By David Beale

David came to Friends only a few years ago as a result of a project for a literary society he belonged to. The topic of his paper dealt with the rise of Hitler to power in Germany. One of the readings he found dealt with resistance to Hitler. One prominent figure was a French Huguenot minister who began to be associated with Quakers while engaged in a large project to hide and protect Jews. Their efforts were successful to the extent that between 1941-45, this area in France was the safest place for Jews to live in Europe.

“This was a small religious experience for me, reading about this,” Beale said. “I wasn’t so impressed by Andre’s rigid religion, but he was a man of great good-heartedness. I decided I wanted to be associated with some kind of activism, with a religious viewpoint.”

Quakerism is a “minimalist” kind of religion. All that is needed is four walls and a roof to provide people with a place to sit around for a couple of hours. If so inclined, they can testify to their faith. That’s the closest equivalent to preaching that goes on in a Friend’s meeting.

Quakerism started during a cauldron of activity and creativity in the early 17th century. Religious practice and inspiration flourished, and the Church of England became more its own church. Hundreds of Protestant splinter groups emerged. George Fox began Friends in about 1615. There were no sacraments or ministers and little dogma. It was a church of working-class or rural peasantry.

The faith attracted William Penn, whose father was a chief admiral in the British Navy and was well connected with the Royal family. William Penn converted to Quakerism as a young man; he was disowned by his father and thrown in jail. Penn was well educated, and so was an anomaly within the Quaker group. Because of his persecution, he made significant contributions to American law.

This was a time when people demonstrated the courage of their convictions When Penn was found not guilty, the mayor of London threw the jury in jail; but the jury didn’t change. It went to a higher court, and the second judge ordered the jury released.

Penn wrote a tract about basic rights. Some of the ideas expressed in this tract later became incorporated into the Bill of Rights.

People generally know Quakers as quiet, unassuming and pacifist, but early on, they were very aggressive about stating their beliefs. The beliefs contained a strong social gospel from the beginning. They believed in equality of men and women; they were largely anti-slavery, although there was some ambivalence about it.

Until World War II, Quakers ostracized any of their members who went into military service.

Peace, nonviolence, pacifism were always primary values. Quakers did not take up arms during the Revolutionary War. Many Quakers had to go to Canada during war to prevent conscription. Quakers were seen as unfit citizens by many because of their beliefs.

Quakers believe no single human expression can capture the essence of the sacred.

After World War I, in Germany, Quaker groups developed a massive relief program that aided many German children in the early 1920s.

Quakers have split over primacy of the Bible, where Jesus really is God, and whether you have to be a Christian to be a Quaker. They haven’t kept a “tight ship” in maintaining their dogma and belief.

Anyone can speak during meetings, if they feel moved by “Divine light” to speak. This generally begins with a sense of being drawn by some divine impulse that may have a religious or social content. Such comments are not intended to lead to discussion; they are simply thrown out for other people to consider and to be nourished by.

Usually, there is no response to what anyone says. Now, there are “program” meetings, intended to address some purpose. But most meetings are minimalist.

Decisions are made not by vote or by consensus, but when the clerk decides the discussion has been extensive enough, he will express that. (David, does this mean the clerk makes the decisions?)

In the early 1800, Elias Hicks wanted to bring Quaker movement back to an older style. He was ostracized and formed a different church.

Questions & Comments

How do Quakers view the Bible? David – All Quaker meetings give some attention to the Bible, but they don’t take it literally. The Bible is thought of as the expression of writers who were inspired by God, but it not to be thought of as the “Word of God.”

Shakers may have been a splint-off from the Puritans.

Where did the term “Quakers” come from?

David – The term came from a judge— “You should be quaking in your boots before the Lord.” Quakers resisted the use of the term for a long time.

Can Quakers be atheists?

David – Yes, some Quakers are atheists.

Karen Sessel – That’s one of the interesting things about religion; some Jews also are atheists.

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