“What is life for if it isn’t to help each other?”
As a child, I must have heard my father say this a dozen times or more. It would often be when he’d done some kindness for someone. It was his way of saying he was pleased to be able to help.
I was privileged to grow up in a free-thinking family. My parents were both Quakers, socially concerned and politically liberal. As children we were encouraged to be aware of people’s needs beyond our immediate household, and to try to look at things from different viewpoints.
In the 1970s and early 80s – during my teenage years and early twenties – I attended various Young Quaker events with discussions, workshops and practical activities. One of the speakers I particularly remember was a gay man, probably in his 40s.
He described his search for love and finding his ‘Mr Right’. He talked about his joy and loving commitment towards the man with whom he hoped to spend the rest of his life. The emotions which he described seemed to me then – and now – to be the same as those sought for, and often experienced, by heterosexual couples, including now in my own marriage.
Quakers had already been expressing support for same sex relationships in the 1960s, and they continued to explore what changes were appropriate in coming years. This willingness to explore new ideas, and seek out new truths, is part of the nature of Quakerism.
Quakers don’t have a creed or fixed set of beliefs. Most would agree that there is ‘that of God’ within everyone, and we seek truth through listening to this ‘light’ within us. Quakers make decisions corporately in a similar way, seeking to be led to decisions which ‘feel right’. Thus Quaker views are not static but change over time – some might say as part of a continuing revelation.
I wasn’t at Britain Yearly Meeting – the national gathering of Quakers – in 2009 when it decided to seek a change in the law to allow same sex marriage. When I heard, I rejoiced at the decision – and my thoughts went back to that discussion many years before…
continue reading: The Independent.