Bearing Witness with Their Lives

We have an occasional department in Friends Journal called "Witness," in which reports and reflections on individual actions taken are shared with our readers. It’s an inspiring department, one that always prompts reflection for me. As I look at the articles we’ve selected for this issue, it occurs to me that perhaps the entire issue could be called "Witness." My dictionary defines the word thus: "attestation of a fact or event; one that gives evidence; one asked to be present so as to be able to testify; one who has personal knowledge of something; public affirmation by word or example usually of religious faith or conviction." "Testimony" is listed as a synonym.

In "You, Too, Can Rein in Military Recruiters in the High Schools" (p.10), Nancy Howell and Judy Alves share the story of their success in counter-recruitment efforts in Florida. This resulted in their being able to present alternatives to military service to students, with the same access to those students as the recruiters have. Overall restraints on recruiters were established throughout their school district, and information is now being distributed to parents to enable them to opt out of having their children’s names given to the military by the school district. Nancy Howell and Judy Alves present their story with enough details and suggestions to make such an undertaking possible elsewhere for those who are led to a similar witness.

Jamie K. Donaldson and Alan Rhodes, two F/friends from the Pacific Northwest, give impassioned explanations of why they have chosen two very different paths, despite very similar concerns about the conduct of the U.S. government. Jamie Donaldson has emigrated to Canada; Alan Rhodes has chosen to stay in the U.S. and continue to fight for a more enlightened and Constitutionally oriented government. "Why I Left—Why I Stayed" (p.14) is a window into the thinking that many have been doing during these past eight years or more. These two have reached real clarity and are witnessing to it.

Our readers sometimes write to tell me that they really enjoy historical articles. "Mary Dyer: Courageous Witness and My Foremother" (p.17) by Mary Dyer Hubbard should please these folks. Mary Dyer’s direct descendant tells the story of her ancestor’s remarkable witness to Quaker faith and testimonies in colonial Puritan Massachusetts, a witness that resulted in her being executed by hanging on June 1, 1660. Yet her witness was so remarkable that it generated sympathy and abhorrence of her fate both in the colony and in England, eventually causing anti-Quaker laws to fall out of favor. Three hundred years after she’d first been condemned to death, the same court that condemned her placed a statue of her in front of the State House, inscribed with the words, "My life not availeth me in comparison to the liberty of the truth."

Many Friends have gone to prison for their beliefs, and many others have participated in the long tradition of Quaker prison ministry, bringing Quaker belief and practice to those who are incarcerated. In "Reflections from Death Row" (p.19), Karl Chamberlain, who found Friends while imprisoned, shares with us his spiritual perspective as a prisoner on death row in Texas. His potent witness to the spiritual transformation and growth possible, even in the most challenging of circumstances, is a moving testament to the possibility of redemption and the power of Divine love.

I hope you will find these pieces as inspiring as we have.