Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
About a decade ago, I was curious about the reasons for the peace testimony and whether they had changed over time, and so I read a number of statements from different yearly meetings and other corporate bodies of Friends that had been written over the centuries. The list of excerpted reasons follows below.
This exercise came to mind when I read Jim Wilson's blog post "Why I am not a Progressive Quaker." I share Jim's dislike of the "hyper-individualism which has led to the fragmentation of the Quaker tradition." Having done this exercise, however, I placed the beginning of the problem further back in time than the Progressives' alterations. Many of the excerpts from the writings of corporate bodies, although still exhibiting group solidarity, put their reason for peace elsewhere than in transcendent authority--known directly--of original Quaker faith; this shift is long before the advent of individualism but, I think, led to it.
Tracking the motivation behind the peace witness, I saw that the loss of the transcendent basis of the faith could go unnoticed, because in many of these excerpts the secondary values of the faith tradition are conveyed, such as regard for Scripture, devotion to the historical Jesus as a model or example, or respect for Friends heritage. These secondary values have motivated Friends to adhere to a peace witness. The original faith is given tribute but not manifested.
With the tradition's loss of its transcendent reference, the move away from group solidarity to individualism would've been a natural sequence. After all, individual experience is real for everybody; thus--so the reasoning might go--everyone could be expected to agree to it as the ultimate authority.
Few of the excerpts below present the original basis of the peace witness that is evidenced in George Fox's initial statement, which shows an immediate knowledge of the virtuous power lifting him out of the temptation to engage in war and strife. By contrast, many of the subsequent statements identify principles from Scriptures as the basis for rejecting war. Other excerpts show a peace witness based upon following Jesus's commands as given in Scriptures, or following his example. For some, witness results from identification with Friends of the past who were people of peace. Some find their witness validated by idealism, some pragmatic consideration, and some by sentiment.
I once asked an old Quaker minister whose life work had been the study of first- generation Friends when our Society had begun its spiritual decline. "Was it in the '60s when so many peace activists came in; or earlier, in the nineteenth century with the Great Separation, or was it some other time?" Without missing a beat, he replied, "1691."
Many Friends will know that 1691 was the year that Fox died. Now we don't have to harness our spiritual hopes to one engine of a human being, and Fox would be the first to say so. But we do need to find the spirit that enlivened Fox and gave rise to the Quaker tradition.
Reasons for Peace Testimony
1651 George Fox statement
.1660 Peace Declaration
Letter from London YM 1744
Issued by (?) YM 1804,1805 (Napoleonic Wars)
Epistle Issued by (?) YM 1854 (Crimean War)
Richmond Declaration of Faith 1887
Statement by New Zealand YM 1987