The Richmond Conference1 took place in Richmond, Indiana from 23 to 27 September 1887. Ninety-five delegates attended from all ten of the North American Orthodox (‘Gurneyite’) Yearly Meetings, and from London and Dublin Yearly Meetings. Representatives from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Orthodox) were also present, but in an unofficial capacity. There was no representation from Conservative, Wilburite or Hicksite Yearly Meetings.2 The six delegates from London Yearly Meeting3 who attended the Conference were Joseph Bevan Braithwaite, Sarah Satterthwaite Clark, Joseph Storrs Fry, George Gillett, Maria Richardson and Charles Brady.4
The Conference’s agenda addressed six key questions, the first being: ‘“Is it desirable that all the Yearly Meetings of Friends in the world should adopt one declaration of Christian doctrine?”’5 The positive answer given to this question led to the creation of the ‘Richmond Declaration of Faith’ by the yearly meeting representatives. The Declaration contained ‘those fundamental doctrines of Christian truth that have always been professed by our branch of the Church of Christ’.6
Although the London Yearly Meeting representatives at Richmond agreed to the formulation of the Declaration, in the discussions that preceded it Gillett7 and Fry8 expressed reservations. In contrast, Joseph Bevan Braithwaite, ‘widely recognized as a world spokesman for Orthodox Quakerism of the sort represented at Richmond’,9 took a leading role in drawing up the Declaration10 and was an enthusiastic advocate. The Richmond Conference had originally been called to help ‘promote unity in important matters of faith and practice, in the different bodies into which Friends in America are divided’,11 and ‘its conclusions [were] to be only advisory’.12 The London Yearly Meeting’s deputation report that was presented to its yearly meeting the following year also reiterated the latter.13 However, the question about the need for a common Declaration had been intended for ‘“all the Yearly Meetings of Friends in the world”’14 not just in America. Similarly, the chairman towards the end of the Conference proceedings had also commented that it was intended ‘for the Society of Friends the world over’.15 The Declaration that had been adopted by the Conference was therefore not just meant for American Yearly Meetings even though Indiana Yearly Meeting’s Minute, which had originally suggested holding a conference, had primarily been for ‘our sister Yearly Meetings in America’.16 Braithwaite’s use of London Yearly Meeting Epistles and documentation from American Yearly Meetings17 to assist in formulating the Declaration had made this transatlantic connection even stronger. While the Conference therefore recognised the independence of the yearly meetings officially represented at Richmond, there was nevertheless a clear hope and expectation that each yearly meeting would subsequently adopt the Declaration.
In the months that followed several yearly meetings indicated their support of the Declaration, while others were more cautious and non-committal.18 However, as Gregory Hinshaw notes, in the yearly meetings ‘which represented not only the vast majority of Gurneyite Friends but also the majority of the world’s Quakers, the declaration was warmly received’.19 On 29 May 1888 London Yearly Meeting, at its annual yearly meeting, determined its response to the Declaration. The final decision it made was multifaceted. The conclusions from the Conference and the Declaration itself20 were ‘to be printed with the Proceedings of the Yearly Meeting’21 but several reservations about the Declaration were commented upon. These highlighted the absence of discussion as to whether it was necessary to have such a declaratory statement in the first place, that the presentation of the Declaration as a finished article to yearly meetings meant that any possibility of amendment was prevented, and a general reluctance to take on any new statements of faith beyond what the Society had already said about its beliefs over the years.22 Nevertheless, in spite of these objections, it was also stated ‘whilst re-affirming our adherence to the fundamental scriptural doctrines always held by us, this Meeting refrains from expressing any judgment on the contents of the Declaration now produced.’23 In other words, the decision had been made to step back from either affirming or disagreeing with the doctrinal statements contained within the Declaration. It will be argued that London Yearly Meeting’s desire to avoid schism was the primary driver in making this decision and, in order to achieve this, a collective decision to accept a significant level of theological discordance within its own community was used to maintain unity.
