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Are Quakers Already Dead?

We Quakers think a lot about our own demise. I’ve lost count of how many events, conferences, books, and lectures have essentially centered around the question, Will Quakerism survive?

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you already know that I believe this is the wrong question. The ultimate fate of Quakerism is not nearly so important to me as whether we are ignited by a living movement of the Holy Spirit today, in our own time and place. Labels and Quaker brand loyalty aren’t worth much if we aren’t willing to follow Jesus – wherever he leads.

It concerns me, how frequently this conversation comes up in the Quaker community. The question of denominational survival is a major preoccupation among Friends. Maybe even an obsession. We demonstrate an almost morbid fascination with our own impending doom.

A friend of mine recently suggested that what is missing in modern day Quakerism is a triumphant, victorious spirit. He suggested that, in many cases, we as Friends have already accepted defeat. We’ve assumed failure as an inevitability. We’re so busy contemplating Quaker doomsday that we fail to see the incredible abundance and possibility of the moment we live in.

I’m convinced that we’re not dead yet. God has important work for us to do – not just back in the 1650s, not only during the Civil War or Vietnam, but right now. We are alive now for a reason.

What would happen if we located ourselves, not at the end of a long line of historical events, but at the beginning? Rather than maintaining the legacy of people who lived and died hundreds of years ago, what if we used all that raw material – theology, meeting houses, writings, endowments, faith and practice – to launch a whole new God movement in our time, place, and culture?

What if we refuse to rest on our ancestors’ laurels? What would it mean to accept the challenge of radical discipleship here, now?

We’re only dead if we refuse to try.

Related Posts:

Is it Time to Get Rid of Yearly Meetings?

What If I Really Lived Right Now?

  • Kenny Schroeder

    Well said. However, most Quakers, it seems to me, are in a comfort zone they can’t shake themselves out of, engaged in endless debate on how to invest 100 dollars in a social justice project when there are hungry homeless people nearby who need something now, or engaged in debate on how to dress, or how to be Quakerly…
    The silent worship is compensated for by all the talk in between. It would be nice to see more action.


      not all of us are merely talking

    • Thanks, Kenny.

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    its not my calling to be a Quaker.
    Micah I was once called to witness to Quakers
    and the ones I was involved with were a witness to me.
    good news!
    we’re all allowed to be here and do our thang!

  • Julian Brelsford

    It often seems that the Quaker communities I’m around are actually half dead. They have some life, some sense of intention & purpose, but they rarely dwell on it. I’ve seen when Quakers really come to life.. When we really get the fire of Truth powering us up

    • There is hope! Will we clothe ourselves in Christ?

  • Olivia

    Is this a question that’s coming up among the conservative and/or evangelical branches? I’m generally hanging out in the space where there are plenty of liberal quakers and this sounds like a question that others have while pointing at us (or you may also have on your own, I don’t know)….but not a question that I really hear from the liberal end of things.

    If it’s worth sharing, there’s a special joy that happens on the fringes: Quakerism as a place of welcome, total inclusion, creativity…liberation, really, for people who haven’t known about this faith/approach before. While some of us also don’t like the way they still have knee-jerk reactions against too much God/Jesus language, we still benefit from the way they are open to a million other things that God has made and made Good, things that feel stifled in the other branches. (This is not my judgment of those branches, which I value too, but just expressing that we do have abundance of divine good on this end of the spectrum as well…and if others are feeling need of more of that, I wanted to share, for your consideration.)

    • In my experience, this post is relevant to Friends across North America, of all branches.


        Just as a point of information: Friends aren’t the only ones having this problem.

        • It is my experience that many mainline and evangelical churches and denominations are suffering from the same problem.

          • I believe it.

          • Olivia

            Peter, I have worked for Lutherans and Presbyterians (and spent my own personal time among Quakers, Methodists, and New Agers). So far my impression is that all the mainline folks have been talking about this problem in their respective branches for years….and they are (or were) being told that the Evangelicals didn’t have this problem but that people were leaving the mainline for…whatever’s not in the middle: evangelicals, orthodox church, and very progressive/liberal expressions. That would be very interesting to learn that the Evangelicals also think people are leaving them for someone else.

            The reason I brought up the New Agers is that… I just don’t believe that God’s church is ever going to die… And I suspect that in some periods it thrives more in the hearts of protesters and objectors to the status quo, in some periods among the devout masses, etc. In this period, I find that SOME people who go way liberal / new agey have a very grounded/divine orientation…it’s just big enough for the many “legitimate” faiths on this planet. I know not everyone sees things the way I do and I’m not trying to convince or make that point at all..but for those who do feel that God is bigger than just Christian expressions of God, I wanted to bring up the point that I’m sure whatever is actually God’s church “ain’t” dying. Some food for thought: right around the time that all the mainline denominations started saying people were leaving and the church might be dying, a whooole bunch of Americans started getting involved in yoga, saving the planet, Buddhism, energy healing… It would just be interesting wouldn’t it, to have God’s perspective on this whole thing?

          • Olivia, great points! People today are spiritually hungry and searching. If the traditional Christian church can’t fill that need, they’ll search elsewhere, even if it is false.

            I also see people dropping out of church because they find it irrelevant. In its place they form their own faith community outside of the traditional church. My research shows this trend will continue and grow.

        • Yes.

  • Dale Graves

    I wonder if this is an American discussion (white American?) The quakers in East Africa are expanding and adding new congregations/meetings/churches. Quakers in Central America are very active, we just don’t hear a lot about them.

    • This is definitely a North American discussion. I suspect it might also apply to Friends in other developed nations, but that’s not where I have most experience. The challenges and questions of Friends in the developing world are clearly different.

  • Today is the 50th anniversary of Jonathan Daniels’ martyrdom. He was a Keene NH Episcopal seminarian who responded to MLK’s 1965 call to ministers to come south and help with voter registration and integrating public places. He was killed by a white racist bigot in Alabama who aimed a shotgun blast at black teen activist Ruby Sales; he pushed her out of the way and died in her place. During July 1965, the month before he died, he wrote:
    “The faith with which I went to Selma has not changed: it has grown. I lost fear when I began to know that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead and my life is hid with Christ in God.”

    [Photo is from an article about Ruby Sales in the 08/16/2015 Washington Post.]

  • archimedes

    I’m not a Quaker nor active in any religion, but I am seeking a greater meaning of life. I recently visited a local Quaker meeting house to see if this was a community that might be what I am seeking. I found it to be a group of radical feminists. Since I wasn’t seeking politics, I was greatly disappointed.

    Is this typical of Quakers today or did I just walk into the wrong meeting house? I’m not trying to be provocative, just searching.

    • Quaker meetings vary in extreme measure, depending on which one you visit and which larger association it belongs to. Depending on where you go, you can find everything from Evangelical fundamentalism to outright atheism and multi-religious fellowships.

      At its heart, though, I still believe that Quakerism has always been about encountering Jesus in the most simple and radical way possible.

      • archimedes

        Thank you.


      You might want to give your local Meeting a second try: attendance varies and you might just have hit the one day of the year when ALL the radical feminists where there and everyone else was away.