New Foundation Fellowship

Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel

Answers to Questions Posed by a Liberal Friend

Due to the public nature of my outreach through, I sometimes have readers pose interesting questions. Recently a liberal Friend expressed concern about the wave of Conservatism that was overtaking the US, and she feared, the Religious Society of Friends. After some back and forth, we worked out three questions that spoke to some of her concerns, which I then answered. Even though this is in reference to the branch of Conservative Quakerism in the US rather than New Foundation Fellowship work in particular, I am posting them here because I thought it might be a good discussion to include here.


1. Because they don't accept non-Christians as members, Conservative Friends are intolerant.

A Conservative Friend from Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) once answered this accusation quite well in a blog discussion, which I will take quotes from below. I highly recommend thee read the entire discussion. (

    "James Riemermann's comment -- "it is not tolerant, to tolerate intolerance" -- also needs some responding to, I think. We might recall that the Society of Friends was founded as a body of people committed to a particular project, "primitive Christianity revived" in William Penn's famous words. As such, the Society had no obligation to include people as members who were not prepared to join in that project. To whatever degree that the Society remains dedicated to "primitive Christianity revived" -- as it does remain, outside liberal circles! -- it still has no obligation to include such people.

    "Not including those who are not joining in the project is not "intolerance", it is merely maintaining the Society's chosen focus. The secular world outside the Society is a big place, and there is plenty of room in it for people who are not prepared to join in the Society's project. It is not like (say) racial intolerance in the Deep South in the 1930s, which left destitute Southern blacks with no avenue of escape.

    "As should be apparent from these comments, I utterly disagree with RichardM's statement that "liberal inclusivist Christianity with a distrust of notions is just the right place to go". Christ's own Christianity was neither liberal nor conservative but prior to both; it was not inclusive nor exclusive but dedicated to a purpose which the rest of us were asked to make a choice about, either to join and help with or not. (It is significant that the Gospels record Christ as saying, both, "Those who are not with us are against us," and, "Those who are not against us are with us.") I personally think Christ's own Christianity is just the right place to go."

Historical Quakers and their religious faith and practice, which is what Conservative Friends are trying to "conserve" had room to allow American Indians to preserve their own faith and practice and not try to convert them to Quakerism, which is one of many reasons Quakers had good relations with them. But they are not allowed membership. In one thing, particular, this makes perfect sense. We still believe that our unity is in Christ, and when we seek the sense of the meeting during our meetings for business, we are seeking to know Christ's guidance in the matter. Anyone who is seeking anything else would not be actually participating in the process, and it would not be appropriate for them to join in.

2. Conservative Friends believe everyone who isn't a Christian is going to hell.

That one is easy to refute, because the book we turn to for our theology is Robert Barclay's Apology, written in the first generation of Friends. An online version of the entire work is available here:, but I am going to point thy attention particularly to the fifth and sixth propositions: (  "Concerning the Universal Redemption by Christ, and also the Saving and Spiritual Light wherewith every man is enlightened."

In it he explains, as Conservative Friends still hold, that we believe Christ to be a fact not a belief, the "Light which lighteth EVERY man which cometh into the world" (John 1:9). He is available to anyone. God wishes everyone to be obedient to his will and enables everyone to be capable of obedience by giving us the Christ Within to guide us and show us what the Lord would have us do. One does not have to know Christ's name or accept his reality, one has only to be obedient to his guidance, no matter what one calls it. That is how Friends of all ages have been able to say that there are, in essence, faithful Friends in every religious profession and non-profession throughout the world. That is the miracle of Jesus Christ's saving grace. People are saved not by magical incantation of words and water sprinkling, or by holding the correct beliefs in their heads, but by being obedient to the loving guidance the Lord provides, and we work our salvation each day as we are obedient. We do believe that those who turn their back on the Light Within will be condemned by it, but that is a choice, choosing evil over good, and we believe there are consequences to such choices beyond this world.

3. Liberal Friends are the spiritual inheritors of Quakerism, having evolved Quakerism to its logical and most loving expression. By not participating in and even rejecting this evolved version of Quakerism, Conservative Friends are rejecting enlightenment, love, tolerance, diversity and many good people.

I confess this one is rather painful for me. It is one of the joys of my life to feel I am experiencing the Everlasting Gospel, to read in ancient and worthy Friends their descriptions of their religious experiences and see them describing precisely the religious experiences I am having. I believe the Lord is happy for those of us who have such experiences to enjoy one another's company, to be able to use the religious language that speaks to our condition, and to assist one another on the spiritual path he has placed us upon. It can be painful for me to be among those who reject and deny Christ, having had my own life transformed from misery to happiness by his kind and generous guidance. I appreciate that the liberal Friends meetinghouses offer refuge to those who have been injured by false professors, false Christians. I am glad that liberal Friends meetinghouses are there to meet that need. I am selfishly more glad to have Conservative Friends to go among, to enjoy their ministry that speaks to my condition, and to be able to share my religious experiences in the language that most accurately describes it without having to ameliorate my language or make it comfortable for those who have been injured by other Christians and their Christian language.

I would like to point out that the Secretary General of the Friends General Conference, Bruce Birchard, recently apologized on behalf of his branch of Quakerism for just such thoughts: (

    "I know there have been times when I, and I believe other Friends within the FGC-affiliated meetings, have expressed a feeling that we have “grown beyond” the use of scripture and a personal commitment to Jesus, or Jesus Christ.  This often comes out sounding as if we are “too educated” to take all that seriously.  It is a kind of elitism, and I suspect it has caused much pain.  I want you to know that, over the many years I have been participating in these annual retreats, I have learned a great deal from you.  My spiritual journey has been deeply enriched by the faith, and the kind of faith, that you have expressed and lived.  I want to apologize for any times I, and others from my branch of Friends, have made you and others in your branches feel “put down” in such a way."

Views: 416

Comment by Michael Langford on 2ndMo. 3, 2011 at 21:14
At this point I think it should be made clear that the New Foundation Fellpwship exists to make the thinking and writing of the first Quakers better known and more widely accepted and that we include Friends fron many different Yearly Meetings, whatever label they may give themselves.  I am happy to be liberal, evangelical and conservative so long as these words are given their basic dictionary meanings  but when applied by and to Quakers and given a capital letter they take on much  narrower and technical meanings that point to doctrinal and philosophical differences.  Britain Yearly Meeting does not have one of these labels in its official name and I avoid them myself.  In a Quaker context it would be helpful if British Friends always put "liberal" in inverted commas or use the Capital letter to make it clear that they are referring to a particular, and contoversial Western philosophy.  Some Conservative Friends have fone sterling work in publishing and interpreting the works of Early Quakers, but that applies to Frieds from fifferent trafiditions as well.  Conservative Frieds have also kept the the theory and practice of the Travelling Ministry which is the seconf main purpose of the New Foundation Fellowship anf that is of crucial importance for the future of our Society.  It does not follow however that, as an NFF travelling Christian minister, I would agree with all their dictrines and practices.  On the other hand I have never found them intolerant.  There is no contradiction between being liberl, in the proper and original sense of the word, and being single-mindedly Christian.            
Comment by Isabel Penraeth on 2ndMo. 3, 2011 at 22:55
I'm not sure what to make of what thee writes. Is this post unwelcome here?
Comment by Isabel Penraeth on 2ndMo. 3, 2011 at 23:25

Let me also offer that I thought the purpose of the NFF was to preach the Everlasting Gospel, which is only partly possible through making the foundational writing and thought of Friends more widely available an understood. Another way of preaching the Everlasting Gospel is through personal contact and witnessing.

One of the things that gets in the way of that here in the States are some of the assumptions that are made about Conservative/overtly Christian Friends, a few of which I address here. It seems to me thee is sort of leaping to a conclusion that I hold Conservative Friends as good and Liberal Friends as bad, but the reality is that I am a Conservative Friend who is a member of a liberal yearly meeting.

The use of the words Conservative, Liberal, Evangelical, and Orthodox to describe the branches here excite no controversy, but they are understood to mean some fairly specific things. One of which is that a Conservative Friend is overtly Christian. Do British Friends who profess Christianity not have to face similar assumptions as the ones I list above?

Comment by Jim Wilson on 2ndMo. 3, 2011 at 23:32

Friend Isabel:


Thanks for posting this thoughtful piece.  I have mixed feelings about the issue of intolerance and single focused meetings.  On the one hand, I came to the Quker tradition from a non-Christian background and found the Liberal Tradition congenial to accessing the Quaker tradition. 


On the other hand, I find that there is a shadow side to universalism that makes me uncomfortable.  An analogy may help in readers in understanding my discomfort.  If I joined a 'Mozart Society' my expectation would be that the society would focus on the music of Mozart to the exclusion of other composers.  Suppose, though, that I went to the first meeting and they played Haydn, and then at the next meeting they played Brubeck, and then at the next meeting they gave a lecture on ethnomusicology.  When I inquire as to when they are going to have a concert or talk on Mozart, I am informed that they now have a universal view of Mozart and that previous views of Mozart were to narrow and exclusive.


