Quaker Universalist Conversations

More on what Universalist Friends believe

My entry entitled “Is blogging Quakerly” and Steven Davison’s response have generated so many interesting comments that I have had trouble keeping up with them, especially since I am trying to maintain this blog while attending the FWCC annual meeting in Philadelphia. I want to apologize for inadvertently attributing to Rhoda Gilman comments made by Charley Earl ( have corrected this error in that particular blog entry). I also want to point out that the title “Would Woolman be a blogger” was mine, not Steven’s.

 Steven also acknowledges that this comments about liberal Friends went too far: “My remarks were a gross generalization and an indiscriminate characterization of a very diverse community. Thanks for firmly eldering me.”

 I want to commend Steven for provoking Friends to articulate their beliefs more clearly. Here are some of  the diverse responses from liberal Universalist Friends:


 Thom Dobbert writes:

 The main issue raised by Steven is what liberal Friends believe.  Is there sufficient spiritual depth in how God is conceived of or perceived?  George Fox’s statement “There is that of God in everyone, …..” is apparently a reference to Chapter 1, Verse 9, in the Gospel of John of the New Testament:  “The Light that lights every man was coming into the world.“  My belief, and I believe that of early Friends, is that the Christ or Messiah is that Light and represents the full revelation of the will of God for Man.  That means that everyone has Messiah or the Truth (of God) or God or the Inner Light.  When one turns to that Inner Light — acknowledges and follows the Light — one becomes an offspring of God.  This Light is the fullness of both grace and truth.  According the the apostle Paul, Christ was in the pillar of smoke by day and fire by night in the Exodus in the wilderness.  They and all who listen for and to God have the Messiah or Christ.  As Barcay, the early apologist stated, there have always been Friends.  “Who is approved by God?  He who trembles or quakes at his word“  (Isaiah 66:5)  A truly gathered Friends Meeting will have the Light and the Truth according to these criteria.


An anonymous Friend writes:

 Some of us are coming out of long and enduring Quaker roots and have found that liberal Quakerism is most like the centered lives we were taught to espouse from our infancy—and this is from a birthright member Iowa YM Conservative. Apparently I was carried across the snowdrifts to attend meeting—and curiously it stuck. I am still a Friend, educator, author. I feel no need to defend liberal Quakerism; our lives speak for themselves. Being raised to think for one’s self provides all avenues for the soul—however one wishes to define it.


Emmett J. Murphy writes:

That of God in everyone” truly is a nearly universally cited belief of most of us, and it is true that we are not in union on what God is.  Some of us are, loosely speaking, Deists; we accept the notion of a super intelligence (God) who created the universe and life, but we don’t see that Being as one who communicates with individuals nor intervenes in the development of the Universe.  I suspect that for us the phrase “that of God in everyone” means a belief that each normal human contains the capacity to believe in something beyond himself/herself, a sense of equal worth, and some urge to improve oneself.  We can appreciate silent worship as an occasion to, with fellow believers, meditate on good and evil, the purpose of life, and other “big” questions.  And we can see value in a “gathered” meeting even if we don’t literally accept a directed signal from God  touching some or all of us.  And “that of God in everyone” is a neat way of structuring a moral way of associating with others, extending to them acceptance that their thoughts and actions deserve respectful listening and understanding even when we cannot agree.  In other words, “that of God” is a wonderfully broad tool for fostering true communication, reaching just relationships, and finding mutually agreeable solutions when two or more views seem irreconcilable.

But if one cannot accept God as one who communicates with humans and intervenes in our affairs, what, then, is “that of God”?  To me it is simply acknowledgement that each human’s life force is somehow mysteriously a part of a universal energy force that binds the universe together and insures that it expands and evolves.  True, I don’t really understand it, but then there are many things I regard as non understandable by humans: what was in space before the Big Bang?  What happens to the life force after death?  What will exist if or when the universe ceases to exist?  And last, but not least, What is God?  We were given powerful minds, the full potential of which is still in development, but our brains simply don’t have the power to understand everything!  We can improve life for ourselves and other life, but it will be due to whatever our brains collectively produce; it will be man-made.


 Kit Mason writes:

I find Steve Davison’s assumption to be presumptuous and problematic.  It is not up to him, or to me, or to anyone else to say what everyone in any group does or does not believe.  Likewise, I find his assertion that liberal Quakerism “is not about content” similarly dismissive of and irrelevant to the Quakerism I experience.   Words are not always content.

What can I say? I can only speak from my own experience of God in my life — and whether the word ‘God’ is used or ‘The Divine’ or ‘The Light’ or ‘The Spirit’ does not change the experience itself.   This is the content of Quakerism for me, the experience of the Divine working daily within and among people, under whatever name and within whatever experiences this occurs — and I do understand that some people will shy away from the words I use while being part of the same experience, because each of us interprets our experiences through our own understandings and backgrounds.  One of the joys of liberal Quakerism for me is the breadth of experience and wisdom that Friends bring to share with one another from a variety of backgrounds.  The words are not the content, but an attempt to interpret the content or describe the content, inadequate though that may be — and that includes the words of someone rising to speak in Meeting or the words of George Fox or words found in the Bible or any other book or speech or source.  The content of liberal Quakerism for me is the experience of this presence, this Spirit, this Light, within the community and within my life, whether in Meeting on First Day or the rest of the week.   That experience may be informed by reading, or friendships, or by taking action against injustice, or by art and music and nature or illness or death or by anything else that occurs in life.  When the Spirit makes you free, you are free indeed.

As someone who came to Quakerism from Roman Catholicism and Episcopalianism, I have found that I’m not concerned with beliefs but with trust.  The difference is essential.  Belief resides in the mind, an intellectual assent to an idea or a verbal formula that may have no real bearing on everyday life — this chair is made well and will hold my weight because it meets these specifications. Trust is grounded in experience — sit down in that chair and test its abilities.  I can say that I trust that God is with me always, because that is my experience — and has been my experience since 1973, though I have only become Quaker within the last decade.   I can say that the God whose presence I have at times experienced tenderly and at times from a distance is available to everyone, universally, but that I think we all get in our own way when we try to reach the Divine, and I’m no exception.  We all have preconceived ideas of how things “should” be, and when things don’t turn out exactly as we expect we tend to say nothing happened, whether that’s true or not.  And with the amazing creativity of God, nothing ever happens exactly the same way twice, just as there are no two identical leaves or snowflakes or people.

My experience of blogging, over the last dozen years or so, is that it can be a tool to create close and tender community, or a tool to organize a response to injustice, or a tool to speak truth to power, or a tool to create entertainment and many other things.  It is up to the user to determine how it would be appropriate to the current need.













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