Thursday, July 19, 2012
Theologian Thursday: George Fox (1624-1691)
You probably know George Fox by way of his namesake university in Oregon. He is the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, AKA Quakers, and led a pretty interesting life, including lots of travel and imprisonment.
Fox was raised a Puritan, but as he grew older and studied religion, formed his own, sometimes radical, positions regarding what he believed to be the true core teachings of Christianity. These included pacifism, a belief in the light of God which indwells all people, and the denial of church rituals, buildings, and tithes.
Because Fox took the individualization of Reformation ideas to its end, he opposed organized religion and government--and especially government religion. He refused to fight in the English Civil War, and the Restoration of the monarchy and the Church of England resulted in many accusations of (and a couple imprisonments for) blasphemy. There was so much crazy religious upheaval in 17th century England that would be impossible to cover and explain here, though it definitely warrants more research and exploration. And it's so interesting to see how the traditions we have today came out of all of that.
What you should read:
(To read more about my Theologian Rating System, click HERE)
The Society of Friends was one of the first religious movements to really appreciate and encourage the involvement and leadership of women. Fox saw the "light" of God in all people, and fostered that by respecting women as equals. Indeed, his wife is also considered a founder of the Society, and she participated in ministry and even published works on religion.
It's unclear to me how much attention George Fox gave explicitly to the environment in his teaching (I was unable to find anything similar to John Wesley's "General Deliverance"), but current Quaker theology and practice is very favorable toward good environmental stewardship, and they cite the tradition's (and, essentially, Fox's) emphasis on non-violence as their reason for this.
Since Fox's ideas were "new" on the scene in England at the time, they met much opposition, especially by the established church.
I think George Fox's willingness to stand up to the powers of England at the time and live his convictions despite imprisonment and persecution is admirable. And really, he flouted so many social conventions in favor of what he saw to be the way of Jesus, so I applaud that.
A George Fox quote:
"I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness."