The Quaker Testimonies

May we look upon our treasures and the furniture of our houses and the garments in which we array ourselves and try whether the seeds of war have any nourishment in these our possessions, or not.

- John Woolman, Quaker abolitionist.

The Quaker testimonies are about the way Friends try to lead their lives. They arise from our desire to make God's love and justice manifest in the world by answering that of God in everyone.

The testimonies do not exist in any rigid, written form; nor are they imposed in any way. They reflect the society we live in and so have changed over time. Early Quakers had testimonies against outward symbols, taking oaths and the payment of tithes, and about peace, temperance, moderation and forms of address. Later, testimonies evolved with regard to slavery, integrity in business dealings, capital punishment and prison reform, nonviolence and conscientious objection to military service.

The following is a brief account of some of the best known testimonies.

Truth and integrity

Truth and integrity are something that Quakers regard as fundamental guiding principles in our own lives but also in public affairs and an integral part of our testimony to the Light that is within us all. This is all the more important in today’s complex social, political and economic system, where these values can so easily be lost to sight.

Equality and community

The Quaker testimony of equality stems from the conviction that all people are of equal spiritual worth. This was reflected in the early days of Quakerism by the equal spiritual authority of women and later by our testimony aganist the institution of slavery.

The testimony to equality is concerned with the way in which our own life-styles and behaviour increase inequalities. It covers such matters as social inclusion, ethical investment, seeking to ensure that those who produce goods (especially in poor countries) receive fair payment, the avoidance of exploitation and discrimination, work with the homeless, asylum-seekers, refugees and prisoners, and prison reform. It is also a testimony of particular relevance in a multicultural and increasingly complex society in which there is an acute need for racial justice and for empathy between all faiths.

Simplicity

The testimony to simplicity is integral to Quaker faith: our spiritual responsiveness depends on being as free as possible from dependence on material security. Quakers therefore seek to resist the temptation to define their place in society by acquiring possessions.

Simplicity involves constantly challenging the way we live and what our true needs are, and especially how our own standard of living is sometimes achieved at the expense of others. It means standing aside from the fuelling of wants and manufacturing of new desires.

Peace

The peace testimony derives from our conviction that love is at the heart of existence. Again, there is no set form of words, but Friends are deeply attached to the Declaration made to Charles II in 1660, which begins: “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fighting with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever.” It has been the Quaker experience over the centuries “to live in the life and power which takes away the occasion of all wars”.

The peace testimony means working for forgiveness and reconciliation and dwelling in a sense of our shared humanity. Quaker witness led to a recognition of the right to conscientious objection to military service and has involved relief and ambulance work in war-stricken areas. Quakers play an important role in movements to prevent war as well as to respond to the wounds of war.

Quakers understand that peace is not simply the absence of armed conflict but the procurement of the rights of all humankind to economic and social justice.

The earth and environment

What has been an emerging testimony to the environment has now become an established one, with close links to the peace testimony and the testimony to simplicity.

The world is a wonderfully rich resource for our material and spiritual needs. We should treasure it and preserve its capacity to sustain and inspire. That, in turn, calls for a creative responsibility towards the earth we have inherited and for proper sharing. It means seeing “that of God” in the natural world around us, and being moved by considerations other than commercial gain.