Adrienne M Taylor Carcasole
Quakerism: The Answer to Our Earthly Dilemmas
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakerism) is a religion that is relatively tolerant of
varying beliefs and practices. Quakerism does not have a rigid dogma, nor does it answer
to any higher authority. This leaves adherents to Quakerism, or Friends, as they are called,
to respond to emerging concerns with fresh, relevant action.
The Quaker response to the present ecological crises is rooted in fundamental Quaker
values. Quakers have always been known to value tolerance, finding peaceful solutions,
living simply, and conscientious objection to war. Valuing all humans and all of God‟s
creations have always been Quaker ideals. Quakers have forever been known to take
action, to lead by example, even if their values were not supported by the predominant
surrounding culture. For example, Quakers were instrumental in helping many American
Blacks escape slavery, into Canada. Many Quakers were imprisoned during World War
One because of their conscientious objection to bearing arms.
Today, the Religious Society of Friends has established local and national organizations
to increase widespread insight and understanding of the need for humans to develop a
balanced and respectful approach to living on the Earth.
On a micro scale, individual Friends live simply, using as few of the Earth‟s resources as
possible, replenishing others, striving to develop a sustainable lifestyle. On a macro level,
in 2004 the Religious Society of Friends, after much prayerful consideration, joined more
than 15,306 groups, organizations and individuals worldwide in endorsing the Earth
Charter. The Earth Charter addresses issues of respect and care for the community of life,
ecological integrity, and social and economic justice (The Earth Charter Initiative).
Among other Quakers who, for the benefit of all, have published books on
environmentally friendly lifestyles, Ellis Jones wrote, The Better World Handbook: From
Good Intentions to Everyday Solutions. This popular book highlights Quaker concerns for
the environment and practical responses to prevent further ecological damage and to
begin to heal the Earth.
Keeping it Simple
The Quaker value of simple living encourages Friends to tread lightly on the Earth. “We
don‟t see many Quakers flashing big diamonds around, or driving gas-guzzling sports
utility vehicles to the corner store, or living in monster homes. These signs of excess
consumerism would simply be seen as „unQuakerly‟…Ecologically-minded lifestyle
choices are in themselves a form of ministry….” (Land 21).
Many Quakers choose to live simply for the reason that Mother Elizabeth Seton so
eloquently stated: “Live simply so others may simply live” (Outreach Committee).
Living simply allows for more people to share in the abundance of the Earth.
Meeting for silent worship is a core activity for Quakers as they seek new insights from
the Spirit. The practice of silent worship, of silencing the mind so that the Spirit can be
heard, is used by Friends who join in nature meditations. In John Scull‟s article, Learning
to Love the World, he makes a cogent argument for the need for spiritual and
psychological changes as a prerequisite for “directly experiencing nature and then
integrating these experiences into our lives….Continued practice [of nature meditations]
can lead to transformational feelings at the deepest level that we share our existence with
the entire universe, that we are part of something much larger than ourselves” (Scull 14).
Claire Adamson, of the Montreal chapter of Quakers, talked about the practice of silent
worship: “As we sit in silence, I think a lot of people are thinking of how they can make
their lives more in tune with nature by going to fewer meetings, using less gas, trying to
choose the train rather than the plane, trying to choose shampoos that are more
Following the silence, members of Quaker groups are encouraged to share thoughts and
insights with one another. It is this combination of silent mindfulness and group
discussion that often leads Quaker groups to make plans of action for humanitarian and
The Divine in Everyone
Catherine Verrall, in Human, Earth, Spirit Relationship, speaking of the Religious
Society of Friends, observes that “the basic testimony of Quakers is to that of God, the
divine, in every person. Now, we are led to grow further to seeing the divine in every
Being of creation – not just the human, but the whole interrelated cosmos” (Verrall 4).
For Quakers, seeing the divine in everyone and everything, leads to the belief that
personal peace is the result of „right relationship‟ with all other persons, life and objects
on the Earth, and that humans are indeed connected to the natural world simply as part of
the same whole.
