A decision by British Quakers to give a “loyal address” to Elizabeth II has triggered heated debate and controversy amongst the denomination's own members. Quakers have a strong anti-royal tradition.
Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, were one of several groups invited to give an address in celebration of this year's diamond jubilee.
But many Quakers believe that the denomination's commitment to equality is inconsistent with addressing someone as a superior. Some go further and argue that faith in the Kingdom of God rules out loyalty to a human ruler.
A number of Quakers took to social media to express their disappointment as twelve representatives of the Society delivered the address at Buckingham Palace today (27 March). The decision to give the address was made at Meeting for Sufferings, the national committee of British Friends (which retains its seventeenth century name).
There was particular anger that the address described the monarch as “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II”. Quakers generally avoid titles and refer to people by their names only.
"To be a Quaker, and uphold a testimony to equality, is mutually exclusive with supporting or endorsing the monarchy," wrote the socialist Quaker blogger Tim Rouse. "Facilitating, endorsing, or simply acknowledging the legitimacy of the monarchy is contrary to the testimony to equality".
In contrast, other Friends have argued that the address is an opportunity to raise issues of Quaker concern at the heart of power. The address promoted sustainability, economic justice, marriage equality and active nonviolence.
The issue has already triggered vociferous debate on the letters page of the weekly Quaker magazine The Friend, which is independent of the Quaker organisation. The publication of the text of the address is likely to fuel controversy further, as the language is more deferential than was expected.
However, it is reported that Joycelin Dawes, who read out the address today, declined to curtsey to the monarch, choosing to nod her head instead.
The address began by offering congratulations on the diamond jubilee. It went on to say, “We give thanks for the commitment you have shown through six decades as monarch and for your steadfast upholding of the value of faith to our nation’s wellbeing”.
A large part of the address was devoted to issues of sustainability. It explained, “Last year, Quakers in Britain met in the worshipful stillness that is our tradition, and made a strong corporate commitment to become a low-carbon, sustainable community... This concern grows from our faith, and cannot be separated from it... It is our responsibility both to conserve the earth’s resources and to share them more equitably.”
The address called for equality for same-sex and mixed-sex marriages “because of our deeply held belief that we see the light of God in everyone which leads us to respect the inherent worth of each individual and each loving relationship”.
These sentiments may please left-wing Quakers who oppose idea of a “loyal address”. But some took exception to the way the address referred to peace issues.
It stated, “We lament the resort to armed conflict as an instrument of policy. We welcome your personal commitment to peace, such as you have shown in relation to Ireland.”
Stuart Masters, a Quaker living in Birmingham, expressed his disagreement. He said that Quakers had "told the commander in chief of the British armed forces how much we appreciate her commitment to peace".
Quakerism developed in England in the 1650s. It grew out of a number of radical groups linked to the parliamentarian side in the English Civil War. Quakers emphasise that anyone can experience God directly and inwardly.
They are perhaps best known for their commitment to pacifism. In the UK, Quakers are the largest Christian group so far to have endorsed same-sex marriage.
There are around 400,000 Quakers worldwide, including about 23,000 in Britain.