A Quaker Paradigm for Spiritual Authority: Placing the Richmond Declaration in Context
George Fox’s insight ‘that the Lord Christ Jesus was come to teach his people himself’24 set Quakerism upon a distinctive christological trajectory across the religious landscape of seventeenth-century England. Within a few years of its inception, the Quaker movement had become a sect25 and had reached far beyond its origins in north-west England to other parts of Britain and the wider world, including North America. Its message was a radical one; spiritual authority did not lie in outward forms but inwardly, through a direct relationship that an individual can have with the Divine. The inward authority of Christ, the ‘Light Within’,26 characterised and defined Quakerism. However, this also raises an important question. What happens if an individual’s beliefs and actions which they perceive to be guided by the Light Within are at variance with the rest of the Quaker community? This became a pressing concern as various controversies27 over this very issue threatened to destabilise the early Quaker movement. The answer to the problem which emerged was essentially twofold. First, while the Light Within has primary authority, it should not lead to actions that are contrary to Scripture. As Robert Barclay (1648-1690)28 explained in his Apology, ‘whatsoever doctrine is contrary unto their testimony, may therefore justly be rejected as false’.29 Thus the Bible became an external benchmark for the leadings of the Light Within; it was still the case that Friends saw the Scriptures as secondary in authority to the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit, but nonetheless Barclay had forged an important connection between the inward and outward. Secondly, structures and procedures within the Society were put in place under the mantle of ‘gospel order’30 to help ensure a greater uniformity in belief and practice and, at the same time, nurture collective discernment.
The ‘checks and balances’ on the individual’s leadings of the Light Within that were provided by Scripture, the Society’s procedures and the collective discernment of the wider Quaker community were therefore of vital importance in establishing and maintaining unity. All of these can be seen as co-existing elements within a ‘Quaker paradigm for spiritual authority’ and are held in dynamic tension with each other in the sense that if too much emphasis is placed on one at the expense of another there is a risk of significant disunity and potential schism. Before 1827 North American Quakerism had essentially presented a united front and yet, within a period of 60 years, it had experienced a series of disagreements, disownments and division over issues related to the nature of spiritual authority, including differences in emphasis given to the Light Within and the Scriptures.31 Hicksite, Orthodox, Gurneyite, Wilburite, Conservative and Congregational traditions32 had all emerged at different stages during this time with each claiming to represent an original form of Quakerism, although towards the end of the nineteenth century the Gurneyite Yearly Meetings still represented in numerical terms the largest Quaker grouping within America.33 Every time a yearly meeting split, other yearly meetings had to decide which of the two newly formed yearly meetings they would officially recognise, even though to the outside world all the yearly meetings appeared Quaker.34 London Yearly Meeting had been a constant ally to Orthodox and then Gurneyite Yearly Meetings throughout this period by remaining in correspondence with only these yearly meetings.35 In contrast to the American Yearly Meetings, London Yearly Meeting appeared to have experienced relative harmony with fewer public expressions of disunity36 and remained a relatively cohesive body during the nineteenth century. That is not to say there were no disagreements. Over the years, the Isaac Crewdson, John Sargent and David Duncan disputes37 had certainly challenged the authority of London Yearly Meeting but, in spite of the exodus of some Friends from the Society in connection with these issues, major schism had been avoided.
The potential for further division within North American Quakerism still existed in the latter part of the nineteenth century. ‘Renewal’ and ‘holiness’ factions within the Orthodox grouping exposed additional differences about belief, practice and engagement with the wider world,38 the possibility of Quaker ministers receiving water baptism was being advocated by David Updegraff and others,39 and some Yearly Meetings, such as Iowa,40 had started to use a pastoral system.41 And so, in an attempt to once and for all bring about uniformity, Indiana Yearly Meeting (Orthodox-Gurneyite) proposed that all Orthodox- Gurneyite Yearly Meetings in America, along with an invitation to London and Dublin Yearly Meetings, meet to discuss these issues and come to a common agreement; the Richmond Conference42 was this gathering.
