As a Quaker, I practice historic testimonies for peace and simplicity. In addition to the Quaker testimonies for peace and simplicity, there is the testimony of integrity. Historically this testimony was expressed as a fierce determination to tell the truth, and a refusal to take oaths as a witness that there is only one standard of truth that must be maintained at all times. Quakers developed a reputation for being truthful and being fair in their business dealings. They also developed a reputation for being rude and abrasive, for refusing to participate in meaningless small talk, to participate in social courtesies, and to tell those social “white lies” that make everyone feel better about each other.
One statement of the testimony is well expressed in the query from the British Yearly Meeting:
“Are you honest and truthful in all you say and do? Do you maintain strict integrity in business transactions and in your dealings with individuals and organizations? Do you use money and information entrusted to you with discretion and responsibility? Taking oaths implies a double standard of truth; in choosing to affirm instead, be aware of the claim to integrity that you are making.”
We encounter a deeper Truth in our Silent Worship, and sometimes this Truth is like a mirror showing how we must change ourselves to align our lives with this deeper truth. We also find the strength and guidance to make the changes that are necessary to follow the measure of truth that is given.
“Be honest with yourself. What unpalatable truths might you be evading? When you recognize your shortcomings, do not let that discourage you. In worship together we can find the assurance of God’s love and the strength to go on with renewed courage.”
Quakers also were committed to living what they believed, or “letting their lives preach.” This commitment called Quakers to express their values in their behavior
“Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community? Let your life speak. When decisions have to be made, are you ready to join with others in seeking clearness, asking for God’s guidance and offering counsel to one another?”
This process of searching for the truth and expressing it in our lives often leads to odd or unpopular behavior. I have been led to walk into East Durham in a Quaker hat on a daily peace meditation for a year, or led to remove my tie in court as testimonies for peace and equality. We are called to find ways to express our truths in our lives, even if it is not popular.
“If pressure is brought upon you to lower your standard of integrity, are you prepared to resist it? Our responsibilities to God and our neighbor may involve us in taking unpopular stands. Do not let the desire to be sociable, or the fear of seeming peculiar, determine your decisions.”
The Quaker testimony regarding integrity is much more than just telling the truth. It is a spiritual practice of searching deeply in individual and corporate prayer for truth. The first step toward integrity is discernment and testing of the truth we are discovering in the Spirit. Then we begin the work of bringing ourselves into alignment with that truth, and changing our lives, habits, practices to witness to that truth. Then we are called to let our lives preach, and express that truth out in the world. This expression of our belief through action may lead to unsociable behavior or unpopular political action, but we are called to “speak truth to power,” as a part of our testimony to integrity.
As an attorney, I often struggle with the tension between my work as a defense lawyer and my Quaker commitment to truth. There are times when a person’s constitutional rights trump the truth: if evidence is seized in violation of a constitutional right then it is suppressed. I help guilty people go free when their rights are violated. This constitutional principle recognizes that the only way to protect these important constitutional rights is to take away the fruits of the constitutional violation from the police – to teach them to protect our rights. I believe in this process, but often wonder whether there are better ways to protect Constitutional rights than sacrificing the truth. It is a terrible system, except that it seems better than any other.
There is room for such tension in my faith, as described by Quaker Peace & Service, in 1992:
The Quaker testimony to truthfulness is central to the practice of its faith by members of the Religious Society of Friends. From the beginning Friends have believed that they could have direct and immediate communication with God which would enable them to discern right ethical choices. They soon experienced common leadings of the Spirit which became formalized into testimonies… Arising from the teaching of Jesus as related in the writings of John and James: ‘Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no’, Quakers perceived that with a conscience illuminated by the Light, life became an integrated whole with honesty as its basis.
From time to time … adherence to factual truth can give rise to profound dilemmas for Quaker Peace & Service workers if they are in possession of information which could be used to endanger people’s lives or give rise to the abuse of fundamental human rights… Some of us are clear that in certain difficult circumstances we may still uphold our testimony to truthfulness while at the same time declining to disclose confidences which we have properly accepted. Such withholding of the whole truth is not an option to be undertaken lightly as a convenient way out of a dilemma. We all accept that ultimately it is up to an individual’s own conscience, held in the Light, to decide how to respond.
Quaker Peace & Service, 1992