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Why Do Quakers Do That?

Why Do Quakers Do That?

#1 Why Do Quakers Sit in Silence?

Instead of meetings filled with sermons, scriptures, hymns, and lessons – Quakers take a different approach to gathering the congregation. When Quakers meet in what they refer to as a Meeting House (instead of a Church), they sit in a circle to face one another and sit in silent reflection. A person may chime in if they feel inspired by God or feel compelled to do so.

The reasons that Quakers sit in silence are:

  • The create a parallel to the eternal silence as well as their own internal silence of the mind
  • To meditate
  • To calm the mind and halt anxieties
  • To be open to receiving God’s word/allow “the spirit to find you”
  • To listen
  • To challenge themselves to do something difficult – not speak
  • Because the Bible mentions silence on numerous occasions (see scriptures below)
  • To eliminate power structures to prove that all are equal (no priests or ministers necessary)
  • To incite a collective peace that is shared amongst the congregation
  • To create a ritualized practice that bonds the congregation/creates a sense of community

The anthropology of silence is seen as offering a secret power to Quakers, and they consider these gatherings as highly-sacred. This practice began in 17th century England and is still utilized by Quaker groups today. Quakers embrace a minimalist approach to various aspects of their lives; Church gatherings are no exclusion.

Rochester Quaker Meeting

Related Scripture(s):

  • “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” – Proverbs 17:28.
  • “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” – Psalm 62:5.
  • “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” – Psalm 141:3.
  • “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” – Habakkuk 2:20

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#2 Why Do Quakers Use’ Thee’ and ‘Thou?’

Quakers speak in a traditional form that may feel similar to their dialog 200-years ago. Some refer to this as ‘plain’ speech because the Traditionalist Quakers will subscribe to a lifestyle that they self-describe as being ‘plain.’

‘Thee’ and ‘thou’ are typically interchangeable with ‘you’ and ‘your.’ The phrase ‘thou’ can also refer to more than one person, but it is often used as a singular pronoun.

The reasons that Quakers use phrases such as ‘thee’ and ‘thou‘ are due to the following reasons:

  • To honor their history
  • To speak as they do in the Bible
  • To avoid anything that was un-Christian, un-biblical, or even indirectly pagan
  • To protest against sinful natures
  • To remove human vanity
  • To remove social hierarchies
  • To incite equality of all
  • In the 1300s, these phrases expressed familiarity, formality, and respect
  • To avoid confusion within social and gender dynamics

The New York Times describes in their piece, What Quakers Can Teach Us About the Politics of Pronouns:

“The Quaker use of “thee” and “thou” continued as a protest against the sinfulness of English grammar for more than 200 years. (In 1851, in “Moby-Dick,” Herman Melville could still marvel at “the stately dramatic thee and thou of the Quaker idiom.”) But eventually, in the 20th century, even the Quakers had to admit that their grammatical ship had sailed.

Modern practitioners of pronoun politics can learn a thing or two from the early Quakers. Like today’s egalitarians, the Quakers understood that what we say, as well as how we say it, can play a crucial part in creating a more just and equal society. They, too, were sensitive to the humble pronoun’s ability to reinforce hierarchies by encoding invidious distinctions into language itself.”

The New York Times – Quakers

Related Scripture(s):

  • “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” – Genesis 3:15.
  • “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” – Genesis 2:17

Related Video(s):

#3 Why Do Quakers Call Themselves ‘Friends?’

In fact, this question should be posed the other way around. Originating in England during the 17th century, the Quaker movement was founded by George Fox, who originally named the religious group – “The Society of Friends.”

The term Quaker didn’t appear until later when in court –

Whenever something drastic, intense, or provocative would happen, The Society of Friends were known to ‘quake and shake,’ describing that they felt ‘overcome by the Holy Spirit.’ This caused non-members of the court to mock and ridicule them, belittling them with the nickname ‘Quakers.’

