Friends World Committee for Consultation - Europe & Middle East Section

Panel Presentation: Being Faithful Witnesses to our Friends Peace Testimony: Serving God in a Changing World

Contents

3. Our Peace Testimony: What Now?

Lonnie Valentine is a member of Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting and a professor of peace studies at Earlham College, a Quaker university located in Richmond, Indiana, in the United States.

May the words I speak be what God would have me speak,
May you Friends hear in these words what God would have you hear.

As the observer to this Friends World Committee for Consultation triennial from the Earlham School of Religion, I give thanks for the invitation to be present with all of you. I believe that the Earlham School of Religion (ESR) and FWCC share much in our mission to Friends and to the world.

Hear this from our Peace Testimony:

We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fighting with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world…The Spirit of God by which we are guided is not changeable… the Spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any with outward weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ nor the Kingdoms of this world.1

What does this, our Peace Testimony, tell us about how to be faithful witnesses, seeking to serve God in this changing world?

The Peace Testimony of Friends presented to King Charles II in 1660 combined two claims.

First, this statement saw Jesus as one who renounced violence and called upon his disciples to do the same. Jesus was a conscientious objector. Jesus taught love for all, even enemies. So, Jesus was the model for Quaker peacemaking.

Second, this statement confessed this Jesus as the Christ, the Spirit to whom Friends gave witness. Peacemaking was the deep desire of the human heart; Jesus was fully human. But also, Jesus was the Christ, the one who revealed the desire for peace in the heart of God.

Early Friends did not come to this Peace Testimony easily, and neither will we. Before the Peace Testimony, Friends had participated in the Puritan army, and even Fox had urged the army to purify England and the world for the Kingdom of God. However, these early Friends were opened to a new way in the midst of their intense inward and outward struggle.

They came to hold that it was “the Spirit of Christ” that had guided them into the “practice” of peace. This Spirit “moves” them “to seek peace and pursue it… doing what tends to the peace of all.” This “yes” to peace-making, however, implied a “no” to war. No more would Friends fight with “outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretense whatsoever.”

That is, Friends understood their conscientious objection to war to be both the way to peace and the witness that was revealed to them by the Spirit of Christ. Therefore, from the beginning of the Religious Society of Friends, we brought together Christian witness with conscientious objection and active peacemaking. Because Jesus is the Christ, refusal to participate in war was given to Friends as their witness to the whole world by God. To be faithful witnesses to this is one fundamental service to God in our changing world.

However, we know that Friends have not always been faithful to what was given to them. We do all fall short of the glory of God. We need to reclaim the commitment to our Peace Testimony and we do that as the Spirit of Christ moves us. To lose the Peace Testimony or Christ is to forget the guidance we have been given.

On the one hand, some Friends have seen the great pain that some Christians have inflicted upon the world, including upon Quakers. This has led some to reject Jesus as the Christ, rather than seeing how Christ has been distinctly experienced and understood by Friends. Remember, early Friends were NOT seen as good Christians in their day. We may be heretics to some Christians, but not to Christ if we are faithful witnesses.

On the other hand, some Friends have seen peacemaking as only a human wish, unconnected from the saving work of Christ. This is, of course, the majority view throughout Christian history and today as well. However, this was not how early Friends understood the refusal to fight and their commitment to seek peace. Those Friends saw Jesus as the Prince of Peace and the risen one who led them to this witness.

So, what now?

In New Zealand, the two sons of Thomas Mason reached the age for military service in 1864. There was no provision for conscientious objection by the government. However, the sons stuck by their understanding and their father explained the Peace Testimony to the commanding officer in Auckland. After some time, the commander agreed to give the boys indefinite leave of absence, though he stated that he “would not allow anyone but a Quaker to shelter himself under the same plea.” In writing his account of this incident, Thomas Mason said this: “Few seem able to understand the great law of Christianity—love to all. Would it were more greatly recognized. How different then would the relations of the settlers and natives be.”

In this story, I see all the elements of the Friends Peace Testimony woven into one unified witness.

First, conscientious objection is the witness for Friends, no matter how unacceptable the world—or other Christians—finds it. We need to evangelize for peace to Christians and the world.

Second, such refusal to fight is based in the “great law of Christianity—love to all.” Peace is given by Christ, and so we are to serve this peace.

Third, Christian Quaker conscientious objection is the foundation for new peacemaking efforts in the changing world. The refusal to fight anyone is the foundation upon which we are to build peace.

The Peace Testimony of 1660 said that the Spirit of Christ guided Friends into the “practice” of peace. Today, in the very documents the FWCC provided for us at this triennial, we can see the tasks for us.

In our ecumenical work with the World Council of Churches, we can both give witness to our conscientious objection to war and also urge other denominations to support their own conscientious objectors. For example, in the United States, most denominations have issued statements in support of their members who believe conscientious objection to be part of their faith. However, not much is being done to educate young members of these denominations about conscientious objection. Friends can help.

The Quaker United Nations office in Geneva is currently working on the issue of conscientious objection as a human rights issue in the UN, seeking wider international recognition for conscientious objection. Each of us, and our Monthly and Yearly Meetings, can lend support to this effort.

Within Africa, there has been the appeal of Friends to urge the governments of Burundi, Rwanda and Congo to recognize conscientious objection. Friends must help these, our brothers and sisters.

Finally, within our Monthly and Yearly Meetings we need to support our own young people who wrestle with the issue of participation in war and the increasing militarization of society. Like Thomas Mason, we need to nurture and support young Friends as they face the demands of militarism.

In conclusion, for Friends, conscientious objection has been rooted in the view that Christ has led them to this unchangeable Truth. At the same time, Friends can adapt this witness to the changing world by working with other Christian confessions and internationally to promote conscientious objection. Most critically, however, we are first called to nurture among ourselves that Spirit of Christ that led early Friends to renounce all war.

Seek ye first the peaceable Kingdom of God.

Footnotes

1 Fox, George; The Journal of George Fox, John Nickalls, ed. Pp. 399-400, abridged. 1975, London Yearly Meeting.

Find a Meeting

Download free Acrobat Reader to view PDFs

Get Acrobat Reader

Member Login

Visit other FWCC websites: World Office | Africa Section | Asia & West Pacific Section | Section of the Americas