The Religious Society of Friends, better known as Quakers, includes both liberal and conservative congregations. All Quakers, however, believe in fostering peace, finding alternative solutions to problems, and seeking the inner guidance of God.
Number of Worldwide Members:
Because Quakers have no single central governing body, exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, but one estimate is approximately 300,000 members worldwide.
George Fox (1624-1691) began the Friends' movement in England, with missionaries carrying it to the rest of the world. In the American colonies, Friends were persecuted by the established churches, with members being fined, whipped, imprisoned, and even hanged. William Penn (1644-1718) incorporated Quaker beliefs into the government of his land grant, which eventually became the colony of Pennsylvania. Between the Revolution and Civil War, Friends migrated into the Midwest states and beyond the Mississippi River.
The term "Quaker" began as a slur, because early Friends urged people to tremble (quake) before the power of the Lord. In 1877, the name "Quaker Oats" was registered as the first trademark for a breakfast cereal, because the company behind it (not affiliated with the church) believed the product met the Quaker values of honesty, integrity, purity and strength. Contrary to popular belief, the man on the box is a generic Quaker, not William Penn.
Prominent Founding Quakers:
George Fox, William Edmondson, James Nayler, William Penn.
Most Quakers live in the western hemisphere, Europe, former British colonies, and in Africa.
Religious Society of Friends Governing Body:
Friends' major groups in the United States include: Friends General Conference, described as "unprogrammed" and liberal; Friends United Meeting, including both unprogrammed and pastoral meetings, broadly Christian; and Evangelical Friends International, primarily pastoral and evangelical. Within these groups, much liberty is often allowed to local meetings.
Sacred or Distinguishing Text:
William Penn, Daniel Boone, Betsy Ross, Thomas Paine, Dolly Madison, Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Annie Oakley, James Fennimore Cooper, Walt Whitman, James Michener, Hannah Whitall Smith, Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, Julian Bond, James Dean, Ben Kingsley, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez.
Quakers' Beliefs and Practices:
Quakers believe in the priesthood of believers, that every individual has access to the Divine Light within. All persons are treated equally and respected. Quakers refuse to take oaths and commit to simple living, avoiding excess and practicing restraint.
While Quakers do not have a creed, they live out testimonies of honesty, equality, simplicity, chastity, and community. Quakers actively seek peace and try to resolve conflict by nonviolent means.
Friends' meetings may be unprogrammed or programmed. Unprogrammed meetings are a silent, communal seeking of internal guidance and communion with God, without songs, liturgy or a sermon. Individual members may speak if they feel led. Programmed meetings, conducted in most of the U.S., Latin and South America and Africa, are much like Protestant worship services, with prayers, music, and a sermon. These are also called pastoral meetings, since a man or woman serves as a leader or pastor.
To learn more about what Quakers believe, visit Quakers Beliefs and Practices.
(Information in this article is compiled and summarized from the following sources: Friends United Meeting Official Website, Friends General Conference Official Website, and QuakerInfo.org.)