Quakerism: a view from the back benches continued
Copyright 1966 The Back Benches
FAITH AND PRACTICE
The Dichotomy Revisited
The testimonies of Friends grew out of the ethical insights provided by the Inner Light and by New Testament teachings, as they seemed relevant to 17th century England. The word "Testimony" can be significant, for the idea was not that Friends should testify to them, inherent in the concept is action as well as belief.
In a time when it is possible for a long-time best-seller to be called "The Power of Positive Thinking," some people are disturbed because the testimonies are often put in a negative way. Perhaps they are so put because of the action aspect of the testimony, and the effort, through the queries, to measure in a rough way the degree to which Friends are actually testifying. One can see the difference by putting a testimony in these two ways:
"Do Friends love their Negro brothers?"
"Are Friends clear of slave-holding?"
There is a precision about action which is lacking in attitude, for the purpose of corporate soul-searching. It was, after all, for the purpose of corporate soul-searching that the queries were designed, with the answers being sent up to Yearly Meeting for its disciplinary action.
Their original purpose has been all but lost sight of, and the queries function now as a ritualistic Quaker equivalent of the Ten Commandments. As with the Commandments, the queries do not gain in effect with repetition, and if Friends really want their faces splashed with the cold water of ethical challenge, we should recommend that the queries be rephrased in blunt modern language.
Language is always a problem in religious circles, and we are not exceptions. Early Friends did call a spade a spade, and a church a steeple house. We wonder whether the very word "testimony" gets in the way of challenge by connoting some quaintness which individuals can take or leave.
We should preface our examination of the testimonies with the caution that we speak out of somewhat limited experience, and are bereft of scientific studies which would reveal what the state of the testimonies actually is. Our comments are, therefore, impressionistic. We enlist the reader in our effort to be severely honest, and hope that he will not be so interested in defending his image in our Society that he will refuse to examine objectively the state of the testimonies in his own Meeting and among his acquaintances.
(to be continued)