Finding A Path

Testimony of Peace
by Jim Jones

      Over the past few weeks we have examined 3 other Quaker testimonies: Integrity, Community, and Equality.  Integrity involves a commitment to speaking the truth and having the courage to live in accordance with our beliefs; Community: being responsible members of our family, neighborhood, society, and the earth; and Equality: striving to see that every person receives the full measure of respect and opportunity available to others. These testimonies, along with the testimonies of Simplicity and Service, are meant to serve as interrelated guides to a Quaker way of life. 
            As we have previously discussed, the Religious Society of Friends does not have a set creed.  And while Quakers do not all agree on exactly who or what “God” is, Quakers do share the essential belief that there is “that of God” within every person. And Quakers believe that it is our moral responsibility to seek that of God in others, and to respond to it from that of God within ourselves.  The Quaker testimonies flow from this essential belief.  This is especially true of the Peace Testimony.
      The Peace Testimony was stated by the founder of Quakerism, George Fox, in 1661: “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever.  And this is our testimony to the whole world.” 
      Now, when some people hear this they might ask, “Do you mean that if terrorists were attacking Manasquan, you wouldn’t do anything to stop them?” or “If a robber invaded your home and was about to kill your child, you wouldn’t kill him first?”  It seems that today, our society only considers two options in dealing with our “enemies”: the so-called “realistic option” of confronting them with military force (troops, bombers, drones, and special ops); or the “naïve, ultra-liberal option” of pacifist wishful thinking, while not actually doing anything.   I hope that tonight you will see that Quaker pacifism offers a realistic and effective response to the violence gripping much of the world today; and that it can lay the groundwork for a stronger, more secure, and more peaceful world than the military approach the U.S. has been following in recent years. 
      The Religious Society of Friends is a peace church.  Many Quakers consider themselves pacifists, but it is not a litmus test to becoming a Quaker.  It is more a matter of personal convincement.  Many Quakers, as conscientious objectors, have refused to fight in wars from the Revolutionary War through Vietnam.  Often they served in the medical corps.  However, some Quakers felt led to fight in those wars, and declined to follow the Peace Testimony.   Years ago, those Friends might have been disowned by their Quaker Meeting, but in modern times Meetings have generally been more forgiving than punishing.  
      So, what does the Peace Testimony really mean, and how does it offer us a path forward in these troubled times.  Here’s how.  The thrust of the Peace Testimony is NOT in the refusal to participate in war or physical conflict; rather, it is in how it requires Quakers to live.  George Fox told Friends that they should… “live in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars.”  But how does one live in a way that takes away the occasion for war
      The seeds of war are deep, they are sown and watered by the way we live, the way we treat others, by the ways society handles persistent problems, insecurities, and legitimate grievances. They are sown long before the fighting starts. They include:
Greed –seeking more and more of the world’s resources and amassing wealth, while leaving others hungry and desperate.
Duplicity – Claiming to support freedom, while supporting allies who deny it to their own people.
Willful Neglect – Failing to address tough problems with proactive and costly solutions, allowing them to fester into crises and conflict.
Militaristic Shortsightedness – Seeking to solve complex social problems with simplistic military solutions, while ignoring the root causes of those problems: inequality, poverty, oppression.     

