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Family and Friends is my everyday journal. Captain's Log is where I pontificate on religion and politics.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Society of Friends (Quakers)

Settle in, I'm on my soapbox today.


Today Berthold Gambrel posted a review of a 1956 movie named Friendly Persuasion

I've posted about the movie a number of times. It is one of my all-time favorite movies. It's about a family of Quakers. I used the movie during the study of the Civil War when teaching U.S. history. In order to do so I had to enlighten my students about the beliefs of The Society of Friends.

I'm a licensed Baptist minister. I've never been to Quaker church. I've studied the Society of Friends solely based for a more profound understanding of this movie. 

Some in my wife's family are Mennonites. It is a sect very similar to Quakers and are followers of Menno Simmons, a German theologian that preached pacifism in the 16th century. The Amish are a more radical branch of Simmon's teaching. Both branches are pacifists.

In England during its reformation a number of illegal sects arose. Puritans, Baptists and Methodists and The Society of Friends. The official church frowned on them and imprisoned preachers who spoke without the official sanction of the Church of England.

John Bunyan was such a man and while incarcerated wrote Pilgrim's Progress.

The Society of Friends were quite different in some ways which got them into trouble. They were egalitarians. They believed that everyone was equal before God. This belief found its way into the Declaration of Independence.

The other distinction they're known for is pacifism. They are non-violent. They refuse to fight even when attacked, and will not join the military. The last part is a big no-no for commoners in 16th century England.

The Quakers, for being a rather small religious group, have had a profound impact on U.S. history.  They established the Underground Railroad to help runaway slaves escape to Canada. Harriet Beecher Stowe was a Quaker and wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin.

She once met with Abraham Lincoln in the White House. Lincoln is said to have remarked, "So you're the young lady who started this war." 

The basis of Society belief is called: Priesthood of the believer

Protestants starting with Jan Huss, John Wycliff, William TyndaleMartin Luther interpreted the Bible to mean no person stands between you and God. That we all will stand on the day of judgement and be held accountable for our actions and beliefs. The only advocate we have is Jesus who intercedes on our behalf, if we believed in him while alive. Salvation by Grace.

Okay, so what does this have to do with Quakers?

Society members because of their egalitarian belief ruffled feathers. English society was very class oriented. Lords and commoners. Even today in their parliament it's divided that way.

If a commoner passed a lord or lady on the street they were required by law to tip their hat. The civilian version of a salute. It was a sign of respect for your betters. Society members, considering everyone is equal, refused to do this. 

A man by the name of George Fox was arrested for this crime. When brought before the magistrate, the judge scolded Fox and admonished him by saying that if he didn't repent from breaking the law he would face punishment.

Fox replied, "It is thee that shall quake and tremble in the presence of God on the day of Judgement."

It is from this statement that the Society became known as Quakers.

It wasn't just refusing to defer to their betters, but they also insulted the aristocrats with their language.

We think of the usage of thee and thou as Shakespearean and biblical. It was also a caste distinction. 

"Thee" and "thou" was class specific. A lord used thee and thou when speaking down to a commoner. The commoner was required to use "you" and "your" towards the lord.

Shakespeare did not make this distinction in his plays because it rhymed better in iambic pentameter. The same can be said of the King James Version of the Bible. 

Quakers refused to use "you" and "your" toward aristocrats. Hard to imagine, but that was a crime. They were imprisoned, they were hanged and burned at the stake over this.

In the New World the language went upper class for all with "you" and "your." It makes Quakers still using thee and thou a little archaic, but it's still very poetic when used for effect. 

Many Quakers fled to the New World to escape this persecution. In New England they were persecuted by the Puritans for being pacifists, and being egalitarians who allowed women to be preachers. All Quakers are considered to be a minister in the church: Priesthood of the believer taken to it's logical conclusion.

In Captivating History's Anne Hutchinson, about a woman whipped and finally exiled from Massachusetts for speaking her mind over the "faith" or "works" argument. At the end of the book I was shocked when it told of Anne's daughter who lived in Massachusetts and was hanged for being a Quaker. It seems the Puritans did more than hang witches.

This was one of the reasons why William Penn petitioned the Crown for the charter of Pennsylvania, for it to be refuge for Quakers from both England and other colonies.


Berthold Gambrel said...

Wow, lots of good information and history here. I had no idea where the name "Quaker" came from or how the custom of using "thee" started. Or about the Mennonite/Amish connection. And there is a fairly large Amish community here in Ohio, and I know a few people who were raised Amish.

I think it's really cool that you learned all this to understand the movie more thoroughly!

P M Prescott said...

You don't really need to know all that to enjoy the movie, but it helps. Quakers and others from the Reformation get overlooked by Luther and Calvin. I've run into Church of Christ and a few other churches that don't want musical instruments in the worship, but I've never fully understood their reasoning.

Lydia said...

Two of my grandparents have been Mennonites since birth. The other two were Mennonites for years as adults.

Your wife and I might be related if her relatives are also German. Haha.

P M Prescott said...

Possibly to my sister-in-law. Wife's and her brother went to the Mennonite church here with family friend. Her Brother met his wife at a hospital while both were on a program where they worked at a VA hospital instead of doing active duty during Vietnam.