Those Early Quakers who Scrupled against The Government of Quakers Excercised by George Fox

Research Notes, Spirit of the Hat, William Penn, George Fox, Religious Politic, Sufficiency, Inshining Light, John Perrot, James Naylor, Leo Damrosch


Those Early Quakers who Scrupled against The Government of Quakers Exercised by George Fox


In 1673 a tract was published anonymously and entitled “The Spirit of the Hat or the Government of the Quakers Among Themselves, As it hath been Exercised of late years by George Fox, and other Leading Men, in their Monday, or Second-dayes Meeting at Devon-shire-House, brought to Light.” This tract is another example of those early and founding Quakers whose conscience led them to write down their testimony of “primitive Quakerism” and how George Fox, and those early and founding Quakers who followed him, had come out sideways and were leading the Quaker gathering back into that which they were come out of through the appearance of the inshining Light in their conscience. The writer shares this concerning the begininnings of Quakerism:


“It pleased the Lord, about twenty years ago, to visit this Nation with his loving-kindness, in sending forth a Spiritual-Ministry, in the midst of Wars and Fightings to turn us from Darkness to Light, and to bring us out of Strife into the Patience of Jesus, into his Love and meekness, to do good for evil.”


“This Seed being sown, prospered in the hearts of many, and brought forth Victory through Judgement, and the Spirit of Burning: And the Lord was wonderfully with them in this Dispensation, that very many came off from the barren Mountains, and out of the sandy Desarts, and were here refreshed, without Money, without Price, and the Bread was broken freely to the Hungry, and Water given freely to the thirsty: And not only so, but likewise our Vessels were filled with the same, whereby our hearts were made glad, and caused the Springs of Life to break forth our of our Bellies, and the Bread of Life to dwell within us, that we needed not to go forth out of our own House, having an Holy Anointing within us to supply the wants of our Souls, and lead us into all Truth.”


In this Dispensation, this coming off the Mountains and out of the Desert, a life is discovered wherein the Life itself in itself supplies all the wants in our Souls and the inward Life itself in itself we are led into all Truth and there is no need to go forth out of our own house (conscience) for the Life itself in itself is sufficient in itself to rule and guide our conscience and anchor our consciousness. The writer writes further:


“It’s the great Promise of the Father in these latter Dayes, That he will write his Laws in our Hearts, and put his spirit into our inward Parts, to lead us into all Truth, and our of all appearances, which his Spirit manifests in us to be in the Imitation, and after the Traditions of men.”


The great Promise is of the Spirit that is come into our Conscience and Consciousness, and the discovery that we are led out of all appearances, Imitations, and Traditions. That is, in the Life itself in itself as the sole guide in our conscience and the anchor of our consciousness is discovered a way of being or existence that does not look to outward political, social, or religious, institutions, practices, traditions, appearances, ideologies, to supply what wants of our Souls.


The writer then asks:


“How doth this differ from the World’s, and the Foxoman-Unity, which is to yeeld subjection to the Order of the Body, (so called) though no manifestation within, And this Unity they glory in; by this is their Kingdom upheld; from this they are able to boast, Who is able to make War with us? Who can stand before us? Do not all fall that his risen up against us? Are not these the high-swelling words of proud Babel, whose towering thoughts must be abased? Who practice hath been to crush the tender Ones, in their Bodies, Souls, and Spirits. This Language hath mine ears heard, this practice hath min eyes seen, to the grief and wounding of my Soul.”


“This combined Unity I have no pleasure in; its Nature is known by its Image, its Birth by the exercise of its Power.”


“This Spirit of Antichrist in G. Fox, &c. would wrest from me what I am not willing to part withal, to wit, my Conscience, under no less penalty than Excommunication; which is as far as in them lies, that loss both of Heaven and Earth: of Heaven by Excommunication, of Earth by Deprivation; and this without redemption, unless complying with his or their WIll and Pleasure; and for no other cause, than for the ommitance of a very small Ceremony, which they hold necessary to Salvation …”


The writer was apparently excommunicated by the leaders of the Quaker gathering for refusing to take off his hat during prayer in a Quaker Meeting. It was the Quaker practice of not taking off their hats in honor of persons, however, it was their practice when in prayer to show respect and honor toward God by removing their hat (1). This quaker testifies that it was against his conscience to remove his hat even in prayer, basically because it was as much a ceremonial act as any other religious ceremony and that he had come out of all acts of ceremony, appearance, and imitation. For this he was excommunicated, as he relates it. So, he accuses George Fox of usurping the prerogative of Christ to rule and guide his conscience by placing his own conscience over and above others. He calls out the spirit of Antichrist in George Fox because Fox, and others with him, imposed and enforced unity through adherence to outward forms, practices, and ceremonies.


