Peace and Non-Violence
The witness for peace is an affirmation of the divine Light in every human being. Christ teaches us to love our enemies. George Fox calls us to seek that of God in everyone. Warfare denies these teachings, denies the sanctity of human life.
God's essential nature is love. The church transcends all divisions of nationality, all prejudices and hatreds of nation for nation, and of class for class. We are called to respect all other persons, to love them as we love ourselves, to overcome evil with good, and to meet our enemies with positive good will.
Friends hold that it is inconsistent with these religious principles to participate in military service and have, therefore, sought exemption on grounds of conscience. But more than a mere refusal to participate in the military is required of the servant of peace.
We are called to root out the causes of war from our own lives and from the political and social structures about us. We must seek out and remove the seeds of hatred and greed. Instead of self-seeking, we must put sacrifice; instead of domination, cooperation. Fear and suspicion must give place to trust and the spirit of understanding. The barriers of race and class, of exaggerated notions of national sovereignty, must give way to a fellowship that makes all humanity a society of friends. Our peace testimony must be inclusive of the whole of life.
Spirit of Christ Leads Not to War
We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world. The spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight any war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.
George Fox: Journal, ed. John L. Nickalls 1952, pp. 399-400 (a declaration presented to King Charles II, 1661). The extract as printed is abridged and omissions are not indicated in the text.
Origin of the Peace Witness
Despite the fact that the Society of Friends developed in an age of violent revolution and has had a witness against war for all 7f its history, the origin of the peace witness did not start with a concern about war. The Quaker peace witness developed from a deep faith in the essential unity of mankind and the sacredness of each individual because of that "of God" or the "Inward Light" in each person comprising that unity.
Lawrence Scott: "Non-violent action and the Quaker peace witness," in No time but this present, 1965, p. 230.
That Life and Power That Takes Away the Occasion of War
My time being nearly out of being committed six months to the House of Correction, they filled the House of Correction with persons that they had taken up to be soldiers; and then they would have had me to be captain of them to go forth to Worcester fight and the soldiers cried they would have none but me. So the keeper of the House of Correction was commanded to bring me up before the Commissioners and soldiers in the market place; and there they proferred me that preferment because of my virtue, as they said, with many other compliments, and asked me if I would not take up arms for the Commonwealth against the King. But I told them I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars, and I knew from whence all wars did rise, from the lust according to James's doctrine.
Still they courted me to accept of their offer and thought that I did but compliment with them. But I told them I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were. And they said they offered it in love and kindness to me because of my virtue, and such like flattering words they used, and I told them if that were their love and kindness I trampled it under my feet.
Then their rage got up and they said, "Take him away gaoler, and cast him into the dungeon amongst the rogues and felons;" which they then did and put me into the dungeon amongst thirty felons in a lousy, stinking low place in the ground without any bed. Here they kept me a close prisoner almost a half year.
George Fox: Journal, ed. John L. Nickalls, 1952, pp. 64-5 (entry for 1651).
"I Did It From Principle"
During the American War of Independence, the Quaker whaling community on the island of Nantucket suffered heavily from both sides for their neutrality. William Rotch (1734-1828), one of their leaders, had in a disused warehouse a consignment of bayonets which had been taken from muskets which he had accepted twelve years earlier in payment of a debt, and sold as hunting pieces. In 1776 the bayonets were demanded from him by the Americans:
The time was now come to endeavor to support our Testimony against War, or abandon it, as this very instrument was a severe test. I could not hesitate which to choose, and therefore denied the applicant. My reason for not furnishing them was demanded, to which I readily answered, "As this instrument is purposely made and used for the destruction of mankind, I can put no weapon into a man's hand to destroy another, that I cannot use myself in the same way." The person left me much dissatisfied. Others came, and received the same denial. It made a great noise in the Country, and my life was threatened. I would gladly have beaten them into "pruning hooks," but I took an early opportunity of throwing them into the sea.
