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Quaker Testimonies This Month's Blog Post

Angry Quaker: Why the Equality Testimony Matters

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.

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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.

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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?