This notion of interconnectedness is a common theme in Quaker environmentalist texts.
Keith Helmuth, in his article, The Curriculum of Communion, reports that
Quakers have come to see that “the entire biotic realm is … a fabric of mutually
interdependent and reciprocal relationships” (1998, 4). Anne-Marie Zilliacus, another
Quaker and author of the piece, Walk Cheerfully Over the Earth, similarly declared, “We
are air and earth and water and fire and we, in ourselves, reflect the universe….as we are
connected to it” (18).
Friends do not turn to one text summarizing each and every Quaker tenet for all the
faithful. Although many Quakers may use one text or another from which to draw ideas
and knowledge of history, Quakers fundamentally believe that the Spirit continues to lead
them, individually and collectively, to new insights and in new directions. As they enter
the twenty-first century, the Religious Society of Friends finds itself called to give
thoughtful response to the strident calls of planet Earth for respectful and restorative care.
Continuing revelations have led Quakers to summarize their view of man‟s place on the
Earth in one of their Advices and Queries (no. 42):
We do not own the world and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a
loving consideration for all creatures and seek to maintain the beauty and variety
of the world. Work to ensure that our increasing power over nature is used
responsibly, with reverence for life. Rejoice in the splendor of God‟s continuing
creation. (quoted in The Canadian Friend December 2005, 2)
Because of their sense of connection to nature and of duty to restorative action, Quakers
are committed to a range of environmental projects, many of them international, and to
several committees dedicated to protecting or healing the Earth. One pamphlet by the
Outreach Committee succinctly noted: “zest for causes characterize[s] Quakers at their
The Quaker Institute for the Future (QIF) summarizes the Religious Society of Friends‟
goals and beliefs regarding their relationship to protecting and healing the Earth:
[We have] a vision of helping to generate systematic insight, knowledge, and
wisdom that can inform public policy in ways that will enable us all to live more
fully in “the virtue of life and power” which leads us to treat all humans, all
communities of life, and the whole Earth as manifestations of the Divine. We
seek a process of collective discernment on how we are called to witness
responsibly to our economic, ecological, and social realities. Such a process will
be Spirit-led, guided by Quaker testimonies to find and advocate responses
necessary to promote a peaceful society and sustainable environment. Our calling
is to understand and live up to the responsibility of right relationship in this
complex and changing world (Mitchell 12).
Among Quaker environmentalist initiatives, the Quaker International Affairs Program
(QIAP), working on behalf of Canadian Friends, has been involved in work in Iraq on
Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). This QIAP project tackles an order
issued by the US provisional Administration prohibiting Iraqi farmers from saving seed.
The QIAP, without taking sides, has helped enhance the negotiating capacity of the
people in Iraq to defend organic diversity, biotic resilience, and cultural self-management.
In the September-October 2005 issue of The Canadian Friend, Helmuth notes: “If the
people of the land around the world do manage to get on their feet and change the rules of
trade in favour of the common good and biotic integrity, it will be, in part, because allies
like QIAP and other social justice organizations have been on the case for the long haul”
Quakers are not only interested in saving the world on a grand scale; they strive to protect
the environment in small ways too. In the December 2005 edition of The Canadian
Friend, a journal with articles by Quakers, for Quakers, there are several references to the
value of combining meetings for Quaker business with meetings for worship, and
recommendations to use email to communicate over the internet as much as possible
instead of using the Earth‟s resources required to physically transport participants to a
central location to meet face to face. (Land 2005, 7)
In Spiraling Forward: QEAN’s Dynamic Six-Year History, Peggy Land offers another
example of how Quakers „live‟ their beliefs and lead by example: Quaker Ecology Action
Network (QEAN) produced an energy audit pamphlet and an energy audit system to
enable Friends to capably live a more Earth-friendly lifestyle as individuals and to audit
Meeting Houses for energy efficiency (2005, 6).
Quakers have long been known for their tolerance. This tolerance reduces barriers that
might otherwise alienate peoples of other faiths, or of no religious faith, from Quaker
ideas and actions.
