Are African 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 African Friends really Quaker?

Most of them, absolutely. There are a few groups of people in Africa who claim to be Quaker but are really just using the name, but the overwhelming majority of African Friends are very Quaker.

African Friends seem different from North American Friends partly because of cultural differences. This is appropriate. Quakerism is not synonymous with North American or European cultural practices. It should be contextualized as an authentic path for local people wherever it goes. Concepts like the Inner Light and testimonies of peace and equality remain intact.

Much of Friends’ theology in Africa is taken from the groups of Friends who originally sent missionaries there—that is, primarily early twentieth century midwestern pastoralist Friends. So that adds to the sense of differentness that unprogrammed Friends might feel. In my experience, though, African Friends are deeply thoughtful and spiritually rooted, discerning and generating their own theology, and some are much more Biblically and theologically educated than most North American Friends I know. 

There is a lot that North Americans can learn from the ministry of African Friends, both theologically and practically. We all benefit from taking opportunities to be in relationship.

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