The Religious Society of Friends, commonly referred to as Quakers, developed during the 17th century in England, as George Fox (1625-1691) attempted to return to the simpler early days of Christianity. While Quakerism is a Christian religion, it differs from most branches of Christianity in its reliance on self-study and introspection rather than a hierarchical organized religion. From its origins in England, Quakerism has spread throughout the world. Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn as a Quaker refuge. As Quakerism has spread, different groups have branched off with a range of practices. However, the following are core beliefs and practices which most Quakers affirm.
Quakerism and the Inner Light
Quakers believe that all human beings contain elements of the divine, and are inherently worthy. During the non-scripted Meeting, attendees enjoy the silence as a chance to connect more closely and directly with God. Any person present may speak if the Spirit moves them. Quakers try to connect with Spirit in daily life as well, trying to achieve a practice of unity between spiritual and worldly concerns.
Quakers and Knowledge
Quakers value the search for Spirit. Unlike many Christians, Quakers do not believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. They study the Bible as a work written by humans under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and capable of bringing Spirit into the reader. The Friends also value education and study for all, and have founded many well-known schools and universities, including Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C., where the Obama girls attend; Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore, Cornell, and Johns Hopkins.
Quakerism and Non-Violence
Critical to the practices of the Quaker is the belief in peace. Because all human beings are considered to contain the spark of the Divine, taking arms against or hurting a fellow person would be equivalent to hurting God. Quakers worked to help create the status of “conscientious objector.” The Peace Testimony is an important Quaker principle, and Quakers actively work to prevent preparations for war.
The Quaker Consensus and Truth
During business meetings, the practice is to obtain a consensus. Rather than voting and forcing one’s will on another, discussion allows the attainment of unity and finding the will of the Spirit. Quakers try to speak the truth at all times and for that reason will not take oaths in court. They feel it creates two standards of truth.
Quakers Were Early Social Activists
Quakerism celebrates divinity in all people. As all people have a portion of God’s spirit in their soul, all people are equally divine. This divinity is regardless of gender, skin color, income level, religious belief or national origin. Because of their beliefs, Quakers have been involved in the Abolitionist, Suffrage, and other humanitarian movements from early days. This work for peace continues today.
Quakerism and Simplicity
Because the Friends believe that all people are inherently divine, they don’t believe in trying to put one person above another. For this reason, they prefer to wear simple clothes and use simple language. Quaker Meeting Houses are plain and unadorned. This allows less distraction in the personal communication with God and fellow Friends.
Quakerism is a Christian religion, but distinct from most branches of Christianity in its simplicity, work for peace, and humanitarianism.
“Beliefs and Practices of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)”, religioustolerance.org
Ted Hoare, “Facts about Friends”, quaker.org