A talk given by Margery Post Abbott at the

Quaker Theological Discussion Group Conference,                      

June 20, 1996

       In this setting, I am very conscious of the range of people who call ourselves Quakers.  The consequences of the divisions which started in Philadelphia in 1827 are quite evident in Oregon in 1996.  Approximately three quarters of the Friends in Oregon hold a clear Evangelical faith as evidenced by the founders of George Fox College.  These Friends have adopted the pastoral system.  The other, smaller body of Friends, to which I belong, is open to a variety of expressions of belief and worships in unprogrammed meetings.

Both groups see themselves as inheritors of the faith of early Friends.  Yet as a direct consequence of the separations, they have grown to emphasize different aspects of early Quakerism.  In the process each branch has adopted new beliefs and practices which push them further apart.  A question close to my heart is “how can we all rightfully claim to be Friends?”  My research looks at this question for my own tradition, that of liberal, unprogrammed Friends.  I am writing primarily for these Friends, but seek to do so in a way which is helpful to Evangelical Friends who are willing to explore this question of our common roots and the ways we might learn from each other today.

Modern Mystics and Hidden Christians: Liberal Friends in the 20th Century, is the working title for a book I am writing.  In the past year I asked Friends a variety of questions about their faith in a process of research which alternates between being extremely daunting and wonderfully exciting.

My research centers on those Quakers who belong to yearly meetings open to a diversity of belief.  For want of a better term I am calling them “Liberal Friends.”   I use the word “liberal” to mean open to a wide range of belief.  I specifically do not use the more common term “unprogrammed Friends.”  Most Liberal Friends worship in unprogrammed meetings which are closest in form to early Friends’ worship[i] of waiting on God.  However, I want to stress that “waiting” or “open” worship is not inherently linked to a “Liberal” theology and that all Friends might benefit by revisiting the nature and theology of worship.

Liberal Friends are a minority within the Religious Society of Friends.  Their yearly meetings–those which do not have a clearly defined statement of belief in their Faith and Practice–include Philadelphia, North Pacific (which I belong to), Britain, Baltimore, and Canadian, among others.  Within such yearly meetings worldwide, one can find individuals and meetings that are quite evangelical as well as meetings where the word “Christ” is never heard.  These meetings are often politically liberal, but not always, and a few monthly meetings hold programmed worship and have pastors.  Liberal Friends are perhaps a third of North American Friends and small fraction of Friends worldwide.[ii]

Part of the impetus for my research is Tom Hamm’s challenge “If Friends can accommodate virtually any belief, then what does it mean to be a Friend?”[iii]  My book is organized around four central topics with chapters: Mysticism, that is, the individual and group encounter with the Divine;  Belief, or the ways which people speak about God; Testimonies–the witness of God’s action in daily life; and Community, or how Friends live together as a people of God.   The core of my research is a set of over 60 interviews with Friends in three quite different Liberal yearly meetings–Philadelphia, Britain and North Pacific.[iv]  Individuals were chosen in part because of their active involvement in leadership positions or in interpreting Quakerism through writing and teaching.  They were also chosen to give a sense of the range of beliefs present in those yearly meetings.

This paper examines the ways in which other great religions of the world have reshaped the beliefs of Liberal Friends.  In particular, I consider some of the ways in which shifting understandings of the universal nature of Christ has allowed many Meetings to accept non-Christians into membership.  The interviews I cite here are illustrative of individual perspectives.  A thorough analysis is still in the future.

Turn first to Robert Barclay, the codifier of seventeenth century practice and belief.  Barclay established a clear alternative to the predominant views of his time in stating that:

“[Christ] is the ‘real light which enlightens every man” (John 3:16 NEB).  And makes visible everything that is exposed to the light.  And teaches all temperance, righteousness and godliness.  And enlightens the hearts of all to prepare them for salvation.”[v]

The first generation of Friends were radical in believing Jesus Christ was universally available to all people.  This allowed them to approach individuals of other religions in a way which recognized and respected those who responded to the Spirit of Christ in all cultures and all religions.

Over the centuries, this initial opening has undergone many changes.  In the 1970’s a few Liberal Friends, first in Great Britain, then in the United States, created formal organizations based on a concept of “universalism” which some see as independent of the Christian message.

But this is not an easy blend.  John Punshon and Elton Trueblood are among the prominent Friends who have challenged this diversity in belief and decried a universalism which is not grounded in Christ as untrue to Quakerism.[vi]  The place of Christ has also been a difficult issue for Liberal Friends.

There is no general agreement even among Liberal Friends about what is meant by “universalism”,[vii]  but I will trace some of the ways it has even become possible to accept non-Christians as members, by following the response of Friends to Asian religions.

