George Fox, who is often considered “the founder” of the Religious Society of Friends, said with certainty, “There is one, Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition.” Contemporary Quakers often refer to this inward and eternal One as “that of God in everyone.” All Quaker testimonies spring from this belief in the sacredness of the whole of creation.
Despite the above, many people in the 21st Century are only familiar with the Quaker peace testimony. In the first centuries of Quakerism such a view would have been impossible. There are numerous Quaker testimonies including in alphabetical order, anti-racism, community building, equality, integrity, love, optimism, peacemaking and social justice. They are as interrelated as the ecological system of an orchard. One can describe such an orchard by beginning on either side, but arbitrary choice should not lift the value of west above east or north above south. Each testimony deserves its own serious contemplation.
Quakerism values Jesus’ reported summation of the Law of Moses, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” In 1661, more than five years before he allegedly told William Penn to “carry your sword as long as you can” and only nine years after his personal search had become a movement, Fox wrote an essay entitled, “The Line of Righteousness and Justice Stretched Forth Over All Merchants and Others.” The theme throughout, based on Jesus’ dicta, was to treat each person justly. In this essay Fox stated an oft echoed theme, “Do rightly, justly, truly, holily, equally, to all people in all things.” The first century of the Religious Society of Friends’ existence, in both England and the Americas, saw hundreds of early Quakers beaten, imprisoned and, in some cases executed for their beliefs. The long-standing commitment to social justice has not waned. The pursuit of social justice is a requirement in and out of season; during true peace or when violence is as far away as Afghanistan or as near as our next door neighbor’s bedroom.
Personal perspectives on justice have been known to change with one’s degree of comfort. In response to this phenomenon, the 18th century Quaker, John Woolman offered guidance when he said, “Oppression in the extreme appears terrible, but oppression in more refined appearances remains oppression, and where the smallest degree of it is cherished it grows stronger and more extensive.” Without social justice there is no peace.
Through such institutions as Friends Committee on National Legislation, American Friends Service Committee and Right Sharing of World Resources, Quakers encourage elected officials, their relatives, friends, neighbors and themselves to actively advocate for social justice.
-- Dwight L. Wilson