Are non-Christian Friends really Quaker?

This is part of a series called “answers for a small-f friend.” These articles are deliberately simple, informal, and under 200 words…the kinds of answers that I might give casually over a cup of lemonade. 

If you’re wanting to go deeper, I recommend Faith and Practice (any yearly meeting’s version) or Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches by Mathilda Navias. If you’re a video person more than a text person, try the QuakerSpeak series, available online.

Do you have a question I should add? Let me know in the comments.

Are non-Christian Friends really Quaker?

“Are ________ really Quaker” is such a common question. The blank gets filled in differently depending on who I’m talking to.

Worldwide, I’d estimate at least 95% of Friends are Christians, although they wouldn’t have a shared definition of the word. I count myself in the other 5%. To me, the word Christian implies belief in the particular divinity of Jesus Christ, and that’s not me. I value the Bible as an historical record of my spiritual ancestors, but I’m not specifically Christian.

I do think that what others call the Inner Christ is the same as what I call the Holy Spirit or God. I doubt that the Divine Being is all that fussy about exact names. To me, if we are prepared to acknowledge a Being beyond ourselves that is wiser than we and that guides us, and if we are ready to commit (even imperfectly!) to corporate discernment in our faith community, then we can be Quaker.

I definitely run into Christian Quakers who find me dangerous or just think I’m wrong. We tend to co-exist more peacefully when I demonstrate that I don’t want to challenge their Christianity. And I don’t. They are being faithful.

3 thoughts on “Are non-Christian Friends really Quaker?

  1. Emily, this (f)riend series is delightful! Here are some questions to consider for the future [Apologies if you’ve already answered any — I’m not sure I’ve opened all the posts]

    What happens if you get stuck and can’t come to unity? What is Quaker’s “take” on Jesus (or for that matter, God)? Who approves the testimonies? Could new ones emerge? How? What is the “sense of the Meeting? How do you arrive at it? Can Quakers partner with other groups who don’t share the Peace Testimony? For that matter, what does the Peace Testimony have to say about how victims of systemic injustice are allowed to resist?

    Carry on, my Friend! You’re a joy!

    1. Thanks for suggesting new questions! Some of these are either already on the list or have already been written. (Lots are uploaded and waiting to be released.) But I added four that no one had mentioned yet. Glad to have them.

  2. To go even further, there are Quaker non-theists. In my humble opinion, a person is a Quaker who tries their best to live by our testimonies of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality. My monthly meeting is under NPYM, and we do not have a creed of faith. In my personal journey, I have evolved from somewhat of a Christian Quaker to a non-theist Quaker. My faith simply fell away over time, and not for any reason that I know of. When I first spoke of it, I had a Christian Friend refer to it as a “dark night of the soul”, but it wasn’t. It is simply an absence of what I was brought up to believe. I now think of myself as an agnostic Quaker. I neither believe or disbelieve in a “God” – but tend more towards the latter. I have been a part of the Quaker world for more than 30 years: Flushing Friends Meeting, Twin Cities Friends Meeting, and now Multnomah Monthly Meeting in Portland, OR.

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