About Liberal Quakers and this Web Site

“Liberal Friends, or Quakers, acknowledge and embrace a wide diversity of
spiritual experience, identity, and belief, including but not limited to Christianity.”

What is the purpose of this site?

  • To briefly describe and provide a simple entry point into liberal Quakerism for those seeking to learn more and perhaps find a liberal Friends Meeting to visit.
  • To provide a simple online forum for liberal Quakers and those interested in liberal Quakerism to ask each other questions and engage in f/Friendly conversation.

What is a liberal Friend (Quaker)?

There is no single organization or branch of Quakerism called “Liberal Friends,” which is why “liberal” is generally not capitalized in the phrase. However, there are major branches and many individual Friends meetings (what Quakers have instead of “churches”) which clearly consider themselves part of the liberal Friends tradition, and others which just as clearly do not. A rule of thumb would be, liberal Friends are those associated with unprogrammed meetings (those which practice silent or “waiting” worship with no pastor), and which are not affiliated with Friends United Meeting, Evangelical Friends Church International, or any of the several Conservative yearly Friends meetings in the United States.

Outside the U.S., with its diverse mix of liberal, pastoral and Conservative meetings, meetings in the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are generally liberal; most meetings in Africa and Latin America are not, though there are exceptions.

At the same time, some individual monthly meetings within the liberal branches of Quakerism are less comfortable and open with the wide theological diversity that characterizes liberal Friends than others, and some meetings within other branches–particularly the Conservative branches–are in practice highly diverse and open, though commonly identifying themselves as explicitly Christian. While these affiliations provide a clue, it’s hard to know just how “liberal” a meeting is or isn’t without spending some time there, in worship and fellowship.

Also, several yearly meetings are “dually affiliated” with the liberally oriented Friends General Conference (FGC) and the less liberal Friends United Meeting (FUM). Generally speaking, those monthly meetings that were originally affiliated with FGC tend to be liberal meetings, and those that were originally affiliated with FUM tend to not be liberal meetings.

It is important to note that the terms liberal and Conservative in Quakerism are not equivalent to liberal or conservative in politics (though there is certainly a lot political liberalism within liberal Quakerism)

What distinguishes liberal Friends from the rest of Quakerism?

As mentioned above, liberal Friends practice silent worship with no pastor, but this is also true of Conservative Friends. Beyond this distinction of religious practice, there are some distinctions of religious philosophy.

  • Liberal Friends acknowledge and embrace a wide diversity of spiritual experience, identity, and belief, including but not limited to Christianity.
  • While the Christian origin and identity of the Religious Society of Friends is deeply important to a great many liberal Friends, most and perhaps all of our yearly meetings have openly welcomed many as Friends who do not consider themselves Christians. Some of these claim no religious identity other than Quaker; others might identify also as Buddhist, Jewish, pagan, atheist or agnostic, to name a few.
  • Among those liberal Friends who do not identify as Christian, a great many embrace the teachings and example of Jesus as a model for humanity and an undeniable part of our Quaker heritage.

What do liberal Friends share with the rest of Quakerism?

All of the branches of the Religious Society of Friends are descendants of the religious society founded in England by George Fox and other religious dissenters in the 17th century, variously known as Children of the Light, Friends of the Truth, and, derisively at first, Quakers. All of the branches, for better or worse, have departed substantially from both the practices and the beliefs of early Quakerism, while retaining or expanding upon those threads of early Quakerism which, in the parlance of Friends, “speak to our condition.”

Liberal Friends meetings seek to live according to the Quaker testimonies of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality, and so do a great many Friends from the other branches. Friends from across the spectrum have been deeply involved in work for peace and social justice, separately and together.

Who says so?

Good question. This site was conceived and launched by one particular Friend who, with the support and advice of a “committee of elders” from his home meeting, sensed an unmet need for a web site dedicated to liberal Quakerism, which offers something distinct among religions, something the world could use more of. Over time this Friend hopes to involve other Friends committed to the particular tradition of liberal Quakerism, perhaps contributing essays describing their own perspectives on just what that tradition is, and where it is going; also perhaps helping determine the future direction of this site.

In any case, the views expressed here do not express any official or approved position on liberal Quakerism. It couldn’t, since there is no such position.

How can I find liberal Friends?

6 Responses to About Liberal Quakers and this Web Site

  1. Errol Hess May 30, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    The introduction defines liberal Quakers as excluding, among others, friends from conservative yearly meetings. Yet it is my understanding that Iowa Conservative YM is liberal.

    • James Riemermann May 30, 2014 at 7:09 pm #

      You might be right, Errol. I’m certainly not an expert on how Iowa Conservative Friends would describe themselves. They are certainly more theologically liberal than the evangelical meetings from that state, but I would not have expected that most would describe themselves as belonging to the liberal branch/es of Quakerism.

      I would love to hear from any Friend belonging to Iowa Yearly Meeting on the subject, any of whom would likely have a better sense than I have.

      I did try to express the reality that the lines are not always clear–as I wrote on this page, “…some meetings within other branches–particularly the Conservative branches–are in practice highly diverse and open, though commonly identifying themselves as explicitly Christian. While these affiliations provide a clue, it’s hard to know just how “liberal” a meeting is or isn’t without spending some time there, in worship and fellowship.”

  2. Wil Cavanaugh June 8, 2014 at 6:57 pm #

    Taking up the search again, after many years of not including Quakerism in my search parameters. I have abandoned traditional Christianity, as it’s followers seem mean-spirited and judgmental in too high a percentage. But now, I notice things within the liberal Quaker tradition that pique my curiosity. Is it true that some of your “sect” (for lack of a better word) would center-down, then go into shaking bodily as the spirit came on them (or maybe better said, “as their oversoul took the reins”)? I’m in hopes that this is true. Would you say they went into a trance state? I hope so. Can this be taught? Again, I hope that it can.

    • James Riemermann June 9, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

      Wil,

      That doesn’t really sound like liberal Quakerism to me. “Centering down” is a phrase Quakers often use to describe the process of getting in the right perspective for meeting for worship. “Shaking bodily,” not so much. Other Friends may have seen or experienced that sort of thing in worship, but I haven’t seen it in my 20-some years, and it’s certainly not the norm.

      Most meetings look pretty calm from the outside. People walk in, sit down. Occasionally someone stands to speak, or sometimes to sing. Sometimes it is deeply moving, other times less so. I’m a fan, but it’s hard to say what it is I love so much about it.

      I’d suggest attending a few meetings to see how it feels. One meeting isn’t enough, as different meetings can have very different qualities.

  3. Devin Jones June 30, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

    I’ve got a (probably, ignorant) question: I’m a Unitarian Universalist…would I be welcome to join a Quaker meeting?

  4. James Riemermann June 30, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

    Devin, that’s a perfectly reasonable question.

    Join as in attend worship and get involved in various activities of the meeting, yes, always, certainly. Join as in become a formal member…it depends, and the decision is always made at the level of the local/monthly meeting.

    Typically, folks attend for months at least, often years, before asking for a clearness committee for membership. If someone is at the same time an active member of another church, the clearness committee would certainly ask questions and explore that. Certainly it has happened that membership has been approved where there is active membership in another church, but it would be unusual. My sense is that becoming a member implies a commitment to Friends and the local community, and membership in another church might conflict with that. Or it might not. It depends on the individual meeting and the particular circumstances.

    I have been on many clearness committees where the person requesting membership has had some personal connection with Buddhism, or Catholicism, or Unitarian Universalism. But I can’t remember any where the person has been an active member of another church.

    Good question. Wish I could answer more clearly.

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