What is Quakerism?

Who are the Quakers and what do they believe?

          During the social and political ferment in England in the 1650s, a number of small religious groups began.  Many of them soon died out.  One group went by the name of Seekers of the Truth, and when some of its followers got caught up in the religious fervor of its gatherings and began to shake or quake, the group got the informal title of “Quakers.”  These Friends of the Light or Seekers of the Truth became more widely known as the Society of Friends, or simply Quakers.  The early founders, like George Fox and William Penn, were devout Christians.   The followers gathered in silence to “wait upon the Lord.”  They adopted plain dress and plain speech patterns and avoided “steeple houses” and the rituals of established Protestant sects.

         Today members and attenders of Quaker meetings still gather in silence to wait upon the Light.  This practice means that each person sits in contemplation of God, speaking what is on her or his heart, not a liturgy nor a set scriptural passage.  Early in the development of the Quaker movement, George Fox challenged its followers by asking, “But what canst thou say?  Art thou a child of Light? And hast thou walked in the light? And what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?”  Frequently meetings are conducted entirely in silence.

         Truth rarely comes as an instant illumination; rather it comes bit by bit.  Quakers call this process a continuing revelation.  And what is true for individuals is true of the Society as a whole.  For example, Quakers are credited with being early in calling for the abolition of slavery, but the progression shows that in 1696 Quakers were advised not to import slaves, in 1730 they were told not to buy slaves, in 1762 Monthly Meetings were instructed to deal with Friends who still held slaves, but not till 1778 did the Yearly Meeting say that slaveholders should be disowned from their meetings. 

            Quakers do believe that there is “that of God in each person.” This  emphasis on the within-ness of God in each of us has led to patterns of behavior that call for social witness and action in the wider world.