J’s rough guide to Quakerism…because if you get two Quakers in a room you’ll get three different opinions!

In my opinion, at its heart, Quakerism is a way of doing spirituality. Since it’s inception, beliefs about the nature of God, the place of humanity in creation, acceptance of non-heterosexual sexualities and many other big questions, have changed and varied in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). However, the Meeting for Worship; the silent gathering of members and attenders who seek corporate and individual discernment of answers to these questions; has remained largely unchanged in hundreds of years.

At root, Quakers believe of “that of God in everyone”. Not every Quaker (including this one) are content with the word ‘God’, imbued as it is with thousands of years of cultural baggage (“man with a beard sat on a cloud” for example) and have their own conception of a ‘divine’. Some are atheist.

Because everyone has that ‘something’ which transcends gender, race, religion, sexuality etc, ergo, everyone is equal. Everyone therefore is equal in a Meeting for Worship and so there are no priests or leaders. Quakers down the years have campaigned for the equal treatment of women, those transported as slaves, ethnic minorities, asylum seekers and refugees, homosexuals, conscientious objectors, prisoners, least developed nations and other fashionable and unfashionable causes.

Because everyone has a personal relationship with that ‘something’, everyone’s spiritual insights and experiences are valid and should at least be listened to. Anyone in a Quaker Meeting can ‘minister’; speak from within about something that causes them concern or that they have experienced. Children and non-Quakers have experiences and thoughts that are as full of truth and insight as the experiences and thoughts of Quakers who are old and educated.

Also, because everyone has that ‘something’, Quakers do not hold that Christianity is the only religion of merit. Early Quakers were Christians, but then what else could they have been? They lived in a time and place (17th Century Britain) where religious diversity was a very new concept, was certainly not tolerated, and where people’s choices were between Catholicism or Protestantism.

Today, Christianity holds a different place for different Quakers. Quakers do not, as a body, hold that there is a Christian God and that Jesus was his Son. In that sense, there has always been debate as to whether Quakers belong to the body of The Church and can be recognised by other Christians as fellow believers. What matters to Quakers is experience and discerned beliefs, not creeds or doctrines. Some Quakers do hold closely to Christian teachings, others reject them entirely or follow other religions and philosophies. Personally I take a different perspective. Judaism has a concept known as Midrashim. Midrashim, at least in part, is concerned with understanding present spiritual questions with reference to the spiritual experiences of the past, because the past is what you’ve got. Because I was brought up in a Christian home, Bible stories and the teachings of Jesus are the tools for understanding that I’ve been given – and I can’t get rid of them. That is not to say that I believe them to be the tools that everyone should have, nor that I can’t add to them from other faith traditions. But it does mean that if I want to think about a religious controversy, I do so with reference to Christianity because that is the only language that I have to do so with. Does that make me a Christian? Personally, I would reject that label. But I have become increasingly comfortable with being able to embrace the tools for understanding a once held Christian faith has furnished me with.

Quakerism is concerned with what is lived, not what is believed. Living the Quaker Way is hard and there is no perfect Quaker. But what unites Quakers is not a creed, but a constant seeking to live life in accordance with principles of peace, truth, equality, simplicity and care for the environment; whatever they many mean for that person at that time; whilst also being prepared for the possibility that they may be mistaken.


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. teacherface
    Oct 26, 2010 @ 19:39:03

    “Quakerism is concerned with what is lived, not what is believed.”
    I’m really *attracted* to that line of thought. I, personally, prefer to keep my religious and political thoughts to myself but reading yours and Lucy’s views on Quakerism has been a nice little jaunt into the realms of the complete unknown.

    So thank you, L & J.


  2. maninahutch
    Oct 26, 2010 @ 21:18:51

    I understand precisely where you’re coming from re: keeping religious and political beliefs to oneself. The more *ahem* ‘vocal’ branches of Christianity and Islam have rather given religion a bad name and those involved in politics aren’t getting the best of press at the moment.

    The notion of “living faith” isn’t about evangelism. But if your religious or political thoughts cause you to act in a particular way, simply because that is the “right thing to do”, then you can’t help but to let others know what your religious or political views are because of what you do and how you treat people; even if they have know idea where that behaviour comes from.

    Your being cannot be seperated from your believing.


  3. Flix
    Oct 28, 2010 @ 19:11:34

    And I am not disappointed. Interesting insight, again. So were you not brought up as a Quaker? When did you become one?


  4. maninahutch
    Oct 28, 2010 @ 22:22:19

    My parents are ministers in the United Reformed Church (URC) so I was brought up that (liberal mainstream protestantism). I started attending Quaker Meetings about 5 years ago when I left home, and became a Member earlier this year.


  5. Flix
    Oct 29, 2010 @ 09:54:16

    How does one become a Member? And what drew you to Quakerism? Of course, you don’t have to answer these questions, I’m just intrigued, is all.


  6. maninahutch
    Oct 29, 2010 @ 10:09:34

    I was drawn to Quakerism by it’s equality testamony – especially in relation to homosexuals at a time when other churches were either openly hostile or unwilling to talk about it. I also liked the space to be able to think through things for myself.

    To become a member, one applies to the Area Meeting (a decision making body covering an area of the UK). They then appoint two existing members to visit you. This isn’t a test but rather a conversation to establish a) whether you want to be a member, b) you understand what being a member is about, and c) whether it would be appropriate for you to become a member. Again, it’s not a test and this last one isn’t about whether you believe the right things but rather that you understand Quakerism enough to make an informed choice about membership and the life choices that that involves. Membership is never closed off to someone but it may be suggested that someone goes away and reads something before another visit.

    Some people withdraw themselves from the membership process too because they don’t feel it’s something that they are ready for or understand well enough.


  7. Fiddler J
    Apr 17, 2011 @ 05:51:41

    On the Christianity issue, Tony Benn describes himself as ” a follower of the teachings of Jesus of Nazereth”. I don’t know if this desecribes you, but I find this a very useful phrase.


  8. Trackback: A Quaker Wedding Ceremony – Part I « 2 Quakers, 1 wedding, 0 hats!

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