Category Archives: Our Testimonies

Bringing Light into the World

This is the time when sunlight returns to our winter world and a new year begins. 2020 has been a year of retreat for many of us, clouded by uncertainty and anxiety. We spent more time with ourselves than usual. I have seen this year as an opportunity to go the “mountain”, to use a metaphor common to many spiritual traditions. There has been less outward activity and more inward reflection. But now the energy is shifting, and the time is coming to re-engage with the “marketplace”—to bring our inner Light into the world.

I am fond of spiritual metaphors like the ox-herding pictures used in Zen Buddhism to teach about the spiritual path. The seeker wanders a path up the mountain looking for the wild ox, then finds and tames it, rides it back down, comes home and enters the marketplace, bringing spiritual wisdom and helping hands to the community. The ox is a metaphor for taming the unruly aspects of ourselves, including our overactive egos and minds. Other similar metaphors include Moses bringing the ten commandments down from the mountain as instructed by God, Jesus spending 40 days in the desert before giving the Sermon on the Mount, the wandering of the Jews in the desert before coming to the Promised Land, and the vision quests of native peoples. In modern times, we go on retreats, withdrawing from our normal lives and taking time for spiritual reading and inner reflection. We hope to come back wiser, more peaceful and compassionate.

What I usually find is that it is easy for me to be peaceful and compassionate while on retreat; it’s when I return to the world that I have trouble! So, I’ve been reflecting on how this lofty idea might be made more accessible to us everyday folks. My experiment this last year has been to incorporate Retreat Days into my schedule. Sadly, I’m here to report that I was unable to retreat for a whole day despite the best of intentions. I did have success in unplugging from news, but not from life.

Then I started wondering if there might be a more practical way to do this ox-taming business, must be the Quaker in me… My new experiment is taking mini retreats and then re-engaging with the world throughout the day, seeking to bring Light and the Quaker testimonies into the world. I’m finding this approach works much better and is more realistic given the nature of my life. My hope is that over time I will be able to maintain centered-down peace while I’m engaged with the world.

Here are some of my mini retreats:

  • Silent Worship whether in community or alone—taking 30-60 minutes to sit quietly and listen for that still, small voice within.
  • Sitting in easy repose and staring out the window for a few minutes, turning off my brain.
  • Going on a walk or taking a swim and making it a moving meditation, where I focus on the movement and get out of my head.
  • Doing Qigong, Tai Chi and/or yoga practice with mindful focus. It helps to do this in a room set aside for this purpose or outdoors. If I’m near my desk or the kitchen, I can get endlessly distracted! It also helps to do just one pose or form if I’ve lost my center or need a break.
  • Taking several deep, belly breaths.
  • Driving in silence.
  • Petting the cat.
  • Breathing and repeating a mantra while waiting.
  • Observing nature and letting myself become absorbed into it.
  • Meditating using a mantra or following my breath.
  • Reading a spiritual book.

Here are some of the ways I try to bring Light into the world:

  • Smile.
  • Listen with total presence, seeking to understand.
  • Speak the truth from my heart, with compassion.
  • Be thoughtful in my actions and words.
  • Do random acts of kindness.
  • Practice peace, even when I disagree.
  • Seek unity; there’s usually some common ground somewhere.
  • Be patient.
  • Love my neighbor without exceptions.
  • Live simply and in harmony with nature and those around me.
  • Be a good steward.
  • Share generously.
  • Shine my Light, encouraging others as my equals to shine theirs.
  • Have faith and trust in the good in myself and others, and Life itself.
  • Stand in my integrity with humble courage.
  • Be open-minded and non-judgmental.

Like any human, I stumble a lot, miss the mark, make mistakes, get distracted. Then I get back on that ox and try again. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is an ongoing experiment without end. I find that comforting. Oh, and it helps not to take oneself too seriously and have a good sense of humor!


What are your ways to retreat from the world and reconnect with the Light?

How do you bring Light into the world?

