The Briton named George Fox who lived through the English Civil War began to wonder if everything he had been taught and all he had believed was true since he saw so little of it lived out among others who called themselves Christian. Eventually he heard the voice that told him to follow the light within as revealed by Christ in John 1:9.
The implications of these beliefs is that they would not take oaths, pay taxes to support a national Church's clergy and they would assiduously avoid traditional churches.Fox believed and practiced that anyone and everyone had this "inner light" if they would relinquish the trappings of traditional religion and embrace it.
Suddenly, for Fox and his followers at least, doctrine, revelation, organization meant nothing and in fact were hindrances to true faith. He established no clergy, liturgy or sacraments for people to follow. The experience was to be on what the "still, small voice within" uttered and not what another human said.
The implications of these beliefs is that they would not take oaths, pay taxes to support a national Church's clergy and they would assiduously avoid traditional churches. They condemned the evils of slavery and mistreatment of prisoners and the mentally ill. For these unorthodox practices and beliefs many thousands suffered at the hands of judges under public whippings, jail, torture and murder. They eventually came to be known as Quakers when a judge was told by Fox to "tremble at the Word of the Lord", he sarcastically called him a "quaker".
Many came and were whipped, and hanged. But they continued coming to New England, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and especially Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. They were especially welcomed by William Penn (1644-1718), himself a Quaker, into the new territory granted to him by England, which came to be known as Penn's "Holy Experiment". His complete openness to any religion with full rights accorded to all was inconceivable for his day. Nowhere in the world, other than Rhode Island to a similar degree, had ever attempted such a startling way of life.
The relative peace allowed for great prosperity and many became wealthy farmers. Eventually, the Quakers who had ruled the Pennsylvania Legislator for years, split over funding an upcoming war. Generally pacifists, they were outvoted by others who felt it was a just cause and deserved to be financed.
Enemies of slavery they were years ahead of other Churches in denouncing it. Even today, they are outspoken advocates of minority rights and education for blacks. They continued their pacifism in this century by serving as noncombatants in both World Wars and Vietnam.
The "Inner Light" is the basis of Quaker spiritual life. Truth is continually revealed rather than a closed canon like the Bible. Worship is weekly where they gather to seek answers to issues from each other. During this time there is a "quiet time" for meditation. If a question or issue can't be resolved it is held for an additional period until greater wisdom can be gained. Monthly meetings are held for official business and quarterly meetings are held to prepare for the annual meeting to discuss national and international issues.
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