“In the true Church, Unity stands in diversities; But in the false Unity will not stand without Uniformity. And it is greatly to be lamented, how that very many will do nothing without the Authority of the Body, though it never so clear in them; and this sets up the Body above Christ.”


This tract helps to show that there were early and founding Quakers who scrupled against building up outward ceremonies, practices, leaders, or other “helps” because such rebuilding of outward forms gives them a role in guiding and informing the conscience and conscious of people and, in some cases, the building up of forms results in the forms themselves taking presidence over the rule of Christ in the conscience. These people scrupled against their conscience being ruled and guided by outward forms and leaders because they are come into the inward rule and leadership of the inshining Light itself in itself. They are come out of identification with outward ceremonies and the leaders who promote those ceremonies and into idenitification with the inshining light of Christ in their conscience. Then it happened, that there were other Quakers like George Fox, who promoted outward standards like Hat honor and sought to impose that standard even on people whose conscience were come out of all ceremony by the power of the appearance of the spirit of Christ within. If, for conscience sake, they could not conform to the standard that Fox and others promoted, they were excommunicated. This was seen by many early and founding Quakers as not of the nature of their dispensation. Herein the writer says:


“And because a further dispensation is not relished by the Elders, the which they hide from the Inferiours, lest their glory should be eclisped, and draw the rest from dependence upon them: They content themselves with this limited Ministration, as set up Tabernacles here for their Residence; which is above, and beside the Spirit of the Lord’s teaching, which leads us on to know and follow the Lord.”


William Penn responded to this anonymous tract with no small amount of condemnation and demonization. Penn’s response is entitled “The Spirit of Alexander the Copper-Smith Justly Rebuk’d: or an Answer to a Late Pamphlet, Intituled, The Spirit of the Hat, or the Government of the Quakers. He clearly was angry with the publication of this tract. Patient in the face of Penn (or any of the early Quakers) is important and fruitful when reading his angry defense of the outward Quaker forms he had a part in building and promoting. Moving through his anger is like being on all fours in a thicket full of thorny raspberry shrubs. If you just move forward in the peace of Christ you will come out into a sunny opening of clarity. After spending much time throughly demonizing the writing of “The Spirit of the Hat” Penn writes:


“His next great Cavil is about pulling of the HAT at Publick Prayer, either upon Conviction, or the Judgement of the Body; wherein he tell us, That not only some of us counsell’d or requir’d him to yield, because the Body would have it; saying, That was yielding to the Power: But his not so yielding, but persisting is no Dissention; but our Disowning any Person for that Cause, is a Breach of the Great Gospel-Charter of Liberty. Let him deny this to be the Strength of his Book if he can or dare; and which is as soon blown away, as the Chaff before the Wind.”


I don’t think the writer of ‘The Spirit of the Hat’ would be in disagreement with Penn’s assessment of his tract. Penn goes on:


“There is either such a Thing as a Christian Society, sometimes call’d a Visible Body, or Church, or there is not: If there be not, all is at an end; and why Contend we at all? If there be; then this Church either has Power or not: If no Power, then no Church. If a Body, Church, or Society (for the Word. Church signifies no more, borrowed from the Assemblies of the Athenians) then there must be a Power within itself to determine; an anointing to lead into all Truth. Deny this, and all falls of it self.”


These sentences have stayed with me for a few days. They caused a stop. However, not for the reason Penn would have wished. Penn here states that if there is an outward visible Church then there must be a Power within itself to “determine an Anoitning to lead into all Truth.” Is it necessarily the case that the outwardly visible Church has a power in itself. I suggest this goes against the great Dispensation of many of those early and founding Quakers gathered in the Light; including the writer of “The Spirit of the Hat.” Many of those would say without equivocation that the visible Church has no power in itself to rule and guide; that it is the conscience of men and women that is the throne of Christ and there is the power and anointing itself in itself. Let’s look even deeper. Penn writes that when people deny and lay down such a Thing as a visible Church or Society “why Contend we at all?” To which many early and founding Quakers (and many today, including myself) would answer: “Exactly!” The power of the 17th century Dispensation among the Quakers was that the visible Church or Society is of no value because the inshining Light of Christ itself in itself is come upon us and has replaced the outwardly visible Church or Society and its ceremonies, practices, traditions, buildings, institutions, as the sole and sufficient guide in human relationships. Again, Penn writes that if we deny the outwardly visible Church or Society, “why Contend we at all?” Penn suggests it all falls apart. However, many early and founding Quakers witnessed that is where it all came together, in the denial of the outwardly visible Chruch or Society to lead into all Truth and the acceptance of the inshining Light itself in itself in the conscience to lead into all truth. It is true that the outwardly established Church or Society is a source of contention. It is also true that those who are come out of looking the the outward Church or Society to rule and guide them and have come into the inshining Witness itself in itself to rule and guide in their conscience have come out of contention and into peace.