What distracts you from your highest intentions? Disturbs your peace?

By Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Quaker Testimonies in the Time of Coronavirus

The Religious Society of Friends, known as Quakers, often speak of their “testimonies.”  The testimonies are the shared truths and insights that Quakers have learned through their own spiritual experience over 350 years. There is no single, exclusive list of testimonies, but there are common, deeply held values that the Quakers refer to for guidance. Given that our world has been turned upside-down recently by the Covid-19 virus, I thought it would be useful to consult the testimonies for guidance in how to manage our lives, both individually and collectively, during this trying time.

Many Quaker schools use the acronym SPICES to remember the basic Quaker testimonies: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship. For the purpose of this blog, I will talk about three of the six testimonies and how they can light the way through our current darkness.

Community: Quakers often refer to those who gather together to worship in silence as “the beloved community.” Indeed, there is something intimate about the silence, and the deep currents of spirit that arise from it, that brings people together. We know each other; we care about and for each other. And yet, right now, we cannot gather. Instead of sitting in silence in our Meeting House, we try to sit in silence in our individual homes. But it isn’t the same. As we wait for life to return to normal, Reno Meeting is trying to keep our people “gathered” in whatever way possible. We are holding online spiritual discussions and lunches, sharing worship after-thoughts and inspirations via a weekly spiritual update, and holding each other (and our families) in the Light as we cope with illness, job loss, sadness and anxiety. All of this is more powerful when done together. As Quaker writer Parker Palmer has written: “Friends are most in the Spirit when they stand at the crossing point of the inward and outward life; and that is the intersection at which we find community. Community is a place where the connections felt in the heart make themselves known in bonds between people, and where tuggings and pullings of those bonds keep opening up our hearts.” It’s a time to keep our hearts open, flexible, and able to adapt as things change. It’s a time to employ the best practices of community: kindness, attention, mutual support and tolerance. If we reach out to each other with love and assistance, our community will stay strong, even if we cannot be gathered together in our Meeting House.

Integrity: The heart of the Quaker testimony of Integrity is about keeping our lives centered in the Spirit, where actions are rooted in our convictions and our words are dependable. Integrity calls on us to be responsible in what we do and careful with what we say. During these difficult times, when there is a host of untrue material circulating online and in the media, Integrity can be a beacon for Quakers. Integrity means that you resist divisive language; that you check that a news item is accurate before reposting it on Facebook. As the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s guide Faith & Practice says: “Commitment to truth requires authenticity and veracity in following one’s conscience, illuminated by the Inner Light.” Integrity of words and deeds is the habit that allows us to discern a leading, such as one that might help our community or support those in need. Sitting in Silence, listening to the guidance of Spirit, can carry us a long way in these trying days.

Equality:  The spread of the coronavirus has exposed the fault lines in our society. Those without adequate health care are more likely to get sick and have a rough time coping with the illness. Those who are poor and who live together in crowded apartments may be unable to social distance or work from home, and thereby end up at greater risk. And many of those who have lost jobs are those whose financial circumstances are chronically fragile. The Equality testimony of Quakers says that everyone is worthy of love, care and support. This is a time to seek out those that might need special help, including the hungry, the homeless, those who are lonely. For those who can afford to help, it’s a time to continue paying for services we depend on, even if we cannot get them right now. It’s a time to donate time, money, energy and heart. Equality does not just mean accepting that we are all children of God; it means looking around to see who is struggling and who needs our help. As Susan B. Anthony, the 19th-century Quaker suffragette, said: “I pray every second of my life; not on my knees, but with my work… Work and worship are one with me.” May our work to bring fairness, equality and kindness to society be worship for us.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Bad Quaker

Every now and then, someone in our Quaker Meeting says, “I’m just a bad Quaker.” If one of us gets caught complicating an issue in Business Meeting, or if someone doesn’t have time to make food for the feed-the-homeless dinner, they might drop their head in defeat and say something about being a bad Quaker.

