In the 20th century Friends’ witness in the world placed a high value on our Testimonies and our community has made strong statements for Equality and Civil Rights and for Peace.
But it is important to remember that early Friends saw their witness in the world mainly as a reflection of their inner life and they “described themselves as persons who had undergone a radical transformation.” Their immediate first-hand experience of the Light of the Living Christ changed them. As this inward change took place, there was a corresponding change in the way Friends lived their day-to-day lives. Living the Testimonies was the natural outward expression of the inward life, the natural expression of doing “what love required.”
George Fox suggested that Friends become “patterns witnessing to the Truth” and the “pattern” to which he referred was an inward opening to continuing revelation of the Living Truth, which when followed leads us to witness with our lives. This is what we mean when we say: “Let your life speak.”
Our Testimonies have been described differently in different times and places. Some suggest that there are 4 and name them as: “Harmony, Community, Equality, and Simplicity.” Others say: “Equality, Peace, Simplicity, & Truth.” Recently our Testimonies reflect the collective longing for deep integrity and cohesive community, bringing the number to 5: “Community, Equality, Integrity, Peace, Simplicity.” And the NEYM Faith and Practice adds “Stewardship.”
No matter how we name or number them, the beauty of Friends’ Testimony in the world is our ability to adapt, to meet the most significant issues of the day in meaningful and relevant ways.
We no longer testify to equality by speaking plain; it is no longer necessary to address people with the familiar / singular pronoun ‘thee’ as it was in 17th Century England when the noble class expected to be addressed with the formal / plural ‘you’ to acknowledge their ‘divine rights.’ Early Friends acknowledged “that of God in everyone” (not just in the nobility) and gradually society has achieved new understandings of equality. We are now less class bound and though we are probably not conscious of it when we address each other as ‘you’ we are really recognizing Equality – “that of God in everyone” when we say ‘you’.
Another early Testimony was to Simplicity – dressing plain. Plain dressing was a response to fashion as a lavish expression of wealth by the English gentry … and an early call to an intentional, thoughtful life style. Unfortunately, plain dressing quickly became a badge, an ‘outward sign,’ an empty form. Even Margaret Fell, wife of George Fox, protested it, saying that to dress “all in one dress and all in one color” is a “Silly poor gospel!” She goes on to say: “It is more fit for us to be covered with God’s eternal Spirit … clothed with the Light … which leads us and guides us …”
Today we might say that Simplicity is our testimony if we are intentional with our time and energy. Lloyd Lee Wilson says that the simple life is one in which there is “time to remember the divine purpose behind our tasks, time to listen for a possible divine amendment to the day’s schedule, and time during the day to be thankful for the divine presence …”
And Friends’ witness for Peace – that is: living in the life and power that takes away the occasion for all war – will, of course, always endure.
Each of our testimonies is born of Friends’ commitment to Integrity or Truth … integrity / conscience rises out of God’s concern for us. It is by listening to the ‘still small voice within,’ that we are able to tend with integrity our witness for Equality, Simplicity, Community and Peace.
The beauty of Friends’ testimony is that we tend not to get stuck (at least for very long) in empty form. Our capacity to adapt speaks to the strength of Friends’ “creedless” witness of our faith, the transformative potential of simply allowing the Light of Christ to lead … and to open Friends to the new Light of continuing revelation. In the future Friends’ witness in the world will inevitably need to address new leadings that arise to meet new needs … but because Spirit is consistent, certain principals will always prevail.
It is important for us, while living the testimonies, that we do not get the “cart before the horse” and look outward for confirmation of their value. When we ask, “Are we making a difference?”; “Are we changing the world?”; “Are we still fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?” we risk growing discouraged. If the testimonies are acted upon with a misplaced expectation that the world will change we do indeed risk becoming both exhausted and dispirited. It is enough to tend and stay obedient to the Light, the inward guide. And then to do just what love requires of us, for love’s sake. This is living our testimony. This is enough.