I fell in love with Quakerism much before I attempted to be a part of the Religious Society of Friends. The writings of early Friends were often a part of my devotions in my more-Evangelical days. The stories of their radical and prophetic lifestyles, their bold simplicity, their thorough understanding of an apostolic community, their love for and devotion to Jesus, and their experience of God—ranging from contemplative to ecstatic—it all inspired me. I wanted that Church. I needed that Church. It looked like the Book of Acts. It looked like Jesus. And I didn’t think it could exist in the modern Society of Friends. I thought it died with the second generation of Friends and, arrogantly I admit, believed the Society was unable to be redeemed.
Making my way into Quakerism took some time. I distantly engaged with Quakers online and read books on Quakerism, but for quite sometime I was hesitant to attend meeting for worship. I’ll admit that I barely counted the Liberal branch of Quakerism as true Quakerism, as if I had some say in who made the cut. I thought it was great that they preserved the contemplative nature of Quaker worship, as well as the long-held prophetic values of the Religious Society, but it was all futile without the explicit glorification of Jesus Christ. Though my soteriology at the time was open to the possibility of the salvation for non-Christians, I was in no way seeking authentic spiritually nourishing relationships with those not claiming Christ as their savior, especially if I wasn’t saving the unbeliever.
My summer internship with the Friends of Jesus Fellowship in 2014 was kicked off in Barnesville, Ohio at the annual cross-branch, week-long event called Quaker Spring. The majority of Friends I met were in one way or another Liberal Friends, though there were a number of Conservative Friends, many from Ohio Yearly Meeting. I was quick to feel comfortable among the Conservative Friends, since much of our language and theology overlapped, but I won’t lie, I was scared to fellowship with the Liberal Friends. I even was wary of the Christ-centered Liberal Friends, as I assumed that their christologies were far too low to be yoked with.
Then, I found myself worshiping with these Friends, and a woman who earlier that day let me know that she was “comfortable with Buddhism and Native American spirituality” spoke. She prayed and prophesied boldly and the atmosphere was drenched with a penetrating Light. I could not deny that she was endowed with the gift of the Holy Ghost. She spoke to the specific needs of my heart and something in me shifted that night. I began opening my heart to God in a new way. I began seeing God in all people.
I long-denied that throughout Quakerism, throughout this whole Society, the impulses and convictions of the early Friends had been preserved. As this Liberal Friend spoke under the power of the Spirit, I came to realize how close-hearted and wrong I had been. It was ridiculous that I thought I knew what was best for this movement of God. For so long I was blind to the graces and gifts that each branch and even yearly meeting held. And even beyond that, I was blind to Christ within each individual.
As I mentioned in my last post, Quakerism gave me the confidence to declare and live out a truth I had long-known: there is that of God in all people. My conviction that Christ’s work on the Cross was sufficient, that the Spirit of God was poured out on all flesh, and that God’s nature was Love, came to life in the Society of Friends as I began to fellowship with Buddhists, Pagans, Christians with fundamentally different theological views, and even non-Theists.
I’d say that this is one of the greatest graces carried in the Liberal tradition of Friends. Meeting for worship among Liberal Friends is sprinkled with people all over the map, in terms of theology, but firmly united in a faith that honors the dignity and divinity within all people. This thread of Quakerism, so beautifully captured in the doctrine of the universal inner/inward Light, can be seen in the writings of George Fox, Margaret Fell, and other early Friends. All throughout Quaker history, Friends have known this Light within all people, and some have abandoned the language for it, and some may have gave up emphasizing this, and some perhaps have even rejected all universalistic language and theology, but it cannot be denied that this glorious truth is known and experienced by Liberal Friends.
Finally, to my Liberal Friends: I am sorry for the ways I’ve judged you and dismissed the wisdom and blessings that pack your tradition. Thank you for teaching me about grace despite my own lack of grace. I give thanks to God for your role in this peculiar Society. You are Friends.
“Gentiles as well as Jews, Heathens and Indians as well as Englishmen and Christians (so called)… all have some measure of that Grace nigh them, which in the least measure is sufficient to heal and help them.” (Hooks, Works of Samuel Fisher, London: 1660, p. 656)