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see Friends, Religious Society ofFriends, Religious Society of,
religious body originating in England in the middle of the 17th cent. under George Fox. The members are commonly called Quakers, originally a term of derision.
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Quakers/Religious Society of Friends

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In October of 1650, a young preacher who had a brand-new vision for the church was arrested in England and brought to trial on the charge of blasphemy. George Fox appeared before the magistrates and was asked questions concerning his orthodoxy. He believed in God. He believed in prayer. He believed most Christians tried to do the right thing. But he also believed something had gone terribly wrong with the way God's church was being conducted. He spoke the truth as he believed God revealed it to him. The reality of the presence of God was such that the magistrates should "tremble at the words of the Lord." When God spoke to him and to those who followed him, they "quaked" in the presence of divinity.

Whether the term "Quaker" was coined by one of the magistrates or adopted by Fox and his small band of believers is a matter of debate. But the term stuck. To this day, those who worship with the Religious Society of Friends are nicknamed Quakers.

Fox never intended to start a new religion or Christian sect. He just wanted people to be in touch with God and experience the divine presence directly. To this end, the Friends didn't appoint ministers or establish ritual patterns of worship. God spoke to each person individually. You could never predict when the word of the Lord would come. Meetings consisted of sitting quietly and waiting for the voice of the Holy Spirit to make itself heard. Friends would gather together in silence. Nothing might happen for minutes, even hours at a time. But then someone would stand and speak what he or she felt God had lain on their heart. Quiet minutes followed, during which the assembly would ponder the message. Then someone else would stand and speak.

And so the meeting would continue. No minister worked out a polished delivery. No clergy stood between the congregation and God. Each person was expected, as instructed in Philippians 2:12, individually to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." There was no official creed or fixed set of doctrines.

The movement arrived in Boston in 1654. But the New England Puritans didn't want to be told they were stifling the spirit. They certainly didn't want to be told they were wrong in the way they conducted their church and its meetings. Quakers were persecuted, whipped, imprisoned, and run out of town. But they would not stop speaking what they considered the truth.

In 1672 the Friends received a real boost. William Penn, who counted himself one of their number, laid the foundation for Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia. Quakers gradually became part of the American mainstream. They preached pacifism as they always had, but it was mixed with a fierce sense of determination.

A wonderful story about peace-loving Quakers standing up for their rights concerns a Quaker who investigated the source of a noise in his house one night, only to discover a thief had broken in and was about to rob him. Holding his firearm firmly in his hand, he said to the intruder, "I would not harm thee for the world, my friend. But thee standeth where I am about to shoot!"

Quakers have been way out in front of just about every American cause concerning peace and justice. They were the first to permit women an equal part in worship. They were the first to protest the American government's treatment of Indians. They were the main force behind the Underground Railroad, helping runaway slaves find freedom in the North. They campaigned for voting rights, first for freed slaves and then for women. They protested the Nazi treatment of Jews before World War II and attempted to transport as many Jews as possible out of Germany.

Today the Friends have come a long way. They no longer dress in the familiar "plain" style made popular by the image on the box of Quaker Oats. They do not speak in the formal language of "thee" and "thou" as they used to. But they are still in the forefront of issues concerning peace and justice, still worship in the quiet style conducive to listening for the Divine Spirit, the "Inner Light," as they call it. And they continue to respect all religious perspectives.



(originally used in an ironic sense; the Quakers call themselves The Society of Friends), the members of a religious Christian community founded in the mid-17th century in England by the craftsman G. Fox. Quakers reject the institution of the clergy and church sacraments; according to their teachings, man can enter into a direct union with god. They preach pacifism and devote themselves to good works. Persecuted by the English government and by the Anglican Church, many communities of Quakers began emigrating to North America in the 1660’s. The status of English and American Quakers was legalized by the Toleration Act of 1689. In the beginning the Quaker movement drew its members from among the petite bourgeoisie, but later capitalist elements appeared among them. In the early 1970’s, Quaker communities numbered about 200, 000 members, found chiefly in the USA, Great Britain, and East Africa.


known for service to peace. [Am. Hist.: EB, 7: 743–745]


nonmilitant, gentle, religious sect. [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 189]
See: Peace


pacifist religious sect, often associated with puritanical behavioral standards. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1017]
See: Prudery
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According to Fox's journal, Bennet "called us Quakers because we bid them tremble at the word of God," (2) a scriptural reference (e.
He challenges the common belief that seventeenth-century Quakers were quiet, meditative, retiring pacifists.
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PEOPLE in Coventry who would like to find out more about the work and faith of Quakers are invited to two drop-in sessions later this month.
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A new law is passed in Parliament that forbids the Quakers from meeting at all, and when they continue to meet for worship, they are arrested and imprisoned.