The Response of British Friends to the Richmond Declaration
Discussions about the Richmond Declaration had begun even before the Yearly Meeting that was to be held in London in May 1888. In April of that year an article by Braithwaite appeared in The Friends’ Quarterly Examiner. One of the comments he makes is in regard to how he sees British Quakerism and the wider Quaker world being inextricably linked together with London Yearly Meeting, ‘the parent Yearly Meeting from which, in the ordering of Divine Providence, all the other Yearly Meetings have sprung’,43 meaning that for London Yearly Meeting this ‘involves grave responsibilities’ that it cannot ignore.44 Even if, as Thomas Hamm suggests, London Yearly Meeting was perceived by some as ‘the most influential of Yearly Meetings’45 around the time of the emergence of Hicksism, the memoirs of Sunderland Gardner highlight that its role had not always been welcomed46 and Edwin Bronner claims that in later decades its influence had declined.47 For Braithwaite, however, maintaining unity between London Yearly Meeting and the yearly meetings it was in correspondence with was of paramount importance and accepting the Richmond Declaration was one way in which such unity could be preserved. Alongside this, Braithwaite tried to put the Declaration into a historical context, arguing that Friends had produced declarations before such as in response to the Hicksite schism48 and therefore the idea of a declaration is nothing new. He also very strongly emphasised that the Richmond Declaration was not creedal and neither would agreement to it somehow be necessary ‘as a preliminary to Church membership, or to the holding of any office in connection with the Church’.49 The latter is particularly revealing and highlights an attempt to deal with criticism that the Declaration could be divisive and used to disown members of London Yearly Meeting who could not agree with it. But, as Kennedy50 highlights, other British Friends, such as Joseph Rowntree and John William Graham, saw things differently and were not in favour of the Declaration. Comments from some contributors to The Friend also reflected concerns, including how it ‘would not conduce to the brotherly love and unity of our branch of Christ’s Church’51 and that ‘authorisation and acceptance of any creed is the utter abnegation of the first principles of Quakerism’.52 The scene was therefore set for a potentially charged Yearly Meeting gathering in London.
The ‘minutes and proceedings’ of the Yearly Meeting held in London in May 188853 do not contain records of the contributions made by individual Friends when discussions took place regarding the Richmond Declaration on 29 May. However, issues of the Quaker journals, The British Friend and The Friend (London),54 contain what appear to be verbatim style accounts of what was said,55 albeit other comments from attendee John William Graham about the duration of his contribution56 suggest that these published records might have been summaries of what was said rather than necessarily ‘word for word’ records.57 While there are some discrepancies between the reports of the two journals,58 overall there is a high degree of agreement. It is therefore fair to assume that they give a reliable summary of the proceedings that took place. They also give a fascinating insight into the diverse views and depth of feeling that existed among British Friends over this issue. Based on these accounts from The British Friend and The Friend, what can we deduce and ascertain about the discussions that took place at the Yearly Meeting in London about the Richmond Declaration?59
Joseph Storrs Fry, the Clerk for London Yearly Meeting,60 found himself in an unusual situation. Fry had attended the Richmond Conference and made known his concerns about the Declaration.61 He began by putting some ‘ground rules’ in place. As the role of the Clerk is to ascertain the ‘sense of the meeting’62 rather than direct it, it could be argued that he had taken an unusual step, but, as he also explained, ‘It would be affectation did we ignore the fact that a considerable difference of opinion has prevailed with regard to the declaration of faith.’63 Although the Declaration from the Richmond Conference had been ‘sent to the Yearly Meetings for their consideration and adoption’,64 Fry as the Clerk argued that ‘the word “adopt” is used as a sort of compromise with regard to the declaration’65 and that as far as he was aware other yearly meetings have used a phrase such as ‘“expressed their approval”’.66 He then made it clear that as the Clerk he did not feel it appropriate to ask the meeting to formally adopt the Declaration but instead ‘to consider how this document may be received in such a way as to be truly helpful to our valued Friends in America, and also for our own good’.67 With these parameters in place the discernment process then began. The other five members of the Richmond deputation had the opportunity to speak first, followed by contributions from others as directed by the Clerk.