I’ve also occasionally heard of people who left Quakerism because they felt they couldn’t live up to the Quaker testimonies. “It was just too hard,” they say. “Too much pressure.”

Why does this happen? My theory is that we are forgetting the purpose of the testimonies. The testimonies represent the collective Quaker wisdom about how to live a good and spirit-focused life. Each regional Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends in the U.S. has a slightly different list of testimonies, but the standard group are what in Quaker education are called the SPICES:  Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship.

Simplicity means to value spirit over material objects and to keep your life uncluttered by things and too much busyness.  Peace is the famous Quaker commitment to nonviolent conflict resolution and Quakers’ refusal to support wars. Integrity means to speak truthfully and follow through with your commitments.  Community means to support, aid and respect others in the communities you live in, including the Meeting. Equality means to accept everyone as precious in the eyes of God – all genders, races, economic levels, etc. Stewardship means to care for the earth, the Meeting, one’s town and nation, by giving both your effort and financial support to the degree that you can.

Wow. That is a lot to live up to! Each testimony is both personal and global in scale, so it’s understandable that a person could feel overwhelmed. Being a good Quaker can also sometimes feel like all the fun in life has been sucked away. Does it mean you can’t buy a new dress for a special event?  Does it mean you must tell your mother-in-law what you really think?  Does it mean you need to spend all your free time trying to correct injustice in the world?

But here is what we must remember: the testimonies are not rules handed down by the patriarchs. (“Unprogrammed” Quakers – those who worship only in silence – don’t have patriarchs or any clergy.) Instead, the testimonies are the collective wisdom and guidance of generations of Quakers sitting in silence and listening to God. And one of the most important principles of Quakerism is that each person listens to their own experience of God. Spiritual nirvana is not the goal: the goal is learning to let down your defenses and put away your ego when you sit in silence and listen to God. Being a good Quaker is not about earning gold stars, and the testimonies are not commandments. Their purpose, in part, is to clear away the debris of everyday business and help us see more clearly the way to live a spirit-centered life.  

In my youth I spent a few years in the orbit of a Jesus movement that had many slogans. After I left the group, I forgot most of those bite-sized bits of spiritual wisdom, but one stayed with me: “Please be patient; God is not finished with me yet.”

This is the balm that can help us relax about being good or bad Quakers. Not being able to live up to the high calling of the Quaker testimonies just means you are struggling to follow the path, and all spiritual travelers will tell you they struggle to stay on the path. And, according to Quaker understanding, everyone is building the spiritual path that makes sense to them, that incorporates their experience of God. This is what makes spiritual journeys so interesting.

The testimonies serve best as guidance when they are combined with sitting in silence to hear what God has to say. Sometimes God and the testimonies will lay out a challenge; other times they will combine to light an easier way through difficulties. Quakers often say “the way will open.” This I too find reassuring: the path ahead doesn’t need to be a daunting obstacle course.

Please be patient with me: I’m listening for God to open the way.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Seeking Unity

Unity, the idea that we should seek consensus in our collective decisions, is a central testimony of the Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).  In this fractious time, however, it often seems the goal of unity has been nearly forgotten.  Everyone seems to have differing views and fears and concerns, many of them deeply held. The anxieties of our age have taken a toll on our ability to talk with each other. In such a climate, unity feels nearly impossible to achieve. If so, does unity still matter?

I believe it does; in fact, I would argue that unity could be the antidote to our societal divisions. Faith and Practice, the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s guidebook, says this about unity:  “Friends believe that it is possible for the human spirit to be in direct communion with the Divine. Seeking God’s will together, we believe (the) way will open and unity will emerge. Working together to discern and serve God’s will both nourishes and benefits from unity. This unity grows from trust in one another and readiness to speak out, confident that together, Friends will find the truth.”

