These are, without a doubt, difficult times in America. It is painful to witness the erosion of civil rights, the stark divisions between people and parties, the growing threats to the disadvantaged, not to mention the threats to our democracy. Instead of a War Against Poverty, we now seem to have a war against the poor. What happened to the progress we were making in expanding civil rights and becoming more tolerant? It saddens me, and it angers me.
So there I am – the Angry Quaker. Which may be an oxymoron. Aren’t Quakers supposed to be measured and thoughtful in their responses to the world, rather than ranting at the powers that be? And if they can’t be measured and thoughtful, aren’t they supposed to go sit somewhere in silence until they can?
And so I sat in silence this week, and what finally came to me was that a path forward could be found in the Equality Testimony. With no creed or liturgy (each Quaker comes to faith through their own experience of God), the Quakers often rely for guidance on what are know as the Quaker Testimonies: Peace, Integrity, Community, Simplicity, Stewardship and Equality. There is no single set of agreed-upon testimonies; instead these are deeply held values that have emerged over the Quakers’ 350 years of shared spiritual experience.
I became a Quaker largely because of the Equality Testimony. I was attracted to Quakerism both for the power of silent worship and the premise that everyone was equal in the eyes of God – no one telling me that, as a woman, I wasn’t worthy, and no church hierarchy telling me what to believe. From their start in the 1600s, Friends treated women as equal in their power to speak of their faith. Over the centuries, Quakers grew more and more troubled by the practice of slavery, and some of them worked tirelessly for abolition in the United States. They also have championed gay rights, and the right of prisoners, as well as the needs of the poor and displaced. It’s the Equality Testimony that leads them to this work.
The Equality Testimony grows from the holy expectation that there is that of God in everyone, including adversaries and people from widely different stations, life experiences, and religious persuasions. All must therefore be treated with integrity and respect. Each person is equally a child of God. Friends recognize that unjust inequities persist throughout society, and that difficult work remains to rid ourselves and the Religious Society of Friends from prejudice and inequitable treatment based upon gender, class, race, age, sexual orientation, physical attributes, or other categorizations. Both in the public realm — where Friends may “speak truth to power” — and in intimate familial contexts, Friends’ principles require witness against injustice and inequality wherever it exists. ~ Faith & Practice, Pacific Yearly Meeting.
In times like these, the Equality Testimony can light the way to the work before us – how to push back against the growing inequities, how to reach out to the downtrodden and disadvantaged with kindness, integrity and support. And how to continue to fight for the rights of everyone in this troubled nation. Please Hold in the Light the many women of reproductive age who now struggle to have legal control over their bodies.
Quaker Sarah Grimke, a feminist and abolitionist, had this to say about women’s rights in 1873: “I ask no favors for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks and permit us to stand upright on that ground that God has designed us to occupy.”
Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.