Penn writes further:


“This now will be the Question, Whether, If any Person that had given those Signal Testimonies for a Way and People, and so incorporated himself with them, finding afterwards Fault with a Practice so Innocent, so Reverent, as keeping off the Hat in time of Publick Prayer to Almighty God , should step out of the Comely Order, set up a New Mark, and Standard, whereby some should have their Heads covered, others uncovered (a most divided, confused, and unseemly Sight) the Church in this Case may not Admonish, and after her due admonition; and the Parties tenacious, resolute, and captious Disputes for that unsuitable Practice, may not justly his own him as a Disputer about needless Questions, and one that is gone out of the compleat Union of the Body, and exercised by another Spirit? Deny this, and Farewel to all Christian-Order and Discipline; yea, and Truth it self: …”


Apparently, the writer of the “Spirit of the Hat” had, for some time, participated in removing his hat during prayer, however, for conscience sake, had come to a point wherein he could no longer do so. Penn, here suggests that the outwardly visible Church should have the power to disown those who are unwilling to follow the establilshed ceremony of removing their hat and are not willing to come back into conformity with that ceremonial practice are rightfully “disowned” by the outwardly Church body. Notice how Penn characterizes the image of a group of people in prayful worship, wherein some have removed their hat and others had not, as “divided,” “confused,” and an “unseemly Sight.” What a difference vision and image the writer of “The Spirit of the Hat” lays forth, and I quote again:


“In the true Church, Unity stands in diversities; But in the false Unity will not stand without Uniformity. And it is greatly to be lamented, how that very many will do nothing without the Authority of the Body, though it never so clear in them; and this sets up the Body above Christ.”


The writer of ‘The Spirit of the Hat’ does not see the image people assemblied together; some with their hats removed and others not, as unseemly at all. He sees it as of the nature of the “true” Church. Penn seek unity in Uniformity and the writer has come into the knowledge of a unity in diversity. Where Penn sees such divserity as a loss of Christian-Order and Discipline, the writer of the Spirit of the Hat sees unity not in uniformity to outwardly established ceremonial practices but a unity in the share experience of the inshining Light in their conscience as their sole and sufficient guide. So that,outward appearances, ceremonies, and practices do not define the gathering. For Penn Uniformity in outward appearances and imitations defines the gathering.


Another tract was written in response to Penn’s and in support of the writer of The Spirit of the Hat.” It is entitled “Tyranny and Hypocrisy Detected: or, A further Discovery of the Tyrannical Government, Popish-Principles, and vile Practices of the now-Leading Quakers, Being A Defence of the Letter, intituled, The Spirit of the Hat, against the Deceitful, Defective and Railing Answer, called The Spirit of Alexander, &c. This was also published in 1673 and anonymously by a person not of the Quaker gathering.


”For indeed the Quakers chief principle, namely, That every one ought diligently to take heed to, and walk according to the Light in himself, is of such evident truth in the plain sense of the terms, that there can scare be found either Christian or Heathen, (that understands what he saith) that can deny it; for it is in substance this, That every man ought diligently to observe and do what God doth by any meanes convince him to be his Duty. … But herein lyes the mystery of their iniquity, (which this man [the writer of “That Spirit of the Hat] has been so ingenious and happy as to discover,) namely, *That he who shall receive the forementioned principle as evident in his own heart, shall afterward be induced to believe that whatever the cheif Quakers teach, is as evident, and that this evidence is from the immediate Revelation of God’s infallible Spirit within himself.”


