"We are also to be witnesses for God, and to propagate his life in the world, to be instruments in his hand, and to bring others out of death and captivity into true life and liberty."
When George Fox heard the voice that told him he could speak directly to Jesus without an intermediary, Fox didn’t say to himself, "Well, I’ve found what I need. Let others make the discovery for themselves when they are ready." Thank God that after climbing to the top of Pendle Hill to think things over, he came down to tell the world the good news—that there is God in each of us, an Inner Light, and we can be in touch with that divine part of ourselves whenever we are quiet enough to listen to it.
A testament to the power of his truth is the fact that Fox was able to convince tens of thousands of people, peasants and aristocrats alike, in a relatively short period of time. They, in turn, convinced others. People came in droves to listen because they were hungry spiritually. They risked everything—health, wealth, home, their freedom—to embrace the Quaker way of life.
Today there are fewer Quakers than there were at the end of the 18th century. There are many reasons: Quakerism is a demanding faith, which eschews the trappings of upward mobility and the pursuit of material excess that is our society’s hallmark of success. Quakerism is a "do-it-yourself" religion that requires daily discipline and uncountable hours of involvement in the health and maintenance of one’s monthly and yearly meetings and the lives of our fellow Quakers.
Another reason for Quakerism’s decline is our reluctance to evangelize. We respect other people too much to insist we have found the whole truth and nothing but our truth. But if we believe we have found some truth, are we not bound to share it with others? "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32) Are we not free to tell others about the truth that we have found—that God, the Light, the Great Spirit, the Higher Power, the Source, the Creative Spark, the Inner Light, the Force, is in every one of us and will lead us on the right path if we trust and obey?
Quakers talk a lot about speaking truth to power. How do we speak the truth to those not in power? Are we willing to share our faith with the people we come into contact with every day, or do we just keep it to ourselves because we are discreet, shy, or desirous of being politically correct? If we truly respect every person we come into contact with, shouldn’t we share this important aspect of our lives with them, as others have done for us?
We would be uncomfortable sitting at home with a full pantry waiting for the hungry to knock at our doors. What about all the people who are spiritually empty, hungry, confused, or lonely? Do we wait for them to knock on the doors of our meetinghouses, or do we use the means available to us in the information age to reach out?
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in heaven." (Matt 5:16) If I read this passage right, the message is about testimony, sharing our faith.
If our Quaker testimonies require us to live simply, to remove the causes of war, to treat others as equals, to live with integrity, and to build community, does that impel us to witness to our faith? The early Friends certainly did. It was not until Quakers started worrying about rules and who was following them that we became quiet, splintered into factions, and decimated by defections.
One of the most eloquent testimonies in the English language is Martin Luther King Jr.’s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." The fact that Dr. King was in jail for civil disobedience was in itself a powerful, nonverbal declaration. But had he been content to suffer in silence, he would have missed one of his greatest opportunities to speak truth to power. His letter was intended to sting the consciences of anyone listening, and he succeeded. He wanted everyone to take responsibility for making good on this nation’s promise that all human beings are entitled to equal justice. He wanted to enlist all people to help bring an end to racial tyranny.
In a culture in which violence is the main source of entertainment, where many people place more value on getting to the finish line first with the most rather than sharing their gifts, where people knowingly elect criminals and liars to represent them in government, where heads of corporations responsible for the impoverishment of thousands of families are paid 200 times more than school teachers or people who nurture babies and the elderly, what can we do to ensure that the truth George Fox illuminated continues to shine with the brightness it deserves?
We must let others know that we are a truly blessed community of faith that welcomes everyone, shunning no one. We must let other seekers know that in the hurly-burly of this world there are kindred souls who gather in silence and search together for substance. To accomplish this, we will have to examine the notion held by some that by proclaiming our faith publicly, we are somehow diminishing it or imposing it on others. We need to put Quakerism on the map in bold letters so those seeking can find us. And before settling down into silence, it wouldn’t hurt to make a joyful noise and open wide the doors.