Quakers believe that each person can have a personal relationship with God without the intercession of a priest or formal clergy. Like many religious denominations, the Quakers have schisms, and these reflect a continuum of orthodox and liberal theologies. The orthodox Quakers are more traditional in their Christian beliefs, and the liberal Quakers are more universalist and accepting of non-Christian spiritual paths.

The Religious Society of Friends

The Religious Society of Friends, otherwise known as Quakers, began as an English Christian movement in the 17th century. The Quaker movement discouraged its followers from developing religious beliefs through a structured, clergy-led hierarchical system. Rather, Quakers sought an egalitarian, unstructured belief system. This radicalized the Friends, and many sought refuge in North America. The most famous Quaker in American history is William Penn, who founded the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1681 as a safe place for Quaker settlement.

Liberal Quakers

Liberal Quakers, or Hicksites, are universalists, and in this regard stray from most Christian denominations. Following the Quaker belief that the individual receives spiritual truths through self-discovery, liberal Quakers seek both Christian and non-Christian paths to spiritual enlightenment. Liberal Quaker meetings are silent, where individuals seek religious insight and enlightenment within the silence. They do not practice traditional Christian rites such as baptism and communion, but most will seek inspiration from the Bible. Liberal Quakers do have simple marriage ceremonies.

Orthodox Quakers

Orthodox Quakers are more in tune with fundamental Christianity and conservative Protestantism. They believe in the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Orthodox Quakers hold the Bible as the true religious authority, and many also perform traditional Christian rites such as baptisms and communion. The Evangelical Friends Church International represents a large contingent of the orthodox Quakers. While the liberal Quakers host silent meetings, the Evangelical Friends meetings will resemble those of mainline Protestant churches.

Main Branches

Local Quakers groups congregate in yearly meetings of like-minded Friends. The two major orthodox groupings in the United States are the Evangelical Friends Church International and Friends United Meeting. These two branches of the Friends will have more structured meetings that resemble Protestant services. The Friends General Conference represents the liberal Quakers, and its meetings are more unstructured and varied according to congregation. All Friends still hold to the original founding belief of a personal search for religious enlightenment.