Skip to main content

The Life of the Spirit

1. Cultivation of the Life of the Spirit

I have come in order that you might have life life in all its fullness.

(John 10:10)

The Society of Friends arose out of personal experience of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. The conviction that God can and does speak to all human conditions enabling, directing and working through us is at the center of Quaker faith and practice.

The Divine Spirit, which Friends variously call the Inner Light, the Light of Truth, the Christ Within, That of God in Everyone, has power to reveal, to overcome evil, and to enable us to carry out God's will. Quaker testimonies arise from listening to and obeying this Spirit.

Quaker faith welds the beliefs of its Christian foundation with the conviction that the Holy Spirit speaks to men and women and children of all races at all times. It draws individuals into a community of worship and of work for the redemption and improvement of human life. A Friends Meeting should be such a community. It should involve frequent, regular coming together in a common spiritual search, with members sharing experiences and insights, and finding the channels of service to which we are called individually and collectively.

2. Meeting for Worship

Our way of worship is not just an historical accident; it is a corollary from our conviction concerning the universal Light of Christ. Believing that in every worshiper, regardless of age, learning, sex, or any other human label, the promptness of God's spirit are at work, Friends meet together in entirely unprogrammed meetings, worship in silent prayer, opening themselves [to the Spirit]. … In such corporate worship…we are led into a depth of communion with God and with one another that is deeply meaningful and spiritually refreshing.

(L. Hugh Doncaster)

The meeting for worship is the heart of every Friends Meeting. Baltimore Yearly Meeting generally has unprogrammed worship based on waiting in silence, and founded on faith that human beings can commune directly with God. In expectant silence we strive to center inwardly. Each is aided by the seeking of others, so that worship becomes a corporate experience.

Friends approach the meeting for worship confidently, believing that God speaks directly to us, revealing Divine Will and guiding those who listen. Each worshiper becomes a listener ready to receive God's message, which may come in the silence or in spoken words. The divine manifests itself to individuals in many ways.

While Friends in the several branches have varying forms of worship, even unprogrammed Meetings have elements of accepted practice. All Friends seek to avoid the stultification which can arise from dependence on ritual and outward sacraments. The simplicity of Friends' worship results from an emphasis on the reality of the inward experience. Direct communion with God the experience of the Holy Spirit makes the observance of outward rites unnecessary.

Worship requires discipline of mind and heart, and heeding the Holy Spirit over and above our worldly concerns. Daily meditation and prayer, study of the Bible and other writings of spiritual inspiration, and striving to live each day in harmony with the Divine Will help to prepare minds and hearts for the consciousness of the presence of God in worship.

With diligence meet together, and with diligence wait to feel the Lord God to arise, to scatter and expel all that which is the cause of leanness and barrenness upon any soul; for it is the Lord must do it, and he will be waited upon in sincerity and fervency of Spirit;…and let none be hasty to utter words, though manifest in the light in which ye wait upon the Lord; but still wait in silence, to know the power working in you to bring forth the words, in the ministration of the eternal word of life to answer the life in all.

(Stephen Crisp, 1663)

3. Vocal Ministry

Waiting upon the Holy Spirit in silent expectation and prayer is the basis of our meeting for worship. Vocal ministry should arise out of a sense of being inwardly moved to share a message aloud. Sometimes a message is not ripe yet, or comes clearly but is meant only for the person receiving it, not for the group. Some Friends are led to speak frequently, and others only rarely; yet the timid or brief message of one who seldom speaks may be as moving and helpful as that of a more practiced speaker. The experienced speaker should be watchful not to speak too often or at undue length. No Friend should come to meeting for worship with an intention to speak or not to speak.

The most satisfactory vocal ministry arises out of a leading that is felt in the silence so strongly that it cannot be ignored. It should be delivered with as few words as possible, yet as many as necessary. Vocal prayer offered on behalf of the gathered meeting can also bring us into closer harmony with God.

4. Use and Nurture of Gifts

You are my friends if you do what I command you.

(John 15:14)

Every Friend is called to be a servant of God. Each of us has God-given gifts or talents, which we are obliged to develop and use to the glory of God. Each of us is encouraged to seek the ways in which we are called to minister to others. "Speak, for thy servant hears," is our prayer (I Samuel 3:10).

We are obliged also to recognize and nurture the gifts of other Friends. The spiritual quality of our meetings for worship deepens when those who are led to speak out of the silence receive encouragement and help. The fabric of the Meeting community and the larger community is strengthened when Friends who serve the community receive loving support from other Friends.

Monthly Meetings may wish to recognize in some way the special gifts of certain Friends, in the ministry of the word, in Bible interpretation, First Day School teaching, peace witness, prison visiting, counseling or the like. One way is to acknowledge the gift in the minutes of the Meeting. Such formal recognition expresses approval of the Friend's contribution and may affirm his or her suitability to interpret the Society of Friends to the larger community.

