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Historic Roots: "What Canst Thou Say?"
We who are called Quakers or Friends are members of the Religious Society of Friends. The Quaker movement originated in mid-seventeenth century England. With the advent of printing, the Bible was becoming widely known, and it appeared to many who read it that the early Christian church depended very little on ecclesiastical structure, elaborate ritual and formal creeds. Indeed, it depended greatly on experiencing the Spirit in the midst of the worshipping group and on prophetic utterances inspired by the Spirit.
The Religious Society of Friends was one of the most radical new Christian sects emerging during the Reformation. Various new religious groups increasingly sought to separate themselves from the established church and from each other by shedding vestiges of religious authority, ritual, creeds, icons and symbols of the traditional Christian church. It has been said that the Friends have “taken out everything except dependence on the Divine Spirit for guidance and power.” George Fox, pictured here, is considered by most to be the primary architect of the Quaker movement.
"Testimonies" are what Quakers call the ways we have found to live and act based on our beliefs. The word "testimony" is used by Friends to describe a witness to the living truth within the human heart as it is acted out in everyday life. It is not a form of words, but a mode of life based on the realization that there is “that of God in everyone” and that all life is interconnected.
Testimonies are not fixed dogma, but a distillation of Friends' faith in action over the centuries. Here is one formulation of the testimonies from the Friends General Conference. There are many other formulations of these same basic ideas from other Quaker sources.
SIMPLICITY-- focusing on what is truly important and letting other things fall away.
PEACE --seeking justice and healing for all people; taking away the causes of war in the ways we live.
INTEGRITY -- Acting on what we believe, telling the truth, and doing what we say we will.
COMMUNITY -- supporting one another in our faith journeys and in times of joy and sorrow; sharing with and caring for each other.
EQUALITY -- treating everyone, everywhere, as equally precious to God, recognizing that everyone has gifts to share.
SUSTAINABILITY -- caring for the earth, valuing and responding to all of God's creation; using only our fair share of the earth's resources; working for policies that protect the planet.