I had a conversation the other day with a good friend of mine about Quakers. One of the problems he had that we discussed was the peace testimony and pacifism. I was quite understanding as I’ve had problems and confusion with the peace testimony at times myself, but the main confusion with my friend was the difference between pacifism and just being passive. Etymologically they have different roots, pacifism coming from the latin word pacificus literally meaning “peacemaking” whereas passive comes from the latin passivus meaning “submissive”.
For me, the Quaker idea of pacifism isn’t about being submissive at all, or simply not doing anything, or saying in the face of violence, “Oh well, I’m a pacifist which means that while all of you are out dying in the field I’m gonna sit at home and watch TV.” I’ve know pacifists like this, who shun violence more out of personal fears and terror than out of a sense of compassion for all people.
As a Quaker the peace testimony is a call to actively find an alternative to violence. It’s not about avoiding violence, but facing it when it comes and saying, “With love I will not fight fire with fire.” For me being a pacifist is much harder than fighting, because it means that I have to show compassion to everyone, even those who may be doing me harm or worse, harming those in my life who I love. Being a pacifist isn’t about saying, “War is a no-no!” but it’s about taking up the radical understanding that war cannot solve any of our problems so I am going to personally find an alternative to violence in my life and become one of those patterns that George Fox talked about, for the world around me.
After explaining most of this to my friend I think he had a better idea of who we are as Quakers, or at least I hope he did. We may be pacifists but we’re certainly not passive, our love is meant to be active in the world around us, and though we may stand as silent witnesses, to those who have been convinced, that silence is more powerful than any weapon ever made by the servants of violence.