In the late twentieth century, Friends have come to accept non-Christians in their membership, sometime unthinkable a century ago.[viii]  This is one consequence of the way in which Friends have adapted belief and practice to contemporary life in a multi-cultural, complex world.  Liberal Friends have accepted greater diversity of belief than other Friends today or in the past.  This has opened possibilities for them in seeing the bredth of God’s hand in the world.  It has also opened serious questions about the degree to which they have lost a crucial portion of the original message which early Friends knew?  Is there a deeper inner discipline which might help build and expand what they have to say to each other and to the world?  And, How does living in a culture of comfort affect their faith?


First, I want to set forth three reasons Liberal Friends have become open to accepting a diversity of belief among their members.  These are: the traditional Quaker hostility to the established institutions of Christianity; a firm belief in continuing revelation; and the way in which Friends respond to shifts in the culture around them.

A.  Hostility to the Institutions of Christianity

One source of the new universalism is the hostility of Friends to institutional Christianity.  Again and again Friends make statements such as “Some long-time members would still say that Quakerism is not a Christian religion,”  or, “I believe many joined [Friends] in the past 30 years finding the beliefs and/or practices of their church were not meaningful.”[ix]

Disillusion with the established church and with a Christianity that relies on form alone has a long tradition among Friends.  This disillusionment led Fox to search until he “found one even Christ Jesus who could speak to his condition.”  The inward experience of Christ infused early Friends with a fervor that led them to a radical way of life and expression of their faith in ways we refer to today as the testimonies.

This disillusionment with traditional Christianity remains real and strong well into the 1990s.  The difference lies in the fact that Fox rejected the institutional church and embraced Christ as his salvation.  Today, Liberal Friends’ meetings provide a refuge for those wounded in, and angry at, Christian churches.  They also provide a welcome home for those who find a powerful message in Jesus’ life and seek to worship in a community which takes its faith to heart and seeks to live it out.

Several people I interviewed came to Friends after an extended search for a faith “that could speak to their condition.”  More than one Friend, like George Fox, found that what the pastors of their youth taught felt like death.  Among Friends they found Life.  Like Fox, they find the reality of God present in the world.  They seek to live in accord with divine guidance.  One interviewee stated with certainty that most Friends “are radically Christian, trying to live in the Divine presence and in accord with Divine guidance… even though most use non-Christian language.”[x]

B. The Nature of Continuing Revelation

A second reason for new Quaker interpretations of faith is in the concept of continuing revelation.  One Philadelphia Friend, described it this way:

We also believe in continuous revelation–not that God once spoke and vouchsafed all truths–but that God still speaks and continues to be available to us.  We are imperfect, but new fragments of truth are always available.  This makes Quakerism a very positive and hopeful faith in that one implication of continuing revelation is that human beings are perfectible; the kingdom of God is realizable within history, and not only beyond it.  This is important in keeping Friends from thinking they have all the answers.  Becoming a Friend is the beginning of a search, not its end.[xi]

A number of Friends see Quakers growing in their concepts of God as part of the process of continuing revelation. Barclay’s concept of the light that is available to all makes more visible the surprising and varied ways in which God is at work in the world.  Attention to the Inward Teacher gives Friends an ability to see the world in fresh ways and not be defined solely by tradition or cultural norms.  This has led Friends periodically to take actions or make statements vilified at the time, but seen as insightful by later generations.[xii]

This was clearly true over three hundred years ago, when George Fox recognized the truth present in other religions.  Fox knew the Koran and quoted it extensively in his correspondence to Muslims.  In 1680, Fox wrote to the King of Algiers pleading on behalf of Quakers and other captives who were being tortured and even killed.  In stark contrast to others of his day, he appealed to the King on the grounds of the moral laws expressed in the Koran.  He called the King to accountability by the standards of his own faith, stating:

And Mahomet saith, that God guideth not the Wicked, chap. 19, page 115.  And again, he saith, Alms is appointed for the Poor for them that recommend themselves to God, to redeem slaves, and such as are in Debt, in the same chap. p. 11.  I say then, according to your own Alcoran, God hath not been your Guide to be so wicked.”[xiii]

Fox also urged Friends in Algiers and elsewhere to learn the local language and to respect local culture and religion, “that they might be the more enabled to direct them to the grace and spirit of God in them.”[xiv]  He even noted that Friends in Muslim countries had more freedom to worship in their own manner than Friends in England at that time had.  Thus, Fox embodied a true respect for others, even those whose actions he despised.  He sought for the Seed in each and challenged each person to respond to the inward Spirit.  At the same time, Fox was clear and forthright about his faith in Christ and sought to bring the Muslims to know that salvation was in Christ, not the Koran.[xv]

In the early and mid-part of the twentieth century Rufus Jones, a member of the Orthodox New England Yearly Meeting, epitomized among Friends this open spirit of acceptance of other faiths within the missionary context.  Rufus and Elizabeth Jones made several trips abroad on behalf of various missionary efforts, both Quaker and inter-denominational.  Jones prepared for each trip by reading extensively in advance and went with an attitude of learning, rather than as one who “knew all mysteries and all knowledge.”  From his trips to Japan, Jones came to see Buddha as second only to Jesus as most clearly revealing and living a life of love and tenderness.[xvi]

