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The Quaker

Testimonies

1

Our belief

The testimonies are about the way Quakers try to lead their

lives. This attempt to put faith into practice, often with great

difficulty, arises from an understanding of certain values and

principles which are central to the Quaker faith. This leaflet

tries to explain the spirit behind the testimonies and what they

mean in practice.

Quakers’ understanding of faith is that true human

fulfilment comes from an attempt to live life in the spirit of

love and truth and peace, answering that of God in everyone.

These beliefs spring from a sense of equality, compassion and

seeing the sacred in all life. The testimonies are about Quakers’

commitment to those beliefs. Naturally, our day-to-day practice

of them faces us with many dilemmas and compromises.

Indeed the testimonies are often out of step with the way that

many other people think and act and so may seem idealistic.

The testimonies arise out of a deep, inner conviction and

challenge our normal ways of living. They do not exist in

any rigid, written form; nor are they imposed in any way. All

Quakers have to search for the ways in which the testimonies

can become true for themselves.

The testimonies also reflect the society we live in, and so

have changed over time. Early Quakers had testimonies against

outward symbols, taking oaths and the payment of tithes, and

about peace, temperance, moderation and forms of address.

Later, testimonies evolved with regard to slavery, integrity

in business dealings, capital punishment and prison reform,

nonviolence and conscientious objection to military service.

As the testimonies come from “leadings of the Spirit”, this

may mean taking a stand against common social practices.

The interaction between faith and action, as expressed in the

testimonies, is at the heart of Quaker spiritual experience and

living.

2

The challenge today

We live at a time of unparalleled scientific progress and

extraordinary change. Modern communication and economic

development mean that people, countries and economies

have now become much more interlinked and less isolated.

Such interdependence can be both enriching and threatening.

The gap between rich and poor in many countries (our own

included), and between the richest and poorest countries,

is widening. Injustice, insensitivity, misunderstanding,

desperation and dislocation and the clash of cultures mean

that all societies face huge challenges, both from within and

from without. We need to play our part in a process of genuine

understanding, tolerance, reaching out and inclusiveness

that draws heavily on the underlying spiritual values of the

testimonies. Only in that way can we get beyond the hatred

and division that is perpetuated by a military response to, for

example, terrorist events.

3

Since we are all responsible for the society we live in,

we must examine the nature of that society. How far does it

encourage love, compassion, justice, simplicity, peacefulness

and truth? Do wealth, success and power lead to true happiness

and fulfilment? And do we recognise in the natural world

something which is precious in its own right? We cannot

ignore the effects of our actions, however indirect, on other

people and on nature in our shrinking world.

4

The testimonies

The following is a brief account of some of the best known

testimonies.

Truth and integrity

Friends have long tried to live out the importance of truth in

every aspect of life. Truth is an integral part of our testimony

to the Light that is within us all. We can only be true to our

innermost sense of spiritual harmony if we are faithful to the

truth and honest in our dealings. This is all the more important

in today’s complex social, political and economic system, where

these values can so easily be lost to sight. Truth and integrity

are therefore something that Quakers regard as fundamental

guiding principles not just in their own lives but also in public

affairs.

5

Equality and community

The Quaker testimony to equality stems from the conviction

that all people are of equal spiritual worth. This was reflected

in the early days of Quakerism by the equal spiritual authority

of women, and by the refusal to use forms of address that

recognised social distinctions. Equality is also a fundamental

characteristic of Quaker organisation and worship, with the

lack of clergy and any formal hierarchy.

This belief in equality and sharing is in conflict with the

spirit of a materialistic and individualistic age. Where the sense

of mutual obligation is weakened this quickly leads to despair,

crime and alienation. The testimony to equality is concerned

with the way in which our own life-styles and behaviour

increase inequalities. It covers such matters as social inclusion,

ethical investment, seeking to ensure that those who produce

goods (especially in poor countries) receive fair payment,

the avoidance of exploitation and discrimination, work with

the homeless, asylum-seekers, refugees and prisoners, and

prison reform. It is also a testimony of particular relevance in a

multicultural and increasingly complex society in which there

is an acute need for racial justice and for empathy between all

faiths.

6

Peace

The peace testimony is probably the best-known testimony,

both within and outside the Religious Society of Friends.

It derives from our conviction that love is at the heart of

existence. Again, there is no set form of words, but Friends are

deeply attached to the Declaration made to Charles II in 1660,

which begins: “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife

and fighting with outward weapons, for any end or under any

pretence whatsoever.” It has been the Quaker experience over

the centuries “to live in the life and power which takes away

the occasion of all wars”.

