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.

Views: 134

Comment by Rickey D. Whetstone on 12th mo. 8, 2010 at 10:37am

You have been . . . thinking . . . praying . . . on this subject . . . and I see a young man . . . searching for truth . . . with a pure . . . motivation.

I think the answer to your question . . . may be in the parable that Jesus taught . . . Matthew 13:30.

If you get the time to read Matthew 13:30 . . . tell me what you think?


Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 8, 2010 at 11:23am
Thee really cannot know, what is the "lesser" of two evils. Thee cannot control the outcome... and if thee thinks that doing one evil deed will somehow fix some other evil thee wishes to prevent-- Oy vey!

There is something in me that wants to "fight" evil. There is also the simple desire to have harmful conditions and practices corrected. There's a difference. If I think that "I" am needed to do harm to one person in order to help another, I'm fooling myself. (I may need to intervene in a situation. I may need to "confront" ["face"] one party, oppose him, say or do things that will downright annoy him. Which is how I came to have a confused young man following me with a large kitchen knife, yelling at me, sometime last year. But once his lady friend had gone off rapidly elsewhere, all I needed to do was to keep on leaving... Neighbors called the police, who arrived a little later, and I guess this is normal karma for people who abuse their mates & threaten strangers with knives; he probably did need a chance to sit & think awhile somewhere else, but that wasn't my decision to make.)

I'm not sure what Matthew 13:30 is supposed to suggest about all this... Let our thoughts develop until it's clear where each one leads, then keep the ones that work? (Are we to imagine that there are people who might need to be weeded out some day? That's an interpretation that works 'intellectually,' but not in light of God's nature and role in our existence...)
Comment by Rosemary Gould on 12th mo. 8, 2010 at 2:13pm
I agree with you, Brian, that the testimonies develop out of, as an expression of, the voice and action of God within us. But they do more than that. Once we begin to live them out, they nourish that attention to God in return. It's rather like the way a plant grows. The seed sprouts within the earth and the plant develops. Once the leaves arrive and stretch out under the sun, they feed the roots. In this way, a reciprocal relationship of mutual nourishment develops between the part of us that listens within and the part that acts out of Love in the world. Finally, when one acts in accordance with the Voice (rather than with an abstract testimony, a rule), one can see that something awakens in others who witness the act. Seeds are sown.

I also have wondered about the dominance of the peace testimony and the way it is understood as a general moral rule and one we should try to impose on others. On the other hand, I have no doubt that when skilled practitioners of nonviolent resistance act out of the promptings of the Spirit, extraordinary changes happen--in them, in those they resist, in everyone who witnesses those acts. I feel that that is a path worth following.

Comment by Brian Martin on 12th mo. 8, 2010 at 11:42pm
Very interesting bible passage Rick, I read 2 things from this 1) to root out the evil that does exist in this world by ripping it out would cause too much harm to the good things in this world. 2) Justice is carried out for all when we die.

It's an interesting question... When do we let go and let god, and when do we act, to be the voices and hands of god? This is where the leading of the spirit comes in. Although us Quakers are probably less likely to be inactive when there is a need for action, there is still a risk of falling into that trap. I've heard stories of Hindus who have refused to help others in need, because it's seen as disrupting that person's karma. Sometimes god may want us to administer justice, while at other times he may want to do that business himself. All we can do is listen.
Comment by Rickey D. Whetstone on 12th mo. 9, 2010 at 8:59am

I forgot to write . . . Jesus explains the parable in verses 37 to 43. Yes Brian . . . you are correct . . . the answer is . . . listen to the voice of God. When we desire only the voice of God . . . we will be on the correct path to eternal life.

Many Jews . . . wanted Jesus to kick the Romans out of Palestine . . . the Romans were killing Jews all the time . . . however that was not in God's plan. Many events that we think are terrible . . . are in God's plan for mankind. If we think we know what is right and what is wrong . . . we have just fell into the ditch . . . like the blind leading the blind . . . as Jesus spoke about.

When the leaders of Israel persecuted the early church for worshiping a new God. The greatest Jewish teacher . . . told his fellow Jews . . . you may find yourself . . . fighting against God . . . when you think you are doing right . . . leave them alone . . . if their movement is not of God it will die.

We are commanded to Love Everyone. If we are not driven by love . . . we will always be wrong.

We are to sit God's feet . . . until God . . . makes our enemies his foot stool.

If . . . we know God . . . we will run to sit at his feet . . . and be his foot stool.

We were some ones' enemy . . . at one time or another . . . were we not.

Life is a test . . . to see how much we will love . . . it is not a test to see how many we can persuade to obey rules . . . regulations of logic . . . mans thinking of correct living in peace.

The more we love . . . the greater our dominion will be in the next life.
Comment by Richard B. Miller on 12th mo. 10, 2010 at 10:35am

I think you are bothered because you are interpreting the peace testimony as a philosophy rather than as testimony.   Testimonies arise from our experience not our thinking.  Especially not our rational thinking about what ifs.    The peace testimony, to put it briefly in my own words is this:  I have experience of being led by Christ.  In my experience God always leads me to do peaceful things not violent things.  I am confident that in whatever situation I should find myself in God would lead me to do peaceful things.  Quakerism isn't a philosophy; it is experiential religion.

Comment by Rickey D. Whetstone on 12th mo. 10, 2010 at 9:04pm


Why are  many Quakers arrested . . .  while protesting  . . .  if they are driven to do peaceful things?   

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 10, 2010 at 9:43pm

Why did Jesus get arrested? His protests presumably frightened a great many people who wanted to preserve an extremely non-peaceful social order, one in which they enjoyed their position of personal safety at the expense of other people's suffering. Some contemporary situations are very much like that.

Comment by Matthew S. on 12th mo. 11, 2010 at 2:15am

This is a quote I love from Martin Kelley:


"But for all of their contemporary centrality to Quakerism, the testimonies are only second-hand outward forms. They are not to be worshipped in and of themselves. Modern Friends come dangerously close to lifting up the peace testimony as a false idol–the principle we worship over everything else. When we get so good at arguing the practicality of pacifism, we forget that our testimony is first and foremost our proclamation that we live in the power that takes away occassion for war. When high school math teachers start arguing over arcane points of nuclear policy, playing armchair diplomat with yearly meeting press releases to the State Department, we loose credibility and become something of a joke. But when we minister to the Power is the Good News we speak with an authority that can thunder over petty governments with it’s command to Quake before God."


Forrest generally speaks my mind on this, but I like that Brian is questioning the cookie-cutter, overbearing status of the Peace Testimony.


Comment by Rickey D. Whetstone on 12th mo. 12, 2010 at 10:35am



Jesus was arrested because he healed sick people on the holy day of rest.  And   Jesus taught people about God in the temple area.   Remember the Roman leader found no problem in the life of Jesus.   The old testament prophet said this about Jesus  . . . he will not cry out in the street  and he will not put out a smoldering wick.     



In the time of Jesus . . .  many Jews protested against the Romans . . . as a result . . . the protesting Jews were arrested and punished by the Romans. 



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