Truth and integrity is one of our Quaker testimonies. Sometimes it is expressed as the one, sometimes as the other, sometimes both. Over the last few years I have felt it speak more to me ever more strongly – partly because of the current political climate, and partly because of the twin cores of 'truth' and 'integrity'.
I have been privileged to be on Yearly Meeting Agenda Committee (YMAC), which is the body which sets the agenda for Yearly Meeting. In practice this means listening to representatives from other committees and parts of Quakerism in Britain, noticing the connections between what different groups are doing and thinking, and pulling at the threads. Eventually, with much discussion, we find a path to an agenda which feels right.
When we started considering which topics could feature in the 2023 Yearly Meeting, truth and integrity was raised by more than one person.
These were nebulous ideas, a set of questions and anxieties rather than a clear call to action. The idea persisted, and throughout our YMAC meetings we heard truth and integrity. Sometimes it appeared through the lens of our own inner convictions, sometimes in the systems and structures we sought to change, and sometimes in the people with whom we worked. At Yearly Meeting in 2022 the call to truth and integrity could be heard through the ministry about telling the full history of Quaker involvement in slave trading, well after Britain Yearly Meeting had discerned that this was contrary to 'gospel order'.
A crisis in democracy
YMAC spoke to the Quaker Truth and Integrity Group about what they saw as important. While we all had slightly different approaches (show me a group of Quakers where that isn't true…) there was much common ground. We see a crisis in our democracy and a decline even in trust in the facts upon which politics must be based. This is our wider community, and we cannot (should not, must not) shut ourselves away. We are called to speak truth to power, whether that truth be irrefutable facts or nuanced perspectives shaped by personal experience.
The political world includes people who spread outright lies and misinformation, and who thrive on the chaos they create. There is a difference between those with whom we disagree honestly, and those who act in bad faith. Truth is powerful, but sometimes can be too blunt an instrument and fail to account for the sheer complexity of reality. Integrity makes the connection between an individual and their actions. Democracy rests on openness, transparency, and in individuals doing what they believe to be in the best interests of the community.
Truth and integrity in our witness
Our testimony to truth and integrity is also a warning about not always believing in absolutes. The world is a complex place, and not all those who share our views on the desired end result will agree with us on the means of getting there. Some may make misleading statements to promote a worthy cause, while others who disagree with the goal may act with real integrity. Sticking to a truthful process is hard, and Quakers aren't always in the right – we need to remember that we can be mistaken. It is useful to recognise where we have room for improvement, as well as avoiding an 'us and them' binary.
Listening to others who share our concern is an important step towards practical measures we can take to address these problems. There are politicians of all parties who do much good in the world and we should consider their views carefully. The call for truth and integrity is greater than Quakers. This year, perhaps we can start considering how we move forward.
For those interested in further exploration, YMAC have organised a workshop as a part of the preparation for engaging with the topics of Yearly Meeting 2023. This is an open session, you don't have to be booked onto Yearly Meeting to attend. The workshop introduces what truth and integrity mean in the context of our Quaker testimonies and explores how we can use truth and integrity in our witness and worship. How do we demonstrate truth and integrity in our lives? How do we root our political action in truth and integrity?