Ask A Quaker: Why are you called Quakers?

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By Paul Blankenship

Why are Called Quakers?

Excellent question. You may recall that George Fox (1624-1691) helped found the Religious Society of Friends in England. In 1650, Fox stood on trial before a man named Justice Bennet. Fox faced trial a lot, actually, because of how profoundly he upset the prevailing religious authorities of his day. During the trail, Fox told Bennet to “tremble before the word of God.” In response, Bennet called Fox and his followers “Quakers.” Though Bennet meant the term as an insult, Fox turned it upside down. He liked the name, thank you very much, because he thought everyone should quake before the love of God. So here we are. Quakers are people who gather to be transformed by the gentle, empowering, loving presence of God. Most of the quaking I have noticed, I should add, happens inside a person’s heart. One of our members once referred to Quakers as “silent Pentecostals.” 

Quakers also call themselves “Friends.” In calling themselves “Friends,” Quakers are simply trying to ground themselves in the kind of love Jesus lived and invited people to practice in John 15:12-15: “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.”

About Paul Blankenship

Paul Houston Blankenship is an interim pastor at Spokane Friends and a PhD candidate at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. He has taught theology and religious studies at Seattle University, Fordham University, and UC Berkeley. Paul's dissertation, Soul Suffering, is an ethnographic study about the spiritual lives of people living on the streets of Seattle.

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