The belief that God can direct our actions and words today, gives Liberal Friends an openness to fresh understandings of the world around them.  By listening for the voice of God in themselves and in others they meet, they have the ability to reinterpret their faith anew as well as the challenge of discerning what is Truth.  As one Friend said, “Surely the good news can’t be that most people aren’t saved” is a strong impetus for a belief that Christianity is not the only path to God.[xvii]

C. Responses to Changing Culture

Attitudes towards Asian religions are a helpful means to trace the relation between Anglo-American culture and Liberal Friends understanding of their faith.  Friends had increased direct contact in India, China, Korea, and Japan with Hinduism and Buddhism particularly through their mission work and the Friends Ambulance Corps starting in the early part of this century.  The interactions have been complex and mingled with wider changes in American and European culture.  For instance, Ham Sok Hon, a member of Seoul Meeting in Korea has influenced many and become known as a “Korean Gandhi.”  A fervent Christian who touched many American Friends during his sojourn at Pendle Hill, he saw religion as taking on a new form.  In a 1969 article he expressed a widely accepted sense of the need to infuse a new Asian perspective into Anglo-American culture and religion:

The basic truth of religion cannot change, but every age demands a new expression of that which is eternal. . . . And since the Western classics have been “used up”, we are forced to examine more closely our own Eastern Classics.  A renewed appreciation of the East will furnish the key to the revitalization of the stagnated Western culture.[xviii]

A member of University Meeting in Seattle responded to my question about Christ by saying, “Being Buddhist and being Christian are like a right leg and a left leg.  Both are connected to the same body, the Inner Light.”  Over the years, various knowledgeable individuals have noted similarities between Zen Buddhism and Quakerism.  In 1957, Teresina Havens prepared a study guide called Quaker and Buddhist Experiments with Truth on behalf of Friends General Conference.  She chose Buddhism as a tool for understanding Eastern religions because, “Buddhism is an Oriental religion, and hence a bridge to the understanding of all Oriental religions, but at the same time it is more like Quakerism than any other.”[xix]  Similarly, Yukio Irie, a member of Japan Yearly Meeting, wrote in 1973 that “broadly speaking, in these religious main points, Zen Buddhism has much in common with Quakerism.”[xx]  Thus Buddhism is a natural strand to follow, serving as an indicator of the response of some Quakers to other faiths.

Looking back to the last century, Buddhist texts were first translated into English in 1826 in a minimal, romanticized way.  Serious introduction of Buddhism into western culture began in the late 1800s.  The Theosophical Society, established in New York in 1875, did much to popularize Buddhist concepts.[xxi]   By the early twentieth century, this trend had penetrated Quakerism in both the United States and England.[xxii]  Asian religion was one of many areas of concern related to the “Mystical Awakening” addressed at the 1914 Llandudno Conference in Great Britain.  The advance document for this conference states: “The vogue of Theosophy, Buddhism, Spiritualism, the Bahai Movement, etc, indicates the yearning for a spiritual experience, and for a more certain knowledge of the unseen world….”  This conference, however, rather than looking towards opening up to other religions, sought to ground Quakerism in the historic Jesus.  Participants took care to note that “inward experience is not alone sufficient to give us the message that our generation needs.  We have a religion which goes back to historical facts, and we can, and must, draw out inspiration from these….”[xxiii]

In mid-twentieth century, fascination with Eastern religions continued to grow both in the general culture and within the Society of Friends.  Thomas Kelly is one widely influential Friend who spent time researching Asian philosophy and religion.  Kelly took advantage of a teaching position in Hawaii to steep himself in Chinese and Indian philosophy and developed a course in each of these fields for Haverford College.[xxiv]  Kelly, a passionate Christian, combined his Evangelical Holiness roots with a universalist understanding that the “cosmic Light of Christ…is found shining in some form in the lives of all persons in all cultures.”

The first formal involvement of Friends I’ve been able to identify in interfaith cooperation was in India in 1949.  Horace Alexander and Donald and Erica Groom were among those who brought together Friends and members of other faiths for worship in the manner of Friends.  This apparently was in response to a suggestion of Gandhi.  Gandhi suggested to Horace Alexander that one of the most valuable things the Quakers in India could do in response to riots in Calcutta and Delhi was to bring together Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs to rebuild trust.  As the idea was developed, Alexander tested out with Gandhi the possibility of a “union of hearts, a fellowship in which men of each faith–Hindu, Buddhist, Parsi, Muslim, Christian–may find themselves as one because they are seeking together to practice the truth of God in the world”.  Gandhi saw Friends as able to provide such a meeting ground, if they were prepared “to recognize that it is as natural for a Hindu to grow into a Friend as it is for a Christian to grow into one,” a quote given prominence in several articles.[xxv]

