Because of the belief that all people are precious children of God and potential vessels for God’s truth to enter the world, God’s people refrain from all forms of violence and warfare and instead choose to transform the world through peaceful forms of struggle.
Peace Be With You: A Study of the Spiritual Basis of the Friends Peace Testimony is a startling in-depth exploration by Sandra Cronk of the many ways peacemaking is at the heart of our Quaker faith & witness.
Learning to Go in Peace is a talk given by Colin Saxton to the annual sessions of Philadelphia YM in 2008 exploring the spiritual roots of our peace witness.
Many people have come to associate peacemaking and opposition to warfare and violence as one of the most distinctive things Quakers today. Opposition to violence, however, was the very earliest witnesses of Friends. Many first Friends including James Nayler fought in the English Civil War in the army fighting on the side of Parliament against King Charles I.
After the monarchy was restored and Charles II was crowned in 1660, Friends were anxious to make clear that they had no intention of being involved in violent resistance to the new king. In November 1660 a group of Friends including George Fox issued a public statement: Declaration of 1660 to King Charles II.
Friends made it clear that when they spoke or wrote about the Lamb’s War they were talking about a different form of struggle than the world’s means of struggle with outward weapons and fighting.
John Woolman picked up the first Friends’ reliance on the letter of James description that the cause of wars was lust for things. He asked whether to look whether the seeds of war existed in their possessions. This sentiment has put to music on Paulette Meier’s round Seeds of War.
Friends withdrew from government in the mid 18th century in Pennsylvania rather than raising militias to fight in the French and Indian War on the side of the crown and other English colonies.
There was a small schism from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting during the US War of Independence by Friends who wished to participate in the war effort. Again, some Friends chose to participate in the Civil War, although many purchased exemption from the draft.
Friends are considered one of the Historic Peace Churches along with Amish, Mennonites, Brethren, Hutterites, and Moravians. At least during the two world wars a much higher percentage of Amish, Mennonites, and Brethren refused to go to war than Quakers. Jehovah’s Witnesses also refuse to go to war
Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3 They will beat their swords into ploughshares… And they shall study war no more. Two songs are based on these passages: The round Vine & Fig Tree and the African American spiritual Study War No More.
Zechariah 4:6 “Not by might, nor by power, but by the spirit.”
The Jewish cantor Linda Hirschhorn has written a powerful song based on this passage called Not by Might.
Matthew 5:5 and 5:9 Blessed are the meek and blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed Are the Peacemakers is a musical setting (chant) of Matthew 5:9 by Bev Shepard.
In Matthew 5:38-48 Jesus calls on his followers to return good for evil and love their enemies. The passage ends with a critical passage for Fox: “Therefore you shall be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
Matthew 26:52 and Revelations 13:10 He lives by the sword shall die by the sword.
James 4 The 1660 Declaration to King Charles cites this passage in which James says that wars are caused by wanting more than we need. This is the same message as Woolman’s statement about the seeds of war being in our possessions. How many wars today are caused by coveting of others’ resources.
20th century Quaker peacemaking
During the 20th century, Quakers became active in peacemaking efforts that extended beyond personal non-participation in war.
A.J.Muste (1885-1917) was an early leader in the 1920’s of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. After becoming a Marxist Leninist he disavowed pacifism in the 1930’s & early 1940’s but returned to pacifism and Friends in the 1950’s. In his second period as a Quaker pacifist leader, he was a leader of the Committee for Nonviolent Action.
Cecil Hinshaw wrote a Pendle Hill pamphlet Nonviolent Resistance: A nation’s way to peace in 1956 outlining the ways of overcoming evil on the national level.
A national Quaker gathering was held in Richmond in 1968 and issued the 1968 Richmond Declaration on the Draft & Conscription which called on Friends to actively support Young Friends facing conscription including those facing prison for draft resistance.
Around the same time 15 Friends wrote an Epistle to Friends Concerning Military Conscription that urged Friends to refuse to cooperate with military conscription, drawing inspiration from the courage of early Friends’ resistance to tithes and oppressive laws at great risk to themselves
Quaker voices today
Adria Gulizia talks about discovering how we are being led by God to act for peace in our lives in her QuakerSpeak video Examining the Quaker Peace Testimony