It is clear, then, that unity is as much a process as a goal. One of the qualities I find most compelling about Friends is that every advice and testimony rests on the fundamental principle that actions matter most. When Quaker founder George Fox said “Let your lives speak,” he meant that beliefs and convictions can only be communicated through action.  It is what you do that matters, not what you say or profess.

In the case of unity, it is the process of seeking unity together through thoughtful listening and discerning of God’s will that is paramount. That’s why unity is most valuable when we disagree.

According to Os Cresson, an Iowa Quaker, “For Friends, unity is not usually unanimity, which is agreement without dissent.  Unity is more often agreement that acknowledges dissent, staying together despite differences, and moving forward with guidance from our common values.”

Seeking unity can be a challenge, as Quakers often hold disparate views of God and God’s will. Because Friends believe that each person is on her or his own spiritual path, it is more important that we are seekers of the truth than that we have all arrived at an agreed-upon destination of spiritual perfection. And this, says Cresson, is what we can model for the larger community. “The embrace of religious diversity in our midst can be our gift to the world…. Let us be patterns of living together and loving each other, differences and all. Let us openly and joyfully celebrate our peculiar combination of Quaker diversity and Quaker unity.”

That is why we must continue to seek unity with all around us. Unity matters because it requires listening with an open heart, and honoring what others bring to a discussion. It requires us to respect and love those who think differently than we do.

As the contemporary Quaker Parker Palmer has said, “Friends are most in the Spirit when they stand at the crossing point of the inward and outward life. And that is the intersection at which we find community. Community is a place where the connections felt in the heart make themselves known in bonds between people, and where tuggings and pullings of those bonds keep opening up our hearts.”

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting,

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting


Integrity to Oneself

A central tenet of Quakerism is the Integrity Testimony, which encourages Quakers to tell the truth, say what they really mean, and stand up for what they believe, even in the face of condemnation or conflict. Frankly, the Integrity Testimony can sometimes feel like a stern taskmaster. Truth can be slippery, or not even clear at the moment we need it to be. Having the courage to speak one’s truth can feel like a nearly impossible requirement. Sometimes circumstances are clouded by love or concern for others or embarrassment or weakness. How do we proceed and carry ourselves forthrightly in this complex world?

The Integrity Testimony of Pacific Yearly Meeting says: “The testimony of integrity calls us to wholeness; it is the whole of life open to truth. When lives are centered in the spirit, beliefs and actions are congruent and words are dependable. As we achieve wholeness in ourselves, we are better able to heal the conflict and fragmentation in our community and world.”

Wholeness seems to be the key. Quakers often interpret the Integrity Testimony as guidance for how to operate in the larger world, yet it also is central to helping us discern what we are thinking and feeling in our hearts. What strikes me about this language is the call to achieve wholeness in ourselves first. If we hope to work effectively to alleviate some of the world’s problems or pain, we must spend time examining our own motivations.

Are we driven to action out of a sense of self-abnegation or self-aggrandizement? Are we motivated by fear? Are we listening to what the world would tell us, or are we arrogantly pushing our personal agendas and beliefs? The Integrity Testimony doesn’t just prohibit lying to others; it also cautions not to lie to ourselves.

But how do we come to know and understand ourselves, to find the wholeness that will lead in the right direction? Many Quakers experience the phenomenon of leadings — a strong conviction that they are being led to take on a problem or follow a course of action that will address a societal issue. But this can be tricky terrain. How do we know we are doing what God would have us do, rather than taking on a mission with more dubious motivations?

This is where the Quaker practice of discernment can be useful. Quakers have discovered several useful tests for discerning whether a leading is valid. The first test is that of patiently waiting.  If you can wait to see how your leading or conviction is tempered by time, you can gain insight into how important it really is. You should also try testing your leading for moral consistency, and asking whether it is larded with self-interest or heroic ambitions. Another important test is whether the group, or Meeting, can support your leading in a spirit of unity.  Quakers often bring their leadings to their Meetings for more thorough discernment.

