Are You a Liberal or Orthodox Quaker?

Are You a Liberal or Orthodox Quaker?

One of my favorite experiences when I was
teaching at Guilford College and working in campus ministry was an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi
from Israel came to speak to our Jewish students and came into the campus ministry center and
said, “Does Guilford have a religious affiliation?” And I said, “Yeah, we’re Quaker.” and
he said, “Quaker! Do you know, I took a Beliefnet quiz and I
came out Quaker!” There are a number of online quizzes that
people can take these days that can determine everything from “Were you born in the 1950’s/60’s”,
“What music do you remember” to “What’s your religion?” Many people have taken these quizzes and have
learned that they are Quaker. But there are two kinds of Quaker that are
offered by some of these quizzes—which displays whoever has written these quizzes doesn’t
really know their Quaker history. It’s important for a person who is exploring
Quakerism to understand that there are a variety of Quakerisms, and they go back to social
and theological historical movements in the late 1700s and early 1800s, especially here
in the United States. There was a huge separation of the Quaker
body in the 1820s into Orthodox and Hicksite Quakers. I won’t go into the sordid history of this,
but Orthodox Quakers essentially represented an Evangelical Christian faith. They believed that Quakers ought to embrace
the wider Christian world—especially the Evangelical Christian world—be engaged in
missions, be engaged in social movements, reforming society in cooperation with other
evangelical Christian groups. Hicksite Quakers tended to take a more conservative
(small “c”) approach to “we’re a remnant people. We need to protect our social boundaries as
a distinctive, peculiar people and keep the world at arm’s length.” In the oddity of how Quakerism has evolved,
Orthodox Friends—who were the liberals of their time—became conservative (small “c”)
Christians: theologically evangelical; socially and politically more conservative; adopted
standard Protestant practices of settled, pastoral ministry, programmed worship, hymns,
choirs, sermons; and look fairly Protestant by the end of the 20th century. Hicksite Friends became liberal from their
conservative beginnings, because they maintained unprogrammed worship, emphasis on the inward
light, so they became more universalist, more politically progressive, socially progressive,
more liberal. So if you come out “liberal” Quaker, which
is one of the options on these quizzes, you have probably said that you’re open to other
denominations, other religious expressions, you’re ok with Muslims and Buddhists and
Jews, you’re fairly politically active, you’re probably liberal in your political
leanings, and that will—whatever the algorithms are for these things—identify you as a liberal
Quaker. Another option is “orthodox” Quaker and
that would indicate that you’ve answered questions like you read the Bible regularly,
you believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, you are conservative socially, perhaps even
politically, you ascribe to the standard orthodoxies of mainstream Christianity. Those are the only two options they give you,
essentially, on those quizzes, but there are many other variations of Friends. So if you moved to Greensboro after taking
the quiz, knowing that it’s “the center of Quakerism in America… I’m going to be in the Valhalla of Quakerism”
and you had come out liberal Quaker and went to the Evangelical Friends Church—steeples,
stained glass windows, backlit cross, organ, piano, drum set, electric keyboards and guitars,
revivals, holy hands—you would have fled in terror halfway through the worship! If you had taken that quiz and come out orthodox
Quaker and went to another one of the meetings where someone rose out of the silence and
said, “As I heard on NPR this week…” Buddhist expressions, Zen expressions, Jewish,
Hindu expressions of faith—they would have fled in terror. So it’s important that you take care of
doing your research, look at the websites, see how they express their Quakerism, and
match it with your own beliefs.

14 thoughts on “Are You a Liberal or Orthodox Quaker?

  1. I was raised in an orthodox evangelical environment which I fled lately at age 21, followed by two decades of tough inner reconstruction.
    I recently happily discovered your channel of which I love (and maybe selectively only notice ?) its liberal – as it seems ? – spirituality which reminds me of the local Buddhist / Mindfulness group I joined two years ago : Mutual attention and weighed words interspersed with a refreshing silence.

