It’s a series of questions that has dogged Friends since we did away with clergy and started calling baptism a “sprinkling,” and it has been an issue of contention in every Quaker schism: Are we Christian? Are we really Christian? Does it matter if we’re Christian? What does it even mean to be Christian in the world?
Quaker history geeks will point out that even the first generation of Friends would waver back and forth on basic Christian doctrines. Our family tree of splits and schisms pretty much always include Christian theology—the importance of the Inward Light, the role of evolution, the inerrancy of the Bible, the acceptability of the sacraments, the possibilities of universal salvation. We’ve long had Friends who have been willing to explore less orthodox spiritualities. Some have left or been forced out of membership, while others have informally remained in Quaker communities.
Over the past hundred years, Liberal Friends have become quite comfortable with non-Christian expressions of Quaker spirituality. We’ve got religious crossovers like Quatholics and Quagans and many weighty Friends who identify as non-theist. Many Evangelical Friends have become theologically indistinguishable from mainstream American Christianity, creating tensions with fellow yearly meeting members who hold onto a Quaker identity.
The rise of blogs and video and social media have led to more cross-branch conversations and friendships, fueling more questions about our collective identity. Is a kind of salad-bowl spirituality which draws from many streams something to be celebrated or denounced? What do we gain or avoid by choosing certain paths?
While there may not be any simple answers to the question of Quakerism’s relationship to Christianity, there are surely many interesting conversations.