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

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.

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.

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?

18 responses to “About Liberal Quakers and this Web Site”

  1. 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.

    1. James Riemermann Avatar
      James Riemermann

      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.”

      1. Regarding Conservative Quaker meetings, it is my understanding from correspondence and reading that North Carolina Conservative Yearly Meeting and Iowa Conservative Yearly Meeting are indeed fairly liberal and share much in common with FGC (liberal) Quakers. By attending a liberal Quaker meeting and then a conservative Quaker meeting in those areas, you would not be able to tell the difference between the two. Only by worshipping with each for a number of times would you notice some slight differences. Most of these differences are procedural, rather than theological/worship style. For example, most liberal Quakers don’t “record” those gifted in the ministry, don’t use the terms “elder” for “leaders” in the meeting, tend not to emphasize membership any more (which is why liberal Quaker numbers are grossly under-counted), and a few other things (but as you say, there can be similar variations within liberal Quakerism since there is really no overlord governing body for liberal Quakers). Many of these Conservative Friends, although not part of FGC, do participate along with liberal Friends in FGC events and programs. I have attended a Conservative Quaker meeting many times within 100 miles of my meeting, and have noticed no substantial difference from my meeting. In fact that Conservative Quaker meeting is more similar to my liberal Quaker meeting than another liberal Quaker meeting that is 20 minutes down the road from my meeting.

        Ohio Conservative Quakers are still fairly different from other unprogrammed Quaker meetings, due to many holding on to the old ways. Yet even Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative) has some very liberal meetings within it from what friends of mine tell me.

        1. James Riemermann Avatar
          James Riemermann

          Howard, thanks for your perspective. I’ve been aware for a long time that many Conservative Quaker meetings are pretty theologically diverse and open, although most of what I’ve read (not directly experienced) suggests that the institutions identify themselves more clearly as Christian than a lot of FGC meetings, for instance.

          I did add a paragraph attempting to get a little closer to the reality. I’m sure it’s not perfect but I hope it’s a little better.


          Characterizing the several Conservative yearly Friends meetings in the United States is trickier. Many, perhaps most, monthly meetings within these might 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.

  2. Wil Cavanaugh Avatar
    Wil Cavanaugh

    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.

    1. James Riemermann Avatar
      James Riemermann


      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.

    2. I was raised liberal Quaker in NC and 44 years later continue to practice our faith. We do not judge and we do not ridicule anyone. Growing up I always felt crazy to tell people I was Quaker. It was not a common way of thinking. My ancestors left England in the years before the war of independence and they were Quaker. I now realize what a wonderful and loving religion I was raised in. Today more than ever I am proud of my Quaker roots. I find so many other Christian religions to be judgemental. Perhaps Quakerism should be the growing religion instead of the dying religion in the United States.

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

    1. Thomas Maxwell Avatar
      Thomas Maxwell

      Yes you would be welcomed with open arms.

  4. James Riemermann Avatar
    James Riemermann

    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.

  5. dear Ffriend, thank you for creating this page and sharing it with the whole world.

    someday, when you are able, you might include Liberal Quakers outside the USA. when you do that, please include us, particularly the Bohol Worship Group (Bohol, Philippines) of Quakers in the Philippines so that when Ffriends come to the philippines looking for liberal Friends, they might easily find us.

    may manifold blessings come back to you!

  6. James, thank you for establishing and continuing this page. It is important that inclusive Quakers maintain a public voice, since there are vocal Quakers with public forums working very hard to restrict membership in Friend’s Meetings to those who share their theological views. As a member of a diverse Quaker Meeting, I’ve seen first hand what a healing environment an open and diverse Meeting can be for persons traumatized by fundamentalism. I see theologically diverse meetings as literal laboratories for the peace testimony. No doubt worshiping with people who don’t think exactly alike can be challenging, but in my experience, it is worth the effort.

  7. Mary W Carpenter Avatar
    Mary W Carpenter

    Just discovered this site. Thank you! When I went church shopping in 1969, my teenage daughters said: “we don’t know where you are going, but we are staying here.” It was Stony Brook Meeting in New Jersey, unprogrammed, welcoming, socially engaged. If Quakers want to survive in today’s challenging social and religious contradictions, the kids can lead us, now as my kids did back then.

  8. Hello James,

    Being over a year since the last reply, this may not get a response for some time. Not a problem. It has taken me a long time to get around to getting serious about some kind of affiliation.

    The closer Meetings to me appear to be at least a hundred miles or so, even before getting into the several varieties and persuasions that individuals may hold.

    Perhaps there’s a way to permit somewhat closer connections with others of like mind that may meet more often than annually.

    I’ll put the hundred-milers on my list to check out, but wonder whether other forms or venues may be available.

    I’m smack dab in the center of Arizona.

  9. Hello, I’ve just discovered Quakerism for myself. It seems like nearly everything I believe, and always thought was just my interpretation of Religion, seems to be what Quakers generally believe. So I wanted to know if this website is still active (as far as I can see the last post was from 2015, it’s 2017 now). Seems like a great website:)

  10. Johanna Wright MacNee Avatar
    Johanna Wright MacNee

    Some where on this site, I read that the writer had not witnessed Quakers “shaking or quaking.” People have reported that when they are truly lead by the Spirit to give a message, their hands sweat, their hart pounds, Tthey may feel a bit shaky. Is this not “quaking” in the presence of God. Please do not be dismissive of the power of receiving a message and the bodily reaction to that,

    Have you not sat in the quiet and feel that the person next to you is experiencing the above named symptoms? “Quaking in the Presence” is real.

  11. James Riemermann Avatar
    James Riemermann


    The question I answered in the comments above was not about sweating hands or pounding hearts or feeling a bit shaky before speaking in meeting for worship–I have had those experiences myself, which I would personally interpret as anxiety–others interpret it more theistically.

    The question I was responding to was about about bodily quaking, of the sort that others can clearly see. As I said, I don’t deny that such things have happened in Friends meetings–in all likelihood they have. But I have not seen that in my time among liberal Quakers, mainly from the Friends General Conference, and I wouldn’t describe it as common among those Friends. I make no broader claims than that.

  12. A small group of us in Prescott Arizona decided we wanted to create a worship group. We have limited knowledge of the details of Quakerism other than what we have been reading in books and online. It seems as though our group preference is toward liberal Quakerism. Is there an official way we become a “ligit” group of Quakers with actual membership?

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