A Look Back at the FWCC Peace Conference

Love is the only way. It is an eternal reminder to a generation depending on nuclear and atomic energy, a generation depending on physical violence, that love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe.
—Martin Luther King Jr.

The Friends Peace Testimony began with the well-known statement in 1660 to Charles II, "We utterly deny all outward wars and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end. . . ." To this, add William Penn’s message, "Force may subdue, but love gains; and he that forgives first, wins the laurel." These and many other subsequent messages have enriched our understanding, deepened our spiritual roots, and strengthened our ongoing commitment to peace action and nonviolence. This testimony has been discussed in many books, pamphlets, and scholarly and interpretative articles; in messages in meetings; in regional Friends conferences; among our various Quaker organizations; and by numerous individual Friends with a peace concern. However, these statements and discussions do not meet the challenge in today’s world that is rife with violence, hatred, terrorism, injustice, and the continuing threat of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons of mass destruction.

Friends World Committee for Consultation, Section of the Americas (FWCC) has the traditional purpose "to be a channel of communication between Friends, helping us to explore and nurture our identity as Quakers so that we can discover and be faithful to our true place in the world as a people of God." Responding to the tragic acts of terrorism and loss of lives on September 11, 2001, FWCC issued a mission statement "to carry out programs and organize in ways to nurture our corporate life, witness, and work in the world." In March 2002, FWCC issued a call for "a special conference for Friends’ response to the growing dangers of global war and terrorism, following the tradition of four FWCC conferences over the past 66 years."

The Conference of January 2003

This FWCC Conference was held at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C, from January 17 to 20, 2003 (the weekend of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday). Suitably, 29 quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. highlighted the program brochure of the conference, entitled "Friends Peace Witness in a Time of Crisis." About 250 Friends from almost all U.S. and Canadian yearly meetings were present, in addition to staff, speakers, and worship leaders. It was a joy to see that about 25 percent of the participants were Young Friends, who were active in participation and leadership. Conference-goers moved between planned events and many informal conversations in the hallways, at mealtime, and late into the night. The themes of the plenary sessions, with three or four speakers each, included "Spirit-Led Peacemaking," "Biblical and Historical Experience with the Peace Testimony," and "Report of the Quaker Middle East Working Party."

FWCC Clerk Elizabeth Mertic, Executive Secretary Margaret Fraser, and Peace Issues Working Group Co-Clerks Ann Hardt and Rolene Walker welcomed us at the Friends opening session and then challenged us to be faithful. Val Liveoak of South Central Yearly Meeting, who has a long and cherished background in peace activities, emphasized the necessity of a spiritual community to be supportive in work in nonviolence: "God’s love is the ultimate security." Max Carter, of the Campus Ministry Program at Guilford College, emphasized that a life of peacemaking and the power of nonviolent witness has roots in a faith-based community. Beyond Joy, a recent graduate of Guilford College, articulated that "passionate peacemaking is built on small acts every day that draw on the Inner Light" for guidance.

Janet Melnyk, an evangelical Friend from Atlanta, Ga., emphasized the dual nature of peace: "Peace is the intimate work of justice.

. . . Peace is a gift that comes as a result of an Inner Command." Larry Ingle, a retired history professor, described the feeble nature of the peace message of the late 1600s, and then how (and why) this testimony has grown among Friends. Emma Lapsansky, Friends Librarian at Haverford College, reflected on John Woolman, who sold a slave at age 16, and on the many 18- and 19-year-old young men as COs during World War II. She explained that the Peace Testimony involves "mapping your life," and "is always a battle for discernment for young people in times of tension; . . . taking off one’s sword is a process."

In a plenary session on "Wrestling with the Peace Testimony," Mary Lord of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, who was working with both AFSC and FCNL, spoke her message that "God is still guiding. . . . God is still practical and understands human inadequacies. . . . We must change the mythology of violence, and yet guard against arrogance." Jane Orion Smith of Canadian Friends Service Committee emphasized that her "faith was rooted in God’s love, which lasts forever" and leads her to practice many daily acts of simplicity.

