by Simon Latham
I was interested to discover that the topic of discussion on Melvyn Bragg’s Radio 4 programme ‘In Our Time’ on 05/04/2012 was about early Friends and the emergence of Quakerism in the mid-seventeenth century. As someone when, if asked, identifies as a Quaker, although I am unable to attend Quaker Meetings as often as I would wish, I welcomed the opportunity to immerse myself again in the Quaker ‘creation story’ and take a listen.
Melvyn was joined by three guests – all historians. This historical slant towards the subject matter, whilst on paper might be considered to lead to a rather dry and academic discussion, was pleasantly quite the opposite – the contributors clearly knew their Quaker stuff (reference to the ‘inner Light’ rather than the ‘inward Light’ was merely one of my own pedantic personal frustrations). Much like Rosemary Moore’s book “The Light In Their Consciences” which inspired me when I first started attending Meeting for Worship, I discovered new perspectives on the turbulent melting-pot from which Quakerism sprang. Arising from the discussion, points which raised my eyebrows included:
- how many early Friends had been members of the New Model Army during the Civil War.
- that George Fox and Oliver Cromwell met face-to-face on a number of occasions.
- Oliver Cromwell was involved in ensuring James Nayler did not face the death penalty.
- the political and strategic influence on the Quaker declaration of peace to Charles II.
Perhaps most of all, the programme challenged me to think again about early Friends, their particular interpretation of the Christian message and the ways in which this can speak today. As such, this edition of ‘In Our Time’ lightened my conscience a little more to reflect again upon Advices & Queries #4, how Friends are encouraged interpret their faith in the light of their Christian heritage (and the heritage of early Friends themselves too).