The Fellowship of Friends of Truth, while not formally connected with the Society of Friends, was influential among Friends.  It was formed with the purpose: “Far from asking any one to water down his Faith, or to abandon its essential features,” the Fellowship of Faith “invites him rather to become more faithful.”[xxvi]  This perspective marks a significant shift from earlier Friends who expressed respect for other faiths but still saw Christianity as the primary faith to a vision of Christianity as an equal among the world’s faiths.  Marjorie Sykes and other Quakers in India, however, cautioned against “grandiose and self-conscious talk” about Quakerism being a bridge between faiths.  Setting up such an ulterior motive she saw as destructive of human relationships and that it is more appropriate to “enjoy God” and let anything further develop naturally.[xxvii]

In Great Britain, a significant change began in the same years.  In 1948, London Yearly Meeting refused to allow a Swarthmore Lecture to be given under that name at its annual session.  According to Elton Trueblood, who was present at these sessions, the invited speaker had “included the separation of Quakerism from the Christian faith.”[xxviii]  In 1980, by contrast, in what some have called a watershed Swarthmore Lecture,[xxix] Janet Scott stated, “Thus we may answer the question, ‘Are Quakers Christian?’ by saying that it does not matter.  What matters to Quakers is not the label by which we are called or call ourselves, but the life.”[xxx]

This shift seems to be part of a much wider cultural change.  In 1959, Marjorie Sykes, a convinced Friend who became an Indian citizen, wrote: “The Quaker interest in other forms of religious experience is part of a general movement of thought.”  She placed this in the context of the opening up of travel and means of communication in the aftermath to the second world war.  She also suggested the increasing sense of failure of science and “progress” as further impetus to a search for hope in Asian religions.[xxxi]

Throughout the post World War II period, the interest in a deeper understanding and acceptance of other religions continued to grow among Liberal Friends.  In 1967, Friends World Committee for Consultation hosted a conference in Japan for Zen Buddhists and Christians and a similar gathering in India for Hindus and Christians.  The Quaker Universalist Group was founded in England by John Linton in 1977 on the basis “that spiritual awareness is accessible to men and women of any religion or none and that no one Faith can claim to have a monopoly of Truth.”[xxxii]  The Quaker Universalist Fellowship formed on similar grounds in the United States soon after.

This trend towards other religious philosophies reflected broader cultural currents.  As some of you probably remember, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was a popular book twenty years ago.  It was one popular expression of the influence of various scholars of Asian religions on the Beat generation and the hippie movement. In the mid-1970s, American Buddhists were rapidly growing and represented a cross-section of middle-class/upper middle class America, although perhaps more educated and intellectual than the average.[xxxiii]  This socio-economic profile is similar to what may be seen among those joining many Liberal Friends meetings.

In 1996, there are Friends who hold membership in a Monthly Meeting and see themselves as Buddhist, Jewish, or Anglican.  A Quaker who is also a Zen Buddhist priest speaks of growing up unchurched, discovering faith through Buddhism, then finding in Friends the revelation that he could also find a faith home in a Christian community.  He states that Quakerism and Zen practice both nurture his faith, in similar, but differing ways and that both are essential to him.[xxxiv]

This would not have been possible in the past.  For the first two centuries, there was an assumption of unity of faith among Friends.  Only in 1806, under the pressure of the evangelical revivals sweeping the US and Quakerism, did Friends in Philadelphia feel the need to expressly include in their Faith and Practice a provision stating that denial of the divinity of Christ, the immediate revelation of the Holy Spirit or the authenticity of the Scriptures was grounds for disownment.  This provision was continued in both the Hicksite and Orthodox disciplines published immediately following the “great separation” of 1827.[xxxv]

Joint membership in another church was not even considered a possibility.  In fact marriage to a non-Friend was grounds for disownment through much of the nineteenth century.  Even today, Philadelphia and some other Liberal yearly meetings continue the traditional position of rejecting dual membership.  Other yearly meetings such as North Pacific, are silent on the matter in their discipline and in practice some monthly meetings accept dual membership.

Openness to the prospect that God works in multiple and unexpected ways is changing Quaker practice.  It also gives hope and encouragement to those who seek to find a unity which reaches beyond words.  The 1995 draft of a new Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice suggests that clearness committees ask each prospective member, “Are you comfortable with a Society whose unity of spirit coexists with a diversity of beliefs?”[xxxvi]





Having looked at the factors which indicate the vitality of the response of Liberal Friends to a world where multiple faiths and cultures mingle, I now want to suggest aspects of Quaker understanding which contemporary Liberal Friends have lost to some degree.  I raise two questions: How do Friends who detach themselves from the Christian tradition find the grounding and discipline which are essential to spiritual maturity?  And, Is spiritual depth possible for any of us in a culture which is based on material comfort and ease?