To this end, the term was seen as derogatory and pejorative for a certain period of time, but the impact of its weight has become minimized over time. The term Quaker may seem normalized in today’s age and Quakers eventually embraced the term, but this is precisely why many Quakers still prefer to be identified as ‘Friends.’

Some also believe that George Fox borrowed the religion’s name from the Bible, citing scriptures such as:

John 15:15:  

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

And Proverbs 17:17, which states:

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

What is Quakerism?

Related Scripture(s):

  • “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13.

Related Video(s):

#4 Why Do Quakers Not Swear Oaths?

Fundamentally – The reason can be boiled down to the notion that Quakers do not want to advocate for a world in which one would only tell the truth under oath, believing that a person should always tell the truth (whether under oath or not).

Quakers do not swear oaths in secular courts and may only say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ in response to legal queries.After the Reformation movement, this practice was enacted. Some describe that the reason Quakers do not swear an oath is due to the scriptural-context behind Matthew 5:33-37:

In Ecclesiastes: “A man that sweareth much shall be filled with iniquity, and the plague shall not depart from his house; and if he swear vainly, he shall not be justified, and if he swear with no purpose, he shall be punished doubly.”

Matthew: “Again, ye have heard that it was said to them of old, Thou shalt not swear falsely, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths. I say unto you, Swear not at all: neither by heaven, because it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, because it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King; neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your discourse be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatever is fuller than these is of evil.” Of this same thing in Exodus: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

Believers are advised to:

  • Always tell the truth
  • Never use the Lord’s name in vain
  • Never swear under oath
  • Never reserve integrity of speech for special occasions, always doing so

Because of this, they have not sworn oaths for the past 250 years.

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Related Scripture(s):

  • “If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” – Numbers 30:2.
  • “Then’ (let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman) ‘the Lord make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your thigh fall away and your body swell.” – Numbers 5:21
  • “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” – James 5:12.
  • “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:12.

Related Video(s):

#5 Why Do Quakers Not Take Communion?

Quakers do not practice sacraments, including Baptisms or Eucharist (known as holy communion). The reasons that Quakers do not partake in communion are due to the following justifications:

  • Many Quakers feel that the ritual lacks substance
  • It is seen assomeone else’s theological creed, not your own
  • Quakers are encouraged to derive their own meanings, not use others’ revelations about God
  • Individualism is cherished in Quakerism; communion is innately communal
  • Quakers are advised to listen within – Seeing God as within all
  • They do not believe any ritual is more sacred than the other
  • They see daily life as the most sacred act of worship (and anything beyond it as superfluous or unnecessary)

Being that a foundational pillar of the Quaker theology is to allow each member to determine their own path – there are no strict regulations that will forbid a Quaker from participating in communion. Quakers promote the idea that each person should discover their personal path to God and take actions that feel best-aligned to their needs.

Enacting a highly-accepting and non-judgmental outlook on how one conducts oneself within the religion, Quakers are the least likely of Protestant Christians to impose strict guidelines on their disciples.

To support this, a Quaker offers his take on communion through

“Look, there’s no hard and fast rule against the Lord’s Supper. The phrase “but Quakers don’t do that” shouldn’t ever shut down following a leading. It shouldn’t shut down a leading to kneel or to cross yourself or to pray out loud or to speak in tongues. Just don’t make an expectation of others.”

Essentially declaring – ‘Do as you please, but don’t set expectations for others.’

Related Scripture(s):

  • “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” – 1 Corinthians 11:26
  • “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” – Luke 22:19-20.

Related Video(s):

#6 Why Do Quakers Not Believe in War?

Quakers choose a pacifistic lifestyle that dates back to their commencement in the 17th century of England, where they were labeled as a ‘historic peace church.’

Following their ‘peace testimony,’ Quakers do not believe in War because (they):

  • Do not want to harm others
  • Feel it is against God’s explicit wishes
  • It is primarily derived from the teachings of Jesus Christ
  • Believe that non-violence reconciliation is always superior to violent extremes

One may imagine this leads to Quakers residing in passive resignation; however, this is not the case. Many Quakers (particularly progressive and contemporary ‘Friend’ groups) are incredibly passionate advocates for social issues, pacifism, and fighting peacefully for equal rights.

