ESR student Karen Tibbals is organizing the first US meeting of Quakers and Business and presenting a workshop at Friends’ General Conference Gathering in July:
Over the past 25 years, I have been searching for ways to apply my faith to my business life. But what I found was unsatisfying.
I wanted help in making the difficult decisions when there was a conflict, such as dealing with outsourcing, automation, layoffs, environmental issues and many more. But much pastoral counseling and theological work is done by people who don’t understand the business world and their suggestions and potential solutions weren't helpful to me. I found more help in the business world than in my faith community, which saddened me.
In studying early Quakers, I have found an example of how religion may be helpful in work life. Since George Fox (and other Friends) had many things to say about the hypocrisy of merchants and traders, Friends who were traders had to find a way to carry on their business life in such a way that was consistent with their profession of faith. In those days, there were three main ways in which Friends expressed their faith: one price, honest weights and measures and keeping one’s word in contracts and debts.
These principles found their way into various writings by Friends, such as merchants who wrote their memoirs or sermons given, in the minutes of the local meetings and eventually in the Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice. The Biblical basis for these practices were drawn from both the Old and New Testament, such as from Proverbs 22:7: “the borrower is servant to the lender,” Matthew 5:37: ‘let your yea be yea and your nay be nay,” and Matthew 7: 12: the Golden Rule. These were the foundation of what we Quakers today call the Testimony of Integrity.
Another important Quaker principle of the day was simplicity, which has also become one of today’s Quaker Testimonies. This was not an abstract principle. Quakers behaved this way for two reasons. One was to be in solidarity with everyone in the world, including the poor, and the second was that everything had to be used for a good purpose. Any money that wasn't spent on gaudy cloth or jewelry was to be invested in their business or donated to the poor.
What I loved about this example was that Quakers struggled with how to make this work. It wasn't the first messages that eventually became the basis of the Advices, it evolved as those who had to apply it worked on it. This is what religion is not doing today.
This struggle was the topic of my thesis (The Theological Basis Behind Quaker Businesses: A Comparison of the First 150 years to the beginning of the 20th Century) and will be the subject of a workshop I am facilitating at Friends’ General Conference Gathering in July.
But I want to do more than just study history, I want to think about how to apply these principles to our business life today. I don’t want philosophy or business to take the lead in how to ethically conduct business, I want religion to have a voice. To kick that off, I am participating in the first US meeting of Quakers and Business, which will meet in California, PA on the weekend of July 27-9.
If this topic interests you, I would love to connect with you as part of my ministry, or come join me at either event.
You can follow Karen's posts on her blog: http://karenjtibbals.wordpress.com/