The Theology of Consensus – L.A. Kauffman


Quakers Demonstrating Outside the White House

“Consensus decision-making, a process in which groups come to agreement without voting, has been a central feature of direct action movements for nearly forty years, from the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s to the turn-of-the-millennium global justice movement to 2011’s Occupy Wall Street. Instead of voting a controversial plan up or down, groups that make decisions by consensus work to refine the plan until everyone finds it acceptable. … The organizers of ‘the Clam,’ as it was often called, were eager to find a process that could prevent the pitfalls of structurelessness, without resorting to hierarchy. Two staffpeople from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the longstanding and widely admired peace and justice organization affiliated with the Society of Friends, or Quakers, suggested consensus.By this, they did not mean an informal process of building broad internal agreement of the sort used, for instance, by the pathbreaking civil rights group SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) in the early 1960s. The consensus process adopted by the Clam was much more formal, and grew directly out of Quaker religious practice. As historian A. Paul Hare explains:

For over 300 years the members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) have been making group decisions without voting. Their method is to find a ‘sense of the meeting’ which represents a consensus of those involved. Ideally this consensus is not simply ‘unanimity,’ or an opinion on which all members happen to agree, but a ‘unity’: a higher truth which grows from the consideration of divergent opinions and unites them all.

That unity, they believe, has a spiritual source: within Quaker theology, the process is in effect a manifestation of the divine. …”
Jacobin
The Peace Movement that Defined the Vietnam War – Tim Ford
This week in history: American Friends Service Committee celebrates centennial
W – American Friends Service Committee


“Vietnam Summer Now in 48 States,” Vietnam Summer News (5 Jun 1967), collections of the American Friends Service Committee Archives.

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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