Some Meetings may choose to continue the historical practice of recording ministers. Meetings wishing to acknowledge gifts in ministry by recording may consult the Yearly Meeting Committee on Nurture and Recognition of Ministry.

5. Prayer and Meditation

I think a quiet spirit before the Lord and not always looking out for "concerns," but knowing how to be still, is a very great point in the religious life.

(Elizabeth Fry, 1847)3

Nurturing the life of the Spirit requires frequent communication with the Divine Spirit. It is not sufficient to rely solely on an hour (or less) on First Day mornings, or on brief moments of silence before meals or committee meetings. We should make room in each day to know that of God within ourselves. God's help and healing can be sought in many ways, including vocal or silent prayer, meditation, visualization, silent listening, and confident affirmation. Friends seek harmony with the Divine Will, individually or in groups, sometimes laying our concerns before God, sometimes asking for guidance, sometimes giving thanks for the beauty and blessing in our lives.

6. The Scriptures

George Fox had a profound knowledge and perceptive understanding of the Bible. From the very beginning Friends put much emphasis on the Scriptures. They used the Bible in private devotion and in the study of what it reveals of God's dealing with people throughout history. However, the Bible was read less often in Quaker meetings than in most other forms of Christian public worship. When used in meeting it was usually quoted from memory rather than read, although in modern times it is sometimes read, often as a basis for a message to follow.

Many differing attitudes toward the Bible can be found among Friends, but a few statements find general acceptance:

  1. In the experience of Friends, the Bible can be rightly understood only in the light of the Spirit which inspired it the same Holy Spirit which is available to all.
  2. Although the word of God can be found in the Bible, inspiration may also be found elsewhere. The closing of the canon of Scripture did not signal the end of Divine inspiration.
  3. Any part, any verse of the Bible can best be understood in the light of the whole, so that care should be taken in the use of passages removed from their contexts.
  4. Detailed understanding of the Bible can be reached only through study of the times and circumstances of the writing, in the light of various commentaries and translations. A few Friends have become known far beyond the boundaries of the Society as Biblical scholars.

In the 20th century, Friends, like many other Christian groups, deplore the diminished knowledge of and interest in the Bible. Study of the Bible, especially in the light of modern scholarship, can be most rewarding. Meetings are encouraged to include Bible study in religious education.

7. The Practice of the Life of the Spirit

In the experience of Friends, faith in God finds its expression in a way of life based on spiritual rather than material values. We place authority of the Divine Spirit above any outward authority. By testing the perception of conscience against the personal and collective experience of others, we hold our plans and concerns up to an Inner Light which will stand the trial of time. A good friend who can support one's search may be helpful with such testing; Friends may choose to set up "spiritual friendships" designed to encourage and mutually uphold their spiritual journeys. We respect the insights found in the lives and writings of spiritual men and women of all ages, and take particular inspiration from the ministry of Jesus. Jesus' command to love one another is the ideal of Friends' practice.

8. The Meeting as Caring Community

The guidance of the Inner Light has generally led Friends to common standards of conduct. We believe that a vital faith must apply to daily life. Through sharing personal spiritual experiences with others, our own insights are clarified and our convictions undergirded. Meetings can help each of us to gain spiritual strength for the good ordering of our lives and the right direction of our energies.

We must be concerned about the welfare of every member of the Meeting community. While Friends need to guard against prying or invasion of privacy, it is nevertheless essential that Meetings be aware of the spiritual and material needs of members of the community and express caring concern in appropriate ways. Many Meetings have found that specially formed support or clearness groups, either appointed by the Meeting or informally gathered, are a helpful way to minister to special needs within the Meeting.

While Quakers believe that a seed of God is in every human being, it is sometimes easier to believe this of persons at a distance than it is of those near at hand. This is particularly true when the need arises to address contentious issues. A meeting community should always seek to consider openly matters at issue, seeking a loving resolution of conflict, rather than to preserve a semblance of community by ignoring issues. Even when resolution is not immediate, the Meeting should make room for different expressions of continuing revelation while persisting in earnest search for unity.

At the same time, it is well for Meetings consciously to cultivate fellowship and unity. The goal, in George Fox's words, is to "know one another in that which is eternal, which was before the world was." Religious education programs for Friends of all ages are a primary bond. In the common experience of worship we draw together in a most essential way. The discussion of matters of concern, as well as fellowship based on recreation, intellectual pursuits, music and other aesthetic interests, can help unify the Meeting community. Working together also builds bonds of trust, understanding, and communication. In all things the principle of simplicity suggests that leisure activities, working, and faith be compatible and complementary.

