Forum, May 2021

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Essentials of Quaker belief?

It is very good to see such a sensitive and inclusive portrayal of the Light—Holy Spirit, Power whose guidance we are listening for—still openly discussed here (“What Do We Believe?” by Adam Segal-Isaacson, FJ Apr.). As a person who devoutly follows the Light’s stirrings in a Quaker manner but finds the monotheistic implications of God/Christ discordant, I have been dismayed by the lack of discussion recently. I have noticed a marked increase in the use of exclusive terms replacing the more inclusive ones many Quakers were using in the 1990s and was concerned Quaker meetings may be narrowing their inclusion expectations in recent years. I very much appreciate hearing from at least one other practicing Quaker who feels uneasy about use of exclusive terms without clarification. 

Sascha Horowitz
Las Vegas, Nev.

This is the kind of wishy-washy, muddled thinking that, I believe, is hurting Quakerism. Offering the relativity of God and reinterpreting Fox’s statement to finesse Jesus Christ out of his thinking? “Jesus” and even “God” are deemed words of exclusivity to be avoided. Segal-Isaacson writes that no particular beliefs are required in Quakerism. We are all blind people describing an elephant, according to the author. He ignores the continuing in “continuing revelation.” He has no anchor, no history. His conclusion is that the Religious Society of Friends is all about “doing the right thing” and nothing more. But the great commandment is to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

George Powell
Carmel Valley, Calif.

I think the point that what unites Friends is the desire to “do the right thing” is significant. I know I’m not the first to suggest that, in some ways, the Society of Friends is more an ethical society than a religious one, and as someone with nontheist leanings, I’m quite okay with that.

John McCarthy
Dover, Del.

I joined the Religious Society of Friends because I experienced a Presence that my Unitarian elders couldn’t explain. The meeting that received my request for membership was mixed, both Christian and non-Christian. I was told (and accepted) that if there was a dispute in the meeting, Christians would prevail.

I was at a Friends General Conference Gathering, listening to eminent Friends describe their spiritual journeys when I had to sit back and pray. “O Presence which I know to be real, are you simply God or are you Christ?” And I heard a voice that said, “I am Jesus Christ.” It wasn’t the answer I wanted, expected, or knew how to deal with, and there was no one willing to answer my questions. I’ve had multiple experiences of Christ’s presence since then. For me, Christ is real but wasn’t when I joined the Society. I’m not about to make it a requirement.

Roger Dreisbach-Williams
Easton, Pa.

Correction and discussion on Friends of Color in early Quaker history

Correction: The author of “A Quaker Call to Abolition and Creation” (FJ Apr.), Lucy Duncan, and Friends Journal realize that the print version of this article inadvertently erased BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Quakers in describing Quakers as though we were/are all White. Certainly there have been Black Friends and Friends of Color in our body from our earliest history. We apologize for this error. The online version has been updated accordingly and can be viewed at Fdsj.nl/abolition-creation.

FJ Editors

Lucy Duncan has written the piece I have been wanting to write for several years now. Only, she did it way better than I would have. Thank you. I intend to share this article widely, to require everyone in my department to read it, and to use it with my students. I am hopeful that this piece will be an important contribution to our shared work to get Quakerism to transform itself.

Tom Hoopes
Newtown, Pa.

Regarding the correction, there may have been People of Color who attended Friends worship from the earliest years—though we have little documentation of it. George Fox’s epistles and other advices said White Quaker masters should take their enslaved people to meeting “when convenient,” though it seems often honored in the breach, and one wonders whether enslaved Black people were eager to attend the master’s worship service. There were likely some—enslaved, indentured, and free—who did attend. But the earliest known person of color in membership seems to be Pink Harris, an enslaved Black woman who was accepted into Providence (R.I.) meeting in 1780 with the consent of her master, a non-Friend who later freed her. Henry Cadbury researched this decades ago and didn’t find any earlier examples. I’d be interested in knowing if anyone has evidence of earlier memberships. The situation is quite different after 1800 and especially since the 1930s.

Betsy Cazden
Providence, R.I.

Walked in a tourist, walked out a Quaker

What a wonderfully refreshing article about experiences at Arch Street Meeting House! (“Stories from Arch Street” by Jackie Zemaitis, FJ Mar.) It took me back to the many times I was present at Arch Street for events and meetings of various kinds during the time we lived in Philadelphia, Pa. It’s good to hear the legacy of the witness carries on despite the pandemic. The stories by the volunteer guides of their experiences with visitors are all so touching. I especially like the story about the woman who said, “I walked in a tourist, and walked out a Quaker.” What a testimony to the power of place to awaken a recognition of belonging! It’s a lovely example of the oft-repeated story that many Friends tell of visiting a Quaker meetinghouse for the first time and being overcome by the feeling of having come “home.”

Keith Helmuth
Woodstock, New Brunswick


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