The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) numbered about 380,000 worldwide in 2017 (New Worldwide Quaker Map Released, Friendsjournal.org). There were about 76,000 friends (Quakers) in the U.S.A. in 2012 (Worldwide Distribution of Quakers 2012, quakerinfo.com). About 52% were located in Africa in 2012 (ibid).
1. George Fox (1624-1691)
Fox was born in Fenny Drayton, Leicestershire, England. His father was a successful weaver. At age 12, Fox became an apprentice to a shoemaker. However, he had other desires.
At age 19, he left home and began a quest seeking spiritual truth. He failed to find it in the churches. “He became a wandering Seeker, not attending churches – ‘steeple-houses,’ as he called them – but walking in the fields or orchards with his Bible” (Owen Chadwick, The Reformation, p. 241). He claimed inner-light. He asked, “Did not the Apostles say to believers that they needed no man to teach them, but as the anointing teacheth them (1 John 2:27)?” (George Fox, An Autobiography, Chapter One, gutenberg.org).
He came to believe that all have access to this inner-light. “Now the Lord God opened to me by His invisible power that every man was enlightened by the divine Light of Christ, …and they that believe in it came out of condemnation to the Light of life” (ibid, chapter two). He believed that he was “commanded to turn people to that inward Light, Spirit, and Grace, by which all might know their salvation and their way to God” (ibid). The Religious Society of Friends was founded in 1652 (Frank S. Mead and Samuel S. Hill, Handbook of Denominations, p. 113).
Controversy and persecution occurred in England. “Quakerism was revolutionary… To say that both state and church were wrong… that people need not attend ‘steeple houses’ to find God; that it was equally wrong to pay taxes to support the state church clergy – this was rebellion. Fox and his early followers went even further. They not only refused to go to church, but insisted upon freedom of speech, assembly, and worship. They would not take oaths in court; they refused to go to war; they doffed their hats to no one, king or commoner; they made no distinction in sex or social class; they condemned slavery and England’s treatment of prisoners and the insane… Quakers were whipped, jailed, tortured, mutilated, murdered. Fox spent six years in jail. Others spent decades even dying there” (ibid).
2. William Penn (1644-1718)
Penn was born in London, England. His father, Sir William Penn (1621-1670), was an English Admiral, a politician in the House of Commons, and of considerable wealth.
Penn became a Friend (Quaker) when he was 22. He would become a close friend of George Fox. Penn was persecuted for his beliefs. “The persecution of Quakers became so fierce that Penn decided that it would be better to try to find a new, free, Quaker settlement in North America. Some Quakers had already moved to North America, but the New England Puritans, especially were as negative towards Quakers as the people back home, and some of them had been banished to the Caribbean” (Brief History of William Penn, ushistory.org).
“King Charles II of England had a large loan with Penn’s father, after whose death, King Charles settled by granting Penn a large area west and south of New Jersey on March 4, 1681). Penn called the area Sylvania (Latin for woods), which Charles changed to Pennsylvania in honor of the elder Penn. Perhaps the King was glad to have a place where religious and political outsiders… could have their own place, far away from England” (ibid). Delaware was also later granted to him (William Penn, britannica.com). These areas became refuge for the persecuted.
They have referred to themselves by different names: “Children of Truth,” “Children of Light,” and “Friends of Truth” (Mead, p. 113). The name “Friend(s)” is commonly used. It is based on John 15:15 (Our Meeting, plymouthmeetingquakers.org).
The name Quaker predates its use for Friends. “The name Quaker was first used in 1647 to describe women from Southwark, England who were not associated with Friends. It had become a derogatory description of these women and others… referencing those who ‘swell, shiver, and shake’ when having a personal spiritual experience” (ibid).
Here is how the name became applied to Friends. “George Fox records in his journal (1650) that Judge Bennett used the period epithet “Quaker” to describe Fox and his followers in response to Fox bidding him ‘to tremble at the name of the Lord.’ Later, Robert Barclay records that the name came from the trembling of Friends under the powerful working of the Holy Ghost” (ibid).
Friends General Conference says, “Most Quakers do not consider the Bible to be the final authority or the only source of sacred wisdom. We read it in the context of other religious writings and sources of wisdom, including the Light within and worshipful community discernment. Some Quakers have little interest in the Bible” (FAQ’s about Quakers, fgcquaker.org). They “prefer to rely upon fresh individual guidance from the Spirit of God which produced the Bible, rather than follow only what has been revealed to others. Some modern groups accept the Bible as the final authority in all religious matters” (Mead, p. 116).
Beliefs and Practices
“The Creator has endowed each person with a measure of the divine essence… The revelation of God’s truth is continuing and ongoing… our inward experience of God transforms us and leads us into outward expressions of faithful living” (Arthur Larrabee, 9 Core Quaker Beliefs, quakerspeak.com). “Quakers seek religious truth in inner experience, and place great reliance on conscious as the basis of morality… the light of God is in every single person” (Quakers, bbc.co.uk).
“We also believe that if we are sincerely open to Divine will, we will be guided by a wisdom that is more compelling than our own more superficial thoughts and feelings… Following such guidance is not always easy. This is why community is important to Quakers, why we turn to each other for worshipful help in making important choices, and why we read the reflections of other Quakers, who have lived faithful lives” (FAQ’s About Quakers, fgcquaker.org).
3. Baptism and Lord’s Supper
The do not practice baptism or observe the Lord’s Supper. “Friends do not consider the observance of the sacraments to be wrong, but they do regard participation in such an outward rite as unnecessary to genuine Christian discipleship… Friends use the words “baptism and communion” to describe the experience of Christ’s presence and his ministry in worship…
Worship reaches its goal when those who worship feel the baptism of the Spirit… Communion occurs when the worshipper communes with God and with those who are gathered in the Lord’s name” (The Sacraments, firstfriendswhittier.org).
“Quaker worship is based on silent waiting, where we expect to come into the presence of God. In this living silence, we listen for the still, small voice that comes from God through the inward light… During silent worship anyone – adult or child – may feel inspired to give vocal ministry… After the person speaks the message, the silence resumes. Such messages may be offered several times during a meeting for worship, or the whole period of worship may be silent” (FAQ, fgcquaker.org). Frank Mead and Samuel Hill write, “Worship may either be programmed or unprogrammed. ..The former more nearly resembles a simple Protestant service, although there are no rites or outward sacraments…In unprogrammed meetings …the service is devoted to quiet meditation, prayer and communion. Any vocal contributions are spontaneous. There are no uniform practice…” ( Mead, p.116).
5. Heaven and Hell
“The emphasis… is on present time… Individual Quakers hold a variety of beliefs about what follows our lives on earth” (ibid).
“Many Quakers consider themselves Christian, and some do not. Many Quakers draw spiritual nourishment from our Christian roots… Many other Quakers draw spiritual sustenance from various religious traditions, such as Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and the natural religions” (ibid).
They want to make the world a better place. “They are particularly concerned with: human rights… social justice, peace, freedom of conscience, environmental issues… community life” (Quakers, bbc.co.uk).