Who Are Quakers? What Is Quakerism?
Quakers is the popular name for the Society of Friends, a Christian religious organization founded by George Fox (1624-1691). Fox rejected the creeds and ceremonies of all organized churches, while respecting the Bible, put the greatest emphasis on the Holy Spirit guiding people from within. The Quakers worship largely in silence; they are pacifists and great supporters of charity and good cause.
The beliefs of the early Quakers often brought them into conflict with the authorities. Many immigrated to a colony in Pennsylvania founded in 1681 by the Quaker William Penn. The name came from the early leaders saying that their followers should tremble in the sight of the lord.
Quakerism developed in England during a period of social upheaval in the mid-1600s that produced many new Christian religious sects. Seekers, as Quakers were then called, were persecuted against because they believed that people could directly relate to and communicate with God– without the need for priests or preachers. Today, Friends are called the Religious Society of Friends, just Friends, or Quakers.
There are different groups of Quakers today, some who have ministers and some who do not. The authors of Quaker Maps states, “Quakerism arises out of a radical interpretation of Christianity that understands Christ as being a living reality in personal experience, not only in the Bible and Church tradition. The basic discovery of the Friends movement is – in the words of George Fox, the movement’s founder – that ‘Christ is come to teach his people himself'”.
The belief that each individual has the ability to discern the will of God led to the continuing practice of unprogrammed Friends Meetings to worship without a minister or preacher. Instead, Friends meet and gather together in communal, silent waiting for the Word of God to be discerned by individuals.
These Meetings for Worship are typically one hour in length and are characterized by the communal gathering together in silence, sometimes for the entire period, messages brought by individuals after they have discerned whether they are from Spirit and are meant for the gathering. After each message, Friends wait to process before others speak. After an appropriate period, the Meeting Clerk or member of Ministry and Care Committee calls for the rise of Meeting and the Meeting for Worship is over.
The belief that there is “that of God in everyone” also leads to a different process for conducting business. Friends do not vote on items of business but instead, work towards unity on communal solutions. Unless unity can be found– often seeking guidance from God– no action is taken by the Friends Meeting.
Over the centuries, the belief that there is God within each individual led Quakers to seek peaceful relations with native Indians when they first came to American colonies, and to the forefront of the abolition movements to abolish slavery, to prison reform, and to women’s suffrage and rights. The Religious Society of Friends is also one of the traditional “peace” churches and members do not believe guns or killing or going to war.