 A. Grounding in Tradition

When I asked the Friends I interviewed, “How do you define Quaker Universalism?”  I got some surprisingly strong reactions which have convinced me it is a poor term to use.  Only a small number of those I spoke to defined universalism in a way similar to Barclay.  Perhaps the most widely accepted definition of universalism among Liberal Friends would be as Betty Polster phrased it:

I would define a Quaker universalist as one who believes that God has left no culture without an avenue for seeking and finding the divine.  In this view, Christianity is one such avenue, not the exclusive one.[xxxvii]

Many, many respondents were quite sure that it was not acceptable to see Quakerism as distinctly non-Christian, but see too many Friends who speak of “universalism” in that fashion.  Others saw a significant problem in detachment from any deep tradition.  As Janet Scott, a British Friend explained, “There are those who call themselves universalists (they are a bit quaint).  I expected them to have a lot of interest in a variety of faiths, but found them not interested in any particular faith, but looking for a new one and not well-grounded.”[xxxviii]

Various individuals have stated or implied that Friends must, as a body, be well grounded in faith if they are to have an effective witness in the world.  Adam Curle explains his position this way:

“….my wife Anna and I had joined the Society of Friends (Quakers) in Ghana a decade earlier, and this association was and has remained a valued source of support and purpose, indeed much of my peace work has been carried out under Quaker auspices.  However, I felt the need for more inner guidance than Quakerism, probably through my own fault, had given me; I now set out to look for it.  The path I followed led me through several stages, each illuminating, to Vajrayana, the Tantric Buddhism of Tibet.”[xxxix]

Curle decided to seek outside the bounds of Quakerism and Christianity for a spiritual discipline.  This raises a warning that Liberal Friends have lost a widespread knowledge of the Quaker heritage of spiritual practice and discernment.

Curle found the grounding and spiritual discipline he needed in Buddhism for the intense experiences in international mediation, development and education which have formed the basis of his work.  Other Friends find their grounding in recovering traditional Quaker practices, some in learning of the ways of the Catholic mystics.  Marjorie Sykes blended a deep Christian Quakerism and intensive study of Hinduism as she taught in India and was active in the Gandhian movement for Indian independence.  Looking closely at Friends who make a visible difference in the world, it is usual to find a pattern of spiritual discipline, study and prayer which ground their work.

B. The Place of Suffering in a Culture of Ease

My other question for Friends relates to the material affluence which surrounds many of us, accompanied by a political system that allows great freedoms.  Some of the Friends I interviewed felt that the strength of Quaker witness can only be known when it is tested.  Today, they suggested, Friends are too often comfortable, middle-class and do not have to face harsh decisions or the pain which is all too real for much of the world.  A Seattle Friend, Maurice Warner stated it this way:

At the present time, we are not forged by martyrdom.  There is a significant difference when we are forced by adversity into hard positions.  My experience acting on the testimonies was in a community where there was a sense of ostracism. . . . I was directly faced with making decisions at the razor’s edge.  Are you willing to do that kind of work?  What if your job is at stake?  Power is lost when we have the ability to waffle.[xl]

Yukio Irie had attended six Zen-Christian Colloquia in Japan at the time he spoke at Australia Yearly Meeting in 1973.  In his lecture, he summarized each of the Colloquia and presented from them important questions for Liberal Friends:

Our discussions centered round the following two points: (i) Where is God or Buddha, within man or without?  . . . . (ii) Is a real religion possible at all without presupposing some desperate agony and life and death struggle to cleanse oneself of sin in vain, only to experience despair and complete surrender on the part of man?

The second question was raised not only by the evangelical Christians, but also by the Zen Buddhists, because Zen Buddhists believe that, although they do not believe in Original Sin, they know human follies, ignorance and sinfulness, and that their Awakenment is to be attained only through some severe physical and spiritual training, perhaps equal to Christians’ agony and suffering with the consciousness of Original Sin, while Quakerism seemed to them very easy-going, when considered according to their understanding of “the Inner Light.”  Thus both these questions directly concerned the Quaker Faith . . .”[xli]

Blended into this are the questions related to the outward confrontation which comes from physical want or being at odds with the norms of society.  Equally important is the inward wrestling with our individual failings.  The challenge to know spiritual discipline and an ability to face suffering with compassion, humility and recognition of our own limitations is one which I feel is still relevant to Friends of all traditions.


In conclusion, I would like to emphasize several points relating to the expanded concept of the universal nature of their faith which has arisen among Liberal Friends in the twentieth century.   An overview of Quakers in their interactions with other faith traditions indicates several points which illuminate who Liberal Friends are today.

First, Liberal Friends refuse to accept profession of belief without a living faith visible in actions as well as words.  What is new in the twentieth century is the willingness to look at a person’s life and see that they live a life faithful to what God requires of us, without judging the way they express their beliefs.  As a consequence, some meeting admit into membership individuals who are expressly non-Christian in their beliefs.