9. Personal Life

The individual Friend should lead a life rooted in an awareness of God's presence in all times and places. Although special times and locations may provide helpful reminders of the need for spiritual communion, they cannot take the place of turning daily to God for guidance. The foundation for all our personal life and social relations should be the consciousness of the Holy Spirit.

Sincerity, simplicity and moderation are vital to all the dealings of life. We advise the observance of care in speech and the use of only such statements as convey truth without exaggeration or omission of essential fact. Taking legal oaths implies a double standard of truthfulness and is contrary to the teaching of Jesus.

Self-indulgent habits and luxurious living dull our awareness and make us insensitive to the needs of others and the leading of the Spirit. Ostentation and extravagant expenditure should not be a part of Friends' lives. Friends should be particularly aware of this in planning marriages, funerals, social gatherings or public occasions. True simplicity does not consist of particular forms or the absence of grace, symmetry and beauty, but of avoiding over-indulgence, maintaining humility of spirit, and keeping material surroundings in proportion to human needs.

Friends' longstanding testimony against the use, production, or sale of tobacco and alcoholic beverages is not fully accepted by some. For many, however, complete abstinence is the only effective way to avoid the dangers of the use of these materials. Friends are in unity against illegal narcotics and mind-altering substances, now readily available. Use of any of these materials has adverse effects which reach beyond the individual to harm the family and the community; dealing with illegal drugs also supports a criminal underground. Even legitimate prescription drugs can be used inappropriately and excessively. All these usages deaden the individual to life and spiritual values.

For those trapped in substance abuse, such advice may seem hollow. Commonalities exist between addictive behaviors with these substances and other compulsive actions, such as in the areas of eating disorders, gambling, overwork, and physical abuse. The causes go deep and may not be fully understood, but the resulting pain, fear, desperation and denial, damaging the abuser and all those around that person, need to be supportively recognized. A Meeting community should be ready to listen non-judgmentally, offer information about sources of help, refuse to enable people to continue in harmful patterns, and continue to offer an environment free from addictive practices.

We are faced at every hand with enticements to risk money in anticipation of disproportionate gain through gambling. Some governments employ gambling as a means of raising revenue, even presenting it as a civic virtue. The Religious Society of Friends continues to bear testimony against betting, gambling, lotteries, speculations or any other endeavor to receive material gain without equivalent exchange, believing that we owe an honest return for what we receive. Indulgence in games of chance blunts a proper sense of obligation.

How we use our working hours, our leisure and our resources has direct bearing on our spiritual life. Time for recreation is needed to refresh spirit, mind and body. Our use of time may determine whether the Divine Spirit grows within us or is crowded out.

We are called upon to be stewards of the rich provisions which God has made for all creation. As Friends we are advised to consider the effects of our charitable gifts and of all our expenditures, in the light of our concern for the right and fair sharing of the world's resources.

10. Home Life

A. Living With Self and Others

Friends have a loving concern for the varieties of supportive relationships that exist. We realize that the range of long-term mutual commitments is now wider than traditionally accepted. Our Meeting communities now include persons living alone, two-parent families, single-parent families, married and unmarried couples, homosexual and heterosexual couples, single adults or extended families sharing a household, and larger communal groups. At present Friends are divided on the wisdom or rightness of some of these relationships. Nevertheless, we recognize that there are many kinds of domestic living situations in which individuals have made long-term commitments to each other and in which a caring, sharing, supportive relationship can grow. We are all called to make our primary relationships responsible, loving, mutually enabling, and spiritually enriching.

The efforts of making a home should be shared with tender regard for the needs and abilities of all members and appreciation for their unique contributions. As we strive to create the peaceable kingdom at home we need to be particularly careful about anger and its expression. Stressful situations should be addressed openly and lovingly. Anger is an index of our discontent that needs to be heeded and carefully channeled. We should find the difficult middle way between uncontrolled anger, which erupts in violence and oppression, and suppressed anger, which may result in silencing individuals to avoid confrontations, ultimately amounting to a greater violence to all involved. Meetings can help by being open and supportive to victims of anger and abuse as they seek healing even though it may lead through emotional chaos.

Meetings should be aware of situational stresses some families must deal with. Such stresses may arise in any household, but especially where children have only one parent, all the adults work outside the home, families contain members of different faiths, or the household includes ill or infirm elderly members. These families, as well as others in our midst whose members have special needs because of physical or mental illness, developmental disability or handicap, may require extra loving support and sensitivity to their needs.

Finally, we need to be mindful of those who, for any reason, live alone. While such individuals often live rich, full lives and contribute much to others, they need to be particularly included in all aspects of the Meeting, for frequently the Meeting is their family. Times and places should be provided for them to find and know each other. Single young adults need reassurance as they make life choices, which may run counter to parental or societal pressures. We also need to be aware of circumstances such as illness or unusual stress, in which those living alone may require assistance or companionship.

