Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
A few months ago, as I went about exploring the Quaker blogosphere for the first time, I came across an blog post written by a Friend on what I think was on the quakerquaker.org website (I cannot seem to find it now). In it, she states something like this: “The peace testimony is not one of the Quaker testimonies, it is the Quaker testimony” (my emphasis). Lately, I've also been reading some articles lately about the general decline of our religion overall, including Benjamin Lloyd's Pendle Hill pamphlet titled “Turnaround,” where he talks about the perplexing situation where there are apparently many people that would identify with our Quaker beliefs, and yet, for some reason, Quaker membership continues to decline. I am hit with the thought that these two phenomena could in fact be related.
Meaningful and fulfilling relationships, weather they be with individual people, a group, and even an idea, needs both breadth and depth. In forming this relationship, we need to know how this person or thing interacts with various other things within our world (breadth), but also it's complexities, ways of working, and contradictions (depth). While I have no doubt that we could all spend our entire lives learning about the true meaning of peace, I do have doubt that Quakerism, as both an internal spiritual approach and experience and as an organization within this world, has enough breadth and depth if it were to stand on the pillar of peace alone. Any time that a religious group, or any kind of group for that matter, becomes overly focused on one idea, on one direction, that group, and the experience of being a part of that group, begins to lack depth.
This got me to do some self reflection on my own personal Quaker belief structure. Do I think there is a main testimony? Well sort of, not to sound wishy-washy. To me, being a Quaker begins in the same place it began for George Fox. The idea that God, Jesus, the divine is available to everyone without intermediaries. This is what put shivers down my spine as I was first reading that Wikipedia article on the religious society of friends (and discovering that Quakers are not the Amish). That to me, is the first layer of being a Quaker, it's our bedrock. Our testimonies then, could be considered to be our building materials, to use a house analogy. All of the building materials are needed to build this Quaker house, for certain. But I also think that many of us come to emphasize one or two of the testimonies over the others. For me, the integrity testimony is the foundation that lays on the bedrock. It is the goal of complete honesty and transparency with myself, god, and others, in my thoughts, words, and actions.
The peace testimony is the one part of being a Quaker that I feel in conflict about. I truly believe in peace as a way of life. It is something that is part of the essence of god, and should be strived for throughout our lives. However, I do have a confession to make: I am not a complete pacifist. I do believe that there are certain extreme circumstances where war is necessary, because it is the lesser of the two evils. There is a scenario in my mind that sometimes plays when I contemplate the peace testimony. I imagine myself transported back in time to the second world war, to some place in the vicinity of one of the Nazi concentration camps. I know that executions of Jews are taking place on a regular basis. I have the ability to command a group of soldiers, and if I give the order, we would all fight to take over the camp, and liberate the Jews there. I would not enjoy the battle one bit, for I know that the people I am killing also have god within them. But I also know that in my heart, I could not live with myself if I did not act to preserve the lives and well beings of the defenseless people imprisoned there, who also have god within them.
I have no illusions that me engaging in a military battle in this hypothetical situation would really solve any of the real causes that led to, and maintain the war. On the contrary, there is a chance it would make those causes worse. War brings us to a place that is harmful to both our bodies and our spirit. It will likely motivate the Nazis to further justify their actions. If there were not a catastrophe willfully being carried out, a fully peaceful approach is surely the right path to take, but this approach takes time, and I am simply not comfortable with waiting for them to wake up spiritually, and turn away from violence and war. To wait is to let a great evil to continue to occur, when action is capable of putting an end to it. To me, war would only be justified when genocide, torture, or enslavement is happening on a large scale.
There is a legitimate concern that allowing any circumstance to justify war is akin to opening the Pandora’s box, and that we would become comfortable with war as an easy way out of complex problems, or even worse, so we can have power over others. But if we remain grounded in seeing that of god in everyone and in trusting god to show us the best way forward, then the way will be shown to us. One of the biggest casualties in war is that people very quickly begin to see their enemy as less than human. Remembering that god is in those we would be fighting in these types of extreme situations would be instrumental in making sure that we don't engage in our own atrocities, and that we only go far enough to stop the atrocity at hand.
Then, after any war, comes the process of rebuilding. Buildings and roads must be reconstructed so that everyone can return to a stable way of life. Spirits must also be rebuilt, the pain of loss along with the trauma of violence must be healed just like the physical wounds must be bandaged.