The writer of “Tyranny and Hypocrisy Detected …” goes on to write:


“As for my self and other Christians, this Letter serves us most effectually to prove, 1. That these Quakers their crying up the Light within, or the infallible rule and guidance of the Holy Spirit in every particular Conscience as the supremacy Judge, is but a shooing-horn to draw people in, and that when they are brought over to them by that means, then they must be ruled and guided by the judgement of G. Fox and the ruling Elders: So ‘tis manifest, They preach that in their Doctrine, what they contradict in their practice. 2. That some Quakers (and it’s more than probable that most of them) believe and practice b tradition and imitation of the Leaders, persuading themselves in the mean-time that they are taught by the infallible Light in themselves so to do. 3. That the Body of Quakers consists of such a sort of implicite Believers, for when this man [the writer of “The Spirit of the Hat] and his Companions gave themselves so much liberty as to examine things to find particular conviction, they could find no such thing; and its easy to perceive by his reasoning, that he is more able to examine things than one of a thousand of them. So that, 4. Quakerism properly is not built upon that Principle rightly understood, viz. “Every man ought to believe and practice according to the Light in himself; (for in that respect we and all honest men are Quakers,) but upon a false and mistaken notion and sense of it, viz. That *what the leading men teach for the Light in every man, is indeed so.”


Penn, himself, affirms the immediate rule and guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Conscience as supreme Judge, he also affirms a role for the visible Church to in some cases rule, guide, and impose outward ceremonial practices even in those cases where the testimony of others in the gathering, for conscience sake, does not match that of the visible Church body. Like, George Fox, he does not see this as a contradiction because he also affirms that the Holy Spirit speaks through the corporate visible Church to the conscience.


By way of coming back around to the tract “To all who would know the way to the Kingdom, whether they be in forms, without forms, or got above all forms.” Penn’s words that:


“There is either such a Thing as a Christian Society, sometimes call’d a Visible Body, or Church, or there is not: If there be not, all is at an end; and why Contend we at all? If there be; then this Church either has Power or not: If no Power, then no Church. If a Body, Church, or Society (for the Word. Church signifies no more, borrowed from the Assemblies of the Athenians) then there must be a Power within itself to determine; an anointing to lead into all Truth. Deny this, and all falls of it self.”


Those who are “got above all forms” are those who are come into the invisible Church and no longer affirm the power of the Visible Church. Those who are without forms affirm the visible Church but not the power for the visible church to rule over the conscience. Those who are in forms, affirm the power of the outwardly established visible church to enforce conformity to outward Quaker ceremonial practices, traditions, ideologies etc. Penn made it cleat that he and those who were interested in establishing, promoting, and nurturing adherence to outward ceremonial forms for the sake of gospel-order would not stop until those who were not in conformity, for conscience sake, to the outward ceremonial forms that certain Quakers leaders like himself and George Fox were establishing and supporting in the Quaker gathering were brought back into formal conformity or disowned.


Many Quakers lamented what they proclaimed as an innovation brought into the Quaker gathering over against the primitive Witness which affirmed the sole and sufficient guidance and rule of the inshining Light itself in itself upon the conscience without regard for outward ceremonial forms and practices of a visible Quaker corporate body. Some shared this lamentation openly, however, many others were not willing to speak out publically. Williams Rogers in his “The Christian Quaker Distinguished from the Apostate and Innovator in Five Parts, Wherein Religious Difference Amongst the Quakers are treated upon wrote” in 1680:


”Oh Friends! The serious Consideration of these things bows us before the Lord, and in a Sense of his Mercies to us we can no longer keep silent, but in his Fear declare that our Consciences are concerned for the Cause of God, and his Truth: and since it is so, that an ill use is made of that Spirit of Forbearance and Condescension, which we are sensible hath been used by many of our Brethren, it is now become our Portion to unburthen our selves, of that which hath been our Burthen; believing that the Lord is not only arisen, but will yet more and more arise, against that Spirit that would exalt itself, over the Heritage of God, endeavouring to rule over their Consciences, whenas Christ alone is Lord thereof.”


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1. Note: Leo Damrosch, in his The Sorrows of the Quaker Jesus, published in 1996 by Harvard University Press, publishes a quote from George Fox concerning the “Hat” issue: Friends, the power of the Lord God is over all them that keep on their hats in prayer neither by the motion, not the power of God, not by the spirit of God, but (by and earthly dark spirit) against it, and them that are in the Power of God. This was the first ground of it, both in John Perrot and his company, when he run out, and James Nayler when he run out; and this first was done in opposition to them, that were in the truth and in the Power of God; but the power of God will crush to pieces that feigned, dark, earthly spirit, and to the earth and pit it must go.