Our Meetings and communities are composed of persons who live in many kinds of home situations. All of us as individuals, as well as our Meetings collectively, need to create an atmosphere that is accepting, supportive and caring toward all the persons in our midst, whatever their domestic groupings, enabling all of us to grow and share with each other.

B. Marriage4

Marriage, undertaken with divine assistance and solemnized in God's presence, is a creative and joyful relationship. When two people make their vows to each other in the presence of God and their friends, they take each other as life-long partners, promising with divine assistance to be faithful to each other. Implicit in their covenant for life is a commitment to resolve, with God's help, the problems and disagreements that arise in living together.

Marriage presents unique opportunities for growth. Many of these challenges come wrapped in love. The need for equality and sharing within a marriage places on both partners the responsibility to preserve and build family life. Some redefinition of roles and sacrifice of traditional privileges may be necessary. Close to each other we become aware of our strengths and weaknesses, responsibly carrying them together.

We thank God, then for the pleasures, joys and triumphs of marriage; for the cups of tea we bring each other, and the seedlings in the garden frame; for the domestic drama of meetings and partings, sickness and recovery; for the grace of occasional extravagance, flowers on birthdays and unexpected presents; for talk at evenings of the events of the day; for the ecstasy of caresses; for gay mockery of each other's follies; for plans and projects, fun and struggle; praying that we may neither neglect nor undervalue these things, nor be tempted to think of them as self-contained and self-sufficient.

(London Yearly Meeting, 1959)5

When difficulties arise, members should feel free to come to their Meeting for help and counsel. Meetings, in turn, should assist in finding solutions, guiding the couple to professional counselors if advisable. The Yearly Meeting Counseling Service may be of assistance. If, despite the best efforts of all concerned, members find that their commitments cannot be sustained, they should work for an amicable parting, avoiding if possible adversarial proceedings. Meetings should be supportive of persons in such a process, and accepting and affirmative afterwards. Especially heedful of the needs of children, they should help all members of a family to recreate loving homes.

C. Sexuality

The human reproductive process is one of life's great miracles. Sexuality, much broader than the act of reproduction itself, is a channel for perception, communication and enjoyment. Friends are aware both of the joy of human sexuality in its proper context and the need for its restraint outside this context, together with its limitations and problems when treated casually rather than as a precious gift of God to be used responsibly. We recognize too that celibacy is a special gift, a calling and an act of free will to be practiced joyfully by those who have received that gift.

Education in matters of sexuality is an area in which the home should be the dominant influence. Children should be given factual information to suit their growing understanding on sexuality, family planning, and their responsibilities in this area.

D. Raising Children

Friends should take responsibility for family planning, which may sometimes include adoption or provision of foster care. When the number of children exceeds the financial, physical and even spiritual capacity of the parents, a hardship is worked on all involved. Thoughtful decisions either to have or not to have children should be accepted and supported by the Meeting.

As children acquire much by imitation and absorption, family members should watch carefully their own words and actions, curb indulgence, practice forbearance, choose worthy companionship, recreation and television viewing, and subscribe to worthwhile publications. Children tend to become what is expected of them; they are susceptible to the influences of their surroundings, and early impressions are most lasting. Therefore, love and mutual respect in the home are vital. Adults should be conscious of the harmful effect on children of rigid or unrealistic expectations. We should seek to discover and nourish that of God in each child and to foster the child's own talents and leadings.

Self-discipline is the foundation on which character is built. Loving counsel and direction rather than compulsion should be the basis of development. Love, consideration, service and the acceptance of responsibility form a basis for ordered and satisfying family relationships. Children should share in the tasks of the home and in the exchange of ideas. As parents we can foster confidence and candor between ourselves and our children. Casual, wide-ranging, honest conversation within the family, a natural means of introducing children to perplexing issues and new concepts, is a potent way of communicating ideals.

Children should be taught early to speak and listen to God in their own way. Understanding and acceptance of meeting for worship can come to children early in life through attendance and parental participation. Full appreciation may come later, but uplifting reading, religious discussion and quiet waiting upon the Spirit can be practiced early.

Prayer is a precious and important part of daily life. The recognition that answers may come in unexpected ways not always understood is essential to our religious experience. Reading of the Bible and other religious literature provides opportunities for the spiritual growth of all family members, and for binding the family together. The family itself is a precious spiritual community.

The resources of the Meeting can be important for families undergoing crises. Friends should be particularly mindful of the needs of children who are experiencing pain or loss. A Meeting can provide care and understanding, acting as an extended family. Not only are we brothers and sisters in the spirit, but we may be beloved aunts and uncles of all the children in the Meeting. The resilience of the Meeting as a nurturing community encompassing many generations supports each of us throughout the many stages of our lives.

