Are Quakers Christian? I talked to 11 Quakers from across the United States and asked about their relationship with Christianity.
Lloyd Lee Wilson: Are Quakers Christian? Many Quakers are Christian. Worldwide, most Quakers are Christian. I’m a Christian. I’m a Christian today because there was a place for me in the Religious Society of Friends when I wasn’t a Christian.
Are Quakers Christian?
Chloe Schwenke: Are Quakers Christian? I would almost turn that question around and say, “Ok, tell me what a Christian is.” And it goes to the heart of what I think is the magic of Quakerism, which is that we don’t try to define God. We let God be God and we just experience God. Some of us including myself feel a great connection to the experience and testimony of Jesus Christ. The way that Jesus Christ brought love into the world as a tangible and important and central piece of what it means to be a human being is a very powerful testimony that many, many Quakers would feel absolutely at home with who may not call themselves Christians. But they don’t need to call themselves Christians.
The History of Quakerism
Lisa Motz-Storey: My practice is definitely Christian. But it doesn’t mean that I feel like Christianity is the only way. It’s our history as Quakers, too. George Fox would have answered, “Yes” to that question and everybody else.
David Johnson: Certainly the first Quakers were Christian. Their whole life and spirituality were centered around the light within them, which they experienced as the light of Jesus as the Christ working within them.
A Distinctive Approach to Christianity
Mark Wutka: I would say from its beginning, Quakerism was rooted in Christianity but it wasn’t necessarily the same kind of Christianity that was surrounding it. I would say one of the distinctives is that Quakerism tended to take external things and understand them from an internal perspective.
Gregg Koskela: For me one of the ways that a Friends perspective helps me to follow Jesus is probably best described for when I first walked into this room as a freshman at George Fox College: I was really moved by the attentiveness to the Spirit of God and I remember calling my Mom and saying, “These people believe what all these Christian churches I’ve been a part of have believed but not taken seriously.”
Lloyd Lee Wilson: Much of Christianity is what we might call “cataphatic” spirituality, which you can think of as a list of all the sentences that you could make that begin “God is…” Quakers have lifted up in large part an “apophatic” spirituality, which you can think of as all the sentences that begin, “God is not…” and you fill in all the blanks. Which is not to deny God but to recognize that all our intellectual constructs and our language and our words are not quite it.
Valerie Brown: This is one of the things I really love about Quakerism, is that it is so unconventional. It is noncomformist. I really appreciate that element of the mystery of Quakerism.
The Universal Light of Christ
David Johnson: The Light is a universal light, and that’s clear in Penn’s original statement, that the spirit of God is in every person. That’s taken primarily from the ninth verse of the first chapter of John’s Gospel. I’m sure that that light which comes from a universal spirit of God is experienced by every other person.
Lloyd Lee Wilson: I think that Quaker corner of the big tent of Christianity doesn’t bring anything from outside Christianity, but highlights and lifts up things that were in the Christian tradition always but have been neglected or almost lost over the millennia. One of the things is the direct and immediate and perceptible encounter and relationship with God. That idea that God pours out God’s spirit on everybody, and that’s a life-changing encounter.
Tom Hoopes: I personally identify as Quaker. I do not self-identify as Christian. And the reason I don’t choose that identity is for me, the label Christian includes a very large community of people in the world, too many of whom practice a too-enthusiastic form of exclusion and intolerance for me to feel okay with that. I do unite with many of the teachings of Jesus Christ. I specifically am enthusiastic about the Gospel of Thomas.
Jade Souza: I am a Christ-centered Friend, as we tend to call ourselves, or a Christian. It’s fine to call me Christian. I guess my question back is: why is it important for some people that you call yourself Christian when that’s a word that never crossed Jesus’s lips? I think the word Christian is really a worldly term. It’s a contemporary term that has a social meaning and can mean a lot of different things to different people.
Lisa Motz-Storey: When I first came to meeting, I called myself “post-Christian” because if I really believe that everyone has their own spiritual path, then I’m not really Christian, I’m just sort of open and seeking. That was a popular term to use within Quaker circles. But I’ve come full circle, and really embraced that I am Christian.
Chloe Schwenke: The whole labeling thing of “tell me what you believe, tell me who you are” is the antithesis of my experience of Quakerism and the Quaker testimonies. I like the fact that we don’t have a creed. We have testimonies: things we share that seem to be common experiences and ways of being as Quakers that flow from the experience of the Divine, but do not define the experience of the Divine. They’re coming the other way. You’ve got to experience it and you’ve got to stop trying to put God in a box. If we were able to put God in a box, he/she/it would not be God anymore. I mean, come on, we’re only human beings.
How Quakers Fit Into Broader Christianity
Fritz Weiss: I don’t think that this whole teaching that is captured in what we know of Jesus was about individual salvation and hereafter. It was about this world we live in now. It was about what being a people of God, being a community of God would look like in this world right now. When Jesus said, “This is what I command. I command that you love one another,” he meant now, here. How could I not take that commandment up? That is such a clear prescription for what it would mean to be living as people gathered in God’s name.
Gil George: I think the witness that Quakers bring the broader Christian family really is that one of the “priesthood of all believers” as is spoken. We don’t operate with a hierarchy because we recognize that there’s really only one boss, and that’s no human agency.
Lloyd Lee Wilson: I think Quakers remind the rest of Christianity that words are insufficient, that there is something beyond words, something beyond intellectual constructs that is there and is vital about this Christ who lived 2,000 years ago and who we say we encounter today in our worship and in our silent meditation and in our relationship with the divine.
Fritz Weiss: And I think that’s for me the heart of the controversy sometimes about, what do we mean? Do we mean being Christian means accepting Jesus Christ as my personal savior so that in the hereafter I am able to sit at the feet of God? Or do we mean that accepting Jesus Christ and the teachings of Jesus Christ informs my life here and now, in these times, in this culture, in this context? For me it’s the second. It informs how I live my life, here.
It has been an honor to serve Friends as the founder and director of QuakerSpeak. Now I am pleased to announce my next endeavor, a Quaker media project for the modern era. Find out more at TheeQuaker.org