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Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 10, 2017 at 6:06pm

The point of 'disowning' someone was not 'excommunication', for it had no such effect. It came down to a Meeting announcing: ~'This person does not speak for us, does not speak as one of us.' Said person was perfectly entitled to worship privately, as led, or with the group, as led. Fox might think someone had "run off into notions", and people would be naturally respectful of his take on the matter -- but he couldn't, not really, personally litigate The Judgement's decision about anyone.

There might, or might not, be personal rancor on either or both sides of such a disagreement. A person disowned might, or might not, still feel led to worship with the group that disowned him -- obviously at the times and places they scheduled their Meetings, for they wouldn't typically be there any other given time. The example I know, of a woman continuing to worship with an English Meeting that denied her authority to preach, was from a different time; but could have just as well have taken place in Fox's day. I don't believe that Quaker Meetings ever appointed bouncers...

There could be arguments about "Who are the real Quakers in this contention?" -- but whether someone gets to call himself 'Quaker' with group approval is, after all, a merely external matter.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 12th mo. 11, 2017 at 12:18am

The testimony of the anonymous writer was that there were in fact “effects.” For example, and here he gets right to the point of your response:

The Church of Rome claims a power of Excommunication (of them) that will not submit to their decent and comely Order, though in it self the thing be merely Circumstantial, Ceremonial, or (as they tearm it) indifferent; and their reason is, it Judgeth the Power, and smites at the Authority, and say they it’s an Inlet to Division and thereby is Unity violated.

Behold a resemblance thereof, it hath been often said unto me The Hat is nothing, but it is out of the comely Order, it judgeth Friends who are in the Power, who testifie against it, and it breaks the Unity; and therefore we cannot suffer such to Marry or Bury, nor to partake of any Privilege as a Member of the Body; and this is in the substance Excommunication: for Excommunication chiefly lies in a man’s being deprived of the Benefis, and put out of the protection of the Law, as also from being a Member of the Church.

The severity is the same with us, for where could I Marry or Bury, if we were an intire Nation? Or how can I take a Wife without a Witness? Or how can I have a Witness, if to be one is lyable to the same misery.

I can offer up a number of other testimonies from early and founding Quakers who, for conscience sake, would not comply with the outward governmental forms, practices, and ceremonies, that Fox led Quakers into. William Rogers, in his The Christian-Quaker distinguished from the Apostate and Innovator (1680) documents specific “excommunications” and the effects. 

One aspect of my research is to bring forward the ramifications that some early and founding Quakers, who would not conform to the religious politic established by George Fox, experienced at the hands of George Fox and those who followed him. This people use the word excommunication themselves and document the effects.

It goes against the testimony and documentation of many early and founding Quakers, who were excommunicated, to suggest, as you do,  “it had no such effect.”

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 11, 2017 at 12:55am

For anyone who believed he needed an outward group of people to marry or bury him, that would have been devastating enough... but I thought the issue was precisely that he didn't need to assign the care of his soul to any outward group of people. Later on, people certainly did secede in groups (the Free Quakers being one such example, also various other denominations that  were founded by people inspired by, but not in full agreement with, the Quakers of their times.) It's only 'excommunication' _to_ a person if he believes that a certain man ['priest'] or a certain group of people _are_  "the true church" -- in which case he should carefully consider whether they might be right about the disagreement. Otherwise one is getting kicked out of a group one would just as soon leave, shaking off the dust as one goes... as, I gather, quite a few of these folks did.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 12th mo. 11, 2017 at 1:14am

First you suggest there were no effects and when I show there were, you just go right past your  incorrect statement and just bring up a different issue. The fact is there were effects. Whether they were all consistent relative to their witness is another issue which I have addressed on previous occasions. 

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 11, 2017 at 8:35am

Everybody on either side of these issues was an outsider to the nation's official church,

liable to being locked up in unpleasant circumstances, being beaten up officially or unofficially, or having their goods ripped off by semi-official persons; they were ineligible to get themselves planted in any church graveyard (unless they changed their minds and rejoined), prevented by their own witness from marrying by the customary church ceremony (or from doing anything else that required an oath).

Some of these people led minority bodies of Friends who agreed with them that some of the main body's stands were mistaken -- or that in any case it was out of order for anyone to centralize the organization and try to force smaller Meetings to adopt their position. Any dissident body might have left to become Quakers1 or Quakers2 or whatever... marrying any members they chose, burying any members they had the space for.

