Quakers (or Friends) - Let’s explore some of the principal testimonies and practices of the religious Society of Friends.
Quakers believe in living life in the spirit of love and truth and peace, reaching for the best in oneself and answering “that of God” in everyone. Quaker testimonies are expressions of the commitment to put those beliefs into practice. The testimonies bear witness to the truth, as Friends in community perceive it—truth known through relationship with God. They do not exist in any rigid, written form; nor are they imposed in any way. Each Quaker searches for how the testimonies can best be expressed in his or her own life. While attempting to live in concert with these teachings, Quakers are tender with themselves and with each other when they fall short, ready to recommit and try again.
Friends oppose and refuse to engage in war and violence. In pursuit of lasting, sustainable peace, they seek to eliminate causes of violent conflict, such as poverty, exploitation, and intolerance. In renouncing war and violence, Friends embrace the transforming power of love and the power of non-violence, striving for peace in daily interactions with family, neighbours, fellow community members, and those from every corner of the world. Friends endeavour to see “that of God” in every person, regardless of nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, or social status.
Friends hold that all people are equal in the eyes of God and have equal access to the “inner Light.” This profound sense of equality leads Friends to treat each person with respect, looking for “that of God” in everyone. This testimony was reflected in the practice of early Quakers, who granted equal spiritual authority to women, refused to use forms of address that recognised social distinctions, supported religious freedom, and worked to abolish slavery.
The need to deal honestly with all others and with oneself has long been a foundational belief among Friends, summarised by the old injunction: “Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay.” For Friends, having integrity means being authentic and having consistency between one’s values and one’s actions. Lack of integrity separates us from our own soul, from the Light within, and from our community. Quakers try to live according to the deepest truth they know, which they believe comes from God. This means speaking the truth to all, including people in positions of power. Friends do not take oaths when appearing in a court of law, rejecting the idea that there is one standard of truth for daily living and another for the court.
While the Quaker faith is founded on the principle that every person can have a direct relationship with God, an equally central tenet lies in the power of the “gathered community.” When Friends gather in silence to worship, they are collectively seeking the will of God, rather than meditating individually. Shared worship signifies unity and trust. The Friends community also provides a place for individual members to look for wisdom and support. For example, early Friends relied on their community to provide for the families whose bread-winners were imprisoned for their beliefs— and at Quaker weddings today, the union is not formalised by a clergy member, but is witnessed and endorsed by every member attending.
Friends believe in simple living. is has historically meant simple dress, plain speech, and unadorned meeting houses for worship. Through the simplicity testimony, Friends encourage one another to look beyond the outward and to the inward.
In contemporary terms, Friends try to live lives in which activities and possessions do not get in the way of open and unencumbered communication with others and with one’s own spirituality. Clearing away the clutter makes it easier to hear the “still small voice” within.
Friends strive to use God’s gifts wisely, with gifts conceived in the broadest of terms. These gifts include our talents and our possessions, as well as our natural environment. Friends believe that such gifts are not ours alone. To Friends, good stewardship means taking care of what has been given, not just for ourselves, but for the people around us and for future generations as well. Friends strive to use their gifts in accordance with their beliefs.
OTHER RELEVANT QUAKER PRACTICES
Friends gather in silence, in a practice centuries old, to clear the way for the “still small voice.” This silent gathering is based on the belief that if one opens one’s heart and listens, one can hear what is right, and can live out these inner teachings. when a group settles into silence, it feels like more than a simple quieting down; the sense of collective thought deepens.
Quaker decision-making is grounded in the belief that when several people come together to labour in the Spirit they can discern a truth that exceeds the reach of any one individual. In making decisions Friends do not simply vote to determine the majority view, but rather they seek unity about the wisest course of action. Over time Friends have developed ways to conduct meetings that nurture and support this corporate discernment process.
To be effective, Quaker process requires that everyone come ready to participate fully by sharing their experiences and knowledge, by listening respectfully to the experiences and knowledge brought by others, and by remaining open to new insights and ideas. This powerful combination of grounded experience and spiritual openness, rationality and faith, allows a deeper truth to emerge. When everyone present is able to recognize the same truth, the meeting has reached unity. The clerk’s job is to sense emerging truth and labour with those present to put that truth into words.