      Reversing these systemic “seeds of war” is difficult.  It requires that we, as a nation, acknowledge the mistakes we have made, that we relinquish our sense of entitlement and our claim to moral superiority.  It requires that we seek reconciliation with those we have harmed, and work to correct our mistakes.  It requires that we stop using our military and economic power for our selfish advantage.   It requires that we expend time, effort, and money for the benefit of others; that we share what we have; that we serve others.  Yes, it is difficult.  But it can also be transforming.  To me, it sounds like what Jesus was teaching his followers: forgive others, atone for your wrongs; and care for the poor, the destitute, and those in trouble.   “… As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”  (Matthew 25:40)
The Peace Testimony calls on Quakers to conduct our daily lives in a purposeful way that actively addresses the root causes of war; to pursue activities aimed at improving the living conditions of the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet, and to live in a way which unquestionably demonstrates that we value the well-being of disadvantaged people above our own individual gain or national advantage.  This requires a major paradigm shift, from living a life focused on personal gain and consumption, to a life in which our personal needs are balanced with service to others and spiritual growth. 
Balanced.  It does not mean giving away the store.  It does mean sharing much more than we currently do.  With immigration, for example, it does not mean erasing our borders and letting everybody come and go as they please.  It does mean that we should use our economic power and cultural influence to improve conditions in poor and unstable countries so that people there will not find it necessary to leave.  It also means that our immigration laws should be based compassion; and they should recognize that the U.S. economy relies upon immigrants for manual labor and many technical jobs.  Immigration policies should reflect our country’s actual security needs, not xenophobia or wedge-issue politics.  We should treat immigrants fairly, not use their labor while forcing them into the shadows.  Mass deportations of hard-working people who have been a part of our society for years is senseless, cruel, and inhumane. 
So, what specific things are Quakers doing today to carry out the Peace Testimony? 
Individually, Quakers are called to put the Friends’ testimonies into action in our each of own lives as we are able.   Quakers often pursue careers in public service, health care, education, prisons, places where one’s daily activities fit well within our desire to help people, to promote understanding, and to remove the problems that can lead to violence or war.  Quakers also work in small businesses and large corporations, and government offices, where they try to promote Quaker values of peace, integrity and equality.  And, through “living simply,” Quakers seek to use less of the world’s resources, while taking time to volunteer and help others as much as possible. 
There are also numerous Quaker service organizations whose work supports the Peace Testimony. 
      For example, The American Friends Service Committee, or AFSC, was founded in 1917 to assist civilian victims of WWI.  AFSC is active today through its many offices, including one in Newark, New Jersey.   Some of its programs include providing legal representation and assistance for detained immigrants, running racial equality programs, and working to end prisoner abuse and solitary confinement.
      Quaker United Nations Office or QUNO, maintains offices near U.N. facilities in Geneva and New York.  QUNO provides a place and assistance for dialogue to take place between parties engaged in disputes or conflict
Friends Peace Teams, or FPT.   FPT runs programs in Africa, Central America and the Asia/West Pacific region for peace building, healing, and reconciliation.  Their programs “build on extensive Quaker experiences, combining practical and spiritual aspects of grassroots peacebuilding.”   Their newsletter Peace Ways shows their activities across the globe.  
AVP, Alternatives to Violence Project, was started by Quakers to provide inmates in New York State prisons with non-violent conflict resolution skills.   Two of our members, Chad and Eleanor, regularly conduct AVP workshops in New Jersey State prisons.   AVP training has been so effective, it is now being used to resolve disputes and build peace in Africa, Central America and East Asia. 
Important work is also being done at the local level, at many Monthly Meetings like this one.    Friends Meetings provide a spiritual home for like-minded seekers, worshippers, and life-long Quakers. 
Quakers are active in Great Britain as well.  Northamptonshire Quaker Meeting in the U.K., promotes peace by hosting an on-line forum: Peace Stories.

      These are some of the things that Quakers do to promote peace.  No Quaker organizations to my knowledge are calling for immediate and complete disarmament by the United States.  Instead they are working to build relationships and address problems in ways that will reduce the likelihood of war in the future.  Sometimes it seems that we are working against a rising tide of fear and militarism.  But there are signs that the tide may be turning.  Students are organizing for safe gun legislation.  Women are speaking out and being listened to regarding sexual harassment.  We hope to be part of this change: working to build a more equitable and secure future based on understanding, compassion, and cooperation.   

      And what about that hypothetical robber breaking into my home?  Whoever he is, he is somebody’s son, he was some teacher’s student once.  Better social, economic, and educational opportunities in his youth might have put him on a better path early on.  Surely, if we had regarded him as a child of God, we would not have neglected him.  And even now, it’s worth the effort to try to find “that of God” in him, to look for the good, to understand him as a person who has terribly lost his way.  It is always worth the effort.  That’s what Friends believe. And that’s what the Quaker Testimonies call us to do. 

Finding A Path