11. Fellowship and Community

The life of a religious society consists in something more than the body of principles it professes and the outer garments of organization which it wears. These things have their own importance: they embody the society to the world, and protect it from the chance and change of circumstances; but the springs of life lie deeper, and often escape recognition. They are to be found in the vital union of the members of the society with God and with one another, a union which allows the free flowing through the society of a spiritual life which is its strength.

(William Charles Braithwaite, 1905)6

A. Within the Local Meeting

It is not easy to find community and fellowship in the modern world. Many Friends view relationships within the local Meeting as similar to partial relationships established with people met regularly at work, at play, and in the neighborhood. It is perhaps too much to expect that we all will make the Meeting central to our lives. But unless the Meeting fellowship can be made to speak to something deep in our lives, our Society falls short of fulfilling the true spiritual needs of its members.

Typically Friends come together in meetings for worship from diverse neighborhoods, seeing one another rarely except on First Day or on special occasions. Many Meetings find it helpful to encourage groups to meet in one another's homes for worship, recreation, study or fellowship. Committees provide opportunities for other kinds of relationships within the Meeting. But all too often these contacts fail to satisfy our yearning for community. Sometimes a glimpse of the meaning of community comes as Friends work together in projects of social service, peace education, religious education or pastoral care for fellow members. Each Meeting should have as an active concern before one or more of its standing committees the nurture of the Meeting community in whatever ways may open.

B. Within the Society of Friends

Friends who restrict their experience of the Society to their local Meeting are missing rich experiences of fellowship in the wider community. Quarterly, Half-yearly and Yearly Meetings as well as larger gatherings provide opportunities for Friends of all ages to broaden their experience of the Society and the circle of their spiritually-based friendships. Attendance at such larger Meetings should be seriously considered by each of us as a benefit of membership, an opportunity for spiritual nourishment and a means of widening our community.

Another rich resource within the Society which provides opportunities for fellowship and community is the variety of service committees and action organizations established to further our testimonies. Involvement in these endeavors can help to knit us one to another in common effort. The Society also sponsors study, conference and retreat opportunities at various centers. Meetings should assist the attendance of members and provide opportunity to share the fruits of such experiences in the local Meeting.

Finally, the Friendly tradition of intervisitation, whether under the weight of specific concern or in the interest of wider Quaker fellowship, should be fostered among our local Meetings.7

C. With Other Religious Bodies and Persons

Our belief in that of God in every person requires that we cooperate with other religious bodies. We are aware that we have much to learn from the religious experiences of other groups, Christian and non-Christian. We believe also that we have a rich and unique experience from which we can contribute. The Friends World Committee for Consultation brings us into contact with Quaker groups worldwide, often different from our own in culture, theology or practice. Through Friends United Meeting and Friends General Conference our Yearly Meeting is affiliated with national and international ecumenical movements. In addition, many of our local or area Meetings cooperate in community councils or associations of religious groups. In all these affiliations we make clear that our faith is one of experience rather than one of creed or doctrine. In sharing that experience with persons from other backgrounds through common worship and shared service we enrich our sense of community.

D. With All Humanity

There is an evangelical and saving light and grace in everyone, and the love and mercy of God toward mankind were universal, both in the death of his beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the manifestation of the light in the heart.

(Robert Barclay)8

Our belief in the universality of the Inner Light requires us to "walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone" as George Fox urged. No human being is excluded from our sense of community, for we are led by our faith to view human beings as children of God rather than as stereotypes of cultures, nations, or ideologies. It is individual people with whom fellowship must be established, and each Friend must seek in the quiet of worship the personal strength to work at the establishment of community.

12. Education

Education has long been important to Quakers. Friends feel that education is a lifetime effort to develop an open and informed mind and a seeking and sensitive spirit.

It became apparent to early Friends that some form of education would be necessary for leadership and ministry if the Society were to be effective in promoting Truth. In 1668 George Fox urged that schools be established for girls as well as boys. John Woolman, in 1758, cautioned Friends to "watch the spirit of children" and "nurture them in Gospel Love." And, in 1831, Joseph John Gurney exhorted, "We shall never thrive upon ignorance."

Friends are concerned to educate for individual growth, community responsibility, a knowledge of God's world and a sense of wonder at continuing revelation in this changing universe.

A. Religious Education

Friends hold that specific instruction in religious topics is vital in the preparation of the human spirit for living a whole life. The goal of our religious education is to strengthen the awareness of the presence of God and so build Quaker spiritual values and conduct. We learn these through experience and study.

