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Who are the Friends and what do they believe?
By Thom Jeavons

    The Religious Society of Friends, sometimes known as the Quakers, is part of the larger Christian family. Friends have from their origins disavowed creeds under the conviction that how one practices and demonstrates one's faith in daily life is more important than what one says about what one believes.

    So, a key, distinguishing feature of Quakerism is that it is experiential religion.

    Quakers are a people who seek an authentic experience of the Divine, the presence of God, the living Christ,; and who believe that experience is available to all who seek it in spirit and in truth; and who believe that experience will transform our lives for the better, and inspire and enable us to transform the world for the better.

With our focus on experience, we are often distrustful of words to explain our faith. But it is fair to say the essential tenets of Quakerism center on five points.

  • God is real. What the first Quakers found, and Quakers ever since have both experienced and taken as a given, is that the Divine is real. That spiritual experience is real experience. And while the Divine cannot be seen, touched, or measured; those who have known this Presence know that nothing could be more real or more important to living whole, good, and meaningful lives.

  • God is accessible and knowable directly and immediately. The way Quakers worship, make decisions, and look for direction in their lives reflects this conviction. Quaker worship is about “communion” just as much as any celebration of the Mass is; but we believe that the Presence of the Divine can be known inwardly and directly, without need for any outward sacramental representation. The way we make decisions and seek guidance, both individually and corporately, assumes God's presence and wisdom can always be know by those who seek the Divine “in spirit and in truth.”

  • There is a spark of the Divine, “that of God,” in every person. It is because there is that of God in us – because are “created in the image of God, male and female” – that we can connect with the Divine power and love that is at work in the universe – that is transcendent, that is beyond us. This is also one reason we strongly affirm the dignity and inherent worth of every human being, and so stand opposed to violence and seek justice and peace in all circumstances.

  • Jesus Christ has a uniquely important role in revealing the nature of God to humankind. George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, had a transforming spiritual experience when he heard a voice that said “there is one, Christ Jesus that can speak to thy condition.” Quakerism has always been strongly anchored in the Christian tradition. Quakers have long held that the Christian scriptures offer invaluable insights and present critical truths on which we should reflect and to which we must respond to live whole lives.

  • Being “faithful” – literally “full of faith”– requires and creates a genuine community, and a community committed to seeking wholeness and peace for all people. Friends saw the early church as the model for their religious movement and practice of faith. They looked to create a community like that in which people were drawn into and nurtured in a living, transforming relationship with the Divine by which they were inspired to live in a way that would transform the world for the better. They still hope to create that community again today.

These are five essential beliefs that shape modern Quaker faith and practice. Out of our experience of God's presence and our practice of faith come our “testimonies,” our commitments to equality, integrity, peace, and simplicity. These are ways of behaving and explaining our behavior that “testify to” – that is point at and give evidence of – the core of our faith, which is the reality of the presence, love, and power of God we know as that heals and transforms our lives.

George Fox, the founder of Quakerism encouraged the first Friends to “let their lives speak” to all persons about the power and love of God. Quakers at their best strive to have both our words and our lives testify to our faith; and hope that he way we live our faith can help mend the world.

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