The Peace Testimony and the Enduring Light of Christ
When George Fox was sent to turn people from darkness to the Light, he saw that Christ “would give power to become the sons of God.” That power took away the occasion for war in the lives of Friends. Fox told Oliver Cromwell:
I denied the wearing or drawing of a carnal sword, or any other outward weapon, against him or any man; and that I was sent of God to stand a witness against all violence, and against the works of darkness; and to turn people from darkness to light.
That testimony may be dimmed at times, but it has endured. Walking past the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., a 23-year-old officer in the Marine Corps stopped. Two or three Friends who kept vigil there handed him a mimeograph. This was the Vietnam era, and the paper read:
Dear Friend Richard,
For more than two months your sisters and brothers have brought to your aid a vigil for peace.… You were not there in person, nor had you acknowledged the Quaker vigil.… But as we worshiped together … we somehow expected you at any moment to come out and stand with us, simply and humbly, as one not alien to Quaker faith.
[We hope that] the moment will come at last when you are moved to rise above the imprisonment of your office and join them for a moment to affirm the universal hope for peace. For the love and faith symbolized at Gethsemane and Calvary must rise triumphant over fear.
That testimony served as an essential catalyst in my journey. It is not trite to say that only God knows how many others have been helped in their journeys over the centuries by such witnesses to the peace testimony.
I grew up in the church in a small community in the Midwest, where school, church, and the American Legion thrived together. Much entertainment centered on war movies and war play. I had no idea that communities of Christians, then or in the past, ever questioned bearing the sword. After I came of draft age, the category of conscientious objector received only passing notice.
A month or so before I was given that piece of paper (which I still have) by those Friends in front of the White House, I had heard a sermon on Romans 8. En route between duty stations, I was visiting a friend in Yellowstone National Park. On Sunday at the campground service, a seminary student expounded on the verse that “we are more than conquerors.” It was a heart-warming moment. But there was still much reflection to come. When I later encountered that witness to the peace testimony by Friends, it opened up a new direction to explore, and a long period of struggle followed. Military training clanged harshly in my ears while misgivings blossomed into convictions. When I resigned my commission in the Marine Corps, there was a new direction.
I first read The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder, who recommended Cecil John Cadoux’s classic, The Early Christian Attitude to War. Then it was on to seminary at Earlham School of Religion for peace studies. My ministry project was a multi-media presentation centered on the peace testimony and warfare, which was later presented at many Friends meetings.
That presentation brought an awareness of the antipathy of some Friends toward the pacifist witness. For some, it was not given much thought; for others, it too clearly countered our American culture. The peace testimony may not have been explicitly rejected in meetings, but for some it was an embarrassment. In one meeting where one of my classmates was the pastor, there was a recorded member (the son of members, but living far away) who was a general!
All this simply shows what occurs when we ignore important things: they fade. They also fade when something else is emphasized instead.
We know that the peace testimony is much broader than simply a refusal to wear a sword. (The last chapter of my book Christian Pacifism: Fruit of the Narrow Way is titled “Mission: Unto the Least.”) We hope that the world “may, by [our] good works which they observe, glorify God” (1 Peter 2). But let us not fail to be clear that the testimony does include the refusal to wear a sword.
My hope is that those who hold the peace testimony will continue to engage their neighbors in love on this needed witness in our world.
Over 30 years ago, a reviewer in The Friend (Feb. 4, 1983) wrote:
Few Friends know their Bible well enough to converse as equals with evangelical Christians, for whom God’s will and nature is revealed in the Bible which is indeed the Word of God.… The non-biblical language of most British Friends does not speak to the condition of evangelical Christians, who are unable to “hear” what Friends say … if we wish to be heard then we must use the language that is understood … [the challenge is to] read our Bibles in greater depth, to challenge us to be more faithful in our discipleship in all areas of our lives and to help us in our discussions with practicing Christians who are still “wearing their swords.”
Michael C. Snow
Of like mind
I’m curious about the discussion on Quakers and atonement (“Forum,” FJ Nov. 2013). I don’t remember seeing any definitions. Atonement can be a very complicated word, but it doesn’t have to be. For me, it is simple; it means that someday, somehow, we will all be of like mind, unified, at peace. It is highly unlikely to happen during this lifetime of mine on Earth, of course.
It’s a belief I’ve probably always had, but I’ve worked on it as an adult, putting it to the test, and that test always involves forgiveness. I’m thinking as I write that the strength of my belief is in part the result of the hundreds of times I’ve forgiven over the years and in part the result of the gift of peaceful and surprising insights, priceless rewards for my little efforts of willingness.
It is a comfortable belief for me, and that is why I’m writing. I don’t feel the need to press it onto anyone. Thank goodness, because it would certainly fuel controversy.
I was gratified to read the thoughtful letters from Karie Firoozmand and Tom Jackson on divestment and climate change (“Forum,” FJ Nov. 2013).