Religious education begins early in the home as the child participates in family silence, prayer, readings from the Bible and other religious works, and in family discussions. We set an example in our own lives and seek actively to guide our children's development of sensitivity to God and the world. Thus children can learn to know how God works through and among all of us as exemplified in the life and ministry of Jesus.

As children grow, they broaden their religious experience through participation in meetings for worship and for business. In First Day School classes conducted by the Meeting, the Bible, religious history and ideals, the world of nature, and the history, principles, and testimonies of Friends are more formally taught. As children are guided to an understanding of history and science, they are enabled better to understand religious Truth. A secure awareness of our role in God's world frees us for more sensitive responses to the leadings of the Inner Light.

B. Adult Education

Adult First Day School classes began among English Friends in the late 19th century and are continued by many Meetings all over the world. The main purpose of Friends' educational activities for adults is the development of spiritual depth in the meeting for worship.

Meetings should foster activities that bring all age groups together. Conferences, workshops and retreats, organized by Monthly, Quarterly or Yearly Meetings or other Friends' bodies provide contacts with a variety of Friends' viewpoints. We should encourage adult members to follow their leadings in seeking education of all kinds and should be sensitive in offering the financial assistance sometimes needed to take advantage of such opportunities.

C. Friends' Educational Institutions

Formal education among Friends was developed early. In 17th century England, Quakers as dissenters could not attend local church schools or the universities. Friends designed their own schools to provide an education in "whatsoever things are useful in the creation," as George Fox put it. Some of these schools were open to all and became the forerunners of the free schools which developed in the 19th century on both sides of the Atlantic.

In America, Meetings sponsored elementary and, later, secondary schools to provide education in a religious atmosphere designed to prepare the pupils for active membership in the Society of Friends. Many Friends' schools survive as elementary or secondary schools, or as colleges. Baltimore Friends were involved with Philadelphia Friends in the founding of Swarthmore College. As in other well-known colleges such as Bryn Mawr and Pomona, some Quaker connection continues. Others, such as Haverford, Earlham, Wilmington, Guilford, Malone, Whittier, William Penn, George Fox, Friends University and the more recently established Friends World College, retain a more direct connection with one or more Yearly Meetings.

Friends' schools traditionally offer opportunities to put ideals into practice. They nurture students spiritually and intellectually. They seek to create an environment where pupils can grow together toward Truth through a wide range of experiences. They promote a way of life compatible with the Quaker interpretation of Christianity and are a means of Friends' outreach. While each Friends' school is unique, each is a caring community based on belief in that of God in each human being. Respect for the individual and a spirit of give and take among pupils and teachers characterize Friends' schools.

For many years Friends have been concerned about the problem of exclusivity in private schools, especially in those carrying the name of Friends. Those concerned with any Quaker-related school would agree that each institution has a continuing responsibility to discourage snobbishness and feelings of false superiority, to encourage economy and simplicity and to cultivate a realization that with special opportunities go special obligations. A Meeting that has direct responsibility for a Friends' school, or that has any Friends' school in its community, should assist the school to maintain its Quaker character.

D. Public Education

Friends have supported public education from its inception, recognizing that Truth prospers best among a populace that is "led out" from illiteracy and ignorance. In local Meetings we share responsibility with our communities for public education. Through involvement as teachers, school administrators, parents or interested citizens, Meeting members can work to improve the programs of public schools. Opposition, for example, to overemphasis on competition, to military exercises in schools, or to overly lax or overly severe discipline can be a prelude to positive suggestions of alternatives. We should continue to use our influence as citizens to elevate the standards of the public schools, recognizing that the crux of education is how the school system treats the individual. The Quaker ideal is to develop each child's spiritual strength as well as intellectual and practical skills.

13. Science and Religion

Religion and science are approaches to the universe and our relationship to it. There need be no conflict between these approaches. This Quaker view is well reflected in the following statements by Friends:

William James described Quakerism as "a religion of veracity rooted in spiritual inwardness." Veracity is indeed the Truth of the heart; the renunciation of lies, deceit, guile, deception, and pretence. … The whole knowledge explosion which is a result of the development of scientific subculture, depends quite closely on the tradition of veracity which is so strong there.

(Kenneth E. Boulding, 1970)9

As a scientist and as a person, I recognize the co-existence of two worlds, two systems. For want of better names I will call them the world of matter and the world of spirit not independent, yet capable of independent description. The world of matter is the world that we apprehend with our five senses, the world we can measure, the world of time and of space, the world of natural laws that we believe operate without being spoken. … The world of the spirit is the world of love and of hatred, of imagination and illusion, the world of fear and suffering, of ecstasy and of memory, of gratitude, of resentment, of hope and of happiness. No two people have the same inward experiences, although understanding comes from shared experiences. There are laws in this world which do not cease to operate although they are broken every day. … These two worlds are interlocked. God makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust. Even if we take an airplane and travel around the world with the speed of its rotation so that we experience a continued sunrise, we cannot escape "the starry heavens above" and "the moral law."

