Quaker Bankers, Tithes and a Chocolate Factory (Matt 10:8)


This is the message I gave on Sunday morning October 19, 2012. You can listen to the audio version of it here.

Last week we started to tackle the difficult subject of money and the church at Camas Friends. We discussed some possible ways of approaching the subject in a holistic manner — as caretakers or curators of all that has been entrusted to us. And then we discussed some of the ways we might think about the “practice of giving” as people who follow Jesus.

As I’ve been considering these questions, I couldn’t help but wonder if Friends have always wrestled with these questions, and how they have thought about it in the past. But with many of the Quakers we’ve been learning about in our Wednesday evening Soup and Bread meetings – there have been were successful bankers and business people a part of our tradition almost from the very beginning. Today’s ethos among Quakers – and I think this is reflective of all stripes – is one that often avoid discussions of money altogether. But from a historical point of view it hasn’t always been this way.

I found a story in Friends Journal from one modern-day Quaker that describes common feelings around money (the whole article is well-worth your time):

During my young adulthood in the late sixties and early seventies, my older relatives expected me to save and to get a good job to pay off my school debts. Conversely, my younger activist friends considered money morally suspect, something with which enlightened people didn’t get too involved. So I compromised. I got a decent teaching job and paid off my debts, but I relieved myself of the craven experience of thinking about money by living from paycheck to paycheck.

 By the time I was a young mother and attending Quaker meeting, my life had taken several surprising turns, and my resources were very scarce. Living on a poverty income in order to resist paying war taxes, I didn’t consider myself someone who had much to share with others. I would buy the things my family needed when I had the money, and when I didn’t, we did without.

 By the time my family had more resources, I had fully developed the ineffective and decidedly unspiritual habit of being unconscious about money.

 What I did not do was nurture in myself the spiritual discipline of giving as much as I possibly could before being asked, of practicing the ministry of giving money. As a result, I missed out on the ongoing and powerful spiritual benefits of sharing my treasure.

How many can relate to some form of this? I know I can.

One of the problems that this hints at, I believe, is that in our society today wealth is often-times understood as an end in itself. Wealth is something to be amassed, accumulated at great lengths. People work hard, or go into crippling debt, so that we can experience the experience of being wealthy. After all, isn’t it the wealthy in our society whose lives are the ones constantly being glorified by TV, Newspaper, and other media?

If you perhaps are not motivated by money as an end in itself, you may simply find yourself on the other end, avoiding the topic altogether as our Quaker friend who I just read about.

But there is a third way? One that does not uncritically accept money as an end in itself, nor simply reject it as morally suspect.

Our Quaker tradition teaches us different approach – It is a view that sees all of our resources, money included, is not an end in itself to be amassed but rather a means to an end. The gifts and resources we have are tools to be used for the purposes of God in the world. They are vehicles to aid in the transformation of society.

So what can we learn about this subject from our Quaker ancestors?


First, One of the earliest things that Quakers got themselves into trouble in relation to money was refusing to pay compulsory tithes to the church of England. Early Friends rejected compulsory or mandatory tithes because they believed the church was abusing its power by requiring people to give to it and because they believed that first and foremost that the Gospel was and should always be free.

Robert Barclay, a key early Quaker theologian, wrote in his 1678 book called “An Apology for True Christian Divinity” that there were a number of reasons to reject how their advisories understood tithes:

There is no express Gospel command for it, neither by Christ nor his apostles.

Those who find themselves under the Gospel of Jesus are not under the law, the way the Levite priests were in the OT.

Barclay said that the “tenth” that was given in the old testament was not just for the care of the priests who watched over the altar, but it was put up in storehouses for the entertainment of widows and strangers. (278)

In other words, the goods that were shared back to the priests were again meant to be shared with those in need.

Then Barclay says of these “hireling preachers” who accept the tithe these words:

But these preachers, notwithstanding they inherit what they have by their parents as well as other men, yet claim the whole tithes, allowing nothing either to widow or stranger (Barclay 278).