Nobody was personally struck dead (as in the story in Acts) for being out of solidarity with the others -- but the fact is, for a dissident Meeting to survive as an organization in the circumstances of the time they needed the resources of (and solidarity with) the larger body. Right or wrong in their disagreements, trying to form a church-of-their-own against the centralizing tendencies of the main body simply didn't work. There was no need for Friends Goon Squads or Friendly Inquisitors to make that happen.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 12th mo. 11, 2017 at 12:40pm

I agree with most of the content of this reply except my research is making clear to me that those who did not follow the centralizing impulse of the Foxonian Quakers (or who were coming out of the Foxonian exercise of government) were making the explicit and implicit point that the gathering of the Children of Light were prospering under the sufficiency of the direct and immediate guidance of the inshining Light itself in itself and that the introduction and enforcement of the outwardly organized Foxonian impulse over against the conscience of other Quakers represented a literal apostasy from the original dispensation of the gathering. That is, those Quakers who were come out of all forms and into the sufficiency of the inshining Light to guide them had a spirit of forbearance and condensation to those whose conscience led them back into outward forms and encouraged the diversity of Spirit for the sake of conscience.


For many of those who would not follow the Foxonian way, the issue was not over whether it was appropriate to enter into and participation in the outward forms Fox was establishing, but that George Fox, and others like Penn, Whitehead, Fell, Farnsworth, etc., were persecuting those whose conscience was not the same as the Foxonian impulse and were lead out of outward forms altogether. They document a spirit of persecution that manifested as coercion of the conscience of others through ridicule, condemnation, and demonization. They also document a spirit amongst the Foxonians that resulted in the misuse of the outward forms and institutions they created or contrived to impose judgement that, according to primary source documentation, led to excommunication. As to whether there was physical coercion supported by the Foxonians to enforce compliance to outward ceremonial forms, William Rogers does suggest the possibility, however, I have as yet been able to confirm such independent of Roger’s mere third person suggestion. I am trying to follow this line further. We will see where it takes me.


I am so thankful that their were those who endured the Foxonian persecution through coercion by ridicule, condemnation, and demonization and documented there plight at the hands of institutionalized Quakerism. From these we gain a glimpse into one aspect of the founding Quaker experience that institutionalized Quakerism, by its representative’s own admission, sought the suppress.


The anonymous writer of The Spirit of the Hat writes:


If this kind of Judicature had been set up in the Apostle dayes, what Disorders, what Divisions, what rents, and Breaches, had there been in the Church? There being some that held a necessity of keeping Ceremonial Law, others not; some for keeping of Dayes, others every Day alike; some for eating of Meats, others of Herbs; some for Circumcision, others not. And, Paul, to preserve the Unity, notwithstanding these differences, writ, not to judge one another in Meats, &c. But to wait till God reveals it to him. And if G(eorge) F(ox) and the Body had but this moderation, what a Harmony, what a Unity would there have been amongst us!

Comment by Howard Brod on 12th mo. 11, 2017 at 11:09pm

Do not these anonymous words apply to those modern yearly meetings who have purged (excommunicated, effectively) meetings/churches because those purged meetings had followed the Light of their conscience revealed to them in matters such as marriage equality, placing no scripture above the Spirit revealed to them, etc.?  Purged even when those purged meetings used sound Quaker process of 'sense of the whole meeting' to make common decisions in a transparent manner that entirely relied on the Spirit; contrasted to those yearly meetings which used purging processes more akin to the processes used by the world; ripe with politicking, manipulation, ego-power, and back-room decisions.

Comment by Howard Brod on 12th mo. 11, 2017 at 11:34pm

Forrest,

Liberty is a precious thing that emanates from God.  Persecuting others (and excommunication IS persecution) is the first step on the road to hell (I speak figuratively).  To do so, the persecutors must first set themselves up as a god in order to judge another, they must abandon trust in the Spirit, and they must stop listening (communing) with other Spirit-seekers.  They must decide they alone are the keepers of truth in order to no longer want to seek truth along side others.

These first steps of trying to rob others of liberty of thought eventually led to all types of controlling abuses in Quakerism; many still evident today within many yearly meetings and many individual meetings within all branches of Quakers.  It is the root reason for disunity among Quakers; disunity that is a sign of an absence of the Spirit's action.  It is clear the Religious Society of Friends would be in unity today had this spirit of controlling meetings, theology, and practice never been adopted. 

All lovers of Light must abandon the lust of controlling the thought of others - in order to allow the free and full flow of the Light within.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 12, 2017 at 10:34am

Excommunication is harmful iff you've convinced everyone that there's "no salvation outside the church", or if you prevent the victim from participation, effectively shun them.

