What is a testimony?
Quakers are agreed on particular orientations of action, called testimonies, which guide personal and corporate behaviour. They help identify what Quakers hold precious. These are all aspects of Love, the Spirit in practice. They describe the relationship of Quakers to the world and are considered in depth in this we can say
The word testimony is used by Quakers to describe a witness to the living truth within the human heart as it is acted out in everyday life. These testimonies reflect the corporate beliefs of the Society, however-much individual Quakers may interpret them differently according to their own light. They are not optional extras, but fruits that grow from the very tree of faith.
- Quaker Faith and Practice, Britain Yearly Meeting 1994, 23.12
There are a number of testimonies that Friends try to live by.
A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength.
- Advices and Queries, no. 41, Britain Yearly Meeting 1995
Friends believe simplicity should be a way of life. It allows them to concentrate on seeking the Truth and avoid being distracted by worldly materialism.
Jenny Spinks approached her Regional Meeting with her leading to speak to Australian Friends about the Testimony of Simplicity, and living simply. She wrote an article about this concern:
'Our culture encourages us to consume more and more. This makes us poorer spiritually by depleting the quality of our connections with each other, the earth and the spirit. These connections are what bring us greatest fulfilment.'
Read Jenny's full article, written in 2000, Quakers and Their Simplicity Testimony.
Bring into God's light those emotions, attitudes and prejudices in yourself which lie at the root of destructive conflict, acknowleging your need for forgiveness and grace. In what ways are you involved in the work of reconciliation between individuals, groups and nations?
- Advices and Queries, no.34, Australia Yearly Meeting
The Quaker Peace Testimony is the testimony most frequently associated with Quakers. Peace is seen by Quakers as far more than a rejection of warfare. In the silent meditation and prayer of the Quaker Meeting for Worship, and in our search in daily life for that of God in all other people, Quakers have sought to develop an ethos which puts love of our fellow human beings into practice.
Integrity is a condition in which a person's response to a total situation can be trusted: the opposite of a condition in which he or she would be moved by opportunist or self-seeking impulses.
- Kenneth C. Barnes, 1972, quoted in About Quakers, AYM 2004
Early Friends found that their experience of living in the Light caused them to examine themselves and avoid deceit. Truthful dealings with all comers became a way of life for them.
Are you honest and truthful in all you say and do? … Taking oaths implies a double standard of truth; in choosing to affirm instead, be aware of the claim to integrity you are making.
- Advices and Queries, no. 37, Britain Yearly Meeting 1995
Friends became renowned for their honesty. Many early Friends were entrusted with people's money and established financial institutions, such as Barclay's Bank in England which began as a Quaker bank.
As I settled into meeting, aware of the people in the room already and sensing those who entered after me, I had a wonderful sense of coming home. I knew this was a place where I was valued, and could be nurtured.
- Anna Wilkinson, 2000, this we can say
When we take the risk of sharing our inward spiritual lives, it is an affirmation of the seeking process and a gesture of respect and trust in others, It enriches the faith and understanding of our community and helps to strengthen our services and outreach to the world.
- Helen Bayes, 2003, this we can say
How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other's failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other's lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God's love and forgiveness.
- Advices & Queries, no. 20, Australia Yearly Meeting
Friends (Quakers) believe there is that of God in everyone [and in the natural world]. That means in the eyes of God, everyone is equal. Quakers have therefore worked for equal rights for all men and women, regardless of race, creed or sexual preferences.
The Light in all your consciences…will let you see Creation, and the Goodness thereof, and will teach you how to use it, and order it in its place…and how to do good with it, so that there will be no Want in creation, nor Cry of oppression; but the Hungry will be fed and the naked clothed, and the Oppressed set free; and here is the blessing restored to the Creation.
- James Parnell (aged 17), 1665
At Yearly Meeting 2007, Quakers took a first step towards outlining an Australian Quaker commitment to 'walking softly over the Earth'. This was further discussed at Standing Committee in July 2007, and the authors were asked to bring a Statement on Earthcare which was accepted at Yearly Meeting 2008, as a statement of a Quaker commitment to caring for the Earth.
These first thoughts stand as an indicator of a Quaker commitment to caring for our environment —
- We affirm the Spirit in all things — all creatures, the waters, the air and the earth itself.
- We open ourselves to learn from the Spirit in the whole of creation for it is the source of our wisdom and truth.
- We acknowledge the need to replace our culture of domination and exploitation with a culture of community.
- We affirm that our true community is with all life on this planet.
- We acknowledge that our use of resources is threatening the survival of other species and damaging the health of ecological communities and the planet as a whole.
- We acknowledge human-induced climate change as a result of our population and our personal and corporate consumption.
- We acknowledge that time is limited, and we are called to inform ourselves, boldly discerning the way forward to act individually and collectively to heal and care for the earth.
- We seek to engage with the wisdom of Indigenous peoples and affirm our responsibility to ensure that generations to come inherit a healthy planet.
We affirm that Quakers desire to strengthen their witness of caring for the Earth and we are inspired to act as guided by the Spirit.
You can also find out more about the ways Friends are committed to Earthcare as a concern that has arisen from testimony.