One of the main problems Quakers had with the church in that time was that they basically felt like it was a racquet. They felt that the priests were using God for profit. These ministers and priests, in the Quaker view, were not called by God to be ministers but rather people who had the money and education to exercise that role. Their abuse of money, keeping it for their own gain, rather than turning it outward to help others was only evidence of their sin of greed. Quakers took it upon themselves to call these abuses out.

For Barclay, and early Quakers, their understanding of giving came from Jesus’ teachings. In this short section, Barclay quotes Matthew 10:8: “Freely ye have received, freely give.” In other words, the point was to be receptacles of goodness in the world. This idea that we give freely out of the freedom that we have received is part of why the early Quaker movement had no paid full-time ministers, and I think it is part of why they were able to give so much to help those in need.  But this doesn’t mean that they never collected money or supported one another they did. In the late 1660’s Margaret Fell setup the Kendal Fund which was for the support of traveling ministers, helping their families with expenses while the ministers – both men and women – were away. The point was one based in freedom to follow as God led, to be receptacles and use our resources as tools for the work of God in the world rather than be locked in old legalisms or coercion.

Quaker Bankers, Industrialists, Entrepreneurs

Second, In the 18th century the Quaker movement was less aggressive in its attacks on the “wrongfulness” they saw in other Christian groups – I am sad to say – but they were increasingly creative in their dealings with “worldly affairs.” Because Quakers rejected paying tithes to the church of England, taking oaths and participating in the English army, not only were they imprisoned and sometimes had their homes and properties confiscated, but they were also barred from attending the two main colleges in England. This had an unintended consequence for Friends. Since Quakers did not go into college, they often went into business.

Thus for almost two-hundred years Quakers became deeply ingrained in the inner-workings of emergent capitalism.

As you know Quaker meetings required their members to be honest, forthright, and people of integrity. Because of this, Quakers were well-suited to be trustworthy business people. Because of their “plain living, dependable work habits, and inventiveness,” one historian writes, “many Quakers prosper[ed]” (Frost and Barbour 86).

As early as 1738, Quakers had a set of specific guidelines for business , which endeavored to apply the teachings of Christ to the workplace. Straight dealing, fair play, honesty, accuracy, and truth would form the basis for Quaker capitalism, and for those who fell short, there were rules of discipline (Cadbury 38).

Consider a couple of examples. There were three generations of Abraham Darby’s I-III (1677-1791) who were all instrumental in bringing about the industrial revolution.

Abraham Darby I patented a method of casting ironware in sand so that new shapes of pots could be made, and then he successful marketed them. Abraham Darby II was the first to use coal, changed into coke, in the production of iron; Abraham Darby III pioneered in the use of the iron for structural work. In 1779 he built the first iron bridge; his Severn bridge was an engineering and aesthetic triumph that still survives. The Darbys also cast the iron for use in the first iron ships and steam engines and showed the usefulness of Iron for railroads. (Barbour and Frost 86)

And this was just one family and one industry. There were numerous well-known Quaker banks: “Fraeme and Barclay, Hoare, Backhouse, Gurney, Lloyd, and Pim” are all names of banks built upon Quaker virtues (87). Unlike the bankers of today, 150-200 years ago, the virtues of bankers was almost synonymous with Quaker integrity. This kind of trustworthiness influenced just about every aspect of English society (Barbour and Frost 87).

Friends may have not been able to go to college, but they took what they were given, and they made use of it in new ways, earning Quakerism a reputation for integrity, philanthropy, and innovation. Quakers worked within the system to change it and show how it could be done better.

A Chocolate Factory


Finally, one my favorite examples of Quaker business people who worked within the system to change it, who saw their money not as an end in itself, but rather a means to an end, were Richard and George Cadbury – of the now famous chocolate company under the same name.

