Online Forum: Pacifism and Peace

One of the most important testimonies of the Quaker faith is peace. In times of war, Quakers have a long history of being conscientious objectors and are still active in varying forms of nonviolent protest. A familiar banner outside meetinghouses says, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”

But what does it mean, both individually and as a society, to work toward peace and justice? Are there circumstances in which “fighting” or “violence” is justified, even necessary?

As we approach yet another election season, these questions about peace, violence, and the direction of our country become all the more evident as Friends consider whom to cast their vote for in the midst of economic hardships, healthcare legislation, unemployment and, of course, raging gun violence across the country.

From the small scale—a bully picking on a child—to the large—a politician taking a stand about the use of weapons and/or military force, how do you interpret the Quaker testimony of peace?

Please share your opinions, your personal stories, and even the questions you have with regard to this issue.

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15 thoughts on “Online Forum: Pacifism and Peace

  1. MIchael Snow says:

    In the new preface to Christian Pacifism, I remarked that this was written when I was young and maybe naive, that it would be a lot harder to write it now, but that I still believe it 30 years later. As I now see it, we walk in obedience to Christ’s commands, and trust God in his sovereignty to take care of kings and nations [to put it much too briefly]. And as far as we can, we exercise our privileges as citizens to be salt and light in our own country.

    For my own struggle with this issue in moving from a Marine to a Christian pacifist. the amazon free ‘look inside’ feature lets you read that chapter.
    Another key point for me is that if we are truly faithful, our hands are too full doing Christ’s bidding to ever grasp a sword.

    Some try to dismiss the witness of the early Christians by focusing on the issue that being a soldier in the Roman empire involved idolatry. But this ignores the Christian abhorrence for bloodshed. “They could not bear to see a man put to death, even justly.”

    On the relation of the Christian to the State and the sword, it helps to take a fresh look at the context of Romans “13.” http://​textsincontext​.wordpress​.com/​2​0​1​2​/​0​5​/​3​1​/​r​o​m​a​n​s​-​1​3​-​i​n​-​c​o​n​t​e​xt/

    1. Michael Snow says:

      Since most aren’t apt to read my testimony, I should have just noted that it was the peaceful witness by a few Quakers to the peace testimony in front of the White House during the Vietnam War years that precipitated the change in my life.

  2. Sean Capener says:

    Michael, I think you’re really right to locate the peace testimony in terms of faithfulness. I’ve noticed a tendency to locate the peace testimony in terms of efficacious “peace‐making” for instance, and when the focus shifts from peace‐as‐faithfulness to peace‐as‐telos, suddenly violence begins to look attractive as a way to make it happen.

  3. David Hostetter says:

    Sean, Michael, I respectfully disagree. As a college intern three decades ago, I served a semester at the FCNL, when a retired Raymond Wilson still trekked to the office every day to try to do something for peace. His saying always sticks with me:

    “The better world of tomorrow will not come by wishing for it. It is incumbent upon the individual not only to try to be good, but also, individually and in concert with others, to try to be effective.”

    I don’t see how trying “to be effective” necessitates violence, and I don’t understand what good faith is unless it is applied to the attempt “to be effective.”

    I have no pat answers on how to be effective, but I have faith that Raymond’s challenge is the one we should pursue.

    1. Sean Capener says:

      I think Jana, below, makes my point about what happens when efficacy, safety, and teleological thinking determine the Peace testimony.

      1. Hi Sean. Can you clarify what you mean? Maybe give an example? I’m having a hard time following (which is why I didn’t respond before). Thanks!

  4. Jesse Vega says:

    The Way of Peace is a great policy. Those of us in the military will continue to provide 24/7 protection, and to die for your freedom, so that you can pursue it. In the mean time, Peace Through Strength works for me.

    1. Jesse,
      I think you make a great point, and it reminds me of a story I heard a few years ago. A family member of mine had young children going to an elementary school, and the teacher had decided to give the class a very common project for the time: sending letters to troops in Iraq. A Quaker woman in that school community was upset by this—she felt that it condoned our involvement in a war she didn’t agree with. But her reasoning didn’t make sense to the other parents (and to me, who heard the story) because reaching out to someone in the military, in my opinion, is not a way of showing you agree with a particular war; it’s a way of connecting to a person who may desperately need to hear kind word in a difficult time.

      My personal view is that our government officials should strive to avoid war and violence at all costs. Otherwise, they disrespect and bring unnecessary hardship on those soldiers and the families of soldiers. And while the peace testimony and peaceful resolution is important to me on an individual level, I think it is impractical to assume that it’s something that will always work at the government level. If a terrorist wants to bomb us, or another country wants to invade ours, we clearly need a military to protect us.

      Thank you for your message. I hope others will weigh in!

    2. Laura Rediehs says:

      Nonviolent action is a version of strength as well. Those engaged in nonviolent action are also willing to suffer or even die for their cause — and sometimes do. The major difference is that they refuse to harm others in the process. They make use of a different kind of power: instead of the power of intimidation through violence, they use the power of love, respect, and creativity, to engage a process of moving beyond anger and frustration and into a search for genuine solutions that meet the legitimate needs of all sides in the conflict. Yes, one needs courage to kill an enemy. But one needs even more courage to try to understand that enemy as a human being.

    3. Mackenzie says:

      Someone said similar to a Friend who was leading a class on the history of pacifism in the middle ages.

      She stood up and informed him that she was once an enlisted soldier, and she has a Conscientious Objector discharge. Her path as a Conscientious Objector started when her Commanding Officer handed her a list of names and told her to retype it, adding these, removing those, in alphabetical order. She asked what the names were. It was a list of civilians to be killed in the event of an invasion. She informed her CO that she could not type this list.

      THAT is a soldier having strength.

  5. Elizabeth Belch says:

    I am conflicted on this. I know that in our family life, and daily interactions, striving to be peaceful has made an amazing difference. But I also know, that my luxury to raise my children in peace is dependent, at least in part, on police officers and soldiers willing to do violence on our behalf. That their commitment and service is too often misused by those in authority only makes the question more confusing for me. So I choose to focus my vote on social justice, hoping that medical care and education help other families to live peacefully as well.

    1. Elizabeth, thank you for sharing your personal conflict about this. I share it with you. I think we should be able to interpret the peace testimony more broadly than to just limit it to a discussion of military actions. Social justice is a huge factor, if not the only factor, in a peaceful society. So while I may not agree with the death penalty or the ubiquity of assault weapons in America, when it comes to election time, I (like you) try to consider the policies I think will help promote a more peaceful society.

      Thanks so much for weighing in!

      1. Mackenzie says:

        There’s also of course the point that if it weren’t for huge levels of both economic injustice and greed, there wouldn’t be wars. Wars happen because one country has something another wants, and they’re willing to use violence to get it. The US enters wars because we’re greedy pricks who have more than we could possibly need, yet we still want more and more, and we’ll go to war to steal it. Poor countries go to wars because they see no path to economic justice.

    2. Barbara Harrison says:

      As a former crossing guard (a minor member of the police force) I would like to point out that the police have as their primary function the protection of the public, unlike the military whose primary training is in killing the “enemy”.

  6. Barbara Harrison says:

    Luke 3:14::the military has changed, but in the aspect of those able to extort great gain there would not appear to be any better following of Scripture. The military were also the police of Jesus’s day.

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