Any one person could only attend two workshops, 14 of which occurred simultaneously. One called "Peaceful Prevention of War/ Alternatives to War" was led by Joe Volk and Bridget Moix of the FCNL staff. While it is difficult to change the current national policy with its present reliance on military solutions and the spread of weapon systems, FCNL reports that Congress does want to hear new ideas, which take time to adopt. U.S. policy is based on an administration report, "Nuclear Posture Review" (March 2002), which emphasizes the iniquitous "preemptive war" policy and renewed reliance on nuclear weapons. In contrast, the United Nations relies on two reports by the Secretary General: "Agenda for Peace" (1992) and "Prevention of Armed Conflict" (2001). The latter document emphasized the need for steps to prevent war before hostilities commence: diplomacy, small arms control, nuclear nonproliferation, and support for the reconstruction in countries like Afghanistan. However, UN action on this report was interrupted by the attacks of September 11, 2001. The United States has moved from being a superpower to a hyperpower—a term recently coined by military/political think tanks—and our leaders seem to be unaware that conflict is influenced by many factors. Many early warning "indicators for potential conflict" are known. FCNL is working so that our Washington leaders and citizens at large should recognize such indicators of potential strife at much earlier dates.

Jack Patterson, codirector of Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) in New York, led a workshop called "Quaker Witness to the Peace Testimony at the United Nations." Having locations just across the street from the UN and at the nearby, inconspicuous Quaker house both have uses in QUNO’s quiet, persuasive diplomacy. QUNO represents FWCC, is administered by AFSC, and has frequent contact with FCNL and with QUNO’s Geneva, Switzerland, office. Ideas for program work also derive from UN staff and from concerned Friends at large. QUNO aims to present constructive proposals at an early stage—long before the 11th-hour rush in crises, when a small organization has limited options. QUNO focuses on preventative diplomacy, in contrast to the coercive diplomacy that is prevalent. QUNO also engages in informal, multiyear education for diplomats.

QUNO played a major role in the June 3-14, 1992, UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and then at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 26- September 4, 2002, at which 104 heads of state were present. An excellent example of long-range diplomacy is QUNO’s program for "Integrated Peace Continuum" involving a paradigm shift to focus on nascent conflicts at a much earlier stage than has traditionally been done.

Other workshops included: "Alternatives to Violence Project in Conflict Areas: Balkans" with Steve Angell; "The Peace Witness Movement" with David Hartsough; "Loving Without Giving In: Our Response to Terror?" with Ron Mock; "Struggling Theologically with Peace Testimony" with Lonnie Valentine; "Conscience and War Tax Witness" with Rosa Packard; "Peace Team Work Around the World" with Val Liveoak; "Community-based Security" with David Jackman; "Quaker House: Front Line Witness" with Chuck Fager; "Conflict, Competition, and Cooperation" with Tom and Sandy Farley; and "Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict" with Kim Carlyle.

The final Plenary Session, "Visioning and Empowering Peace Among Friends," was commenced by Jan Wood of Northwest Yearly Meeting, who with passion reminded attenders to "accept your name, pray with others, recognize the call from God, accept the affirmation. . . . We carry the DNA of God." Ben Richmond of Indiana Yearly Meeting emphasized that the antidote for cynicism, despair, and tiredness is found in "joy to be part of a community of faith. . . . The way forward does not depend on our strength; God will guide us and use us in His service."

The participants of this conference were challenged to reach out to their respective clusters of Friends. Thus was the Peace Testimony reaffirmed with considerable vitality and spiritual depth.

Since the Conference

The Peace Issues Working Group, established by FWCC Section of the Americas, is now in its third year and continues to meet by conference call every two weeks. The group is attaining better understanding of local ecumenical and interfaith peace work through responses to questionnaires that were sent to all monthly meetings and Friends churches in the summer of 2003.

At the March 2004 FWCC Annual Meeting in Ottawa, Canada, the Peace Issues Working Group ran a two-day workshop, including a dialogue on sharing our Peace Testimony. The moderator was Shauna Curry, a Canadian Friend. The facilitator was Peter Atack of Canadian Friends Service Committee. There was a rich conversation on Quaker witness, with queries such as: How do we collaborate and support each other? What
are our misunderstandings and how do we work together in the long term to develop a peace perspective?

The Peace Issues Working Group is attempting to implement the third minute of the FWCC mandate: to consult and collaborate with traditional peace churches and peace branches of other faiths on common actions. FWCC will cosponsor the Interfaith Peace Seminar at Guilford College, June 4-6, 2004. It is being led by Quaker House of Fayetteville, N.C., and facilitated by Chuck Fager, a member of the working group.

FWCC is sponsoring a half-day conference immediately following the FOR National Conference, August 5-9, 2004, at Occidental College in California. Friends are encouraged to attend the complete conference and then stay for the Quaker gathering.

Several of FWCC’s regions have held gatherings to follow up on the Peace Conference. The next one will take place in the Northeast Region on October 1-3, 2004, in Burlington, N.J.

Robert L. Wixom

Robert L. Wixom is a member of Columbus (Mo.) Meeting. George Rubin, Friends Journal News Editor, and the FWCC-Americas office contributed to the "Since the Conference" section.