By L&T Columnist Gary Damron
After reading an article I’d written last year, one of our sons said, “So Dad, you decided to finally out yourself as a political conservative.” This week, I’ll venture to reveal something more of my spiritual viewpoints, and expound on a group which helped me along the way.
It was good to read another author who’s discovered Quakers as we did. Up to thirty years ago, about all we’d known about them was Friends University in Kansas, and I’d recently gotten acquainted with two books, Freedom of Simplicity and Celebration of Discipline by Friends pastor Richard Foster. But when we were leaving another church where I’d served as pastor, the Friends superintendent asked us to consider interviewing at a church in what turned out to be the city in which I was born. They were willing to accept a pastor from outside their circle, and thus began a ministry of twenty-one years in one Friends congregation.
Though we could never be “Birthright Quakers”, I became committed to the biblical roots of the denomination which typically has also been on the side of history I would choose. Quakers pushed the anti-slavery movement, first in England and later in America. They were in the forefront in women’s rights, civil rights, ministry to refugees, peaceful dealings with Native Americans and fair trade practices, none of which was a popular position at the time. Traditionally they were willing to take a stand against injustice and immorality.
The quietist movement emerged from the original Religious Society of Friends around 1700 and into the 1800s when a number of colleges were founded: Haverford (1833), Swarthmore (1864) and Bryn Mawr (1885) in Pennsylvania; Earlham (1844) in Indiana, George Fox (1885) in Oregon, and Friends University (1898) in Wichita. Earlham and Friends were more influenced by the Richmond Declaration of Faith.
However, the original movement of Friends was anything but quiet, as evidenced by the reaction of people in existing churches in England and the colonies. Quakers were imprisoned, beaten, banished and even executed for their stances. They were forbidden to call themselves a church, thus acquiring the name Religious Society of Friends. Later the term Quaker, used in a derogatory way against their members, became one of their identifiers. In western Kansas, there’s more of a tendency to revert back to the original designation of Friends.
Due to Friends beliefs which have been traditionally non-creedal, their polity which is congregational or even individualistic, and the fact they’ve been around more than three centuries, there’s a lot of diversity among Quakers. Some Friends meetings have traded biblical foundations for social tolerance, and others seem to be on a quest for a mysterious power. No church is ideal, and their business meetings which seek “consensus” can be maddening.
The purpose of quiet waiting is to allow God to speak, then for the hearer to go forth and share the message. The revelation which dawns during quiet waiting should never be contrary to scripture, but should only bring understanding or clarity to God’s word. Silence before God leads to a spiritual reality and connection with all who possess the inner light of Christ. The founder George Fox wrote that Friends are “…to walk cheerfully over the world, answering That of God in every one.”
For thirty years, our family collectively and we personally, have been nurtured by these good people. I appreciate the teaching of Friends (Quakers), but most important is the recognition that we can personally experience the presence of Christ through the Spirit of God. That experience in turn guides our relationships with others.
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