Quaker FAQs


What is the origin of the term Quaker?

There are two possible origins. One is that it is a reference to the “quaking” or trembling some experienced during silent worship when they felt the power of being in God’s presence and felt moved to speak. The second is that George Fox to the magistrate who was questioning him on charges of blasphemy (in 1650) that he should “Tremble at the word of the Lord”. The magistrate, Justice Bennett then coined the name “Quakers” for those who were followers of George Fox.

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Do Quakers wear old fashioned clothes, like the Amish?

Quakers founded the city of Philadelphia, the State of Pennsylvania and many towns and businesses. One of the best known businesses, which has survived to this day, is Quaker Oats, whose boxes still feature a Quaker dressed in clothes from the 1600s. Although Quakerism originated in Europe in the 17th century around the same time as the Shakers, the Amish and the Mennonites, modern day Quakers don’t distinguish themselves from others by any particular style of dress.

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What is the history of the Quakers?

The Religious Society of Friends formed in England around 1650. Many people were part of the movement, the most famous being George Fox. Friends were active in New England from as early as 1654. The Puritans of Massachusetts, found Quaker ideas unacceptable and exiled Friends on pain of death. Between 1659 and 1661 one woman and three men were hanged for returning after such banishment. George Fox spent over a year in America in  1672. The Quaker population increased greatly after 1682 when William Penn (who was a Friend) set about the foundation of Pennsylvania and started the city of Philadelphia. Friends in general showed an enlightened attitude to Native Americans, and were also active in the movement against the slave trade. Later, they helped escaped slaves and worked for the abolition of slavery. More recently Quakers have been involved in registering African Americans to vote, the campaign for nuclear disarmament and demilitarization, marital equality legislation, attempts to improve parole legislation and to the end of the death penalty and immigration reform.

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What do Friends (Quakers) believe?

Friends’ beliefs are a little hard to quantify, since there is no fixed Creed or Dogma. Friends recognize that there is a part of us that knows what is right and that that part of us is the “Inner Light”, or in some sense God.  Quaker Universalism is grounded in the idea that since all people have the Light people of all faiths and upbringings may give expression to its promptings in their words and deeds, so that, as a result, one finds wonderful expressions of the Light everywhere. Friends generally have held that people are people, no one is more in authority or more “holy” than anyone else, and that everyone has equal access to the part of God in all of us. For this reason,  Quakers visit prisoners, work to improve parole legislation and oppose the death penalty. If you would like to read more about Quaker philosophy a good place to begin is Faith and Practice.

 

What is a Quaker Marriage ceremony like?

Officially, two Friends marry each other under the care of the Meeting, but no person “marries” them, God does.  The wedding is similar to a Meeting in that everyone is silent, yet anyone who feels moved to speak does. Generally all present at the ceremony sign the wedding certificate.

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What do Friends think about war?

Many, but not all, Friends have generally refused to fight in wars and have refused the draft, since the mid to late 1600’s.  Friends groups like the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) lobby heavily against military involvement and military spending. Friends also explore non-violent approaches to conflict in daily life, such as the Alternatives to Violence project. Locally Santa Barbara Friends support the protests at nearby Vandenburgh Air force Base.

 

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