What do Quakers believe about Jesus?
When George Fox, the first Quaker, had his spiritual awakening in the 1640s, he rejected much of what he saw as institutional corruption within the Church of England and other Christian denominations, but he did not reject Christianity entirely, nor did his fellow Friends. They saw what they were doing as taking Christianity back to its source. (Another famous early Quaker, William Penn, even called one of his books Primitive Christianity.)
This made perfect sense for a religious movement arising in 17th-century England, and many Quaker meetings around the world continue to hew to Christian tradition; some even incorporate readings from Scripture into the meeting for worship.
Nevertheless, the Quakers’ rejection of firm religious dogma has always led them to see Christian faith differently than other Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant denominations. In John 14:6, Jesus declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” The first Quakers certainly believed that to be true—but they also believed that the way we “cometh unto the Father” wasn’t simply to repeat that declaration; it was to show by the example of our lives that we have formed a relationship with God.
As such, many Friends recognized that Christianity did not hold a monopoly on spiritual truth. “There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind,” the 18th-century American Quaker John Woolman wrote, “which in different places and ages hath had different names. It is, however, pure, and proceeds from God… In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation so ever, they become brethren in the best sense of the expression.”
Over the centuries, particularly in North America and the United Kingdom, many Quaker meetings have moved to embrace this sort of universalist perspective. In such meetings, it’s not uncommon for Friends who believe with all their heart that Jesus was the Son of God to worship side by side with Friends who aren’t so sure… or who don’t even think it matters much one way or the other. Because Quaker meetings do not require Friends to conform to any one doctrine, some of us are fully invested in the Resurrection and the Holy Trinity, while others simply recognize Jesus as a persuasive spiritual leader who was executed by the Roman Empire because his teachings were a threat to its power. Or they fall somewhere in the middle, acknowledging the possibility that Jesus might have been divine while choosing to focus on what they can do in the world around them right now. They may believe in God, and in the Holy Spirit, but they don’t spend much time thinking about how the details fit together.
From the days of George Fox, Quakers have believed there is “that of God in everyone,” whether they’ve taken that to mean the capacity to connect with God, a recognition of our status as part of God’s creation, or even an actual spark of divinity within each of us—including people from non-Christian cultures. Thus, some Quakers continue to follow John Woolman in the belief that Spirit reveals itself to all people, within their cultural contexts, in ways they will understand.
Fox was a Christian, despite his rejection of the Church and the priestly class, and so the nature of his initial revelation was that “there is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.” But everybody’s relationship with Spirit is different. If you’re put off by Christian rhetoric, Spirit will likely frame its message to you in a different vocabulary…or perhaps even without words at all.
“What we as Quakers are offering is a space in which to explore our spirituality. We do have boundaries around it, we have particular ways of doing things… but we offer a huge amount of space to allow people to explore their journey.”