It’s safe to assume we all know that “Quaker” is a brand, most famously one for a division of PepsiCo that specializes in oatmeal and sugary breakfast cereals. The story goes that one day in 1877, Henry D. Seymour, the owner of a small oat mill in Ravenna, Ohio, read the entry for Quakers in an encyclopedia. He “decided that the qualities described—integrity, honesty, purity—provided an appropriate identity for his company’s oat product.”
Those same qualities continue to hold a brand appeal, and not just for oats. We’ve got Quaker schools, retirement communities, investment services, advocacy groups. We even have Quaker magazines and websites.
And here we come to an insider secret: there’s really no legal bond tying together all of the institutions bearing the Friends/Quaker name. The United States has no national body of Friends, and even local institutions like schools are only sometimes formally under the care of a monthly meeting.
There’s really nothing holding together all of this Quaker branding. All we have is something we call “Quaker values.” What are they? Sometimes we invoke the mnemonic SPICES—simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, stewardship—but these are really a bit of dodge. Just about everyone will say they like peace and integrity. You can sell a lot of Cap’n Crunch cereal with “Quaker values.”
But yet there really are some bonds: shared values which bend and fold and sometimes even break. The values of Quaker-branded organizations sometimes differ from those held by the donors funding them. Sometimes we lean a little too hard on the branding of “Quaker values” to market our services to non-Quakers.
The Religious Society of Friends has been negotiating the ambiguity of structures without clear central authority since the beginning of our movement in the seventeenth century. How are we doing it today? When do we insist on Quakers making up staffing or boards? How do we challenge Quaker-branded institutions when they act in ways that don’t match our values? How do we build bridges with organizations which want to once more connect with their Quaker heritage?
Here’s our description for our May issue, “What Are Quaker Values Anyway?”
If there’s a Quaker brand, then “Quaker values” is its most common pitch. What do we mean when we use the term for Quaker institutions and the ministries of our meetinghouses and churches? Is it anything deeper than the “SPICES” testimonies? Due February 5, 2018.
Join the conversation and write something for us by February 5, 2018:
We’re always looking for new voices and perspectives from our community. Is there a side of the story you think isn’t being told or heard among Friends? Contact me with questions or ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.