Whether the Declaration was considered to be a creed or not was undoubtedly a polarising issue among members of London Yearly Meeting. Braithwaite recognised the concerns that some Friends had about this, commenting that ‘No such thought has ever entered our heart.’68 In fact, he agrees with the opening comments that had been made by the Clerk but at the same time hopes ‘nothing will be done which will in the least injure the testimony of this meeting to our living, risen, and ascended Saviour’.69 Richard Littleboy70 made the point that he did not see the Declaration as a creed just as he did not see the epistles and other texts in that way either, and, in a similar vein, Sarah S. Clark suggested that the idea of the Declaration being a creed was simply ‘Englishborn’.71 When Herbert Nicholson finished his contribution by saying that ‘He thought such a document was quite as necessary here as in America’,72 The Friend reported that ‘A number of Friends assented with-“So do I.”’73 For those against the Declaration an undercurrent of concerns as to what might happen if it were accepted is also evident in several of the contributions that were made, with some speaking openly about the division and unrest it would cause. Ellen Robinson argued that if the Declaration was accepted ‘it would alienate’74 those who did not agree with it and ‘separate them from those who should lead them in the highest paths’.75 Jonathan B. Hodgkin commented that some ‘would feel morally bound to lay down their position as officers in the Church, and perhaps to retire from membership altogether’76 and William E. Turner spoke about how acceptance of the Declaration would be for ‘many faithful Friends, older and younger, to whom such a limiting would be like a finger-post at the parting of the ways’.77 It is noteworthy that several younger Friends78 were not supportive of the Declaration. Edward Grubb commented that at a time when scientific developments such as evolutionary theory were seen as challenging elements of religious doctrine, a detailed statement of belief was not necessarily something that they would wish to embrace, and asked if it was ‘likely to be fitted to the spiritual wants of to-day … ’.79 All of these contributions reflected the divided position that London Yearly Meeting found itself in. The fracture lines that existed between the different Quaker groups (evangelical, conservative and emerging liberal traditions) within the yearly meeting were becoming wider and ever more apparent, and Alfred W. Bennett predicted that if the Declaration was accepted ‘There would be a flood of controversy all over the country, by which the life of this Society would be sapped.’80
It is clear that the Richmond Declaration raised questions that went deep into the essence of British Quakerism. In addition to challenging the Society in terms of defining its beliefs, it also raised the important issue of London Yearly Meeting’s role in the wider Quaker world. If London Yearly Meeting moved away from accepting the Declaration this would also inevitably mean a distancing from the American Orthodox Yearly Meetings. Of course, it might also mean the possibility of re-engaging with the Hicksite ‘Other Branch’.81 Certainly some of those against the Declaration were, while speaking of their desire for the wellbeing of the American Yearly Meetings, also very clear that the needs of London Yearly Meeting should come first. Matilda Sturge articulates this sentiment by arguing that ‘Our first duty was to be true, and in the second place to be kind.’82 Ironically therefore, the Declaration that had been created to promote unity was having the unintended outcome of doing the exact opposite in terms of transatlantic Quaker relations.
