The Quakers in England - and a family feud
Before the charismatic figure of George Fox gathered together the
‘convinced’, in the North of England in 1652 ( prior to that as
Seekers of Truth, then as the Religious Society of Friends), the
Puritans for a hundred years had been busily reforming the reformed
Protestant Church of England. The Puritan way to salvation was by
‘preaching and teaching’, by strict obedience to the rules, by the
Covenant of Works.
On the other hand, the Children of Light, the Quakers, believed
they had been graced with a spiritual step forward for Man, through
what others saw as a step back into ‘primitive’ silent worship, with
direct experience of God’s presence and leadings, the potential of
living everyday ‘in the Light’, and through loving awareness of seeing
‘that of God’ in everyone.
The first Quakers, says sympathetic viewpoints, “discerned the
‘condition’ of their world and had something to say that was
demonstrably relevant to it”. They were aware of and open to the
spiritual currents flowing through that tumultuous mid-Seventeenth
Century and believed themselves to be the bearers of a message which
called for the sparing of no effort to communicate it, by tongue and
pen and corporate witness.
Many of these “early ancestors” in the Quaker movement were fiery
in their certainty about God’s constant and direct presence in our
lives. In the mid 1600’s they confronted and brought the worst out of
their equally Puritan brothers. The conflict, Puritan-Quaker, spread
over the decades and, according to one religious historian, had “all
the loving desperation of a family feud”.
Before Fox and in his times, the Puritans had shown little
tolerance of those emerging sects that proselytised beyond acceptable
bounds. As Quakers grew prominent in Old England, they too were
harried and locked up, and many died from harsh conditions, in and out
of prison – but none were hanged.