(Kathleen Lonsdale)10

There is a truth that lies beyond scientific theories and religious doctrines which are always being disproved and outmoded. Religion should welcome every discovery of science, which in rolling back the boundaries of the known world makes the miracle of creation that much more wonderful, that much more divine. Personal religion, like science, should always be rolling back the boundaries making new discoveries, discarding inadequate concepts, enlarging its vision.

(Bradford Smith, 1963)11

14. The Arts and Religion

Early Friends believed in simplicity, avoiding ostentation and adornment in their clothing, furnishings, homes and meeting houses. However, they often achieved a beauty of line, proportion and workmanship which, later, non-Friends also came to appreciate.

Historically, the fine arts have been relatively undeveloped among Friends. Many early Friends questioned the value of fine arts, often regarding them as superfluous or distracting, if not worse. But Friends have come to realize that art may carry spiritual force. The arts can serve to increase understanding among people, carrying their messages across human barriers of language, dogma or politics. Many have found in artistic creation an avenue for personal growth and fulfillment. Friends may express their own creative spirit through whatever media or in whatever ways seem appropriate. Those who become artists are urged to realize that art constitutes a great force in society and to be mindful of their social responsibilities. Friends in the unprogrammed tradition rarely include music in their worship, but enjoy singing and instrumental music in other contexts. Spontaneous musical contributions, however, may be appropriate in a meeting for worship.

15. Social Responsibility

It seems to me that the moving force behind the Quaker social witness has got to be some vision, however faint and tantalizing, of what the world would be like if we were really obedient to God.

(Deborah Haines)12

The basic Quaker trust in the Light within leads to our trust in the inherent dignity and sacredness of each person. This trust, combined with our Society's own history of persecution, underlies our social witness.

Some concerns which once drew the witness of Friends are obsolete today, but still we have many challenges. War, violence in streets and homes, injustice in the justice system, prejudice and discrimination, the plights of starving, homeless and disadvantaged people, and business conduct which involves exploitation of people or nature's resources all these still call us to action in obedience to the Spirit.

16. Peace and Non-violence

Since their beginnings over 300 years ago, Friends have been led by their commitment to the ideal of peace to renounce wars and violence, as in the declaration made to Charles II by George Fox and other Friends on November 21, 1660:

We…utterly…deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretense whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world. … The spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as to once command us from a thing as evil and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the Spirit of Christ which leads us into all Truth will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for any kingdoms of this world.

(George Fox, 1660)

God's law of love, as taught and lived by Jesus Christ, applies to all the levels of society. Wars break the law of love as do violence in communities and families and fighting between individuals. Friends have a settled intention to practice love and to make peace.

As peacemakers we hold that attitudes of justice and compassion are basic. A peacemaker must be able to identify with others. Peace cannot be attained at the expense of others. "Do to others as you would be done by" is indeed a Golden Rule.

We are called as peacemakers to deal with the violence and aggression within ourselves, to find ways of living in harmony with ourselves and neighbors. A simple life style is useful in this connection, since the pursuit of excessive material wealth or power entails competition and exploitation of others. As John Woolman urged, "May we look upon our treasures, the furniture of our houses and our garments and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions." The development of inward peace is part of the process of making outward peace.

Friends need to wage peace boldly and positively. The promotion of peaceful methods of conflict resolution, of international exchanges, of peace education and research, of world law and world-wide standards of human rights all are positive ways.

One important aspect of our peace witness is refusal to serve in the military or in activities contributing to military preparedness. Friends who face the draft or registration for it should consider prayerfully their alternatives. Their Meetings should stand ready to counsel and support them. Friends of all ages may witness by acts ranging from refusal to pay war taxes to non-participation in war-related work to demonstrations and other public witness. All should be aware of the tragic consequences of indifference, timidity and procrastination.

17. Civic Responsibility

Friends believe that the aim of government is to preserve a community in which justice, peace, good order and individual development are possible. Members of our Society are also citizens of the community and the nation. Quakerism is not intended to be a refuge from the disturbing events of our times, but rather a source of strength and support in facing them. The free institutions under which we live give many of our members a direct share in the responsibilities of government and in forming a healthy public opinion.

Friends have supported the state as long as its requirements have not opposed the leadings of the Inner Light. They have generally believed that:

…if any be called to serve the commonwealth in any public service, with cheerfulness it be undertaken, and in faithfulness be discharged unto God.

(Meeting of Quaker Elders at Balby, 1656)

Whether or not directly involved in government, we need to consider carefully our responsibilities in influencing legislation and educating fellow citizens on public issues. Friends should work with people in other churches and in the community to bring about desirable ends through the institutional resources of society.