Of Quakerism as a „religion‟ and the variety of faiths represented within the Quaker
community, Claire Adamson notes, “We consider ourselves [as] having a “tradition” of
Christianity. So that‟s just our roots. But everything changes and we have a lot of
Buddhists actually who are Quakers now and Catholics…as well.”
In Quakers, From the Viewpoint of a Naturalist, Os Cresson remarks that Atheists can
also function well within the Quaker system. He goes on to say, “We accept people
searching for truth and are not dissuaded by differences in the words with which we
express the truths we find. We bind ourselves to no creed. Membership is a question of
participation in the meeting community rather than how we talk about our faith. We are a
diverse community” (19).
So although members of the Religious Society of Friends do not represent a significant
percentage of the Earth‟s population, their ideas and involvement in activities designed to
protect the Earth, establish ecological sustainability, and develop a respectful human-
nature dynamic are accessible to people of different or no religious background. This
facilitates the dissemination and acceptance of Quaker values, beliefs and practices
among a larger population.
Quakers have effectively merged religion and environmentalism to form a powerful group
of activists that is attracting new members from all walks of life…and faith. Like
Christianity, Quakerism acknowledges the Bible and Jesus but their focus is only on
following Jesus‟ example, practicing inclusiveness and tolerance, healing, and living in
simplicity. Also, similar to Buddhism, Quakerism does not preach any particular word
but encourages Friends to receive their own messages from the Spirit in silent meditation.
Perhaps most unique to Quakerism, there is a great emphasis on truly getting one‟s hands
dirty in the struggle for a more sustainable, equitable world community – both humanity
and nature included.
Following is the concluding paragraph of the 2001 Canadian Yearly Meeting
Sustainability Minute (written by Quaker Ecology Action Network) which thoughtfully
summarizes the Quaker thoughts and plans for action in response to the present ecological
We work to better understand and respect Earth process. …We will do our utmost
not to upset the balance, and will strive to restore balance where it has been upset.
While evidence of ecological disaster is all around us, we can and must make
changes now which will heal our spiritual and physical connections with the
Earth. …We see that significant changes in the way we live our day-to-day lives
are necessary for life on Earth to survive and flourish. We further pledge to share
these concerns with the wider human society outside the Society of Friends, and to
support and love one another as we carry these concerns forward. (quoted in The
Canadian Friend December 2005, Vol. 101, No. 5, p. 10)
Imagine how our world might be changed if even half of existing religious communities
followed the Quaker lead and adopted such a plan as their mission statement.
Claire Adamson. Personal interview. 12 March 2006.
Cresson, Os. "Quakers, From the Viewpoint of a Naturalist." Friend’s Journal. March
“The Earth Charter Initiative” Online posting. Written March 2000, Earth Charter
commission. Retrieved on March 12, 2006.
Helmuth, Keith. "Working Earth, The Curriculum of Communion." The Canadian Friend.
February 1998: 4.
Helmuth, Keith. "Is Saving Seed a Human Right? Quaker International Affairs
Programme and the Human Future." The Canadian Friend. September-October 2005: 6-7.
Land, Peggy. "Walking the Ecological Walk as Ministry." The Canadian Friend.
December 2000: 21.
Land, Peggy. "Spiraling Forward: QEAN‟s Dynamic Six-Year History." The Canadian
Friend. December 2005: 6-7.
Mitchell, Anne. “Quaker Institute for the Future: Summer Research Seminar.” The
Canadian Friend. December 2005: 12
Outreach Committee, Philedelphia Religious Society of Friends. The ABC’s of Quakerism
Scull, John. "Learning to Love the World." The Canadian Friend. December 2005: 14-15.
Verrall, Catherine. "Human – Earth – Spirit Relationship." The Canadian Friend.
December 2005: 4-5.
Editorial. The Canadian Friend December 2005: 2.
Zilliacus, Anne-Marie. "Walk Cheerfully Over the Earth." The Canadian Friend. August