Disowning is the way you keep a church's identity from complete disintegration -- a tactic statement that 'these are the rules; if you're playing our game these rules describe how it's done; being a member implies that you're following them.' Sometimes the rules or the ways they're imposed can be oppressive; the fact of imposing them is not, however, "persecution."

Traditional usage of the word "persecution" entails things like confinement, bodily harm, refusal to allow the normal transactions of physical existence.

Persuasion (aside from deceitful manipulation or beating up the persuadee physically or mentally) and education are perfectly acceptable attempts to "control the thought of others"; there's a range between 'making ideas available' and 'getting people to swallow the whole package' and probably some point at which the intention goes out of bounds, but not a sharp line.

Rules about "what you should believe to be 'one of us' " are very likely counterproductive, given that people will sometimes mean different things by the same words, or simply say 'Sure, I guess so if you say so' and go on believing what they've believed all along, as we tend to do on matters that don't matter to us. And they're quite beside the point, as Robert Griswold said in 'Creeds and Quakers'.

These are, however, needed so far as someone is serving as a spokesman (or public example) of a church, particularly when a church is surrounded by hostile neighbors already half-convinced that "The people in that weird cult eat babies!"

There's simply been an enduring tension within the Quaker Thing between people who want to tighten it up and people who feel (rightly or otherwise) that the rules are stifling the Spirit in them.

We're probably as gossip-prone and likely to go into pecking frenzies as any organization, and that tendency can certainly impact how the rules work out in practice. Rules -- taken in Jesus' sense that "We weren't made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made for us" are not the problem. The tendency to view each other through black glasses -- as tends to happen when we're digging up old grievances -- very much is!

Comment by Keith Saylor on 12th mo. 12, 2017 at 4:56pm

While it is valid to share personal perspectives on what is the nature of persecution and excommunication, it is important to me that it not be lost to the reader that those Quakers who suffered as a result of the actions and behavior of the Foxonian Quakers used those very terms to describe the actions and behaviors of George Fox and other Foxonian Quakers. Again, those members of the Quaker gathering who came out against the changes the Foxonian Quakers were establishing amongst the Quaker gathering, described the actions and behavior of the Foxonian Quakers as of the nature of persecution and excommunication. [Note: It is important to be clear and to establish that the Foxonian Innovations were new to the gathering.]


Part of my intent in writing this post is to bring forward the reactions of the Quakers who would not follow George Fox into the forms he established or of those who were coming out of the previous forms he he established, and that they called the actions and behaviors of the Foxonian Quakers specifically persecution and excommunication. Now, while there were certainly those at the time, including Fox himself, who took issue with the use of those terms, it is still a fact that many Quakers experienced the actions and behaviors (of George Fox and others) as of the nature of persecution and excommunication. Mark: Excommunication and Persecution were their own words. They could have used different words; they did not.


I do not discount their words. I ask myself, Why did they use such terms? Were they overreacting? So these and other questions prompted to me refer to my copy of A Dictionary of he English Language by Samuel Johnson (1755).


  • Excommunicate: To eject from the communion of the visible church by ecclesiastical censure; to interdict from the participation of holy mysteries.
  • Excommunication: An ecclesiastical interdict; exclusion from the fellowship of the church.
  • Ecclesiastical: Relating to the church; not civil.
  • Interdict: Prohibition; prohibiting decree.
  • Coercion: Penal restraint; check.
  • Penalty: Punishment; censure; judicial infliction.
  • Persecute: 1. To harass with penalties; to peruse with malignity. It is generally used of penalties inflicted to opinions. 2. To peruse with repeated acts of vengeance or enmity. 3. To importune much as, he persecuted me with daily solicitations.
  • Persecutor: One who harasses other with continued malignity.
  • Malign: (adj.) 1. unfavorable: ill-disposed to any one; malicious
  • To Malign: 1. To regard with envy or malice.


Another aspect of my research is to glean specific knowledge and specific circumstances and to come out of generalities.


Keeping these definitions in mind, here are some words from Nathanial Smith published in his The Quakers Spiritual Court Proclaimed written in 1669. This example is important because Smith uses the word persecution specifically and exposes the actions and behaviors of the Quaker Court and George Fox, as a judge in that court, in such a way that manifests persecution and excommunication. In my original post and replies, I gave examples of the anonymous writer’s use of the term excommunication.