Quaker Evangelical Moderates - ‘Bridge Makers’ for the Society
London Yearly Meeting was potentially in a ‘no win’ situation with regard to the Richmond Declaration. If the Declaration was accepted this would be the cue for both conservative and liberal Quakers to possibly consider their position within the Society. Edward Grubb epitomised this dilemma. As a younger Friend, he was someone associated with both conservative83 and liberal84 strands of Quakerism. In his speech, Grubb emphasised how younger Quakers saw this as ‘a very serious crisis in the history of the Society’.85 At the same time, it should be remembered that the main expression of London Yearly Meeting’s identity in this period was ‘evangelicalism’.86 Consequently, it is reasonable to assume that, if the Declaration was rejected, many evangelical Quakers would be aggrieved. Additionally, it can be argued that there would also be the difficulty of positioning such a decision alongside the generally positive responses from the other yearly meetings and explaining how some of London Yearly Meeting’s documentation that was used by Braithwaite to help write the Declaration appeared to be redundant. Hence it is proposed that if schism was to be avoided ‘bridges’ would need to be built between these different groups.
In his study of London Yearly Meeting for the period 1857-73, Bronner proposed the existence of ‘a group of moderates in London Yearly Meeting which began to appear in the late 1850s and maintained a presence until the more visible and influential changes of the 1890s’.87 These were Friends he characterised as being Christocentric in their beliefs, who considered both the Light Within and the Bible to be important, who were committed to maintaining Quaker distinctiveness, and who ‘willingly called themselves evangelical, but they rejected what one of them called “Evangelicalism”’.88 Bronner identified and named 42 individuals he considered were ‘moderate’, of whom 18 were judged to be ‘active moderates’ and 24 ‘less active moderates’89. Of these 42 moderates, 19 were alive in 1888,90 but it is not known how many actually attended the Yearly Meeting. However, analysis of the reports from The Friend and The British Friend indicate that six ‘active moderates’ (A.W. Bennett, James Clark, Thomas Hodgkin, William Scarnell Lean, William Pollard and William Tallack)91 and two ‘less active moderates’ (Fielden Thorp and William E. Turner)92 spoke at the Yearly Meeting about the Richmond Declaration.93 Of course, between 1873 and 1888 it is possible that the theological views of any of these individuals may have changed in some way, but, irrespective of whether this might apply or not, it will be argued that they proved to be a significant influence in the discussions that took place.94
William S. Lean’s role was particularly important. After the contributions from members of the deputation who visited Richmond, he was the second next person to speak and gave several reasons why he was not in favour of the Declaration, including concerns that it might be used by yearly meetings to enforce uniformity of belief, that there were no means to make any amendments and that it would be wrong to believe its acceptance would promote greater unity between the yearly meetings.95 Lean’s beliefs are not necessarily at major variance with the contents of the Declaration, as he comments that ‘In these 20 pages I know not if there be not 19 that I might perfectly accept’,96 while at the same time pointing out that he is not in complete agreement with all its aspects.97 Nevertheless, he reaches the conclusion that he ‘cannot see my way out of rejecting it’,98 although he is prepared to accept any final decision made by London Yearly Meeting. He made it very clear that in his judgement the Richmond Declaration was something that London Yearly Meeting should avoid becoming further engaged with; his suggestions include that the Declaration is not adopted and that ‘we decline as a Yearly Meeting to promote any further use of this document’.99 Lean’s words had impact. Reports from The Friend and The British Friend indicate that eight of the subsequent contributors publicly aligned themselves with him (sometimes mentioning other Friends’ names that they were in agreement with as well). These were Thomas Hodgkin (‘active moderate’), Theodore Neild, William E. Turner (‘less active moderate’), John Littleboy, Joseph B. Braithwaite, Jun., Walter Robson, Alfred Manser and James Reckitt.100
Fielden Thorp had been identified by Bronner as a ‘less active moderate’101 and his beliefs in the authority of the Bible102 would also indicate that he is within the evangelical grouping of Friends. In his contribution to the discussions at the Yearly Meeting, Thorp is reported as saying that he ‘would have been glad if the meeting could have accepted the declaration’,103 but then went on to say if this was not possible then the Declaration should be received ‘as part of the deputation’s report, accompanying it perhaps with an expression of non-committal in regard to it’.104 Thorp’s initial response to the Declaration is therefore a positive one, but, recognising the sense of the meeting, he is prepared to move towards a compromise. This is a further example of how ‘moderates’ were prepared to try and find a resolution to the dilemma that London Yearly Meeting faced in how to respond to the Declaration. While Thorp’s response is not the same as the one from Lean, it nevertheless had a similar effect in drawing support from others, namely Joseph S. Sewell, John Ashworth, Mary Steele and James Clark (‘active moderate’).105 Of the other ‘moderates’ who spoke, only William Tallack was supportive of the Declaration in principle but at the same time was not in favour of its adoption.106
It is suggested that the combined actions of Lean and Thorp meant that 14 Friends (including themselves) operated as a significant ‘sphere of influence’ over London Yearly Meeting’s deliberations. Through their proposals they had begun to articulate the language that Joseph Storrs Fry would eventually use to write London Yearly Meeting’s official response to the Declaration.