In 1824 their father John started a shop that sold coffee, tea and drinking chocolate, products seen as healthy alternatives to alcohol, which in those times part-and-parcel of larger social woes. By 1861, John’s sons Richard and George Cadbury took over their father’s now-fledgling chocolate factory. It had peaked in the early 50’s but was by the time Richard and George took over  hemorrhaging money due in large part to powerful competitors (Frys and Rowntrees – Also Quakers) and an inferior product.  The Cadbury brothers poured their small inheritance into a last-ditch effort at keeping the family business afloat.

Within 20 years, Richard and George turned the business around and had by that time nearly established themselves as the new pioneers in chocolate.

The turning point came when they bought a swiss-made machine that allowed them to process the cocoa bean in a way that they could get rid of all the extra fatty oils and by-pass the need for potato-flour additives. This meant that they could create chocolate products that were purely chocolate. In 1867, they launched a well-advertised campaign for their new “Cocoa Essence” with the slogan “Absolutely Pure, Therefore Best.” This new innovation single-handedly saved the family business and put the boys on the map.

The Cadbury brothers were Quakers who were driven by doing good in the world. They lived spartan lifestyles, so that they could pour their time and resources into good works. They were known to work with the local governments to get poor children the help, teach in Adult Schools, and provide good wages and a cheerful work environment.

In 1878 they made an even bigger impact. They believed that their factory should not be in the dingy and dark parts of downtown Birmingham, so they purchased 14.5 acres just outside of town where they built not only their new chocolate factory, where their workers – many who were women and uneducated poor – could work in a more appealing and healthy environment, where workers were treated very well and faced good working conditions. There were also paid relatively high wages. “Cadbury also pioneered pension schemes, joint works committees and a full staff medical service.” (Wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bournville).

In 1893, George Cadbury bought more land – 120 acres in all, so that they could build homes for their workers, many of whom still lived in town and took the train out every day for work. It was meant to be a “model village” that would “alleviate the evils of modern more cramped living conditions.” There were 313 homes on almost as much land by 1900. There were schools, a hospital, swimming pools, parks, museums, all meant to take care of those who worked for them.

To me, the Cadbury’s are a prime example of Quaker business people who used their resources as a vehicle on behalf of others. Yes, they too were taken care of, yes they were amazingly successful, they didn’t do good at the expense of their own well-being but their own success was never the goal for them.

The Quaker pioneers believed that “your own soul lived or perished according to its use of the gift of life.” For them, spiritual wealth rather than the accumulation of possessions was the ‘enlarging force’ that informed business decisions” (Deborah Cadbury in Chocolate Wars: xvii).


If we had to sum up the alternative view of Quaker philanthropy, I would call it incarnational. That is, like Jesus, Friends have – at their best – sought to work within the systems of the world that we are given, with the resources and gifts we have, to bring about the kind of transformation that Jesus teaches us.

For Quakers – whether business folks or otherwise, the goal of the Christian life is to apply Jesus’ teachings to every area of life the best we are able.

Can you imagine Jesus as a lazy carpenter, one who gives one price but changes by the time he was finished with the project, one who said he would be there and never showed up, one who pays himself a top-wage, while only paying those who for him a meager one? Could Jesus be a businessman who made millions on his skill only to pack it away and keep it all for himself? What about Jesus the banker, the politician, the manufacturer, the artist and inventor?

How do Jesus’ teachings challenge the way we practice all of these things?

One of my favorite bands, Arcade fire has a line in their song City with No Children — “you never trust a millionaire quoting the sermon on the mount” – This may be true now, But I think it would have been possible to trust them if they had been Quakers a hundred years ago. I believe that it is possible to live out the sermon with whatever we have.


  • How can we work within the system to change it?
  • How can we reflect these virtues and qualities as Friends in our workplaces and in our business practices?
  • How can we use what we have been given as a vehicle to bring about good in our world?
  • How does our faith shape us in the ways that we manage what we have?
  • Is it clear from the way we live and do business that Christ is at the center of our lives?