This brief introduction to the major divisions of the Religious Society of Friends in the United States was originally posted on the Quaker-L mailing list by Bill Samuel, a member of Adelphi Monthly Meeting, Baltimore Yearly Meeting (FGC/FUM), and an affiliate member of Rockingham Monthly Mtg., Ohio Y.M. (Conservative)

Friends have divided for various reasons over time, and both theology and practice have played a role. As with other groups, sometimes these have probably served partly as cover for personality differences and other motives. In North America, where most of the lasting splits have taken place, we refer to "branches" of the Society. These are not always broken down the same way, and actual Meetings and individuals often don't fit neatly into one branch (and many Meetings have associations with more than one), but to some degree they do reflect real differences in emphasis and doctrine. In the 1820's, there was a major split between "Hicksites" and "Orthodox" groupings, which had some theological underpinnings although control issues were probably more important. The Orthodox were more conventionally Christian, with a greater emphasis on the person of Jesus Christ and the Bible.

Since that time, there have been no such major splits occurring at one time throughout most of North American Quakerism, but other branches have developed over time as offshoots of the Orthodox tradition. These may be labelled as Evangelical, Conservative, and Beanite. The evangelicals lean more towards the views of other evangelical groups than do the other branches. The Conservatives reacted against what they viewed as too great departures from Quaker tradition that they saw in Orthodoxy as it developed and changed. The Beanites were tired of the incessant arguments among Friends, and sought to reduce the core of Quaker faith to a few essentials. Over time, the Hicksite and Beanite traditions have grown very close to each other in belief and practice, although not formally affiliated with each other.

Three of these branches have associations which foster common work together. The mainstream Orthodox one is Friends United Meeting (FUM). The Hicksite one is Friends General Conference (FGC). The Evangelical one is Evangelical Friends International (EFI).

A major difference among Friends that was not a cause or immediate outcome of any of the splits is in form of worship. A pastoral form of programmed worship developed among Orthodox Friends in the latter part of the 19th century. Today, almost all EFI Meetings and a large majority of FUM Meetings have pastors and a programmed worship, although usually including a period of open ("unprogrammed") worship. This form of worship has never made any significant inroads among the other 3 branches.

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