Home > Christianity, Church, community, Jesus, Quakers > Quakers, Justice and Jesus – Part 4

Quakers, Justice and Jesus – Part 4

Part 4 of this mini-series looking at how Quakers embraced diversity/social justice in the past. To see where I have come from, read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. This is only a glimpse of the subject matter – who or what would you add?


Another way Quakers have attempted to practice a living faith was in relationship with Native Americans, especially in the United States during the 18th century. Though there are misperceptions as to how this relationship was actually practiced, there are certain aspects of these relationships that express the commitment of Quakers to social justice. The earliest examples of this are found in William Penn, who attempted to work peaceably with the Lenni Lenape instead of using force as earlier European settlers had done. Penn learned their language, sought to deal fairly with them as people who were equally human and equally possessive of God within them (Moretta, 136).

Other Quakers established with relationships with Native American tribes as they continued westward expansion. In one instance, a Seneca chief named Cornplanter sought out a relationship with Quakers in order to “expand economic opportunities for his people…and have political and legal advocates…who could help win compensation at the state and federal levels, for legitimate Seneca grievances that were left unresolved, or simply ignored, by the local American justice system” (Swatzler, 237). 

Perhaps the Quaker who possesses the greatest amount of social capital in the areas of commitment to diversity and social justice is John Woolman. Woolman is best known for his work in the abolition of slavery, and his commitment to the matter was central to his growing understanding of who God was and how every person was created in the imago Dei. His first encounter with the keeping and selling and slaves led him to “speak out” against the practice, and while he reflected later that he could have been clearer in his speaking, a spark was lit that burned brightly within him for the rest of his life.

Woolman’s approach was through a rooted mobility – a firm conviction in mind and heart juxtaposed with an ability to travel. From his first encounter in 1746 it took twelve years for the larger movement of Quakers to begin to see the disconnect of believing in everyone’s equal access of God and the holding of slaves. As Michael Birkel has noted, “Woolman’s reflections on the cross are profound because they grow out of his inward experience of participating in the sufferings of Christ.” Reading Colossians 1:24 (I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church) led Woolman to understand the world as “profoundly unredeemed” at the social level.

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  1. November 14, 2011 at 9:53 AM

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