A short time after I was called before a Committee appointed by the Court then held at Watertown near Boston, and questioned, amongst other things respecting my bayonets.
I gave a full account of my proceedings, and closed it with saying, "I sunk them in the bottom of the sea, I did it from principle, I have ever been glad that I had done it, and if I am wrong I am to be pitied." The chairman of the Committee Major Hawley (a worthy character) then addressed the Committee, and said "'I believe Mr. Rotch has given us a candid account, and every man has a right to act consistently with his religious principles, but I am sorry that we could not have the bayonets, for we want them very much." The Major was desirous of knowing more of our principles on which I informed him as far as he enquired. One of the Committee in a pert manner observed "then your principles are passive Obedience and non-resistance." I replied, "No, my friend, our principles are active Obedience or passive suffering."
William Rotch: Memorandum written in the 80th year of his age, 1814, pp. 3-5.
Preparation for Peace
If any of us feel daunted, let us take heart. Remember that the Kingdom of God is within us and seek to reveal it. Remember that Jesus also said, according to Thomas, "The Kingdom is spread upon the earth but ye see it not" let us seek to see it. We must realize, that is, make real, these things in our lives and we shall have no fear and no doubts. No need to worry what to do. No need to feel that unless we are demobilising the armies or stopping the arms races or dismantling the multinationals, we are doing nothing. We never know what ripples spread from what seems the smallest action. Only let us be led by the spirit and we will vanquish the philosophy of death. This is the 'only preparation for peace.
Adam Curle: Preparation for peace (Gardner lecture, Canadian Y M.), 1980, p. 20.
A Higher Loyalty
We declare our faith in those abiding truths taught and exemplified by Jesus Christ that every individual of every race and nation, is of supreme worth; that love is the highest law of life, and that evil is to be overcome, not by further evil, but by good. The relationship of nation to nation, of race to race, of class to class, must be based on this divine law of love, if peace and progress are to be achieved. We believe in those principles, not as mere ideals for some future time, but as part of the eternal moral order and as a way of life to be lived here and now. War is a colossal violation of this way of life. If we are true to our faith we can have no part in it.
We affirm the supremacy of conscience. We recognize the privileges and obligations of citizenship; but we reject as false that philosophy which sets the state above the moral law and demands from the individual unquestioning obedience to every state command. On the contrary, we assert that every individual, while owing loyalty to the state, owes a more binding loyalty to a higher authority the authority of God and conscience.
Philadelphia Y. M.: Faith and practice, 1961, pp. 38-9. Statement adopted 1934.
Conscription of Tax Money
No person can decide for another what his or her witness shall be. But it has always been the practice of Friends to act upon the leadings of their consciences and to support each other in their right to do so. The conscription of tax money to build weapons of destruction is something that many Friends find immoral. William Penn, in refusing to send money to England for war with Canada, said, "No man can be true to God and false to his own conscience, nor can he extort from it a tribute to carry on any war, nor ought true Christians to pay for it." Therefore, we stand in loving support of any of our members who are called by conscience to oppose and refuse taxes that are to be used for military purposes.
Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative), 6-V111-83.
Alternative to Violence
Nationalism, sovereignty, conventional patriotism, are all breeders of war. It is the Quaker's concern to counter all these influences where he may to help his countrymen think non-nationally on international matters, to be inventive and patient in the search for alternative procedures, and to suggest by deed and word an alternative way.
A conspicuous example has been the foreign service of Friends in recent years. Two major wars and minor ones have made the need for physical aid tragically abundant. The British Friends Service Council and the American Friends Service Committee separately and together have intervened in these situations not out of humanitarianism alone but to give expression to the positive alternative to war. Their service is not part of the war effort. In this it differs sharply from the political use of food, clothing, and technical assistance to "win friends and influence people." Its aim is to be friends rather than to win friends. It is specially concerned to cross the frontiers of hatred, suspicion, and rivalry. Its disinterestedness is to be seen when it labors on both sides of a civil war, a world war, or a cold war. Only persevering years of such experience can establish to an incredulous enemy nation, past or potential, the distinctive character of Quaker service. Here is a language other than force that can be understood by Jew and Catholic, by Arab or Hindu, by persecutor and persecuted, by fascist and communist. In such service it is particularly true that "the gift without the giver is bare."
