the friend online
02 October 2009

Testimony to Truth

Truth and integrity sound grand concepts. How do they work on the ground? Linda Pegler attempts an answer

When as Quakers we say that we have a testimony to truth and integrity, what does this actually mean for us? It sounds grand and rather remote, but most of us probably do grapple with issues of truth and integrity repeatedly in our daily lives, even if we don’t think of them in that light. We may decide to say something that we feel is right, even if it is embarrassing or may be misunderstood; we may keep personal information about people confidential when we’re bursting to divulge it; some people may even feel compelled to whistle blow in the wider public interest if information is being kept secret to bolster someone’s power or cover up for their mistakes. Pursuing truth and integrity is rarely easy, and we need all our spiritual resources to discern what we need to do in particular circumstances.

Most of us can remember times when we feel we have stood alone, because something was so important that we had to speak out for it, or do it in opposition to others. Such experiences can be painful or embarrassing, and we may not even be completely sure that we’re right, or that speaking out will make any difference. And yet we can recognise true integrity when we see it exercised in the lives of others; those who have laid aside what might be to their own benefit and speak or act fearlessly seem to have a natural authority that is far beyond the authority of position or worldly power.

From the earliest days Quakers were known for speaking truth as they experienced it inwardly in their Meetings for Worship. They didn’t make a distinction between belief and action. Truth was almost more of a verb than a noun; it was something that you ‘did’ as you experienced it. As they responded to a vibrant inner reality and obeyed the promptings of the Divine Light within, then action and speech became a natural reflection of that experience. And in acting in this way they came to discern more of its nature, and were led further into expressing it outwardly. So a testimony to truth developed that, in particular, led Quakers to be known for their honesty, straightforwardness and integrity.

In one sense the testimony to truth is the primary or single Quaker testimony, and testimonies to simplicity, equality and peace developed as a consequence of experiencing truth in this way, as a result of inner awareness of spiritual reality reflected against the common practices of the world.

Allied with the testimony to truth are principles of honesty, integrity and truthfulness. Friends became known for their honesty in business, by not haggling over prices or trying to trick an advantage over others. Straightforwardness and plain speaking, truthfulness in the sense of not telling lies also arise out of the testimony to truth. Plain speaking includes speaking truths that may be uncomfortable to ourselves or others, but if we avoid them we are not being faithful.

‘Speaking truth to power’, a phrase beloved by Friends, involves both making a stand against certain practices of those in positions of power and instigating dialogue in the people involved. This needs to be done without judgement and in love and humility, so that Friends remember their own experience of struggle and dilemma in ‘living the truth’, and stand with those who shoulder responsibility. We find it difficult to do both at the same time.

As Friends, we remember that our ultimate accountability is to God, and to that search for truth that early Friends experiences so intensely.

Linda Pegler


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A testimony to Love
Judy Kirby, Editor
Circles of silence
Gerard Benson
A view of Quakers
David Wood
Testimony to peace
Helen Steven
Middle East witness
Ann Wright
Peace for all
Stephen Hanvey
Living the testimonies
Helen Drewery
Harvey Gillman
Testimony to Equality
Jonathan Dale
Committed relationships
Phil Lucas
Quaker thought in literature
Marina Lewycka
Quaker thought in poetry
Gerard Benson
Ros Smith
Marian Liebmann
Equality and social justice
Belinda Hopkins
Testimony to Simplicity
Jan Arriens and Marion McNaughton
Laurie Michaelis
Testimony to Truth
Linda Pegler
Integrity in public life
Tony Stoller

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