Quaker Rufus Jones said:  “Experience is the Quaker’s starting-point. This light must be my light, this truth must be my truth, this faith must be my very own faith. The key that unlocks the door to the spiritual life belongs not to Peter, or some other person, as an official. It belongs to the individual soul, that finds the light, that discovers the truth, that sees the revelation of God and goes on living in the demonstration and power of it.”

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at)

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting


Intellectual Integrity

A central tenet of Quakerism is the Integrity Testimony, which encourages Quakers to tell the truth, say what they really mean, and stand up for what they believe, even in the face of condemnation or conflict.

This imperative can also apply to how we approach information and news and form our opinions. If the nation ever needed clear-headed people with strong principles of intellectual integrity, now is the time.

Yet intellectual integrity can be hard to pin down. Is it being open-minded or is it being true to what you know? Is it listening to those you disagree with, or is it saying what you believe even if it is hurtful to others?

Seeking guidance, I stumbled across the Critical Thinking Community, a non-profit that promotes fair-minded critical thinking in education and society. According to this group, intellectual integrity comprises several elements:

  • recognizing the need to be true to one’s own thinking;
  • being consistent in the intellectual standards one applies;
  • holding oneself to the same rigorous standards of evidence and proof to which one holds one’s antagonists;
  • practicing what one advocates for others; and,
  • being able to honestly admit discrepancies and inconsistencies in one’s own thought and action.

The Integrity Testimony can be a difficult master. I blush to consider how many times I’ve violated one of these guidelines, went along with a crowd or lacked the fortitude to apply my intelligence to a problem. Given that many issues today bristle with complications, how do we foster our own intellectual integrity as we sort through opposing positions and heated political talk?

The Critical Thinking Community has several suggestions. First, that we practice intellectual humility by recognizing the limits of our own knowledge and developing a sensitivity to our own biases. Most of us have deeply held beliefs about what is right, but sometimes we might need to step back and re-examine old positions and prejudices. Has time changed the facts? Do experts now have a better understanding? Have unintended consequences of such an approach been revealed? And toughest of all, could there be wisdom in some of the positions we dislike the most? All are important questions, and it takes intellectual humility to consider them.

Along with humility, the group suggests we practice intellectual empathy, the idea of putting ourselves in the place of others in order to genuinely understand them. Open-mindedness and fair-mindedness seem critical to closing the many divides between us. In the end, intellectual integrity requires us to commit to analyzing and evaluating our opinions on the basis of reason and evidence, with humility and empathy. That can take time, effort and patience, but it usually leads to more reasonable positions.

Sometimes when our Quaker Meeting is trying to decide what to do about an issue or problem, we take a long time to discern what God would have us do. Quakers can be famously argumentative with as many opinions as there are people in the room, but I believe that helps us practice tolerance. And in most cases, by giving everyone a chance to be heard and acknowledged, and by staying open-minded and seeking out common ground, we usually discern our way to a solution. And if we don’t, we sit silently in the light of God and wait until we do.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at)

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting


The Moral Consequences of Climate Change

Climate change is not just about melting ice caps, worsening drought and rising sea levels. It is not just a crisis for plants, animals and the environment they inhabit. It is also a crisis for people. In fact, some people consider climate change as serious a moral issue as an environmental one, and an issue that could have grave consequences for society.

Pope Francis has issued a moral call for action to phase out use of fossil fuels. “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods,” the pope’s encyclical warned in 2015. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, an alliance of U.S. government agencies that compiles climate science research, the impact of climate change on humans could be profound: homes destroyed by rising waters or severe storms, diseases such as West Nile virus or Lyme disease spreading, crops and potable water lost due to drought, people crippled or killed by increased air pollution. The program, whose work is available at, points out that those most vulnerable to climate change are the poor, under-educated, those least able to adapt, and people already struggling with high rates of disease, hunger and societal disruption.

