Archive for June, 2008

Is the environment a testimony?

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

Friends discerning?
Friends discerning?

Friends’ (Quakers) testimonies are the ways our lives testify to our faith. William Braithwaite (1862-1922) said,

The Friend had a life within him to wait on and to obey, not chiefly a creed to believe; and it was this life which developed in the Quaker groups a common body of truths to which they sought to bear unflinching witness. Accordingly they accumulated ‘testimonies’ rather than Articles of Faith.

In Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, we think about testimonies in six categories: integrity, unity, equality, simplicity, peace, and community.

We are not consistent however. Our Faith and Practice (each Yearly Meeting describes every few years the current Faith and Practice of Friends in their YM) says about integrity:

When lives are centered in the Spirit, beliefs and actions are congruent, and words are dependable.

It seems to me that we do most poorly around issues where there are strong emotions and where we have not yet engaged in collective discernment. Two environmental examples, there are more:
• nuclear power (Friends often display anger in our discussions, though much less today than a decade ago. And some Friends don’t participate in the discussion “because we’re not going to reach unity anyway”.)
• discussions of how we live, and how we want to live, are rare. Many Friends worry that such discussions will be about guilt. (I would hope that they are mostly about choosing how to live and love.)

In the discussion leading up to the 2001 Faith and Practice, some advocated strongly that the F&P revision (discipline) committee describe the environment as a testimony, that is, we should consider the environment to be important. This is backwards, as testimonies are described in writing after they exist in our lives. The committee described it instead as an emerging concern. I wrote members of the committee to ask why they decided against the testimony description, and received four responses:

• we do not live as if the environment were of major importance,
• we have not labored together to understand its importance,
• we do not talk honestly together about our beliefs and about the hard issues, and
• we do not challenge each other on our beliefs and on our manner of living.

Now the environment committee of Berkeley Friends Meeting has announced a series to ask what would be required of Friends for the environment to be considered a testimony, and to see where Friends are today.

In a minute approved by the Yearly Meeting in 2007, we agreed to a variety of actions, including:

Reducing meeting-wide, personal greenhouse gases at least 10% in the coming year through decreased driving, flying, and home energy use, and using efficient alternatives, for those able to do so

This will be the basis of the first in the series, time still tbd: How have our greenhouse gas emissions changed over the last year?

We have great hopes for the series. Besides testing whether and how the environment is a testimony, we hope as well to determine what small steps we can make, so ultimately our lives do testify to the importance of the environment.