Henry J. Cadbury, "Peace and war" in The Quaker approach to contemporary problems, ed. John Kavanaugh, 1953, p. 17
The World Awaits Its Own Rebirth
The world is awaiting its own rebirth. With each new dawn, with each new day, the peoples of the earth have risen with the morning star, hoping that today will bring news of peace. Yet each day is a disappointment, as nations continue to arm, preparing for war, and looking upon their neighbors with hatred and suspicion.
Because of the incomparable evil presented by the threat of nuclear war, we are moved to bear a passionate witness for life and peace. As Christians, we believe that the example of Christ's life, death and rebirth requires among us and all peoples a rebirth of love and peace. So, with humility and hope, we seek to confront and overcome the evil of nuclear weaponry. We believe the presence of nuclear weapons in our midst threatens all of humanity and is incompatible with the life and living spirit of Christ.
Syracuse Monthly Meeting, February 1980.
Violence Can Exist in the Absence of War
A Call for Peacemaking must also be a call for promoting worldwide economic and social justice, including respect for human rights. Violence, we know, can exist even in the absence of war. Poverty-ridden, oppressed peoples are victims of economic violence. Peace is hollow without more equal sharing of the world's wealth and power.
Maynard Shelly: New call for peacemakers, 1979, p. 99.
Believing in the law of love, and striving to live "in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars," we in the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends are deeply opposed to war and the preparation for war, including military conscription and registration for conscription.
We know that many young people who are legally required to register for the draft hold strong moral scruples against war. We reaffirm our long-standing support for those, both Friends and non-Friends, whose consciences lead them to reject participation in the armed forces. We encourage them to follow their consciences, and we stand ready to help, to the best of our ability, with information, counselling, and spiritual and practical support.
New England Y. M., Minutes, 1980, p. 33.
God is at Work in Every Human Being
Many experiences in the post-war period gave me ever increasing certainty that hostility can at least be modified, even if not dissolved, in spite of the greatest conflicts in men's ideas, interests, even moral principles. There is an approachability in people, even in individuals in power, which in our weaker moments fear often prevents us from believing in. I repeatedly found confirmation of this during the Occupation, and often also still later, in transactions between East and West. The Soviet officers were of an age to have grown up in the thought-world of communism, so that there were no points of contact in Christian terms. But it was my experience again and again that when one approached them honestly, naturally, without aggression or fear, they reacted no differently than people brought up as Christians. It confirmed my faith that God is at work in every human being, as Quakerism teaches, even in a person who outwardly shows no hesitation in being hard or doing evil.
Margarethe Lachmund: With thine adversary in the way (Pendle Hill pamphlet, no. 228), 1979, p. 23.
Living Lives in the Power of Love
What matters is living our lives in the power of love and not worrying too much about the results. In doing this, the means become part of the end. Hence we lose the sense of helplessness and futility in the face of the world's crushing problems. We also lose the craving for success, always focusing on the goal to the exclusion of the way of getting there. We must literally not take too much thought for the morrow but throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the present. That is the beauty of the way of love, it cannot be planned and its end cannot be foretold.
Wolf Mendl: Prophets and reconcilers: reflections on the Quaker peace testimony, 1974, p. 102.
Peace is the Experience of Christian Love
We begin to feel energized and expansive; joy flows in us and through us. It touches others and some may join us in the witness. We no longer feel isolated or overwhelmed, for the witness lo peace is the experience of Christian love. It is that love made visible. Christ told us we must love God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind, and that we must live our lives in that love. This is why the Peace Testimony is at the very center of our faith.
Alan Eccleston: "Witnessing to peace for ourselves and for each other," Friends journal, October 1, 1980, p. 15.