I posted this in the "Christian Quakers" Facebook group, but wonder what the broader perspective of Friends is on this question. It’s a question about what our Witness should be in the 21st century. This is not an infrequent question, I realize, which is a good thing; to badly paraphrase the philosopher, the unexamined religious life is hardly worth the effort. And I also realize that the RsoF often loves to talk about the Quaker message that Christ has come to teach His people Himself, and that there is "that of God in everyone." And important as these messages were in their time (and still are), and as much as they continue to speak to the condition of many, there is an urgency in our time and I wonder if the Religious Society of Friends may have a particular role in speaking to that urgency. We live in an era when large scale State violence, though still very present, appears to be on wane while interpersonal, communal, and social violence, from the surveillance state to online bullying, is finding new venues in the technological age. A new "democratization of violence" is happening, as culture wars begin to look more and more like real wars. What might the Sprit require of us?


What do Friends think? Should Quakers seek to promote, to use the phrase of Adam Erickson of the Raven Foundation, "a hermeneutics of non-violence," in keeping with our Peace Testimony and historic witness, as our collective role and presence and purpose in the church of Christ in the world today? Should this include a willingness on the part of each one of us to examine and speak out against ALL forms of violence, in ourselves, in others, in our S/society, in our country, and in our world, whether inter-personal violence or cultural violence, whether in the form of militarism, or racism, or sexism, or classism, or economic exploitation, or religious prejudice, or any other form, whether historical by our ancestors or in ourselves today, whether blatant, or latent, or actively denied? Should this include a declaration and commitment to repent of our violence, to learn from it and turn from it, to listen and respect those who are victims of it, to be willing to follow the voice and the lead of those victims, to collectively and loudly speak out against any and all forms of violence? Should this include a rejection of the idea that just because we may think we are "peaceable people" or call ourselves descendants of peacemakers, or believe "we are not personally responsible for the past", we are NOT therefore inculpable of violence? Should we take these words of Jesus,

"For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with shedding the blood of the prophets,’ thus you have witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets"(Matt 23: 29b-31),

as applying to us today as surely and as much as to the religious elites of his day?

Views: 476

Comment by Dr. Samuel Mahaffy on 2nd mo. 14, 2014 at 11:01am

You speak my heart.  The Peace Testimony is more important today than ever before.  While the face of violence changes in some ways, our call to be peacemakers does not.  It is the heart of the Gospel message.  Let us also join with those outside the Quaker stream who are witnesses to peace.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 2nd mo. 14, 2014 at 11:34am

You say: "We live in an era when large scale State violence, though still very present, appears to be on wane" but I don't see that. The scale of our nation's overt violence may be in a temporary lull, but we continue to threaten to blow everyone up with our Bomb if we don't get our way; we collectively continue to torture and insist that it's the right thing to do; we keep right on killing inconvenient people with mechanical devices.... And our level of social violence against the poor  -- ie massive institutionalized theft on behalf of large financial institutions to the point of destroying our own real economy, while progressively stopping the payments many people need to survive legally in current conditions, locking up a significant fraction of our population for their role in the black markets that are their only real alternative to the degradation we deliberately impose as a condition of our abusive welfare arrangements... Abetting the corporate poisoning and destruction of the economic and social and --  actual underlying real environment our grandchildren will have to live in, if they can do so at all...

While not the only offender, our government remains a key player in encouraging the collective fear and readiness to turn to collective violence that has always been a feature of American society, as in William Stringfellow's remark about the Vietnam war -- that if it were to come to a sudden end, the Principality he called 'death' would still dominate the USian psyche.

When an activist friend of mine was locked up a few years ago and started talking to the people he found himself with there, he concluded that he'd always "been afraid of the wrong people."  That kind of misplaced fear -- leading to a misplaced reliance on State violence, whether overt or covert -- is probably one of the main places we need to look if we want to achieve any sort of social peace.

Comment by Randy Oftedahl on 2nd mo. 14, 2014 at 1:28pm

Quite right, Forrest; I was referring primarily to state-on-state violence, which I believe has diminished even as "intra-state" violence, as well as social and cultural violence, has increased. Certainly even this decrease in state-on-state violence is not due to some new found "non-violence" on the part of nation-states, but because it takes on more covert roles, and of course, more and more the nation-states simply exist as vassals of global capital and global capital requires its subjects to get along. (In my opinion this is one of the explanations for the continued rise in ever more sophisticated military weaponry when there really isn’t anyone to use it on).

