example of Jesus Christ.  He also suggested we are called to faith in action where the kingdom of man impinges on the kingdom of God by detracting from the dignity and autonomy of the individual.  His words from 1937 about Friends and state authority at 23.88 of Quaker Faith & Practice remain worth pondering.

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