Second, the belief that God is continually interacting with humanity allows these Friends to be open to the presence of Truth in multiple faiths.  In the words of one interviewee, “authenticity is in the meeting of the mind and heart with God, it is a continuing story which needs to be told in contemporary language.”[xlii]

And third, Friends must be able to speak afresh to their time and culture if they are to have a vital and living faith.  Liberal Friends have sought to incorporate and respond to the findings of science and the increasing mingling of cultures around the world in a creative way.

I find Liberal Friends exciting and challenging.  I also hold out cautions to them if they are to have a lasting effect and a strong witness.  Early Friends were tempered in their faith by intense suffering.  They had the spiritual strength and discipline to meet each test they faced with courage and joy.  In modern middle-class America, Friends can avoid such external tests of faith.  Thus, perhaps they face an even greater challenge of finding spiritual discipline and a lasting faith in the face of tremendous personal freedom and relative luxury.

Friends do have a unique witness to the world.  Some of this is retained in each branch of our faith.  I am one who believes that we can all grow in the encounter between the branches when we are willing to meet at the ground of our faith.  To aid in that process, I seek to articulate afresh who we are in my tradition. [xliii]

The descriptions of Liberal Friends’ belief in the 60 interviews I conducted are like the tiles of an elaborate Roman mosaic I once saw in England.  This mosaic was buried for a long time and now is only uncovered every decade or so.  As the dirt is removed, portions of the image become clearer and clearer.  Each tile brought to light gives further hint of the nature of the whole.  When completely uncovered, there are still gaps, so portions of the image are still a mystery.  That is how I see individual perceptions of faith combining to reveal a beautiful whole permeated with mystery.  My work for the next couple years is in uncovering this mosaic and seeking to articulate the whole.


[i].  Richard Bauman, Let Your Words Be Few: Symbolism of speaking and silence among seventeenth-century Quakers, Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1983, describes the meetings of “public” Friends where they would exhort large crowds often at great length and the meetings of believers where Friends came together to wait upon God without much use of the spoken word. (p. 120ff)

[ii].  These yearly meetings include all those North American meetings once labelled as “Hicksite,” and those which resulted from the reunification of Hicksite and Orthodox meetings.  Other yearly meetings of Liberal Friends have been created in this century.  Some of these have joined Friends General Conference, some remain independent.  Most European yearly meetings fall into this category, as do the meetings in Australia and New Zealand.

[iii].  Thomas Hamm, address to the annual meeting of Friends World Committee for Consultation Section of the Americas, St. Louis, March 1994.

[iv].  Interviews or questionnaires were obtained from  65 individuals in 1994 and 1995.  The interview format used a series of 15 questions which were mailed to the individuals in advance along with a description of the project.  The interviews themselves lasted between one and three hours in a private setting comfortable to the interviewee.  Extensive notes were taken and the interview was taped.

The interviewees were selected as individuals who are active in their yearly meeting or monthly meeting, or else known because of their writing and speaking.  They included clerks, yearly meeting staff, Pendle Hill and Woodbrooke faculty, and others active in a variety of Friends’ organizations.  Through consultation with individuals familiar with each yearly meeting, I attempted to find people whose beliefs would span the range of beliefs present.  Approximately twenty individuals were interviewed from North Pacific, Philadelphia and Britain Yearly Meetings.  Several other individuals from other yearly meetings responded to the questions in writing.

[v].  Robert Barclay, Barclay’s Apology in Modern English, Dean Freiday, ed, Manasquan, NJ: The Hemlock Press, 1967, pp. 72, 73.

[vi].  See, for instance, John Punshon’s Letter to A Universalist, Pendle Hill Pamphlet No. 285, 1989, and Elton Trueblood in “Quakerism and Christ” republished in Quaker Life, December 1977, reprinted March 1995.

[vii].  Interview responses varied greatly.  Some see themselves as universalist and had a broad definition of what that means.  Others see themselves as universalists in the mold of Barclay and Fox.  Several either did not attach any meaning to the term or used it in a derogatory fashion as implying lazy, overly intellectual, or meaning “anything goes.”

[viii].  In 1980, Kenneth Ives conducted a study which showed that “at least 4 percent of new Friends in the United States came from non-Christian background or belief. Many of these were relieved that they were accepted into membership after these beliefs had been shared with their [membership] committees.” Kenneth Ives, New Friends Speak: How and Why They Join Friends (Quakers) in the mid-1970s, Chicago: Progresiv Publishr, 1980, and Non-Christian Quakers: Their Faith and Message, Chicago: Progresiv Publishr, 1983, 59 pp, p. 1.

[ix].  Mickey Edgerton, Interview with author in Philadelphia, September 30, 1994 and Bruce Birchard, interview with author Philadelphia, October 7, 1994.

[x].  Warren Ostrom, interview author in Portland, Oregon, March 1995.

[xi].  Steve Cary, interview with author, Philadelphia, October 1994.

