Three months ago, Ohio Yearly Meeting began the first comprehensive review of our Queries since 1958. During this time, some Friends have expressed ideas about adjusting our testimonies either by prohibiting or recommending a given behavior. These conversations have raised issues around underlying principles on the issue of testimonies.
One place to begin is with a general consideration of testimonies. Early Friends usually did not discuss "our testimonies" but had much to say about "our testimony." By the end of the 19th century, "our ancient testimony" had been partitioned into testimonies regarding plainness, truth & oaths, peace, temperance, equality, and integrity. Some Friends produced mnemonics to emphasize their favorite testimonies and to marginalize others - an example is SPICE (simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality). Note that in the latter list, simplicity has replaced the historic plainness testimony to grant freedom to ignore the issues of titles and the plain calendar, while some testimonies including temperance have disappeared.
Throughout Friends history, however, the word *testimony* has had a specific definition. When the behavior of a Quaker differs intentionally from other people, it has been a testimony of our inward and unmediated interaction with Christ Jesus. We opposed slavery because He directed us to do so, and actions taken by Friends during those years pointed to our desire to be faithful to what the Lord was calling us to be.
Associated with the testimonies are leadings. Individual Friends have occasionally felt a calling to do (or not do) certain things, but these never rose to general acceptance by all Friends and thus did not become testimonies. Examples include a refusal to be photographed, wearing undyed cloth, and choices regarding transportation. These days, leadings are often confused with what I call whims. A leading is something Christ Jesus has directed thee to do. A whim usually has no spiritual significance and is usually defended with autobiographical statements.
Queries and Advices differentiate between testimonies and leadings. Usually, a Query asks about our faithfulness to the testimonies but not to leadings. The Advices similarly cover testimonies and not leadings. This means that when something rises to the level of a testimony, it should be included in the Advices and Queries so that we have to consider our faithfulness on that item each year through hearing the Advices and answering the Queries.
When considering the elevation of a leading to a testimony, the following questions seem appropriate. Since the discussion is framed in the context of Ohio Yearly Meeting, consistency with the Scriptures and traditional Quaker doctrine and practice are taken for granted. The questions also assume that the proposal has been weightily considered and is well-written, with an appropriately written advice and query accompanying the discipline adjustment.
1) Does the proposal rise to the level of being a testimony? Changes to the Discipline should not be undertaken lightly.
2) Is this something that many Friends have similar leadings about? A plurality does not always recognize a spiritual directive, but paucity of vocal support can easily turn into an unwelcome bulldozer that Friends later rebel against. If a segment of Friends is vocally opposed to the proposal, a compromise should be sought or the issue dropped.
3) Is this something relevant to the lives of many Friends? It does not require a lot of spiritual maturity today to have a testimony against slavery.
4) Does the proposal fall into the category of a temporary hot topic? These are usually not appropriate testimonies, since after the resolution of the topic, the Discipline will need to be changed again to take it out.