Finding A Path

A few Remarks Concerning Integrity
by Norma Heller


I began my spiritual journey as a Methodist.  In the Town of Westerly RI,   Methodists were known as the people with the newest, most modern church and the really cool minister named Reverend Love.   At least that’s what I imagined.  And, when Reverend Love was promoted to a bigger church and our church was assigned Reverend Hill who was shy, became easily red-faced and stammered a little, I figured the image of Methodists in Westerly took a bit of a hit that year. 

All this may have been just my imagination, but it certainly never occurred to me that the image of Methodists had anything to do with me.  I was not concerned in the least about behaving in a Method-like manner.  Reverend Hill may have had a different opinion, of course.

At any rate, when I became interested in Quakerism, the matter of image changed drastically.  We’re a small group with no minister, and anyone who knows one Quaker is probably above average.  If anyone knows me and knows I am a Quaker, well—what other basis does that person have to form an opinion?  So, I tend to be more self-conscious now.

George Fox is generally considered to be the founder of the Quaker movement.  he saids, “Let your lives speak.”  Our conduct should reflect our clearest understanding of the truth.  Of course, inevitably, our lives speak whether we let them or not.  So, this explains why Quakers spend time thinking about values and behavior and how well the two are getting along.  We hold sessions like this one, not because we think we have answers, but because we cannot avoid the questions.  And, we relish the opportunity to hear how others respond to these inevitable questions.

I have spent much of my membership here at Manasquan Meeting teaching Quakerism to children. When I have addressed “integrity” with young Friends, I have defined it as “doing what you believe is right no matter what.” Always telling the truth is an essential part of integrity, and it is this aspect of integrity which stands out in Quaker history.  Early Friends quoted Jesus’ commandment to “Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay.”  Jesus’ words suggest brevity.  Truth requires no embellishment. In 1694, George Fox said, “I was shown that my words should be few, savoury, and seasoned with grace.”

Like early Friends, Quakers today avoid taking oaths to tell the truth in special circumstances.  Believing that we should always tell the truth, Quakers often “affirm” rather than swearing to tell the truth under oath.  

Early Friends were mindful of integrity in conducting business.  In times when transactions reflected the slogan, “Let the buyer beware,” Quaker businessmen earned a reputation for honesty and fair-mindedness. 

John Woolman embodied integrity in its purest form.  A south-Jersey Quaker who lived and died in the 18th Century before the Revolutionary War, John Woolman was distressed by the fact that many of his Quaker neighbors owned slaves.  He traveled widely, often on foot, to visit Quaker slave owners and to plead with them to free their slaves.  Can you imagine accepting a warm welcome and a hearty meal from a Quaker family and then asking your kind host and hostess to free their slaves?  Not only did he summon the courage to carry out this mission, he was largely successful.  Quakers who initially resented his message were often deeply struck by his sincerity and conviction.

In  1775, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which is the umbrella organization for many of the Quaker meetings in Eastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, called on members to free their slaves and set up visitation for those who declined to do so.  This decision was inspired largely by the life work of John Woolman who had died from small pox three years previously.   

Friends Committee on National Legislation, or FCNL, is a national Quaker lobby.  It was founded in 1943 and has operated in Washington DC since then.  This organization is committed to promoting Quaker ideals in the legislative process.  FCNL functions in a remarkably apolitical manner.  Members of the organization focus on the purpose of legislation and not on the particular legislator who sponsors it.  FCNL never endorses candidates.  The committee regularly surveys monthly meetings to ascertain the issues that are of greatest concern to Friends and then supports Congressional proposals reflecting those concerns.  This unwavering, dedicated approach has earned the respect of members of Congress across the political spectrum and has illuminated FCNL as an example of integrity. 

Faith and Practice,
which is the guide to Quaker belief and conduct, contains queries to help us live according to Quaker principles.  The following query addresses integrity:

              Do our vocations provide constructive and beneficial service?  Do we observe integrity in our transactions?  Do we avoid               involving ourselves beyond our ability to manage?  Are we careful to conduct our affairs punctually, justly, and honorably?                Do we avoid participation in lotteries, betting, and gambling?

In our country today, it often feels as though hypocrisy is rampant and honesty is undervalued.   People are confused and even suspicious regarding dependable sources of information.  Can we speak the truth clearly, succinctly, and dispassionately? Can we find the courage to be guided by the moral compass of someone like John Woolman?  Can we let our lives speak integrity to a world sorely in need of it?

Finding A Path