In A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change, author Stephen M. Gardiner argues that we are failing in three ways to address the ethical dimensions of climate change. First, those living in wealthy countries are passing the impact of environmental degradation on to poorer, weaker nations. Second, we are saddling future generations with our legacy of environmental degradation. And, third, when we ignore the scientific evidence, we deceive ourselves about our responsibility. We must face up to our ethical failure, Gardiner says, and push our leaders and institutions to act before it’s too late.

Starting on Wednesday, Feb. 22, the Reno Friends will meet every other week for five sessions to discuss climate change and its consequences for social justice. Our goal is to find ways that we can do more, individually and together, to address these issues. We will explore impacts of climate change here in our Sierra Nevada, as well as legislative initiatives, how to change our everyday lives, how to protest effectively, and how to address the needs of those in the Reno area hurt by climate disruption.

Please join us if you are interested in reading and learning more about the ethical challenges of climate change or in debating how we, as citizens, might respond. The discussion group will meet on Wednesday evenings starting at 6:30 in the Quaker Meeting House at 497 Highland Avenue in Reno. In addition to Feb. 22, we will meet March 8 and 22, and April 5 and 19. A reading list will be distributed in advance. You’re welcome to bring light snacks. Please contact me, the clerk of Reno Friends Meeting, at wswallow54 (at), if you are interested in attending.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at)

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Integrity for the New Year

Everywhere I turn today, I encounter the issue of integrity. Our recent presidential election raised repeated questions about integrity: who had it and who didn’t, whether journalists had integrity or were manipulating the truth, whether candidates were lying or obfuscating. And finally, in the end, whether the voting itself was conducted with integrity. Integrity, it turns out, may be one of the most compelling issues of our day, and a good place to start thinking about the New Year and what it may require of us.

Quakers consider integrity a fundamental principle. As the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Faith & Practice says: “The testimony of integrity calls us to wholeness; it is the whole of life open to truth. When lives are centered in the spirit, beliefs and actions are congruent, and words are dependable.”

These are simple words, yes, but living fully in the spirit, speaking the truth as we individually discern it, can be a demanding discipline. As Faith & Practice says, integrity means being responsible for our words and actions. It means “living a life of reflection, living in consistency with our beliefs and testimonies, and doing so regardless of personal consequences.” To me, this means keeping an open mind, looking for truth in evidence and knowledge, and sifting through information to sort fact from fiction. And once we discern truth, it means speaking up, even if that takes courage. Especially if it takes courage.

At the same time, integrity means maintaining an attitude of loving kindness. Just speaking the truth, without considering the feelings and sensitivities of those who will hear it, can be cruel and useless. Perhaps the central challenge of living a life of integrity today is discerning how to understand those who see the world differently. It helps me to believe that most people share core values – like decency, caring for the needy, longing for peace – and work from that common ground. Consider these words from an early Quaker, Edward Burrough, who in 1659 wrote:

“To the present distracted and broken nation: We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for this party nor against the other… but we are for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with God and with one another, that these things may abound.”

Righteousness and meekness, side by side. Perhaps that’s a fitting place to start the New Year.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at)

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

The War Tax Alternative

One feature that distinguishes Quakers is the power and purpose of the Peace Testimony. Friends believe every person is a child of God, and they recognize God’s Light in everyone, including their adversaries. With that deeply held conviction, Quakers generally oppose war, believing it is inconsistent with God’s will. If we are asked to serve in the world as instruments of reconciliation and love, how can we wage war?

Most Americans today are unlikely to face being sent off to war against their will because our country has no military draft. Still, many Quakers are uncomfortable with American military might and the knowledge that their taxes support military operations. Some determined souls become war tax resistors, refusing to pay the portion of their taxes that would fund the Pentagon’s budget or putting that money aside in an escrow account rather than paying it to the federal government. But such civil disobedience can put resistors in jeopardy. Some have had their wages garnished or their cars and houses seized to pay back taxes.

