The Testimony of Equality is the Quaker belief that all people are created equal in the eyes of God. This Testimony has prompted Quakers to participate in actions that promote the equality of the sexes and the races, as well as other classifications of people.
Like the other Quaker testimonies, the Testimony of Equality is not a fixed and formalized creed. Rather it is the expression of the practices and principles of Friends that gradually emerged. It is open to modification by Friends as they meet together and receive guidance from the Spirit of Christ.
Quakers, or Friends as they call themselves, believe that since all people embody the same divine spark all people deserve equal and fair treatment.
Equality of the sexes
- See also Quaker views of women
Friends were some of the first to value women as spiritual ministers. Elizabeth Hooton was possibly the first person to be convinced by George Fox and was an outspoken and daring preacher during the earliest days of the movement. Margaret Fell was another early leader of the Friends movement. The first two people who went to what is now the United States to promote the Quaker Faith were Mary Fisher and Ann Austin.
At one time it was common for male and female Quakers to have separate Meetings for Business. This practice gave the women more power and was not meant to demean them. During the 1700s, some Quakers felt that women were not participating fully in Meetings for Business as most women would not "nay-say" their husbands. The solution was to form the two separate Meetings for Business. Many Quaker meeting houses were built with a movable divider down the middle. During Meetings for Worship, the divider was raised. During Business meetings the divider was lowered, creating two rooms. Each gender ran their own separate business meetings. Any issue which required the consent of the whole meeting—building repairs for example—would involve sending an emissary to the other meeting. This practice continued until there was no longer a concern over whether women would "nay-say" their husbands; some very old meetinghouses still have this divider, although it likely is nonmovable.
In addition, many of the leaders in the women's suffrage movement in the United States in the 19th century were drawn from the Quakers, including Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott.
Friends also eventually became leaders in the anti-slavery movement, although a realization of the wrongness of slavery did not develop for almost a century. In the 1700's John Woolman began to stir the conscience of Friends concerning the owning of slaves. Some, such as Benjamin Lay, used immoderate tracts and shock tactics to encourage speedy rejection of both slave ownership and participation in the slave trade.
In 1776, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (the most important yearly meeting in USA at the time) prohibited members from owning slaves, and on February 11, 1790, Friends petitioned the U.S. Congress for the abolition of slavery. American Friends were prominent participants in the Underground Railroad, a transportation network for sending escaped slaves to freedom.
Humane treatment of the mentally ill
Quakers were among the first to pioneer humane treatment for the mentally ill, with The Retreat, in York, England, an asylum set up by William Tuke (1732–1822) as a reaction to the harsh nature of 18th century asylum care.
Humane treatment of prisoners
In the 19th Century Elizabeth Fry and her brother, Joseph John Gurney campaigned for the humane treatment of prisoners. Fry went into prisons herself to provide food, blankets, education, and other assistance to the prisoners. They were able to persuade members of Parliament to pass reform legislation to improve prison conditions. They also were able to influence legislation that reduced the number of crimes that were punishable by death.
In the Eric Baker took part in the founding of Amnesty International, a human rights group primarily focused on the treatment of those in prison and those accused of crimes. It is not directly connected with the Religious Society of Friends but upholds the same ideals as the Testimony of Equality.
- Quaker views of homosexuality
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