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Quaker Testimonies

Quakers Discuss Ukraine and the Peace Testimony

The war in Ukraine is troubling for all, but for Quakers it presents a particular dilemma:  how do we respond to a war against a sovereign nation in light of our Peace Testimony?

The Peace Testimony of the Religious Society of Friends is one of the important pillars that defines Quakerism. The Quakers, along with the Mennonites and Amish, are “Peace Churches,” religious organizations that believe peace and non-violence are the best (possibly only) way to resolve conflict. Many Quakers, historically, have resisted all forms of war and non-violence, including refusing to participate in military service and, in some cases, refusing to pay the taxes that support the military. In some cases, Quakers have been jailed for these positions; in others, Quakers have won the right to be conscientious objectors to military service and be assigned community service as an alternative.

Friends have a host of “testimonies,” shared truths and insights that Quakers have learned through their own spiritual experience over 350 years. There is no single, exclusive list of testimonies, and the testimonies are not doctrine. Instead, they are common, deeply held values that the Quakers refer to for guidance. For our Meeting, the testimonies include: Integrity, Unity, Equality, Simplicity, Peace and Community. When we talk about them, we often use queries, questions that explore why the testimonies are important yet also difficult to uphold day to day. They are not rules to abide by as much as challenges.

Of these, the Peace Testimony is one of the most difficult. Reno Friends recently met online to discuss the war in Ukraine through the prism of the Peace Testimony. What we discovered – even in our small community of like-minded people deeply troubled by the war – was a range of opinion.

Some Quakers said they considered the Peace Testimony absolute, that there are no exceptions. Others focused on efforts to find a better way, through non-violence and diplomacy and refusal to engage. But the Ukraine war raises troubling questions:  if a nation is attacked in an unprovoked invasion, does it not have the right to defend itself? If the Peace Testimony is absolute, is there never a “good war?” The war against Ukraine spookily conjures images of similar atrocities and destruction from WWII, which is part of the horror of it. Was it wrong to fight the Nazis, we wondered. This triggered other questions: if a Quaker agrees with the American effort to send guns and military equipment to Ukraine, does that violate the Peace Testimony? How do we feel about family members who have fought – at great personal cost – in past wars, not to mention those serving in our current military? Sometimes our conversation also touched on personal scenarios in which the Peace Testimony raises harrowing possibilities: Should a Quaker defend their own wife or child if they are attacked? Should a Quaker let someone kill them during a mugging, or should they fight back? Should a Quaker carry a gun? It is easy for such questions to discomfit and divide us.

To lead us back, one Reno Friend pointed out that the Peace Testimony is about trying to find alternatives to violence. It takes effort, creativity, patience, and an eye on the long game, to come up with the combination of diplomacy and sanctions and humanitarian relief that can stem the tide of war. She also pointed out that the Peace Testimony need not divide us, as it is fundamental in Quakerism that each person needs to exercise their own discernment to understand how they will live each testimony. One shared the story that when William Penn asked Quaker founder George Fox if he should stop wearing his sword, Fox replied “Wear it (the sword) as long as thou canst.” It turns out this story may be more myth than fact, but it captures Fox’s advice that, to answer the question, Penn should examine his own heart.

Bringing us all back to our own hearts, another Friend said we should also listen to the pain and confusion we are all experiencing over this awful war. Modern media and courageous reporting bring images and stories and horrors to life on our screens every day, and it is hard on our souls. We need to be patient with our own confusion, and take time to examine our own convictions. We also talked about ways to help, focusing on communicating with national leaders, supporting humanitarian efforts, and continuing to talk about the importance of peace and non-violence as goals and strategies. As one said: “We may struggle to uphold the Peace Testimony, but we should all keep working at it.”

By Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

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Quaker Testimonies

The Quaker Peace Testimony

(from the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Faith & Practice)

We utterly deny all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole  world.… The spirit of Christ which leads us into all Truth will never move us to fight and war against any man with  outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for kingdoms of this world.” – George Fox, declaration to Charles II, 1660, Britain Yearly Meeting, Quaker Faith & Practice, 1995.

“A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it.” –  William Penn, 1693; Britain Yearly Meeting, Quaker Faith & Practice, 1995.

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Quaker Testimonies

What is God?

When I proposed the topic “What is God” for the February Reno Friends spiritual discussion, I was both excited and anxious. Would anyone come, and more importantly, would we have the courage to share from our hearts and souls about this big question? Fourteen of us met on Zoom last month, and almost immediately we opened into a gathered space of deep sharing. It was truly magical!

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Quaker Testimonies

Love thy Neighbor: No Exceptions

…And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us then try what Love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us… William Penn, 1693

Back in May, when the Black Lives Matter protests were beginning after George Floyd’s death, Reno Friends had an opportunity to love our neighbors. Due to the pandemic, we were meeting for worship outside in our garden, so we could be together but also keep our distance. We had sent a letter to our neighbors asking if they could bring in their dogs during our hour of Silent Worship.

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Quaker Testimonies

Settling Into My Natural Rhythms

As our extended Coronavirus retreat unfolds, I am settling into my natural rhythms. Delicious hours stretch before me, empty of outward commitments, allowing time to delve inwards. I am slowly coming home to myself. Why is it so difficult to create space for me in my own life? I can easily get lost in the tyranny of my to-do lists and the needs of others, ignoring my own needs in the process. These are lifelong patterns.

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Quaker Testimonies

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.

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Quaker Testimonies

Peace in these Times

To write this blog, I’ve had to tear myself away from the political news and center in the silence for a bit, just so I can return to a semblance of peace. Without a doubt, we are living through extraordinary times, ones that challenge us to remain calm and loving. It’s too easy these days to fill with rage, to want to rant at someone, to gnash our teeth. The Peace Testimony, which reminds us to be “an instrument of Peace,” is a central fixture of the Quaker faith, and yet sometimes it just feels too hard. How are we to meet public malfeasance, abuse of power and war-like behavior with love? How are we to talk to those who disagree with us and honor that of God in them when we are angry and upset? How do we follow the road of peace in times of conflict and polarization?

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Quaker Testimonies

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.

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Quaker Testimonies

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?

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Quaker Testimonies

Mindful Giving

Sometimes I wonder what Christmas would be like if we got rid of presents.

We would have more time to sing carols and deck the halls with boughs of holly.  Instead of spending Christmas Eve madly wrapping, we could gather around a wassail bowl with close friends and family to swap memories and aspirations.  We would have time to step out under a starlight sky and imagine angels appearing to the shepherds as they tended their flocks at night.  We could edge closer to the stillness that abides in the dark cold of midwinter, and take time to appreciate the warmth of the candlelight when we come inside.