Sunday, 25 April 2010

Votes and testimonies

posted by kathy

Sometimes life gets in the way of things we plan to do. I've been busy with work and Rhiannon with her studies. There were things to say, but we didn't say them on this blog. .

There were plenty of conversations in between, especially after Meeting. Lately we've been discussing the general election. We're not unanimous and many of us are undecided. One of today's attenders summed up the question as whether to vote strategically or vote your conscience. I suspect that's a dilemma many voters face.

There's no one party particularly favoured by Quakers. I've known Quakers in all three mainstream English parties as well as a number of fringe parties. Most aren't members of political parties at all but they usually vote, take a strong interest in politics and may support causes where they think they can make a difference.

Quakers don't have a creed or a body of shared beliefs. We do have what we call "testimonies," which are perhaps best explained as areas of concern. We consider these important when making choices and decisions in our own life. They are also important in our relationship as a body to public life and are therefore bound to influence the way we vote and talk to people in positions of power.

There are different interpretations and descriptions of the testimonies but most Quakers in Britain agree on four core testimonies: truth, equality, simplicity and peace. We agreed today to ask the six candidates for Broxtowe to say where they stand on these testimonies and to post their responses as comments to this blog. Tony, a member of our Meeting, has agreed to draw the attention of all the candidates to this blog.

Because the testimonies are broad, it seems sensible to explain how they have currently been interpreted and prompted action among friends.

People are most likely to encounter the Quaker truth testimony in court. Quakers don't swear oaths - they hold that they are required to speak truth all the time and oath-taking implies more than one standard of truth. In the last twenty years, Quakers have been concerned with the question of integrity in public life, including the pressure on public servants to be dishonest in various ways. Last year, when British Quakers finally decided, after 22 years of consideration, to hold same-sex marriages in Meetings just as we hold opposite-sex weddings, the truth testimony was at least as important as the testimony to equality. Those present - about 1700 Quakers - were reminded of George Fox's words on marriage: "This is the Lord's work and we are but witnesses." We saw that our duty was to witness to what we already saw as marriages.

The Quaker testimony on equality is rooted in the belief that there is that of God in everyone. Sometimes this is described as "the Light within." Quakers are as fallible in acting on this testimony as on any other. However the idea that we should see value in all humans has led us to oppose discrimination and cruelty prompted by such differences as race, gender, sexuality and disability. It has also led us to care for justice between individuals, groups and nations. Quakers are involved with prisoners and asylum seekers and have recently been involved in the Circles of Trust scheme, working with dangerous offenders after their release from prison. You may find it helpful to know that many Quakers refuse to use titles and address all people directly by their names.

The Quaker testimony on simplicity seems particularly apt in a time when there are concerns about the depletion of natural resources and damage to the environment. Historically it has also been linked to the testimony to equality with past Quakers, including William Penn and John Woolman, urging Quakers to avoid the acquisition of wealth for its own sake or for the sake of ostentatious display, especially in the face of poverty. Many Quakers are very concerned for the environment and sometimes care for the environment is listed as a separate testimony.

The Quakers' peace testimony is probably the best known. Almost all Quakers are pacifists. This isn't just a matter of refusing to support or fight in wars. Quakers look for what they term the "seeds of war" in their own lives, in society, in political structures and public actions. Quakers are involved in opposing war through a range of activities and organisations. These include work against military recruitment in schools, opposing the recruitment of child soldiers in Britain and overseas; campaigning against nuclear weapons and the arms trade and also working in schemes which offer training in conflict resolution to children and adults.

It's not possible to offer a summary of all Quaker concerns but I hope this post helps readers to consider some of their own priorities. I also that all the candidates will reply and explain where they stand in relation to the broad points raised by the testimonies. This will help Beeston Quakers and other readers of this blog to decide how best to cast their votes.

I am posting responses as comments, as they arrive. Click on "comments" below to read them.