Frequently Asked Questions
Adapted from Friendly Answers to Questions about American Quakers by Friends World Committee for Consultation:
Who are Quakers? Are they the same as Friends?
Friends or Quakers - either name will do as they have the same meaning - are the people who belong to Friends meetings or churches. These make up the 'Religious Society of Friends.'
'Quaker' was originally a nickname for the people who called themselves "Children of the Light," "Friends of Truth," or 'friends of Jesus." (John 15:15). They were said to tremble or quake with religious zeal, and the nickname stuck. In time, we also became known simply as 'Friends.'
Quakers began in England around 1650 in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation. In contrast to the formalism of the established church of the time, early Friends found they could experience God directly without the benefit of clergy, liturgy or steepled church.
What do Friends believe? Do they have a creed?
Quakers do not have a creed. No single statement of religious doctrine is accepted by all the diverse bodies that make up the Religious Society of Friends. Most meetings accept a book of 'Faith and Practice' which states shared values, outlines a process for making decisions, and contains a uniquely Quaker feature, 'Advices and Queries.'
Friends are united in stressing that an inward, immediate, transforming experience of God is central to our faith. We turn to an inner guide or teacher for direction. Many Friends identify this as the 'Inner Light,' the 'Seed Within,' or the 'Christ Within.' Many affirm their acceptance of Jesus Christ as their personal savior while others conceive of the inward guide as a universal spirit which was in Jesus in abundant measure and is in everyone to some degree.
George Fox, a troubled and searching youth in 17th century England, underwent a profound religious experience that he described as a Voice answering his need: "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to Thy condition." Immediate, direct expereince of God became the heart of his message and ministry, the beginning of the Quaker movement.
How does the faith of Friends show in their personal lives?
Love - of God and neighbor - is expressed in Quaker worship, witness, and our testimonies. Our social attitudes and concerns, service, and programs of education and action are the fruits of our faith and the affirumation of the indwelling spirit and redemptive love.
What are the principal concerns and activites of Friends?
The realization that there is the potential for good - and also evil - in all people makes Friends sensitive to human degradation, ignorance, superstition, suffering, injustice and exploitation. Under a sense of concern (inner prompting, divine obedience or urgency) Friends are drawn to humanitarian callings and to programs of education, service and constructive action.
Many Friends today are pressing for social change by nonviolent means: reform of the criminal justice system and elimination of the death penalty; elimination of discrimination against minority groups and racial injustice; and an end to war.
What are Friends attitudes toward sacraments and Scripture?
Most Friends reject the sacraments in their outward forms - communion and baptism as practiced in most Christian churches. We seek instead for the inward reality. For us, all great human experiences are of a sacramental nature.
The Bible was very precious to early Friends, but to understand the scriptures, they saw that they must be read in the same Spirit as those who wrote them. An early Quaker leader, Robert Barclay, said that the scriptures are only a declaration of the source and not the source itself. Today, Friends exhibit a wide variety of relationships to the Bible and other scriptures.
How do people become members?
At Friends Meeting of Washington, when a person feels committed to leading the life of a Friend, he or she may decide to initiate a process of becoming a member. Attenders are welcome to participate in worship and other aspects of the life of the meeting without becoming a formal member.