Roughly, this is sometimes how I feel about universalism and some tendencies in the Liberal tradition.  It's not that other traditions are wrong or unworthy of study; it's that my feeling is that the Quaker tradition has a particular vision, just as Mozart had a particular vision in music.


I hope the above makes some sense.


Best wishes,




Comment by Isabel Penraeth on 2ndMo. 4, 2011 at 0:08

Friend Jim--

Unlike some of my fellow Conservatives, I am glad the liberal branch and universalist meetings exist. It is clear it offers a safe place and some solace to those who have been wounded by Christians who do not possess what they profess.

I am, selfishly, more glad to have Conservative Friends to go among, people who speak my spiritual language and are comfortable with the language I use to describe my spiritual experiences. The US "solution" of splitting into branches may seem unsatisfactory, but it has benefited me and my spiritual development.


Comment by Isabel Penraeth on 2ndMo. 4, 2011 at 16:28

Well, of course, they have political connotations in the US as well. Here, Liberal Friends seem content to be called that, as it is widely true that these meetings are a haven for those with liberal political ideas. In my opinion, liberal politics is one of the stronger glues holding the liberal meetings together. They have also been called the FGC branch, which FGC objects to because they wish to be understood to be a service organization and not a branch. They have also sometimes called themselves the Unprogrammed branch, but that is a little insulting to the Conservative meetings that also maintain the unprogrammed tradition.

One piece of the communications problem between these two branches in the US is that the term conservative *does not* accurately express the political flavor of the Conservative meetings, which is generally the assumption among Liberal Friends. Really mixed bag would be the best description of the politics I can think of . . .  but it seems to me the fact that the liberal label describes their own politics so well reinforces for Liberal Friends the theory that it must be the same for the Conservative branch. But a name that has been in use since around 1900 (and "Conservative" is actually appended to the names of two of the three Conservative yearly meetings) is hard to set aside and harder to replace. So even though there are some problems with the term, Conservatives are widely content in the US to continue using a label they have held for one hundred years. There are the Primitive Quakers in the UK, of course, who keep themselves separate from BYM, but that name seems unlikely to attract usage in the US at this point.

Comment by Michael Langford on 2ndMo. 4, 2011 at 19:01
Isaabel Pentraeth has started a most interesting and helpful discussion and I apologise most sincerely if I gave the impression that I thoght that any comment of hers was unwelcome.  Of course each one of us must make our individual withess to the Everlasting Gospel in whatever Quaker Meeting we belong to.  I Britain Yearly Meeting there is wide diversity between different, and even neighbouring , Local Meetings and this winess is more difficult for some than for others.  After yearsin the Wilderness my Meeting now recognises itself as a Christian Church, that attracts some newcomers but keeps others away.
Comment by Isabel Penraeth on 2ndMo. 5, 2011 at 4:15

Thanks, all, for the clarifications. I am glad we have cleared up the misunderstandings.


Comment by Allistair Lomax on 2ndMo. 5, 2011 at 17:55

Hi Isabel,

Keep this sort of contribution coming! The New Foundation in the UK, doesn't meet so often these days, and we have little time for this kind of discussion at our Gatherings.


I have several hopes for this site:

  1. It will be a NFF UK and US venture
  2. That it would be a instrument of facilitating discussion among New Foundation workers and supporters and a way of ministering to each other via the medium of the web

I think thou hast helped with those hopes in posting thy thoughts.


I'd like to add a few comments of my own in response. First of all, I like the answers to the questions, and I think they speak to a number of concerns that liberal Quakers here in the UK have about Christian Quakers generally.


I personally don't mind the use of the label 'Liberal' and 'Conservative' in the context of describing ones Quaker faith. Britain YM does not have the history of divergent Quaker traditions in one place that the US does, so I think it finds such distinctions unconformatable. I'm a great believer in re-educating Quakers in the meaning of terms rather than abandoning them because they might be misunderstood. So, I think to use the word 'conservative' in the context of describing my faith is useful in making an important distinction between Christian Quaker faith and the liberal version.

There is an emerging conservative tradition in the UK, though small and not without its problems. Liberal Quakers in the UK are just going to have re-adjust themselves to the idea that there are other kinds of Quakers here in the UK. To be honest, if they can't make that adjustment, I see that as their problem and not mine.

I also agree with Jim Wilson about the 'shadow' side of liberal Quakerism. I think the kind of questions that have been asked of thee, Isabel, reveals underlying assumptions about what conservative Friends stand for. Unfortunately, these assumptions are often based on predjudice.

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