From the beginning, Friends have found that loyalty to God results at times in refusal of the demands of the state, as in opposition to war and unjust laws, and have supported decisions of conscience taken by individual Friends. Before deciding on a course which involves civil disobedience, a Friend should consult with persons of trusted judgment who have sympathy with the individual's sense of duty. Clearness committees within the Meeting are valuable in such situations.

18. Vocational and Financial Decisions

The relationships, decisions, and actions of our working lives should reflect a calling to the service of God. Our witness will be unconvincing unless we seek and heed Divine guidance. Individual leadings vary with differences in talents and interests. Each Friend's talents, however, should be fully used.

Investment of assets and consumption of resources require our careful stewardship. As Friends we can direct our investments toward socially desirable ends, avoiding speculation and activities wasteful or harmful to others. We seek to participate constructively and without greed in the economic life of the community. We should refrain from undue accumulation of wealth as well as irresponsible borrowing.

Friends' Meetings and concerns require money and time. Non-pastoral Meetings do not need as much financial support as churches with paid ministers, but our concerns do call for considerable funding. We are required to give generously of our time, since our way of serving the Spirit depends on our personal efforts. For every Friend, the responsibility to give generously of both money and time is real. Monthly Meetings should provide regular opportunities for us to discuss our practices in the use of money and time. Wills should be made and periodically revised with care. This avoids difficulties for heirs and beneficiaries. The needs of our own family members and the merits of contributions to worthy causes should be considered in a spirit of love. Selection of a capable and understanding executor is encouraged.

19. Prejudice and Discrimination

We are all human before we are of one race or another, and it is on this common ground of being human that we live truly and on which we meet.

(Martin Buber)

From its earliest days, the Society of Friends has supported the equal right of all individuals to be treated with dignity and respect. The opposition of Friends to slavery is well known. Less well known is their support of the rights of women. Quakers, particularly Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul, were in the forefront of the American suffrage movement. We oppose all forms of prejudice. Prejudice should never be allowed to keep any persons from a chance to develop or use their abilities, or deprive them of their political, economic or social rights. We are called to work creatively for equal opportunity in education, employment, justice, housing and the like.

Since thought and action are reflected in words, we should take care to use language that reflects the equal dignity and worth of all human beings. We support an ongoing search for broader language to express the continuing revelation of the nature of God. Use of masculine or feminine forms when referring to God perpetuates gender-specific images. With terms such as the Inner Light, That of God in Everyone, and the Seed, Friends already have a vocabulary which is inclusive.

20. Those Requiring Special Care

We must be sensitive to the need for an institutional and societal framework within which disadvantaged individuals can achieve dignity and can experience a purposeful life within the limits of their capabilities. Aging is a natural part of human life. At no time should people be considered to be on the periphery of society because of their age. Older persons, who represent an increasingly large portion of the population, have varied talents, interests and concerns. Friends have a long tradition of appreciation of the gifts of older members, and our Meetings should continue to encourage participation of all ages in Meeting activities.

The same concern for human dignity, and opposition to the use of physical force and violence, has motivated Friends to work toward improvement in institutions and services for the aged, for the mentally or emotionally ill, the retarded, and the handicapped. Employment of members of these groups is encouraged, as well as special education and training.

The Society of Friends has long worked toward improvement in the treatment of offenders. While continuing to press for programs of rehabilitation inside prisons, Friends also recognize a need for pre-trial justice and the elimination of police brutality. Friends are led to oppose capital punishment by our belief in the sanctity of life.

21. Humankind and the Environment

Population growth and technological abuses are threatening the planet. Millions of people are malnourished or starving, unable to obtain food, homeless. Our faith that there is that of God in every person calls us to concern over this tragic situation. Friends are advised to set the example in living simply so that others may have the wherewithal to live. We are called also to work for public policy aimed toward conserving the world's resources on one hand and sharing them fairly among all God's children on the other.

1Lucretia Mott, Discourse on Woman, 1849
2See quotation of Deborah Hanes
3Elizabeth Fry, Memoir of Elizabeth Fry, 1847
4Procedures for Friends' marriages are given in Appendix F.
5Discipline of London Yearly Meeting, 1959
6William Charles Braithwaite, Memoirs, 1905.
7See Appendix C.
8Robert Barclay, Apology, Proposition 6
9Kenneth E. Boulding, in The Prospering of Truth, The Swarthmore Lecture of 1970
10Kathleen Lonsdale, The Spiritual Sickness of the World Today.
11Bradford Smith, Meditation: The Inward Art, 1963.
12Deborah Haines in Friends Seek Wholeness.

Powered by Firespring