Quaker Peace Testimony
Our peace testimony is one of the four
main Quaker testimonies, the others being to truth and integrity,
to simplicity and to equality
and community. These commitments arise from our experience that
they belong to the way of Christ.
Against a modern-day backdrop of widespread violence in homes,
schools, and neighborhoods, and not least between peoples and nations,
we see a peace commitment as a social imperative. We think of peace
as an approach to living in the world and working for social change
rather than an ideological opposition to war and violence. Indeed,
this is what we mean by testimony – a living witness rather
than a form of words or moral creed. The consequence is that our
lives, rather than just our ideas, must be the measure of our witness
to God’s truth.
Peace in practice
Quakers worldwide are perhaps best known for their stand in past
times as objectors to military service and for their giving of
alternative service, for example in the Friends Ambulance Unit
in the world wars. But a commitment to peace is relevant at all
times – not only in wartime – and in every sphere of
daily life today.
In our relationships with friends, family and strangers, it means
recognizing the dignity of others alongside our own. In particular,
it means managing our part in conflict without seeking the destruction
or subjugation of our opponent. It means a commitment to the Quaker
community, which is itself a school of peacemaking and a witness
to social order without violence. It means considering the impact
on the world of our life choices, for example how we earn money,
as well as how we spend and invest it. And it means supporting
the processes of peace in the world and challenging the prevalence
of violence, for example through dialogue with decision-makers,
active nonviolence, community action and support for organizations
working for peace. Underlying all these is a discipline of the
spirit that helps us to revisit again and again our relationships
with others at a fundamental level and an awareness of our own
power and responsibility.
Besides our witness as individuals, Quakers work together as a
community at local, national and international levels. Locally,
we work to introduce peace education and peer mediation in schools,
arrange public events, produce exhibitions, use our Meeting Houses
as a community resource and hold stalls and peace vigils in town
centers. Nationally in Britain we campaign for disarmament and
alternatives to military security, we dialogue with Parliament
and the civil service, support the national peace movement and
provide training in nonviolence for social change. Quakers work
with international institutions in Brussels, Geneva and New York
on peace and disarmament concerns ranging from the social reintegration
of ex-combatants to support for disarmament negotiations and processes.
And in some regions of conflict we support local capacities for
peacebuilding and help to ease communications between disputants.
Taken together, this work is our peace testimony.
Difficulties and dilemmas
A commitment to peace inevitably carries its own difficulties
and dilemmas. Perhaps the main difficulty is that of feeling that
our vision of a world transformed can seem so distant from the
world as it is, where 1.2 billion people live in conditions of
extreme poverty and millions are affected by violent conflict.
Against this, our power of influence can seem insignificant.
In large part, this difficulty follows the assumption that if
the world does not change as a result of what we do, then we fail
the world, we fail God and we fail ourselves. But to witness in
good faith is its own success, and we can all be an influence and ‘part
of the peace’.
Another fallacy is that as long as our witness is right by our
faith, it need have nothing to do with the realities of the world
as it is. But of course, a testimony that is not relevant to the
world is not a testimony at all. The spiritual and the political
are not divided. We want neither to deny God in our relationship
with the world nor to deny the world in our relationship with God.
Whilst the demands of the spiritual can appear to oppose the demands
of the political, the tension is a necessary and creative one,
even if uncomfortable at times.
We know that all suffering from violence is a tragedy, much of
which is avoided when governments and citizens devote the larger
part of resources to transforming the structures and cultures that
lead to violence. Yet we are often challenged in our conviction
that the use of violence is misguided. A confrontation – whether
in our personal lives or on the international stage – may
be such that an outbreak of violence appears to be unavoidable.
This dilemma often arises in cases when the threat or use of violence
is employed for an apparently noble cause, for example the use
of armed peacekeeping, armed humanitarian convoys or armed intervention
to prevent genocide.
Corporately, Quakers in Britain have always opposed any use of
violence for any end, seeking instead to build the conditions of
peace that ‘take away the occasion of all wars’, nevertheless
there exist a range of views among individual Quakers that we keep
exploring. Since we think of peace as approach, rather than a doctrine
or creed, it stands to reason that these dilemmas (which incidentally
we share with those who advocate the just war) remain open for
us. Yet whilst it behoves us to explore these questions deeply
and prayerfully, this does not substitute for, nor need hinder,
the imperative of practicing peace in our own lives as individuals
and as a community.
A commitment to peace lies at the heart of Quaker faith and practice.
It is part of our striving to live faithfully and is our testimony
to the world. It has implications for our spiritual practice, for
living every day and for our work for social change. For this commitment
to be real, we need do no more than we are able—-and must
do no less. When we act, we do so as part of a worldwide community
of nearly three hundred thousand Quakers and many more who share
our goals and means. Inspiring us is the knowledge that our lives
would be impoverished without this essential part of our relationship
with God and the world, which we call peace.
Prepared by David Gee of Quaker Peace
and Social Witness, UK