The comment about "misplaced fear" was interesting. The irony is that those very same forces - the Powers and Principalities that both propagate and profit by violence - could not really care less what the actual target of that violence is, as long as the violence continues. (In other words, the Powers are okay with us transferring our violence inwardly, or amongst ourselves - it is all the same to them, as long as we keep it up and they keep profiting by it).

Comment by Jim Wilson on 2nd mo. 14, 2014 at 2:51pm

Lately I have given this topic a lot of thought.  My thinking about the Peace Witness in Quaker Faith and Practice is that it is a path, that one can approach the meaning of the Peace Witness gradually, step by step.  For example, you can start with a very gross understanding.  Something like are you willing to refrain from destroying every living person in a country or city?  Though this question may sound extreme, there are people for whom this would be an actual issue, people for whom even this first step would be problematic.

As one inquires into the meaning of the Peace Witness, it becomes more and more subtle.  I see the Peace Witness as a sense of restraint on impulses towards revenge, originating in anger. 

One exercises restraint in demolishing whole cities and countries, one restrains one's self from engaging in physical violence across a wide range of possibilities.  Then this grows into a sense of indirect participation so that one begins to question one's buying habits and issues such as participation in taxation that sponsors war arise.  For some Friends the Peace Testimony affects how they interact with food and other ordinary aspects of life.

I view the Peace Witness and Testimony as the heart of Quaker Faith and Practice; it is a principle that gives rise to all the other aspects of Faith and Practice.  And it is a practice and path with which one can continually engage.

Best wishes,


Comment by Randy Oftedahl on 2nd mo. 15, 2014 at 5:03am

I wonder sometimes if simply being known as a "Peace Church" is sufficient to the needs of the world today.  My question is whether we are ready, as individuals and as a church, to witness actively to an uncompromising commitment to  non-violence at all levels?  Announce it, organize around it, post it on our Meetinghouse doors and sign posts: "Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) - Witnessing to the Non-Violence Love of God".  I guess my question is: isn't there more we can do as Friends?

Comment by Olivia on 2nd mo. 15, 2014 at 9:49pm


Forrest spoke my mind, and Randy later, that there is still great, insidious violence in our immediate culture.    When I read the initial post I was also going to start my reply out with the same quote from the original  "We live in an era when large scale State violence, though still very present, appears to be on wane while interpersonal, communal, and social violence, from the surveillance state to online bullying, is finding new venues in the technological age."    I just can't feel the truth of the first part of that and do feel surrounded by systems of violence.  

I agree that for those who think that way, thinking that way is the only way that exists.   I remember once on a road trip that I had stopped in a hotel overnight and found myself by chance on an elevator with two soliders.   I had been carrying upstairs my copy of Herzog's The Peaceable Kingdom.   One of them asked me about it and I must have said it was a story of the early Quakers.  They looked at one another and one of them said emphatically "You must HATE us!!"

Even at the time that was a complete nonsequitur.  I thought:  do they really have no idea that we care about them and don't want them to die, or anyone else?   Do they really have no idea that we see war being not right for them, within themselves, that it is unhealthy and doesn't leave them spiritually well?     And that's the case, they have no idea.   They can only assume that Quakers hate them. 

I think what I've noticed as a most significant hole in some Quakers' understanding of the Peace testimony -- maybe a large number of Quakers in fact -- is some melding of Peace with the idea of speaking truth to power WITHIN US.   We focus frequently, without faltering on what must change in the wider world, and yet...at least among the Liberal Quakers there can be less of a sense that we can speak truth to ourselves, exercise a divine will power over our own "demons", sit in faith, instead of "in baggage".   We can flail around so sure that the world is going to hell and we can't do enough to save it, and we become tired, underfunded energy-wise, and overstressed.   Many are also good at having very complicated and somewhat manipulative emotional dynamics with other Friends.   As with a bad relationship, a certain number of Friends in relationship with the meeting end up leaving the meeting feeling that it was very insensitive or made them feel unsafe or unwelcome or unloved....     No ability to generate a true Unity.