The Collective Acceptance of Theological Discordance to Avoid Religious Schism
In exploring the reasons for the American Quaker schisms, Pink Dandelion claims that ‘If Quakers in Britain were to divide as completely as happened in America, it would have not been likely until after 1870’.107 However, he goes on to make the point that the closeness of members within the British Quaker community, as a result of both family connections and geographical limitations, meant that such separation would be difficult.108 The causes of schism within yearly meetings may also go beyond doctrinal issues and include more worldly influences such as socio-economic factors, as Robert Doherty has evidenced.109 Nonetheless, the spectre of schism within British Quakerism in the late nineteenth century for theological reasons was a possibility and the Richmond Declaration would have been a very strong candidate as the trigger for this. Why did it not happen?
Whether the Richmond Declaration was a creed or not is debatable, but either way it was certainly perceived by many as such or that it might be given similar authority to a creed. And yet London Yearly Meeting’s decision about the Declaration included not wishing ‘to adopt any further declarations than those previously made’,110 which implies that it was neither creedal nor the first declaration the Society had used.111 Ambiguity about ‘doctrinal statements’ is in further evidence when London Yearly Meeting’s Epistle for that year included the statement ‘Christianity is no theory, but fact.’112 What this suggests is that a degree of ‘theological discordance’ existed within the Society that enabled different expressions of religious faith to coexist. The evangelical narrative drew primarily upon written statements of belief derived from the Scriptures,113 while the conservative and liberal narratives gave greater emphasis to the Light Within as their primary source of authority. The boundary line between these two narratives was therefore defined by both written language and direct inward experience. This enabled both narratives to be accommodated even though sometimes they were not in agreement. However, the Richmond Declaration had the effect in London Yearly Meeting of emphasising the differences between these two narratives, with the potential of turning the theological discordance that had been accepted by Friends into a form of polarised factionalism with the potential to cause schism. This is why London Yearly Meeting’s response to the Declaration had to be very carefully worded so that unity rather than discord could be re-established through an understanding that a degree of theological difference was acceptable. Consequently, although the recorded decision mentions not adopting additional declaratory statements, it also includes, as noted by Bronner,114 an ongoing commitment of ‘re-affirming our adherence to the fundamental scriptural doctrines always held by us’.115
For evangelicals, it would have been unthinkable for London Yearly Meeting to have officially rejected the Declaration. If this had happened it would have placed a major question mark over London Yearly Meeting’s previous doctrinal statements, seriously damaged relations with the American Orthodox Yearly Meetings and possibly initiated the most significant schism that British Quakerism would have ever experienced. In spite of some Friends calling for an outright rejection of the Declaration, a review of the recently adopted Society’s ‘Book of Christian Discipline’116 would have reminded them of the several orthodox and evangelical statements contained therein, such as the 1693 declaration, which includes statements such as ‘the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit are one, in divine being inseparable; one true, living, and eternal God, blessed for ever’.117 Given that Braithwaite drew upon the Society’s documental repository118 to help produce the Richmond Declaration, explicit rejection of the Declaration would, by default, be a serious attack on London Yearly Meeting’s own ‘Book of Discipline’. It is therefore argued that rejection of the Declaration, just like its adoption, would have taken theological discordance beyond its stretching point and with it the balance that existed between different groupings within London Yearly Meeting. This is why, after the draft minute had been offered to the Meeting by the Clerk, Joseph Bevan Braithwaite hoped that ‘Friends might be willing to accept what the Clerk had suggested’,119 although in reality for Braithwaite this was not the ideal outcome.120
