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

  •  …I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars…I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were.

.1660 Peace Declaration

  • ‘He that taketh the sword shall perish with the sword.’
  • …Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, therefore do not his servants fight, as he told Pilate…
  • …the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons…
  • Because the kingdom of Christ God will exalt, according to the promise, and cause it to grow and flourish in righteousness.
  • …by the Word of God’s power and its effectual operation in the hearts of men, the kingdoms of this world may become the kingdoms of the Lord…
  • …since we owned the truth of God; neither shall we ever do it, because it is contrary to the spirit of Christ, his doctrine, and the practice of his apostles…
  • …which Lamb hath redeemed us from the unrighteous world, and we are not of it, but are heirs of a world in which there is no end and of a kingdom where no corruptible thing enters.


  •  Whoever can reconcile this, ‘Resist not evil’, with ‘Resist violence by force’ …may be supposed also to have found a way to reconcile God with the Devil etc…. it is impossible.

 Letter from London YM 1744

  •  We entreat all…to be faithful to that ancient testimony, borne by us ever since we were a people…
  • …we may demonstrate ourselves to be real followers of the Messiah…

 Issued by (?) YM 1804,1805 (Napoleonic Wars)

  •  …transcendent excellency of peace
  • Some people then must begin to fulfil the evangelical promise, and cease to learn war any more.
  • …while any of us are professing to scruple war, they may be…inconsistent with that [Gospel] profession!
  • …we can serve our country…nor more acceptably to him [God]…than by contributing …to increase the number of meek, humble, and self-denying Christians.

 Epistle Issued by (?) YM 1854 (Crimean War)

  •  …war is incompatible with the plain precepts of our Divine Lord and Lawgiver, and with the whole spirit and tenor of His Gospel…
  • …the paramount allegiance which they owe unto Him who hath said ‘Love your enemies.’
  • …His peace…will be won by those who follow him in repentance and willingness to forgive.

 Richmond Declaration of Faith 1887

  • ...all war is utterly incompatible with the plain precepts of our divine Lord and Law-giver, and the whole spirit of His Gospel
  • ...allegiance they owe to Him who hath said, "Love your enemies"
  • ...exigencies of civil government and social order may be met under the banner of the Prince of Peace, in strict conformity with His commands

 Statement by New Zealand YM 1987

  •  …no end could ever justify such means.
  • …everyone needs [vision of peace] to survive and flourish on a healthy, abundant earth.
  • …there is that of God in every one which makes each person too precious to damage or destroy.
  • While someone lives there is always the hope of reaching that of God within.
  • …we would rather suffer and die than inflict evil in order to save ourselves and what we hold dear.
  • …the insane stockpiling of nuclear weapons could…destroy everyone and everything we value…
  • What we advocate is not uniquely Quaker but human and, we believe, the will of God.

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Comment by Robben Wainer on 2nd mo. 22, 2015 at 7:56pm

I feel that my making a peace testimony is as difficult as being a Quaker is. The faith speaks to a spirit of original nature, to original man, of original birth. I believe that my praying for my enemies is that of seeing through the similarities and differences in values, of competition and discrimination, to teach us, and to mold, or to form with us a humane spirit that is also divine, so that we are blessed by a creator whose heaven awaits those of his people who speak of his will, and which is alive and also of the Earth. It is preservational, not conservatavism which speaks to the understanding that the word of God is alive in his intention to show us the wa, and the path to freedom, enlightenment and awakening.

Comment by Joan Gunn Broadfield on 2nd mo. 23, 2015 at 1:31pm

Jerry Frost said to me when I visited Chester River Meeting as a 'peace and justice coordinator' for PYM:  Did you know that 20th century Friends invented the peace testimony?

I love that statement! I also find it surprising and probably accurate.  If you look at the advices of Friends in the 1800s, you will undoubtedly be shocked by the meansoundingness of them... and the fact that WAR is mentioned (as in, we should not prepare for war, etc)... I'll have to look again, but if I remember correctly, peace is not even mentioned.  (There are references to the peace of Christ, etc, in other writings of the period.)

I have real problems with the fracturing of what it means to have one's life speak. And when we move the socalled 'spices' from an educational realm to a spirit realm, we dilute our faith in continuing revelation. We lean on the energy of creed.

All the statements mentioned here are quite amazing statements of faith. By definition they cannot be my peace testimony, because they are not my life.

Testimony for early Friends was a habit that spoke to an honoring of what God required in their lives. The Declaration was never a peace testimony. It was a letter declaring Truth to the King.

I prefer to think of our values in the language of SPICES... not so different, are they, from values in other faiths? But we believe we are called to live these values, to let our lives speak, to give testimony. That is powerful.

Comment by Johan Maurer on 2nd mo. 27, 2015 at 8:10pm

R.W. Tucker's "Revolutionary Faithfulness" remains worth reading as part of this discussion.

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 2nd mo. 28, 2015 at 9:27am

Thank you for this reference, Johan. I have read the article through once and have found it full of ideas that require reflection and integration. A second reading is in order! Since the link to Tucker's article did not appear in the QQ post of your comment (it only showed up in the email notification), I will post the link here, as I think there may be some others who would like to read this: Maurers.org/revolutionary.htm

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 3rd mo. 6, 2015 at 11:06am

I appreciate having had the opportunity to read  R.W.Tucker's "Revolutionary Faithfulness." It is so full of ideas that I've seen played out (unconsciously) in Liberal meetings over the past few decades, and I can't begin to do justice to his thought  in this comment, or even if I wrote a separate blog piece.

However, his central idea is to present the "fundamental difference between religiously motivated revolution, and revolution in terms of a secular ideology." The secular ideology he focuses on is Marxism, which he calls "humanism in revolutionary guise." The "religiously motivated revolution[aries]" were found, of course, in early Quakerism, which was "prophetic, catholic, and revolutionary." (Tucker quotes Lewis Benson there, and elsewhere.) Tucker examines the different aims of the two types of revolutionary impetus intending to answer whether  the two can be integrated for the purpose of achieving social justice aims, a goal of value to both. (This is the point of connection with my blog post which presented various positions [some humanist, some religious] arriving at the same outward activity of refusing to engage in war.) 

One passage in Tucker's essay that I especially like follows:

"Man is the measure of all things" is a phrase the Marxists have borrowed from Protagoras. They interpret it to mean that the purpose of revolution is to put man in control of his own fate. It is impossible to overstate how basic this concept is to Marxist thinking....Christians must say "Yes, and no" to this sort of humanist concern. Man is not the measure of all things. Sanctified man is the measure of all things. That is, Christ is the measure. And it is Christ whom we seek to put in control of our fate.

And here's another near the end of the essay:

Once we offered the world a revolutionary vision. Now we offer it a tactic for solving one of its problems, a tactic that often doesn't work. Once we thought of ourselves as a people of God. Now, in Lewis Benson's phrase, "the rich suburban Friends Meeting has become merely a form of do-it-yourself Protestantism." Once we yearned to serve the Lord, Now we conform ourselves to a Philosophy of Nonviolence. Once our purpose was to be the sort of people who love other people. Now we aim to apply creative nonviolence to conflict situations.

The first Friends stormed the Kingdom as though it were the Bastille. New Christian behavioral patterns, new social and political and economic insights were spun off as a byproduct. A new Quaker movement in the same spirit would of course be pacifist, but pacifism would not be the highest principle to which everything else had to be subordinated, any more than it was to our forebears. The central principle was and should be faithfulness, private and corporate, and its corollary, an openness to the unexpected.  (R.W. Tucker)


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