I think about this fatigue, this drama, and the broken relationships....   and am so aware that if we would only find a willingness to speak truth to the power at work within ourselves, we would find our way to create Peace in our meeting.   I can feel that there surely must be no lasting good to come from the external work to the extent that the internal work is on the wrong foundation.  

This of course is not a black and white comment.  Many strong and grounded, peaceful Quakers have helped to move things toward the good over the years.  What I hate, if anything, is not the solders or the fools pressing buttons somewhere, but the squandered potential of "Children of the Light"who can remain far too ego-involved and separated from what has been handed to them with such innate grace:  this Light always within themselves, glad to orchestrate if they / we are willing to hurt with it a little while.

Saying no to violence is definitely saying yes to suffering without retaliating or expressing anger, as Jim suggested. I wish we would practice this more fully internally, for the good of the world.

Comment by Olivia on 2nd mo. 15, 2014 at 9:52pm

Ooops.  Got the name mixed up with someone else I know -- it's Jan de Hartog's Peaceable Kingdom, instead of my misspelled version above.

Comment by Randy Oftedahl on 2nd mo. 16, 2014 at 7:54am

Was it Werner Herzog you were thinking about, Olivia?  Certainly there is a lot to learn about  innate cultural violence in his films!

I agree with thee entirely.  I was hoping this was part of the point I was trying to make.  We cannot "hate" at all; yet we do.  We cannot remain aloft or try and disassociate ourselves from the violence of our culture; we are part of it and we benefit from it.  So how do we repent of it and call it out and build a counter-culture to it, and what, if anything, is the particular witness of our little Society of Friends in all this?  Or is this something we can only do "internally" or individually?  I don't have answers to these - only questions.

Comment by Linda J. Wilk on 2nd mo. 16, 2014 at 11:11am

All of you are speaking in concert with my mind, and I feel so weak in voicing the magnitude of this importance of this conversation. We are the "little Society of Friends,' and yet who better to take the stand.  Often I feel that we take up this peace issue or that, when at issue is whether we are willing as a Society to take back our Peace Testimony as a stance and examine ourselves as a Peace Church.  I have been musing over John Woolman's Plea for the Poor, in which he calls us to examine our very belongings for the fruits of war, and recently the AFSC statement of mission in which they hold themselves to the task of " nurturing the capacity of

individuals, communities, and societies to
sustain harmonious relationships based on
mutual respect and caring for the welfare of
Surely this is a tall order, as they go on to say they seek to reconcile with all enemies and serve the needs of all sides torn by violent strife.  This is a modern day stand on the peace testimony, and one I would wish I could stand with.  We, as Friends, have much more to offer the world as a community that stands strong in this manner, than all the small efforts we make combined.  How to do so as a united front is a quandry to me.
Comment by Linda J. Wilk on 2nd mo. 17, 2014 at 8:23am

I have posted a little more on this on my blog: http://coachingapeacefullife.blogspot.com/2014/02/should-we-stand-o...


You need to be a member of QuakerQuaker to add comments!

Join QuakerQuaker

Support Us

Did you know that QuakerQuaker is 100% reader supported? Our costs run to about $50/month. If you think this kind of outreach and conversation is important, please support it with a monthly subscription or one-time gift.

Latest Activity

Donn Weinholtz posted a blog post

Jesus Christ: MBA Has Arrived

Hello Friends.Months ago, I indicated that I would be releasing our book, Jesus Christ MBA: A…See More
Jen Chapin-Smith updated their profile
4th day (Wed)
Christopher Hatton replied to Jonathan Pilgrim's discussion 'Cyber meetings'
"I've really struggled with expectant-waiting worship online, with 1 exception (more later),…"
3rd day (Tue)
Christopher Hatton liked Forrest Curo's discussion Why Has It Needed To Be Like This?
3rd day (Tue)
Christopher Hatton updated their profile
3rd day (Tue)
Forrest Curo posted a discussion

Why Has It Needed To Be Like This?

'On Purim we acknowledge that God is disguised in the world and that the world itself is God's…See More
11th month 25
David Holdsworth updated their profile
11th month 25
Forrest Curo commented on Forrest Curo's blog post 'Where to Put Our Faith'
"To better say what this may mean to us -- It might be better to address God as 'Our Mothering…"
11th month 24

© 2022   Created by QuakerQuaker.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service