For more than 350 years, Friends (Quakers) have been known as peace activists.
When faced with military service in times of war, historically our young men have requested and been granted conscientious objector status, served in non-combat roles, or have been imprisoned for refusing to register or serve. Some have also served in direct combat.
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is recognized worldwide for its peace-making projects. Currently, under the umbrella of the African Great Lakes Initiative, AFSC and the Alternatives to Violence Project are working towards reconciliation in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Kenya. The program is called “Healing and Rebuilding our Community.”
In early 2001, I began to attend the Quaker worship group, now the Agate Passage Friends Meeting. I was attracted by their silent worship and peace activism.
After the attack on Afghanistan, we sent blankets to the refugees. We joined thousands of others in Seattle protesting the Iraq war.
One member organized a full-page ad in the Seattle Times listing people who opposed the impending Iraq war.
Some of us stood with Women in Black. In 2007, we sponsored local showings of “Ground Truth” and “Soldiers of Conscience,” showing the effect on soldiers and the anguish that a daily regime of “kill or be killed” instills in their minds and hearts.
We sent care packages to soldiers in Iraq. We are painfully aware that the United States has now been at war for seven years with no end in sight.
What is the Peace Testimony? The heart of the peace testimony comes from George Fox, the founder of Quakerism who stated in 1654 that he “lived in the life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars.”
Fox said, “Quakers cannot engage in war as a method for settling international disputes, for war is a test of strength, not a search for truth and justice. We do not fear death, we want to live and we want our children to live and fulfill their lives.”
Quakers believe in “that of God in everyone.” In silent worship, we listen to “the Light” which is seen as God-given inner wisdom.
In this quiet time we might find compassion for ourselves and others. It is difficult to imagine killing someone while holding the belief that they incorporate that of God and thus are akin to ourselves.
Martha Leavitt, of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, says that “Friends’ peace testimony is not a creed, in the sense of a statement of belief true for all time.
On the simplest level, testimony means bearing witness.” Bearing witness means to listen to the “other” to see and perhaps feel compassion for their point of view, to speak out against injustice, or taking action to remedy suffering, whether by treating the cause or effect.
Leavitt adds: “The peace testimony … requires us to live as peacemakers—with families, colleagues and neighbors as well as internationally.
Over the centuries, Friends have been involved in a variety of efforts such as relief for war victims, seeking to foster understanding among diplomats of hostile nations, mediation, and training people in how to respond nonviolently in conflict situations.”
Another answer comes from the document published in 1954 by AFSC, Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence.
“What is this nonviolent method that we suggest? It is the effort to maintain unity. It is the concept of universal community that forms a common thread. It relies upon love rather than hate. It seeks to change the attitude of the opponent rather than force his submission through violence. It is the refusal to break the unity and thus exclude ‘others.’ Moreover, it is just this sense of unity that is required to sustain the system of law and justice upon which the hope of peace rests.”
In the pamphlet Friends Peace Testimony in a Time of Terrorism, Robert Griswold, says: “The peace testimony is a spiritual discipline that manifests itself in nonviolence and respect and caring toward all people. We cannot become peace-makers until we have made peace with the suffering we have caused ourselves and others. This change of heart will necessarily involve a great deal of painful self-examination.”
Many people believe that peacemakers are soft on terrorism or crime.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
It takes faith in the ultimate goodness of creation and considerable courage to face force with kindness, to teach forgiveness as an antidote for violence, or to speak truth to power.
Kathryn Keve is a
member of the Agate Passage Friends Meeting