A bill now before Congress provides an alternative path: it would give taxpayers opposed to participation in war in any form based upon their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs or training the right to have their federal taxes used for nonmilitary governmental purposes only. Pacifists could be faithful to their beliefs without withholding their taxes from the government.

The proposed legislation, called the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act (H.R. 2377), was introduced last May by Rep. John Lewis of Georgia; it’s the latest version of a bill first introduced in Congress in 1972. The National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, a Washington, D.C., a not-for-profit social welfare organization, has worked to build public awareness and support for such a fund since the 1970s.

The campaign’s founder, retired physician David R. Bassett, developed strong moral objections to war and military service growing up during World War II. After graduating from medical school in the 1950s, he was directed to join the military medical corps. While not yet a Quaker himself, Dr. Bassett argued, with the help of Quaker friends, that he be allowed alternative service as a conscientious objector. After a long campaign of letters to the Selective Service, he was granted CO status. Instead of serving in the military, Dr. Bassett spent two years working with the Quakers’ American Friends Service Committee as a doctor in India.

Later in life Dr. Bassett started the campaign for a peace tax fund because he recognized that – while thousands of Americans feel conflicted about paying taxes for military purposes – most are not willing to become war tax resistors. The fund would allow those opposed to war to pay 100% of their taxes without violating their religious or ethical convictions, and it would also allow the government to collect the taxes it is due by law.

As Quakers, we feel strongly the need for alternatives to supporting war. If you are interested in the campaign for the peace tax fund, visit the website at There are many ways you can help.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at)

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Quaker Presidents and the Oath of Office

A recent news story about the U.S. Presidential Oath of Office got me thinking about Quaker presidents. The story focused on the words “so help me God” that many presidents add to the official oath, and whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton would follow suit. But I was intrigued by another, more basic question:  because Quakers do not believe in oaths or swearing, would a Quaker president be required to take the oath at all?

The official oath is short and to the point:  I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution requires every president to tender the oath before he or she may assume power.

No doubt, the founding fathers wanted to make sure presidents committed publicly to uphold the Constitution, a cornerstone of rule by law rather than by the whims of a leader. And yet taking such an oath could violate the beliefs of the Religious Society of Friends. As the August Query on Integrity and Personal Conduct says:

Friends believe that we are called to speak the truth. A single standard of truth requires us to conduct ourselves in ways that are honest, direct, and plain, and to make our choices, both large and small, in accord with the urgings of the Spirit. It follows that we object to taking an oath, which presupposes a variable standard of truth. Be true to your word.

Indeed, the oath’s alternative fourth word – “affirm,” rather than “swear” – was included in the oath by the founding fathers to accommodate Quakers and other religious groups that followed the biblical prohibition of swearing. As James says in the New Testament (James 5:12, KJV):  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.

Quakers have served as president of the United States twice: Herbert Hoover held the office from 1929 to 1933, and Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1974. Ironically, neither man choose to use the optional word affirm when they took the presidential oath. It is sometimes reported that Hoover said “affirm,” but a newsreel shows him using the phrase “solemnly swear.”

As is often the case with the Quaker Testimonies, the Integrity Testimony helps guide Friends through the collisions of principle with the rules of other institutions, the mores of society, and the practical demands of the moment.  Our guiding document, Faith and Practice, sums it up this way:

Integrity is a demanding discipline. We are challenged by cultural values and pressures to conform. Integrity requires that we be fully responsible for our actions. Living with integrity requires living a life of reflection, living in consistency with our beliefs and testimonies, and doing so regardless of personal consequences. Not least, it calls for a single standard of truth. From the beginning, Friends have held to this standard, and have often witnessed against the mainstream. When they suffered in consequence of their witness against secular order, their integration of belief and practice upheld them in adversity.

Perhaps, in the end, it matters less how a President takes the oath and more what kind of leader that person proves to be. No matter who stands up next January to swear, or affirm, to uphold the Constitution, let us hold them in the Light.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at)

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.