Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A bit more on the testimonies

In earlier posts, I discussed both Quaker involvement in abolition and the meaning of Quaker testimonies. The two are connected. Early Quaker concern over the slave trade grew out of a strong desire to carry out their inward faith in outward practice. Indeed, Friends meetings to this day publish guidelines for members entitled Faith and Practice. For Quakers, the two are seen as inseparable.

These outward expressions of inner conviction came to be known as testimonies. Thus, Quakers in the eighteenth century practiced a testimony against slavery. Another commonly known testimony of that era – and one still carried on today by some Friends – was the testimony of plainness. That translated into plain speech – addressing important members of society with "thee" and "thou" instead of the more respectful you – and plain dress – modest colors with little if any decoration.

While the most strict of these requirements have faded away with time, today most Friends still hold to a number of key testimonies – simplicity, peace, integrity, and equality. Though these particular terms may be relatively new within Quakerism, one can certainly find in the history of Quakers the seeds of their later development.

The modern testimony of equality, for instance, is rooted in the manner that Friends approached the issue of slavery. The testimony of simplicity carries on, though often in different forms, the testimony of plainness. The practice of early Friends setting one price for goods – rather than haggling as was common – is carried forth in the testimony of integrity. And finally, the modern testimony of peace is well-rooted in Quaker tradition. In the same era as Friends spoke out against slavery they sought to avoid dealings that would violate their concern for peace. Minutes from 1776, for example, note that "We affectionately desire, that Friends may be careful to avoid engaging in any trade or business tending to promote war."

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