The Religious Society of Friends was started in England in the 1650’s by George Fox, a young man who was searching for a religious experience that was free of the hypocrisy he saw in the churches all around him. One day, while in despair of not finding the answers he was looking for, he had an epiphany, and the realization came to him that we need not seek a teacher or intermediator in the outside world, because we each have an “inward teacher that speaks to our condition,” if we but stilled our mind and listened to the voice of Spirit within.
Out of the searching for answers in the world they lived in from the Inward Teacher, the 50,000 followers George had by 1660 started to formulate certain “Testimonies,” which are statements of values. They are: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality. These are the principles Quakers strive to live by.
In a time of history when women had few, if any, rights, the Quakers believed that every person was equal in the eyes of Spirit, and thus women played a prominent and significant role in Quakerism from the very beginning. Thus, we see the beginnings of the relationship with the LGBTQ+ community that exists with Unprogramed Quakers today.
Until the 1960’s the topic of homosexuality was untouched among Quakers, but Quakers were one of the first to talk openly about sexuality. The 1963 book, Towards a Quaker View of Sex, said homosexual affection could not be morally worse than that of heterosexuals. "An act which expresses true affection between two individuals and gives pleasure to them both, does not seem to us to be sinful by reason alone of the fact that it is homosexual." Towards a Quaker View of Sex included norms for sexual relations that were inclusive of equitable same-sex relations. Controversial in its day, the book forms one of the first Quaker statements regarding sexuality, and includes affirmation that gender or sexual orientation are unimportant in a judgement of an intimate relationship, and that the true criterion is the presence of "selfless love.”
The 1993 pamphlet Homosexuality: an attempt at dialog by Willie R. Frey, a reprint of a talk given at the annual session of North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends, delt with understanding the biblical injunctions against homosexuality found in Leviticus and the writings of Paul. He said, “As Friends, we must rise above the homophobic hysteria sweeping the country and seek to be a voice of reason, concern, and spiritual insight. We cannot afford to lose the soul of Quakerism by allowing ourselves to be caught up in the current compulsion to condemn and exclude.”
Unprogramed Quakers hold that people wed each other in the sight of Spirit and the Community. In a Quaker wedding no priest or minister marries the couple, but they are wed “under the care of the Meeting” when the Meeting gathers to witness the vows they say to each other. The first same-sex relationship was taken under the care of a Friends Meeting in 1982 at the University Monthly Meeting, North Pacific Yearly Meeting, Seattle, WA. The Palm Beach Meeting approved a Minute in the early 2000’s stating that we supported same-sex commitments and would allow them under the care of our Meeting.
Over the past century, Friends have often been noted for their opposition to discrimination and have been active in many civil rights movements in the United States, including the fight for LGBTQ+ equality. Several Friends organizations have issued statements opposing discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. For example, in 1974, the Illinois Yearly Meeting said: “Homosexual and bisexual people in this society are subject to serious discrimination in many areas: in employment, housing, medical care, family life education, parental rights and the right to worship. We believe sexual acts in private between consenting adults should be removed from all criminal sanctions. Civil rights should be extended to protect homosexual and bisexual people just as they now protect other groups which suffer discrimination. We urge Friends and Friendly organizations to work for appropriate legislation.”
The Friends United Meeting, one of the three major associations for Friends in the United States, issued a policy statement in 1988: “We affirm the civil rights of all people to secular employment, housing, education and health care without regard to their sexual orientation. In particular, we condemn violence, whether verbal or physical, against homosexuals, and call for their full protection under the civil rights laws.”
Many Quakers have been influential in history. One of them, Bayard Rustin, was an advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was an organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Rustin has long been denied his proper place in history—largely because he was an openly gay Black man. Rustin was open about his sexuality long before it was safe to do so. His lack of guilt about his sexuality was in part a gift from his Quaker grandmother. He became active in the gay rights movement in his later years, and wrote eloquently about the need for activists to build coalitions for the elimination of all injustice. Rustin belonged to the Fifteenth Street Friends Meeting in New York City. There is now a movie about him on NETFLIX produced by Michelle and Barack Obama.
To conclude, the things that make Quakerism unique, in its ideal form, are its basic tenants:
That “There is that of God in everyone.” Everyone includes LGBTQ+ people.
Its belief in “Continuing Revelation,” which urges us to embrace a more complete Spiritual understanding of life as time goes on, allowing us to grow Spiritually.
Its testimony of Simplicity, which asks us to go back to the basic – every person is a Human Being, and that includes LGBTQ+ people.
The testimony of Peace asks us to extend Radical Love to all, and abandon any hatred or judgement.
Integrity calls for authenticity, genuineness, and wholeness in one’s personhood. In religious terms, it calls for faithful obedience to the Light Within.
The Testimony of Community asks us to care for one another, to treat each other as family, to come together in joy and sorrow.
And the Testimony of Equality affirms that each of us, gay, straight; white, black; young, old; man, woman; are all Equal Children of The Light and should be respected and treated as such.
presented by John Palozzi
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