In contrast to a longstanding Quaker evangelical tradition within London Yearly Meeting during the nineteenth century,121 the emerging liberal perspective towards the end of the century was challenging the ‘established certainties’ of doctrine. Findings from Darwinian evolutionary theory and changes in biblical criticism were forcing many Friends to reinterpret the nature of their beliefs.122 Biblical authority had become less certain for liberal Quakers, whereas the concept of the Light Within gained greater prominence123 and gave ‘a new sense of unique mission’.124 These ideas had already begun to be formulated and shared among Friends. A Reasonable Faith,125 which had been published anonymously by three Quakers (who were in fact Francis Frith, William Pollard and William Edward Turner),126 spoke about those ‘who are more or less dissatisfied with the religious Creeds and theological definitions with which they are familiar’.127 Both Turner and Pollard also spoke at the Yearly Meeting in London128 and expressed their concerns about the Declaration. A Reasonable Faith raised fundamental questions about the future direction of travel for the Society and highlighted a reality that liberal Quaker ideas were becoming more prevalent within London Yearly Meeting.
Elizabeth Isichei, in her study of the Society, suggests that the individualistic nature of ‘Quaker polity’129 is vulnerable to schism but that this may be reduced through the existence ‘of a strong informal power concentration’.130 The different groupings within London Yearly Meeting in 1888 are examples of the latter and operated as spheres of influence131 such that by neither accepting nor rejecting the Richmond Declaration it had been possible for these different groups to continue to coexist through a mutual acceptance of theological discordance.
The Richmond Declaration had brought London Yearly Meeting to a crossroads. The network of relationships that existed within British Quakerism had helped to ensure it could continue its journey in unity as a single religious community. Those who were prepared to bridge the divide between its different groupings played an especially important role in providing a cohesiveness to the collective body of Friends. William Scarnell Lean and Fielden Thorp have been identified as being an integral part of this process and were with others, important actors. Avoidance of schism was achieved by enabling evangelical, conservative and liberal counter-narratives to continue to operate together, although in the years ahead liberal Quakerism would become uppermost.132 London Yearly Meeting had made a historic decision with lasting consequences that not only shaped the future of British Quakerism but also realigned its relationship with Gurneyite Yearly Meetings.
The Richmond Declaration had asked questions of the Quaker paradigm for spiritual authority and yearly meetings had given their answers regarding where they considered the balance should lie in the emphasis of Christocentric beliefs, the Light Within, Scripture and collective discernment. However, one ‘perplexing question’133 for Quakers still remains not fully answered. Why did spiritual discernment about the Declaration lead Friends at Richmond and in London to different outcomes?
Paul Harris is currently a postgraduate student at the University of Birmingham, England. His PhD research focus is the Christology of Joseph John Gurney (1788-1847). The article in this journal is based on his dissertation (‘Why did London Yearly Meeting neither adopt nor reject the Richmond Declaration, 1887? A case study in the avoidance of religious schism’) submitted in part fulfilment of a MA degree ‘Quakerism in the Modern World’ (distance learning) at Lancaster University, which was awarded to Paul in 2018. Paul was a joint recipient of the University’s ‘Ninian Smart Prize’ for MA Religious Studies dissertations.