We do not assume that we can escape from the realities of

a world in which violence appears so deeply rooted. We are,

however, constantly challenged by the existence of weapons of

mass destruction, the number and intensity of violent conflicts,

the cycles of poverty, alienation and violence that destroy

7

peace in many deprived communities, and apparently random

acts of terrorism. Whatever the discouragement, it is essential

for Friends to be true to their principles and to show that there

is another way of conducting human affairs and resolving

conflicts non-violently. In many cases this will involve

difficult choices and Friends may find themselves troubled in

conscience in trying to discern what is right in such areas as

peace-keeping.

Seen in the long sweep of history, however, much has

been achieved. The peace testimony involves thinking and

uttering the unthinkable, in the conviction that this may lead

to a fundamental shift in attitudes. What is idealistic in one

generation becomes a cherished right or precept in the next.

The peace testimony also means working for forgiveness and

reconciliation and dwelling in a sense of our shared humanity.

More specifically, Quaker witness led to a recognition of

the right to conscientious objection to military service and

has involved relief and ambulance work in war-stricken areas.

Quakers played a significant part in working towards the recent

international moves to ban child soldiers, and were behind the

establishment of the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford

University. More generally, there has been a move away from

the popular glorification of war towards seeing warfare for the

moral abomination that it is.

8

Simplicity

The testimony to simplicity is integral to Quaker faith: our

spiritual responsiveness depends on being as free as possible

from dependence on material security. Quakers therefore

seek to resist the temptation to define their place in society

by acquiring possessions. In so far as we are led towards true

simplicity we will increasingly be called to dissent from much

of what the modern world stands for.

Simplicity is not just about possessions but also about

attitudes. Because of their integrity in business dealings, many

early Friends prospered in business, especially in the 19thcentury.

The wealth they accumulated was not, however,

sought for its own sake but was often used for the wider benefit

of society and especially the dispossessed. We live much less

simply than our forebears a hundred years ago, or than people

in most other countries in the world. Simplicity involves

constantly challenging the way we live and what our true

needs are, and especially how our own standard of living is

sometimes achieved at the expense of others. It means standing

aside from the fuelling of wants and manufacturing of new

desires.

9

The earth and environment

A testimony is not a form of words but an expression of actions

characteristic of Friends. New testimonies emerge as the

reasons for them and the underlying spiritual basis of action

become clarified. One such area concerns our stewardship

of the environment. For many Quakers what has been an

“emerging” testimony to the environment has now become an

established one, with close links to the peace testimony and the

testimony to simplicity.

The world is a wonderfully rich resource for our material

and spiritual needs. We should treasure it and preserve its

capacity to sustain and inspire. That, in turn, calls for a creative

responsibility towards the earth we have inherited and for

proper sharing. It means seeing “that of God” in the natural

world around us, and being moved by considerations other

than commercial gain. Habitats and species are sacrificed to

products and services which often are far from essential. The

future is constantly sacrificed to the present and the needs of

others to the wants of the self. It cannot be right to leave the

world poorer than we found it in beauty or in the rich diversity

of life forms, or to consume recklessly in the knowledge that

our actions are bound to lead to future tragedy.

10

Living our testimonies

Quakers recognise that their testimonies go against many of

the current strands of economic, social and political change.

This may, therefore, mean dissenting from fundamental

aspects of the contemporary social order. It means living out

our testimonies so as to hold up an alternative vision of deep

human fulfilment. One way of doing so is to share with one

another our practice of living our testimonies in accordance

with our beliefs much more openly and adventurously, in a

spirit of faithful discipleship.

Together with others who share these fundamental values,

we need to keep alive an alternative vision of society centred

on meeting real human and spiritual needs rather than everchanging

desires; a society where inequalities of wealth and

power are small enough for there to be true equality between

people as children of God; a society which, mindful of the

quality of life and needs of future generations, limits its use

of natural resources to what is sustainable; a society which

is content with sufficiency rather than excess; and a society

in which justice and truth are the basis for social peace and

community.

Doing so means holding firm to the core testimony to the

sacramental nature of every aspect of life. Individually and

corporately, we must practise spiritual discernment. We will

stumble, we will make mistakes, our vision will be limited. We

may be called to a style of living and a generosity of giving that

we cannot yet attain. But we seek to engage with others and the

natural world as part of a wider spiritual consciousness. In the

depths of our silent waiting we find the place where words and

deeds are one; our faith and our action are indivisible.