  2. This is great. I'm glad that Max states that 1) these two variations are imperfect (I don't even know many Friends who are "orthodox" who even use the term) and 2) it's important to do research. It's especially important that Friends meetings state explicitly that they are welcoming congregations. There are evangelical Friends Churches who are (and most aren't) and unprogrammed meetings who aren't (but most are).

  3. My ancestors fled England, then Ireland, as Friends to establish a meeting in western Virginia in1734, My father, then, was raised in a Quakerism that fell somewhere between the two: Meetings were silent but I can't say these Friends were liberal at all. The Bible was read often and my father took me to another Meeting often (my father and mother settled on her Methodist upbringing and so he was split in his beliefs). I felt as a child that there was something so special about the quiet though my father said nothing about "centering" or "looking for the light within". He did practice trying to see the good in everyone and encouraged us to do the same. I had, until recently, begun going to a Unitarian Universalist Congregation but didn't like the "political" infighting. I wanted PEACE, so I found a Meeting that brings me peace and I am making connections with people and seeking to be of service to the Meeting in some small way. My terror is that I will be told that I have to "take Jesus for my Lord and Savior" or…well, you know the rest. I feel God's presence and am comforted by it. I believe there was an historic Jesus and a movement grew from his teachings. I believe that the gnostics wrote just as much as the mainstream Jesus Movement and that in translation through many different languages (the Torah and Qu'ran are always copied word-for-word) and that in the 4th century "the Church" decided what THEY wanted the Holy Bible to say, and that it would remain in Latin so that there would be no question of the Church's authority. I want to become a Quaker, but I don't know if I am able to accept that Jesus was the Son of God just because it is written in a book written by people who may have been as flawed as am I. So what am I? Will I simply remain a "visitor" or "seeker"? If someone has an answer, I would greatly appreciate a response.

  4. I discovered the Quakers by taking one of those quizzes. I was too conservative for the FGC Quakers and too liberal for the Evangelical Quakers, so I ended up becoming an affiliate member of a far-away Conservative Quaker meeting, which no quiz addresses, since there are so few Conservative Quakers left. Like the Liberal Quakers, they hold their meetings in silence, but like the Evangelical Quakers, they still hold Christianity at the center of their theology.

  5. I started attending my local Quaker meeting in New Zealand about a year ago, and I think we must be a bit different here.
    I know we're a small community – about 500 Members throughout the country, plus Attenders (like me), out of a total New Zealand population of roughly 4 million people. From what I've learned, Quakers in New Zealand:
    – are more closely aligned to British than American quakerism (goes back to our origins)
    – meet in unprogrammed worship exclusively or almost exclusively
    – are socially active and progressive on a range of issues, including peace, biculturalism and reconciliation with indigenous Maori people, and environmentalism
    – tend to be universalists and would not, in many if not most cases, identify as Christian or would say "yes, but…"
    So I don't know if I'd be a liberal or a conservative Quaker by any of the standards discussed!

  6. As someone who is currently doing a lot of reading on Quaker beginnings and traditional Quaker theology, I would love (LOVE!!!!!!!) a video on the Great Separation, even though I know it's a difficult subject but I feel like it is really meaningful and important for anyone who was not raised Quaker and is trying to find their place within Quaker history.

  7. I am one of those people who found "Liberal Quakerism" through the beliefnet denomination quiz 🙂 And it turns out that it was extremely accurate.

  8. Why do so many of you wear long beards? There is no historical precedent except in Victorian times when it became the worldly fashion everywhere anyway. Before then it was almost unknown and the odd bearded Friend treated as an eccentric (James Naylor, Benjamin Lay, Joshua Evans). Is it to copy Amish, Tolstoy or Doukhobors?

  9. I'd love to see the algorithm for "Do you believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ?" As if such a question can be properly addressed by an algorithm.

  10. So, essentially, Liberal quakers aren’t Christians. If I were an orthodox Quaker I would want to separate myself SO far away from the vile and un-Christ-like liberal Quakers as I possibly could be. Pagans, and nothing more. God is NOT in that church.

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