I encourage the reader to take time to read Smith’s pamphlet for himself or herself. Doing so will give much more context then I am able here. In essence, Smith goes before the Quaker Court and George Fox as judge which ended in this way. Smith writes:


This Day being come, which was much desired by me, and with much patience waited for, I then (betwixt hope and despair) waited for the Hour appointed, I went to the Peel; now when i was come into the great Room, or rather (at that time) Court of Judicature, …


Then G. Fox commanded the Clark to Write, That whereas Nathaniel Smith hath spoke Evil of Jo. Bolton behind his back, and will not submit to him; Therefore, he is not to have any Communication with any man, or any man with him.


But now G. Fox begins to clear himself of this Court, that he is not Guilty; For we (saith he) cast out none, but they cast out themselves through their Wickedness; for we do not receive them in, therefore we cannot cast them out: What then was that Sentence that the Clark of the Closet drew up?


But you Preach, Teach, and Speak, whereby to bring them in; and then if they will not observe your Ceremonies, then you do your Endeavour to do it: and to my own knowledge, by Words you have past Sentence upon them, as you did me, and others you have carried out by Violence [Marginal Note: Perhaps this is another illusion to physical violence by the Foxonian Quakers against those Quakers who would not submit to there ceremonies.] … but it doth appear to me something like them, in Old time, when they cast them forth, and Imprisoned them, and put them, to Death; yet they said, it was their own Fault, and that they brought all upon their own Heads; for in all ties, those that were the Persecuters, would ever clear themselves of it, as far as their Tongue or Pens could reach; and many times they would Reach over many Kingdoms to beguile the Ignorant.


Smith writes concerning the Quaker Spiritual Court and George Fox himself:


… I am cast out from amongst men by you …


Here Smith uses the term persecuter against the Quaker Spiritual Court and George Fox. It is telling that Fox himself feels the need to defend himself against Smith and other Quakers who testify they were cast out (ejected from the communion of the visible church = Excommunication) because they would not submit to Foxonian ceremony. Think upon what Fox says: *He says it wasn’t he who cast out or excommunicated, but those Quakers who would not conform that cast themselves out! Does Fox’s statement not bring to mind “Gaslighting?”


Gaslighting: Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target’s belief.


This reminds me of the man who beats his wife and tells her he is not punching her in the face but it is her actions that forces him to punch her. If she would only come to conformity then she would not force him to punch her. And all the while he is telling her how much he loves her and that she is being punched because he loves her so much and knows what is best for her.


I refer you back to a previous post wherein I quoted Smith as he writes:


Whereas I have given thee an account of their Courts, it is but to let thee understand, that all Sects, Formes, or theirs Dispensations, if thou please to call them so, (or by what Name so ever) after they have raised to themselves a considerable number of People, then they go about to set up themselves, and to make themselves Laws, whereby they may Govern, and bear Rule one over another; **for these People called the Quakers, were the only People that did speak against this, and said, that Man ought to fear God, and walk justly before him, and be taught of him; but now that have a Rule or a Light to walk by, (or rather a Law) and if any do not observe this, then he is cast out from among them, as not being one of the Flock of God.


Smith again here affirms, with the anonymous writer, that the Quakers were unique among all other people in that they came of the conformity to the outward teaching and rule and governance of visible Church or Body into the sole teaching and government of God himself. I quote again the words of the anonymous writer:


If this kind of Judicature had been set up in the Apostle dayes, what Disorders, what Divisions, what rents, and Breaches, had there been in the Church? There being some that held a necessity of keeping Ceremonial Law, others not; some for keeping of Dayes, others every Day alike; some for eating of Meats, others of Herbs; some for Circumcision, others not. And, Paul, to preserve the Unity, notwithstanding these differences, writ, not to judge one another in Meats, &c. But to wait till God reveals it to him. And if G(eorge) F(ox) and the Body had but this moderation, what a Harmony, what a Unity would there have been amongst us!


Because of the written testimony and documentation of those Quakers who would not follow George Fox into the innovations he introduced into the Quaker gathering, we know an aspect Quakerism that, from the very founding that was not of the nature of the establishment of and conformity to the outwardly visible Quaker church and ceremony and that was what made them unique among all others Peoples. These Quakers, who would not follow the outward Foxonian construct were at peace, in diversity and were come out of a faith in uniformity based upon conformity to outwardly established forms and constructs. There was peace in diversity because there unity was not established in conformity to the outwardly visible Church or Body in the shared direct experience of the inshining Light in the consciences and consciousness which is the Kingdom of Heaven.

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