[xii]. I put this in the context of western, Christian religion and culture, acknowledging that this kind of generalization has severe problems.  For instance, Dr. S. Krishnaswamy has stated, “Hinduism exhibits extreme tolerance.  It does not show contempt for other people’s religion or for the wide variety of variations within its own religious ranks from the most illiterate to the most highly intellectual.  Since our present global society must cultivate both these gifts of freedom and tolerance of differences, Hinduism has much to contribute to the present world.”  As cited by Douglas Steere in his travel report from the 1967 Hindu-Christian Colloquia hosted by FWCC.  See below for specifics.

[xiii].  George Fox, To the Great Turk, 1680, p. 6.  As cited in N. I. Matar.

[xiv]. George Fox, “An answer to the Speech or Declaration of the Great Turk, Sultan Mahomet” (1688), p. 237, as cited in N.I. Matar.

[xv].  N. I. Matar, “Some Notes on George Fox and Islam,” Journal of the Friends Historical Society, Vol 55, No. 8, London: Friends House, (1983 ?), pp. 271-276.

[xvi]. Elizabeth Grey Vining, “Rufus Jones and the Far East”,  Annual Quaker Lecture to the High Point Meeting of Friends, High Point, NC, October 19, 1958, p. 9-10, 13.  This entire section on Jones draws primarily from the lecture by Vining.

[xvii].  Anonymous #3, Interview with author November 1995.  The theme that Christianity is not the only way came up again and again in the interviews among those deeply Christian as well as those skeptical of Christianity.

[xviii].  Sok Hon Ham, “Kicked by God”, David E. Ross translator, Philadelphia: The Wider Quaker Fellowship of Friends World Committee for Consultation, 1969, pp. 15, 16.

[xix].  Teresina Rowell Havens, Buddhist and Quaker Experiments with Truth, Philadelphia: Friends General Conference, 77pp, p.xiii.

[xx].  Yukio Irie, “Pilgrimage Toward the Fountainhead: Quakerism and Buddhism Today,” James Backhouse Lecture, Australia Yearly Meeting, 1973, 28pp, p.19.  Various others have argued that Quakerism is closest to Hinduism.  See Martha Dart, To Meet at the Source: Hindus and Quakers, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #289.

[xxi].  Emma McCloy Layman, Buddhism in America, Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1976, 343pp., p. 27, 28, 172.

[xxii].  There is evidence that Friends were interested in Buddhism prior to this.  One letter in the possession of the author, written in the mid-eighteen hundreds to her Hicksite great, great, great grandparents speaks of Krishna and Buddha as equal to Christ.  The trends I am examining are as they relate to published material.  A much more extensive search of the questions raised is needed to create a full history.

[xxiii].  Woodbrooke Extension Committee, etal, Memorandum for The Llandudno Conference, 23-30 September, 1914, Issued April, 1914, Birmingham: Woodbrooke, pp. 21-25, 35.

[xxiv].  T. Canby Jones, “Thomas Kelly:Some New Insights” in Quaker Religious Thought, Vol 27, No. 3, July 1995, p. 10.

[xxv].  John Ormerod Greenwood, Quaker Encounters:Volume 3, Whispers of Truth, York, England: William Sessions, Ltd, 1978, p. 232.  Also, Marjorie Sykes, Quakers in India, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1980, P. 152.  I am indebted to Martha Dart and John and Georgiana Foster for their help in providing material for this section.  I hope I have done their comments justice.

[xxvi].  Horace Alexander, as cited in Margot Tennyson, Friends and Other Faiths, London” Quaker Home Service, 1992, p.9.  Vivian Worthington in her article “The Fellowship of Friends of the Truth” in Non-Christian Quakers: Their Faith and Message, Chicago: Progresiv Publishr, 1983, pp. 51-59, disputes the fact that Gandhi had any involvement in the creation of FFT, although she notes she was not one of the original participants, arriving in India in 1951.

[xxvii]. Marjorie Sykes, Quakers in India, p. 153.

[xxviii].  As reported by Elton Trueblood, in Quaker Life, December 1977, p. 15.  The records of the Swarthmore Lecture committee gave no official reason for the decision.  The speaker, Tony Piccard, gave the lecture, received the honorarium, and it was published as normal, although all without the official imprint of the Swarthmore Lecture.  Several other possible explanations of the decision have been offered by various Friends.  One other indicator of the change among British Quakers is the fact that in 1965 their Faith and Practice was called “Christian” whereas the 1995 edition is entitled “Quaker Faith and Practice.”

[xxix].  Alastair Heron in Quakers in Britain: a century of change 1895-1995, Kelso, Scotland: Curlew Press, 1995, and Martin Davies, PhD thesis, The Development of British Quaker Theology Since 1895, Mansfield College, 1992.

[xxx].  Janet Scott, What Canst Thou Say?, London: Quaker Home Service, 1980, p.