I am a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization that is very active with climate change issues, and which is also trying to deal with this divestment problem. I think it is important to understand the reasoning and purpose behind this effort. We would like to be guilt-free and refrain from profiting from the damage being done to the Earth, to the human race, and to other life on the planet. However, we turn on our cars every day; we heat our homes with fossil fuels; and we continue to waste at a prodigious rate. Pointing the finger at the fossil fuel companies could be seen as somewhat hypocritical and disingenuous.
However, these companies have been guilty of lying about the scientific evidence behind this problem, and they are damaging our political process with money and poisonous misinformation. So I think it is both important and reasonable for organizations that are speaking out on climate change to divest themselves of fossil fuel company securities, however symbolic and technically difficult the action may be.
It is one way we can try to move past the debate over what is happening to our world and to focus on what we can do about it.
Darkness into Light
It’s tempting to look at light and dark solely as a personal spiritual issue (“Out of Darkness into Light,” Maurine Pyle, FJ Nov. 2013). There is also a lot of darkness in our public political life today. Too many of our leaders do not want to think outside their political dogmas, or acknowledge the consequences of those dogmas. One way, perhaps, to create more light is to keep an eye out for allies, spiritual and otherwise, in other religious groups (Mennonites, mainline churches, Sojourners, even Buddhists and Muslims) and secular groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Move On.
Twin Falls, Idaho
I disagree with Mitch Gould (“Forum,” FJ Sept. 2013) that Eric Moon gave us a rant with “Categorically Not the Testimonies” in the June/July issue. I have also been disturbed by the SPICES as testimonies. It misses the point about what it means to have your life testify. I am uncomfortable that children who are not brought up in relationship to Quakers in meetings get this take on the important ways Friends have acted in the world through their real relationship with God.
SPICES could be seen, I believe, as principles—an early Quaker word which we do not really use as much as we could.
I, too, am troubled by the SPICES packaging of the testimonies and over the past few months have re-read and studied Howard Brinton’s careful work of explanation.
When I first came to Friends, it was the way of life—not the intellectual construct—that drew me to meeting week after week (a university meeting in what later became Intermountain Yearly Meeting). When I applied for membership, my committee of clearness questioned more whether I could live into a way of life, into the community of that particular meeting. Friends felt that wrestling with the understanding of the faith tradition was a part of my education. Only after I moved to Philadelphia did I begin hearing of the parsing of the faith tradition: it seemed too pat. Still, the overlapping categories are still useful by way of explanation, but it isn’t the whole story.
As with many matters of faith, for those who possess it, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not, no explanation is possible. Brinton did his best by way of explanation, but faith-wrestling is a task we all have.
The teaching acronym SPICES is not meant to limit the Quaker concept of testimonies. It is meant to be a way to introduce children to some of the fruits of the Inward Experience of Christ. We have only one true testimony and that is to the Inward Light of Christ that speaks to our condition. We need to witness to that experience by the way we live our lives in love to others. It is not what we believe that counts, but what we do.
William G. Smith
Will asking Friends to speak up actually do any good?
I was glad to read Louis Cox’s article (“The Friend Is Not Heard”) in the October 2013 Friends Journal. I am also hearing impaired. I have always been puzzled and frustrated, because for Quakers, the spoken word has been such an important medium of worship out of silence and instruction for spiritual growth. The loss of instruction in public speaking (in older times “elocution”) is partly responsible. Lack of awareness contributes. I have performed this little poem on numerous Quaker occasions in Canada, and it has always been received with wry laughter and affirmation.
For Quakers Who Believe There Is That of God in Every Shoe
There are some Quakers who
speak only to their shoe.
I wonder how it is they knew
God meant the message for their shoe.
Now people have said
since the world begun:
There is that of God in everyone:
Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews,
But did God mean to include our shoes?
It’s said that God is everywhere,
in the Earth and in the Air.
Thus even shoes might adore
to hear words sent to the floor.
But dear Friend, be assured!
The older Friend on yonder bench
is also yearning for your word
which is, alas, by her unheard.
So if you’re moved to speak to shoes,
a distant pair are the shoes to choose.
Louis Cox’s “The Friend Is Not Heard” (FJ Oct. 2013) is beautifully written and right on target. I don’t expect it to do much good. I am not hearing challenged, but still have asked Friends repeatedly to speak up. They generally do so for at least three or four words before reverting to their appropriately soft-spoken Quaker voice. I believe there is a great deal of truth that people are not at all conscious of wanting to be understood.
San Diego, Calif.
It is very distressing to me how disrespectful of the hearing impaired some are in Quaker meeting. My home meeting has learned how to speak up, so I know it can be done. We have a hand-held microphone set in the middle of the room for people to pick up and speak into. This goes into our FM (frequency modulation) system for hearing assistance. The proximity of the mic to the speaker means the speech is clear and free of room echos that a hanging mic would pick up. I would like to suggest that we avoid games such as “A Big Wind Blows” with hearing-impaired people present. Even if I can hear the caller in this game, it takes me longer to process the speech, so I am usually last to sit or not sit in this case. This is much too humiliating for me.