Quaker Universalist Conversations

Can a Christian be a Universalist?

A “Quaking Muslim” is what Akel E. Bitaji, Senator for the upper house of the Jordanian Parliament, identified himself as during a dinner with the United Church Press Tour last week. Mr. Bitaji is a graduate of the Ramallah Friends School and a graduate of the teaching training program once run jointly by Earlham and Wilmington Colleges.  Around a table made up by mostly evangelical Christians from the west coast, Mr Bitaji remarked about his time at the Ramallah Friends School: “We were all Quakers, 95% Muslims, 5% Christians but we were all Quaker. It was the Spirit that prevailed.”

 With all of the questions floating around out in the blogosphere about Christianity, Universalism, Quakerism and the Divine Source, I’ve found myself dwelling deeply on the question: Can I be both a Christian and a Universalist? Are these terms paradoxical? What does it mean to live into and through that paradox?I’ve grown up among Friends, ignoring the verse in the Christian scriptures that reads “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” At best, I imagined Jesus as a kind of archway where regardless of whether the person knew what they were passing through; they still got to go through. And as Rob Bell said, I really didn’t believe that Gandhi was in hell. 

 Then again, do Quakers even believe in Hell? Our realized eschatology is so peculiar among Christians can we even compare our Christian Universalism to another’s? To deconstruct that question a bit, let me describe realized eschatology. I am under the impression that the first generation of Quakers believed that Jesus had already returned to earth and in the form of the Spirit of Christ he had come to teach his people himself. Thus, when we commune in waiting worship we are listening for the teaching and wisdom of that living Christ among us.

 Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven has also arrived and we are responsible for living into that kingdom. The process of “living into” is perpetual for it is in the journey that we find our way not in the destination. In less cryptic language, we are responsible for making our world into the Kingdom of Heaven and although that perfection will never be achieved, we nonetheless must do our part to the greatest of our ability. 

 In thinking about this concept of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth now (also known as the Promised Land, Garden of Eden, or Paradise), I have found myself asking questions concerning my own vision of such. In my most recent entry of my work blogging for Friends Journal I wrote:

 “While I do not know what the Promised Land looks like, I believe that it is within each of us. The Promised Land is not separated from us or others by border crossings, checkpoints, or gated entrances. It is open to all and we are challenged to live into it; to make our experience of the world a reflection of it.”

 An thus but statements like these, I brand myself a Universalist… right? Yet by the very nature of having a realized eschatology I am Christian (not to mention my cultural background, mystical experiences, and sincere belief in the teachings of Jesus). Yet there are others in my faith community who would put up walls, checkpoints, and border crossings around the Kingdom of Heaven and subject others to the spiritual humiliation and violence found in physical form in places like the Middle East and on the US-Mexican Border.

 So, as a Christian and as a Universalist (and as many other things like a compassionate flawed human being) I can only hope that in the mass chaos of this world of which understanding is elusive, we can all have faith that as Mr. Bitaji suggested, “The Spirit will prevail.”


Thank you for a beautiful post that expresses so many things that have been bubbling in my heart and mind for years. The phrase "living into the kingdom" especially resonates with me. Did you come up with that phrase, or can you tell me the origin of it? Thanks again!
To me, a belief in hell is unnecessarily punitive. I don't believe that people need to have the threat of Divine punishment hanging over their heads to be moral people. If anything, it backfires. I have no issue with Spiritual expression, but it's when the Spirit flees the cross that I have strong reservations. And by that I am speaking to those who do not believe in God or any higher power at all.
@ Becky I'm pretty sure that the phrase "living into the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth" comes from the writings of George Fox.
Thanks Rachel, a great post. In my view, the value of a Quaker Christian faith is in commitment to a present Christ - in the sense of Christ being with us now, if we are ready to respond. I certainly share your doubts about hell!
This is a potent question for most Quakers. It is likely that many of our evangelical and Christocentric brethren would voice a strong "No" answer. i approach the question from the other end: can a Quaker Universalist really be a Christian. My answer is "Possibly, but not me." I have been too rigorously affected by scientific skepticism and respect for evidence. I concede there was likely a Creator, but I see no evidence whatsoever that he/she/it maintains contact with our universe, and certainly not with individuals. I wish I had the capacity to discern the fullness of great questions like this, but I long ago concluded that the human brain was simply not created to understand fully such matters as creation, the afterlife, the nature of god. I deeply believe there might be a purpose for life; if so, our great task is to develop a cosmology and a moral code that fosters the healthiest kind of society, the most benevolent interpersonal relationships, and an environment that has the most eternal chance of prospering. Some Christian tenets seem good by these standards, others are inadequate. Belief in the divinity of Jesus seems to me inconsistent with what we KNOW about the universe, though Jesus's teachings have stood the test of time and can claim high marks by the standards I feel logical. But certainty is impossible, especially if answers emerge that harbor exclusivity rather than inclusivity. In other words, Quaker Universalism is a big tent, and must remain so!
Christian Universalism is the basis on which I can deeply align with Christianity. Reading Sam Caldwell on "The Inward Light" helped to bring home to me how Quakerism unites Christianity and Universalism. "It is my own view that Quakerism is neither exclusively Christian, as some Quaker Christians would have it; nor is it exclusively Universalist, as some Quaker Universalists would have it. The fact is Quakerism has always been a powerful amalgamation of both. My thesis is that not only is it possible to be both Christian and Universalist at the same time, but it has always been the very essence and peculiar genius of Quakerism to join the two in holy matrimony! I wish to explain how this is so. " -- from Caldwell, posted at Freedom Friends Church, http://www.freedomfriends.org/Forum/viewtopic.php?id=80 Phil Gullley expresses a related thesis in his book "Why God will Save Every Person."
Thank you for a wonderful article. It parallels (and sheds light on) a question I've been asking myself recently: Can a Universalist be Christian? I'm certain the answer is "yes," but all the Christians around me believe otherwise.
Is it possible to walk away from the promised land and set up one's own kingdom? Or am I stuck there whether I want to be or not? Is there enough room in God's love for God to let me reject God and have God leave me alone?
As a Christocentric Quaker Universalist I understand the the comment Jesus made--"I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me"---to mean that Jesus untimately decides who will get into Heaven. He never said you had to be his follower. It just means that Jesus would judge your heart. And I believe that Jesus gives up on no one. Even after death he will beckon people to come to him and in the end ALL will accept him. I believe that Jesus loves each of us so much that he will keep reaching out to us for as long as it takes.
Thanks so much for what you shared. Thanks for putting into words complicated thoughts of faith and hope. Kathy
This post is so helpful, because I think that what gets lost in these conversations is the myriad of '-ologies' associated with Christian theology. What Christianity offers is a frame for exploration of these various disciplines of meaning-making. Universalism is not totalizing to these questions, but rather frames these questions in the complexity of diversity and the lived sense of our Friend in Christ (if that makes sense). Eschatology, soteriology, theodicy, christology-- these are framing understandings that a simple Christianity names clearly. From a Universalist frame, I think these studies are more process than answer, more practice than intellectual exercise. And I think, from my take on Universalism, there is so much more room for multiple faith frames, and fruitful interfaith dialogue within one's own journey. This blows the lid off of finite faith claims. I think the Christian who is a Universalist is exactly that, and that identity is becoming and processual.
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