“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?
- What is a liberal Friend (Quaker)?
- What distinguishes liberal Friends from the rest of Quakerism?
- What do liberal Friends share with the rest of Quakerism?
- Who says so?
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.
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 or Evangelical Friends Church International.
Characterizing the several Conservative yearly Friends meetings in the United States is trickier. Many, perhaps most, monthly meetings within these yearly meetings would not describe themselves as liberal, but they are often (not always) as theologically diverse and open as those in the more explicitly liberal branches of Quakerism.
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.