[xxxi].  Marjorie Sykes, “Friends and World Religions” in Edwin Bronner, ed, Sharing Our Faith, Birmingham, England: FWCC, 1959, pp. 94-109, page 95.  See also, Martha Dart, Marjorie Sykes: Quaker Gandhian, York, England: The Ebor Press, 1993, 159 pp.

[xxxii].  Quaker Universalist Group, “The Universalist”  first published 1979.

[xxxiii].  Layman, p. 258-259.  Zen Buddhism was seeing something of a boom in the 1970s, with many attracted to meditation, but also with a high drop-out rate.  Tibetan Buddhism and the Theravada Buddhism of Southeast Asia were also growing, and perhaps overtaking Zen (p. 30-31).

[xxxiv].  Genjo Marinello, interview with author in Seattle, October 12, 1995.

[xxxv].  Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Hicksite and Orthodox Disciplines of 1828/29.

[xxxvi].  Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, for instance, states: “A member of the Religious Society of Friends belongs to a particular Monthly Meeting.  Except in unusual circumstances, a member belongs to one Meeting only and should not hold membership in another religious body.”  Faith and Practice as adopted 1955, revised 1972, and reprinted in 1994, p. 157.

Philadelphia also states as the basis of membership, “Ideally, membership is an outward sign of an inward experience of Christ, the ‘Light which lightest every man that cometh into the world’ (John 1:9)……The emphasis [of the visit to a prospective member] should be on making sure he understands that he is entering a Christian fellowship….” (p. 155, 156).  The rejection of dual membership continues in the proposed new Faith and Practice “presented 1995 for full approval 1996 by the Revision Committee of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.   Drafts approved as Called Sessions of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1991-95.” In this new version, there is more sense of diversity of belief and the quote from John 1:9, while retained, is prefaced by “for generations of Friends” and recognizes a “transforming power named many ways.” (p. 25)  The quotation in the text is on page 27.

[xxxvii].  Betty Polster, member of Victoria Monthly Meeting, Canadian Yearly Meeting, Questionnaire dated April 17, 1995.

[xxxviii].  Mickey Edgerton, interview with author in Philadelphia, September 30, 1994.  Janet Scott, interview with author in Birmingham, England, January 7, 1995.

[xxxix]. Adam Curle, Tools for Transformation: A Personal Study, Stroud, England: Hawthorn Press, 1990, p. 14.

[xl].  Maurice Warner, member of Salmon Bay Monthly Meeting, North Pacific Yearly Meeting, Interview with author, April 8, 1995.

[xli].  Yukio Irie, p. 11.

[xlii]. Harvey Gillman, Interview with author, London, January 1995.

[xliii].  Central aspects of this from the author’s perspective are:

– The living nature of our faith: We are bound into the living Word.  The Word as of John, that was before creation and that is still vital and present today.   The Word that is inexplicable and indescribable.  The Word that is Christ.  The Word that is Sophia and the root of all wisdom.  The Word, the Light, the Seed, that is present for all people and in all faith.  Yet this Word is “rejected of men” and can lead to much outward struggle and suffering when we accept its leadings as the basis of our life.

– The communal nature of our mysticism: We profess that as a group we can reach an understanding of what it means to live in the Light, to know God’s way and respond to it faithfully.  We believe we can do this as individuals and as a community.

– The integrity of life: Faith has no meaning without our words and our lives.  As we know God–the Word, the Light, the Ground of Our Being, Christ Jesus, the Holy–this knowing must permeate all we do and all we say.  Relationship with God is only fully known in our relationship with the world around us.

– Ultimately, symbols and rituals limit our understanding of God.  True worship is not dependent on any particular form, place, or words.  Only in the stillness of the soul can we truly hear the Word of God.

– Calling ourselves “Friends” implies an intimacy, a relationship, a responsibility to, and love of the Holy that is mutual, constant, faithful, self-giving, and forgiving of the inevitable failures inherent in being human.

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  1. I left my Boulder Monthly Meeting (my family inclides Cashes, Cadburys, Frys) to become an Anglican nun, where I had gone to school, with the blessing of Meeting that doing so would open further dialogue between Friends and the Church of England. This during my study of Julian of Norwich and the Friends of God movement in Europe. I find Friends from the beginning have an openness that is right-brained, that is Christ’s for those who are normally rejected by society, lepers, women, children, prostitutes, Samaritans, thieves, etc. ‘That of God in everyone’. While formal religion undoes itself by becoming left-brained and exclusive. I am now a Catholic hermit in Florence, continuing Friends’ testimonies, and continuing my Anglican Mother Foundress’ Rule on the education of women of all classes, ‘Speaking Truth to Power’, working with the most despised and largest European minority, the Roma, in my case, Roma families from Romania who are deeply Orthodox in religion, observing strict fasts, combining these practices with ancient concepts from India concerning hygiene and pollution. To be flexible and to have deep faith together, rather than becoming secular and selfish, I find is the Way. ‘As Way Opens . . .’

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