We will continue our study of Quaker Testimonies with the one on Equality. Friends believe that all people are created equal in the eyes of God. Since all people embody the same divine spark all people deserve equal treatment. Friends were some of the first to value women as important ministers and to campaign for women’s rights; they became leaders in the anti-slavery movement, and were among the first to pioneer humane treatment for the mentally ill and for prisoners.
Unlike many other Christian sects who will not allow women to preach, teach, or lead others, Quakers have had women ministers since the 18th century. Margaret Fell was one of the earliest leaders of the movement. George Fox wrote in 1674:
|And some men say, “Men must have the Power and superiority over the woman, because God says, ‘The man must rule over his wife, and that man is not of woman, but the woman is of the man'” (Gen 3:16). Indeed, after man fell, that command was. But before man fell, there was no such command. For they were both meet-helps. They were both to have dominion over all that God made. . . And as man and woman are restored again, by Christ, up into the image of God, they both have dominion again in Righteousness and Holiness, and are helps-meet, as before they fell.|
The above were very radical words for the time!
Some of the specific ways they practice this belief of equality is to never use suffixes to names. People they are acquainted with are called by their first names and others are called by the first and last names. They never refer to people as professor, Mr., Mrs., Doctor, king, prince, or other similar way. They believe that these labels undermine the belief of equality. Quaker teachers are called by their first name by both students and parents.
But we should not imply from this that practicing Quakers have always believed in equality of the sexes. Some went to quite an extreme to segregate men and women. I’m not quite sure I understand the theory behind that practice so I will leave it as a question. Maybe someone here can help with that.
Friends were active leaders in the anti-slavery movements in the pre-Civil War days. Of course they took quite a hit for that in the American South as they did by treating both Union and Rebel troops with kindness and sympathy.
Here is some info from Wikipedia about another equality issue:
In the 1960s a Friend named Eric Baker took part in the founding of Amnesty International, a human rights group primarily focused on the treatment of those in prison and those accused of crimes. It is not directly connected with the Religious Society of Friends but has similar ideals as those derived from the Testimony of Equality.
Next time we will look at the Peace Testimony.