Publishing the Truth—Suggestions on Presenting a Quaker Testimony

January 5, 2017 § 3 Comments

In the shadow of a looming Trump presidency, I’ve been thinking about how to present to the world a counter-weight for peace, justice, and sustainability. I often have not been happy with how we Friends do this, how we publish our truth in our books of discipline and in our minutes of conscience.

Over and over again, I have seen Quaker meetings approve witness testimonies and minutes of conscience that just barely represent our faith, or do not do so at all. All too often, they are mostly—or thoroughly—secular in nature and language. One often could read them and never know that a religious organization wrote them, let alone a Quaker one.

Thinking about this phenomenon has led me to propose a framework for writing a testimony or a minute of conscience that does a better job of presenting the religious foundation for our stands. Filling out all the elements of the framework I offer below would produce a rather lengthy document, so I don’t actually expect anyone to do so in practice very often.

Therefore, I offer these ideas primarily as a framework for how to think about our testimonies and the publishing of our truth. We should be able to fill out each of these elements, even if we do not do so in a particular instance in great detail; in the instance, we would just choose highlights that speak to the moment’s circumstances.

Here is my framework for the writing of a Quaker testimony or minute of conscience. In future posts, I plan to flesh this framework out for the testimony of earthcare as an example.

  • First, the testimony of the Holy Spirit—The story of how the community came to unity in the Spirit around the testimony. How were we led?
  • The testimony of scripture—Where do we find confirmation of our testimony in Hebrew and especially Christian scripture; that is, how do we speak to the rest of the Christian world about our testimony in terms that matter to them? Also, how do we defend our stand against any counter-testimony in the Bible, as Margaret Fell did for women speaking in meeting, or as abolitionists did for a stand against slavery?
  • The testimony of Quaker tradition—In a similar vein, how does Quaker tradition support our testimony? And, how do we explain our stand when we deviate from our tradition?
  • The testimony of reason and common sense—Here we bring in the thought and language that usually dominate in our presentation of a testimonial stand, the worldview of the world, of scientific, social, political, economic, and philosophical thought.
  • The testimony of the lives of our prophets—By this I mean what the testimony looks like in action, in the lives of those who already are living under the guidance of the concern.
  • Implications for action—What actions do we feel called to by this leading of the Spirit? How would we be living, what would the world look like, and what happens next, if we took real responsibility for the truth we have been given?

§ 3 Responses to Publishing the Truth—Suggestions on Presenting a Quaker Testimony

  • Don Badgley says:

    Steve, you and I seem to be sharing similar concerns and I am grateful for this post. What follows are excerpts from an article I have submitted to the NYYM publication Spark.

    “For centuries, we Friends have been known as a faith community that carries its ministries into the world as acts of witness. Often, those community actions begin with individual leadings that subsequently gain the collective strength of the meeting or wider body of Friends. Then, more often than not, we detach our witnesses from the Divine Source that led us to the ministry. In addition, “liberal” and non-pastoral Friends rarely share ministries in the world that simply proclaim the Divine Presence that empowers our worship and works.”

    “These few words summarize what I carry: While informed by doctrine, tradition and scripture our religion is founded in the direct and immediate experience of the Divine Light, encounters with God. We trust to this Living Presence as the only True Authority. The time has come to share experiential faith with the world through vocal ministry.”

    Sadly, many Friends have become quite adept at keeping the simple Truth of the living Divine Presence well hidden. In our good outreach to the world we seem content to credit our status as Quakers for our worldly political notions and witness works. Whether it’s our local meeting, our yearly meeting or FGC, FCNL, FWCC or AFSC – the Source of our ministry is almost never mentioned. Absent a constant orientation to the Divine Source, absent acknowledgement of that Light ordering our ministry, our so- called “testimonies” are reduced to notions and our witnesses to the world are weakened if not ineffectual”.

  • Janice Ninan says:

    I agree with all of this. I believe our faith is deeper spiritually than is often indicated in testimonies. Thank you for your willingness to work with/on this. God bless these wonderful efforts.

  • Barbara Harrison says:

    Personally, I prefer short and sweet.

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