In whatever social injustice the organization takes on, they are guided by their theological morals to prevent violence and serve humanity through peace.

The Evils of Slavery – The Quakers and Their War of Resistance

Related Resource(s):

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#7 Why Are Quakers Called ‘Society of Friends?’

As the original name of the congregation – “Society of Friends” has been the official name for the Protestant Faith, shortly before they were re-labeled as ‘Quakers.’

The term ‘Quakers’ was, in actuality, a nickname imposed upon the Quakers in the form of mockery. Because of their propensity to shake and become ‘overcome by the Holy Spirit,’ outsiders would make fun of them and poke jest, belittling them with the nickname, ‘Quakers.’

Some believe that George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, borrowed the religion’s name from the Bible, citing scriptures such as John 15:15:  

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

An additional argument could be made that the term ‘friends’ simply feels inviting, non-threatening, and suitable to the peace-keeping nature of this faith. Perhaps George Fox was drawn towards the biblical relevance of the term, as well as how welcoming it would appear to potential converts.

The nickname of ‘Quakers‘ was considered insensitive in the 17th century; however, Friends have embraced the term and created a normalcy-surrounding it through the Quaker Movement. In this sense, they have taken back their power to reclaim the derogatory word as their own.

Nonetheless, many Quakers prefer to be called ‘Friends’ for this very reason. They see it as the original and historically-accurate name, biblically-relevant, the kindest term, and the most well-fitting to their faith. It is also worth noting that many Quakers are quoted as saying ‘I never quake,’ so perhaps they find the term to merely be irrelevant to them.

Related Scripture(s):

  • “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” – Philippians 4:6
  • “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13.

Related Video(s):

#8 Why Are Quakers Exempt from The Marriage Act?

Quaker marriages are a casual occasion and are viewed as less ritualistic and less ceremonial than other Protestant Christian weddings. Quakers place sacred importance on marriage, similarly, placing this importance on non-marital relations or singlehood – seeing all states as sacred.

The founder of the religion, George Fox, wrote in 1669:

“The right joining in marriage is the work of the Lord only, and not the priest’s or magistrate’s; for it is God’s ordinance and not man’s…we marry none; it is the Lord’s work, and we are but witnesses.”

Despite being relatively informal, the significant distinction is that Quakers will not utilize a priest, minister, or intermediary to guide the ceremony. Since they dismiss the hierarchy of clergy and Church leaders (viewing themselves as the direct connection to God), they consider an ordained minister unnecessary.

The Marriage Act of 1753:

“Was passed to prevent secret marriages by unqualified clergymen. From then on, every bride and groom had to sign a marriage register or, if they were illiterate, make their mark upon it.”

By 1753, Quakers had already been conducting wedding ceremonies without the permission or warranted permission of the Marriage Act. The argument at this time was that Quaker marriages may not be legitimate or valid. However, Quakers wedded in this style regardless of legal ramification.” 

The Boldein Oxford Law Library writes of Quaker law:

“Quaker marriage was first explicitly mentioned and permitted in the Marriage Act of 1753, although Quakers had performed marriages before that… The act can be found in Statutes at Large: from Magna Charta to 1869, which is available in a digitized copy (volume 21). The title is An Act for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage (26 George II c. 33) , and it laid down compulsory rules on how one could be married, so that couples had to publish marriage banns, it had to be done in front of witnesses, and generally all the paraphernalia that we are used to now. These rules already existed before that in canon law, the last of the Church of England, and marriages had to comply with them in order to be ‘regular’, but irregular or clandestine marriages, like those of Quakers, still existed.”

The author adds:

“At any rate, this exception for Quakers to marry continued in revisions to the Marriage Act right up until 1949.”

Ultimately, they are exempt because they fought for centuries to obtain what they believed in. Even before it was legally acceptable, they did it anyway.

Related Scripture(s):

  • “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24.

Related Video(s):