The Testimonies of Friends (Quakers) arise out of their belief in “that of God” in every person. This central belief of Quakers is also called the Inward Light or “the spark of the Divine.” No matter what term is used, it is the basis for how Quakers try to live their lives, or practice what they believe. It is a belief that everyone can relate to God and know His will. A Testimony is a guiding principle of conduct. The Testimonies that are evident at MFS are the traditional testimonies of:
This testimony has seen changes throughout the history of Quakerism as life styles have changed, but it is generally about avoiding what is unnecessary and gets in the way of living a life centered on love and God. “…It must be seen as a testimony against involvement with things which tend to dilute our energies and scatter our thoughts, reducing us to lives of triviality and mediocrity…” (North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative). It means, in part, to be genuine in speech, behavior, and dress. It means thinking carefully about our use of time, money and energy and committing ourselves to keeping life simple and focused on the important things as guided by the Inward Light/God. “In short, the testimony of simplicity calls for a reordering of our lives so that we become spiritually centered and focused.” (Cooper, 2002). The idea is that we should be good stewards of our time and resources and develop a sensitivity to meeting the needs of others so that, as John Woolman said, we might “turn all the treasures we possess into the channel of universal love and that becomes the business of our lives.”
This testimony means that no one part of society imposes violence on any other part. Friends historically have opposed war as a solution to problems, but go further than just stressing an absence of war. Quakers believe in trying to take away the conditions that create violence and in working toward reconciliation.
The traditional Peace Testimony, written in 1660 in a declaration to Charles II:
“We utterly deny all outward wars and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world…The Spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, and again to move us unto it; and we certainly know, and testify to the world, that 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 the Kingdoms of this world…Therefore, we cannot learn war any more.”
In explaining his unwillingness to serve in the army, George Fox (the founder of Quakerism) recorded in his journal that “I told them…that I lived in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars.”Throughout their history Friends have searched for the roots of war and violence and have acted to try to alleviate the problems that create war before wars occur. Friends have also long recognized that the seeds of one war often create the next and so have a long history of reconciliation and prevention efforts.
This testimony “involves a wholeness and harmony of the various aspects of one’s life, and truthfulness in whatever one says and does.” (From Faith and Practice, 1997, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting).
“The call for honesty lies at the heart of Quakerism. It is a testimony rooted in the Quaker respect for truthfulness…Respect for this kind of integrity calls for a correspondence between what one professes and how one translates that action into real life.” (Wilmer A. Cooper in A Living Faith: An Historical and Comparative Study of Quaker Beliefs, 2001).
“Speaking the truth is so central to Quaker belief that Quakers have always refused to take oaths. Since they are expected to tell the truth at all times, they reject the idea that there are two standards of truth-one for everyday concerns and one for the courtroom. The prick of conscience that comes with the violation of truth is a reminder that integrity is the first principle of life,…Truth-telling simplifies life…Lying burdens and complicates life.” (Robert Lawrence Smith, A Quaker Book of Wisdom, 2002).
The testimony of community unites all the Quaker testimonies. Community means that we are responsible for the human beings that share the planet with us. This means we must work together to help each other become the best people possible. Quakers examine their own attitudes and practices to test whether they contribute as much as they can to the needs of the wider community; including addressing issues of social, political and economic justice. In school this means that we all must work to demonstrate respect for others and a willingness to listen to other points of view, as well as serving the broader community.
As Quakers became aware of the interconnectedness of all life on the planet…we have become more willing to extend our sense of community to encompass all living things.
” We know ourselves as individuals but only because we live in community. Love, trust, fellowship, selflessness are all mediated to us through our interdependence. Just as we could not live physically without each other, we cannot live spiritually in isolation. We are individually free but also communally bound. We cannot act without affecting others and others cannot act without affecting us. We know ourselves as we are reflected in the faces, actions and attitudes of each other.” ( Janet Scott, 1980.)
(Sections of this paragraph were modified from Faith and Practice, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 2002).
Quakerism teaches that all persons have equal worth in the sight of God. It does not mean that all people have equal abilities. It does mean that there should be no distinctions made based on race, sex, age, economic status, religion, nationality, or education; each person is equal before God. Early Friends recognized equality in ministry for men, women, and children, although they were slower to see it in race. However, Quakers pioneered equal rights for women, worked to abolish slavery (a struggle that continues to this day and is evident in Upper School in the anti-slavery efforts of Upper School students and faculty) and continue to work to abolish racial discrimination.
Friends believe that everything we have, in our selves and our possessions, is a gift from God, entrusted to us for our responsible use . This testimony asks us to be good stewards of economic resources, utilizing money for the creation of a better and fairer world that advances peace, justice and a healthy ecosystem. We recognize that the well-being of the earth is a fundamental spiritual concern. From the beginning, it was through the wonders of nature that people saw God. How we treat the earth and its creatures is a basic part of our relationship with God. Our planet as a whole, not just the small parts of it in our immediate custody, requires our responsible attention. (Faith and Practice, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1997, page 80 and 81).