“Testimonies” are what Quakers call the ways we have found to live and act based on our beliefs.
We are not perfect, but being in Community with other Quakers helps us to be faithful. As a group, we find that listening to and following God leads to:
Quakers’ experience of the Divine…
- affects what we do in our personal lives.
- affects what we believe.
- affects what changes we work for in the wider world.
“’Tis the gift to be simple; ‘tis the gift to be free; ‘tis the gift to come down where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘twill be in the valley of love and delight.” – American Shaker Song.
Simplicity is focusing on what is truly important and letting other things fall away.
Quakers of all ages love to sing this Shaker song, yet the testimony of simplicity is challenging for contemporary urban Quakers. How can we live guided by the Spirit while being engaged in the world? It’s a continual struggle to overcome the encumbrances of possessions and the stress of busyness in jobs, family and service. But by simplifying our lives we create a space for Spirit to enter, a time to nurture loving relationships, and an opportunity to pay attention to things that really matter.
Quakers use the Simplicity testimony for guidance toward a spiritually aware approach to the materialistic aspects of society. We believe that we can be most spiritually responsive when we are not distracted by unnecessary material concerns. We find that dealing with the details of everyday life presents opportunities to express our faith.
Quakers seek to resist the temptation to define our place in society through acquiring possessions. While we understand that there is no virtue inherent in poverty, we find that applying simplicity in our material dealings helps us to understand God’s guidance more clearly.
Early Quakers found that simplicity in dress, speech, and material possessions helped them act in society according to God’s guidance. Quakers in today’s more complex society use the Simplicity testimony to guide their actions when faced with issues like consumerism, child rearing, and social change. The Simplicity testimony helps us discern the right sharing of the world’s resources and frees us to more fully interact with people and society in a spiritually informed manner.
“We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretense whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world.” –George Fox: Journal, ed. John L. Nickalls 1952, pp. 399
The above statement made by George Fox in 1661 is called “The Peace Testimony” and is the closest thing we have to a creed. Today we are aware of the many forms of violence and oppression, the inward strivings, in our society. Peace is seeking justice and healing for all people.
The Peace Testimony follows from the Quaker belief that there is that of God in all people. Quakers express this by opposing all wars and seeking to eliminate causes of war such as poverty, exploitation, and intolerance. This testimony leads Quakers to reduce the suffering from warfare and to seek non-violent reconciliation between nations in conflict.
Quakers today are perhaps best known for their opposition to existing wars and to reducing suffering caused by warfare. Much of Friends peacemaking actively fosters the conditions of peace. Friends do this by teaching and practicing techniques of conflict resolution, mediation, and social change.
“But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation” –James 5:12
Integrity is living as whole people who act on what we believe, tell the truth, and do what we say we will do.
Quakers believe that living with a consistent single standard of truth allows us to live our lives in the fullest presence of God’s intention for us. Our practice leads us to understand God’s truth, helping us to take actions which follow our beliefs.
Integrity requires that we be fully responsible for our actions. Quakers understand that our words constitute actions following from our beliefs. Living with integrity requires living a life of reflection. Integrity leads us to act consistently with our beliefs and testimonies, regardless of personal consequences.
Historically Quakers refused to take oaths in legal trials because that would imply following two standards of truth. In today’s world, the Integrity testimony leads Quakers to speak simply and to avoid misleading words or emotionally manipulative language, which could divert from understanding of God’s will.
“… the only real security in the end is the love we have given and the love we have received. All else can be taken from us. So pour out your love and friendship and do not hoard it … And don’t delay or hesitate In standing up to be counted with the oppressed.”
–Elizabeth Watson “Ask Not Good Fortune”, 1980
Community is supporting one another in our faith journeys and in times of joy and sorrow; sharing with and caring for each other.
Quakers believe that all people are equal and that, just as the Light within may illuminate an individual, so can the Light illuminate a gathering of Quakers (or anyone, really.) We have found that the Light can bind together a community of faith, of conscience, or of experience. When Quakers gather together, such as at Meeting for Worship, they are collectively seeking the will of God, rather than meditating individually.
A Quaker community provides a place for Friends to look for wisdom and support. Early Friends’ communities provided material support for families whose breadwinners had been jailed for their religious beliefs. Today’s Quaker communities include local Meetings where Friends gather weekly for worship, socialize, and express their belief in collective activities. The Quaker community also includes regional gatherings of Friends and national organizations that manifest Quaker beliefs in areas such as peacemaking, international aid, and congressional legislation.
Equality is treating everyone, everywhere, as equally precious to God; recognizing that everyone has gifts to share.
Quakers believe that all people are equal in the eyes of God, and have equal access to their “inner light.” This leads Quakers to approach others by looking for “that of God” in all people, and in all interactions.
The Equality testimony leads Quakers to treat all people with integrity and respect, including adversaries from all social strata and faiths. The Equality testimony leads Quakers to be very active in social justice movements.
The Equality testimony guided early Quakers to give women equal spiritual authority with men and to refuse to use forms of address that promoted social hierarchies, such as Lord and Sir. Today, since the Equality testimony rejects spiritual hierarchy, Quakers believe that when someone is moved to speak during meeting for worship, that their insights are equally from God. Moreover, Quaker meetings are run by committees of members rather than by leaders.
Stewardship and beyond
“To look away from the world, or to stare at it, does not help a man to reach God; but he who sees the world in Him stands in his presence. ‘Here world, there God’ is the language of It; ‘God in the world’ is another language of It; but to eliminate or leave behind nothing at all, to include the whole world in the Thou, to give the world its due and its truth, to include nothing beside God but everything in him – this is full and complete relation.”
–Martin Buber, I and Thou, 1958
Stewardship, also called “Care for the Earth”, is valuing and respecting all of God’s creation; using our fair share of the earth’s resources; working for policies that protect the planet.
Many of us have had an experience of being at one with the natural universe, of knowing each of us is an integral and worthy part of the ALL. Once we have had this experience we feel called to live more in harmony with nature. It helps put heart and soul into the caring behavior toward the Earth that makes rational sense if we want the planet to continue being able to sustain life as we know it.
Those with a theistic understanding of the world call this caring behavior Stewardship, considering God the Creator as owner of it all, rather than our human selves. We are entrusted by God with its care and management, asked to value and respect every bit of it, using only our fair share of the earth’s resources, and working for policies that protect the planet.
Those with a non-theistic understanding don’t use the Stewardship metaphor, instead experiencing the inseparable components of the natural world, as well as the flow between these components, as sacred. All-That-Is is alive and holy; we ourselves are included but not special.