The Testimonies as understood by contemporary Friends are: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality. These words are not defined by Friends for Friends in any way, or, if they are, there is no requirement that we all agree with the definition. They are open to whatever understanding individual Friends have at wherever they are on their spiritual path. They are used as a center around which we “gather” to begin our understanding of what it means to be Liberal Friends today.
From the Friends General Conference website:
Quakers generally recognize five central testimonies:
simplicity, integrity, equality, community and peace. The testimonies are not rules, but ways of living in the world. For example, Quakers seek to avoid violence on both the personal and the societal level, and believe that the
Spirit that takes away the need for war is available to everyone, everywhere, in all situations.
I see the Testimonies as a way for us to focus on or begin to define who we are. A lot of people have problems with the lack of any real religious identity inherent in the Testimonies. Most of us incorporate Spirit or God or The Divine in our interpretations of the Testimonies but doing so is, by no means, universal.
A lot of people are drawn to Religious Society of Friends via the Peace and Equality testimonies. It was the Quaker history of engagement with social justice movements that first spoke to me. I’d been studying feminist history and the time period during which the women’s suffrage movement overlapped with the abolition movement and was blown away by how many folks of the front-line folks were or had been raised Quaker. And as I moved forward in history, it still seemed like Quakers were disproportionately represented during times of peaceful social revolution and growth. Having been raised Baptist—a church, ahem, not known for progressive action on social justice--I wanted to learn more about this religion that has, since it’s inception, espoused the belief that all people are equal.
So, a lot of people are called in by our history of activity but once they get settled in and find it a spiritually safe and nurturing environment, discover the Spirit that undergirds everything. As my dear Friendbrother, Geoffrey, said, “Come for the Peace. Stay for the Integrity”. I love it! We won’t tell you what to believe but we’ll offer our own lives as gentle guides and will support you by trying to stay true to our Guid. And we’ll use the Testimonies as a kind of meetingpoint for our unity.
Hmmm…does that make sense at all? It may be the kind of thing you have to live and experience to really understand—especially if you were raised in a “letter of the law” kind of religious environment in which everything is delineated, defined and ordered. I guess there was a time in Quaker history in which folks were “read out” of their meetings for indulging in such frivolous activities as wearing colored ribbons, hanging art on their walls or (the horror!) having a piano. We are a long, long, long way from that. The modern Quakers I know would sooner cut off a limb than tell another Quaker how to live or what to do with her time outside of meeting for worship. So much are we distant from one another that some of us feel a real longing to know one another more intimately and form a deeper understanding and awareness of how Spirit is actually moving daily in our lives. Which directly reflects our Testimony of Community. Which is a post for another time. Or, no: Has already been a post.