Why I’m Not a Pacifist

Season 3
Date: 03/24/2016
Views: 17,567

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When Quakers say we want to work for peace, does that just mean a lack of war? Or is it something greater? Kristina Keefe-Perry wrestles with the deeper spiritual implications.

I think that pacifism is like a fruit, and I would like to have a word that somehow describes that the fruit of reconciliation grows from roots that are tended in the soil of worship.

Why I’m Not a Pacifist

In what we call Friends peace testimony now, [George] Fox talks about living in that life and power that takes away the occasion for all wars. And I think that “life and power” part is the soil that we need to nurture—all of us—to be in that life and power that takes away the occasion for all sorts of violence and helps us move out of the comfort of the institutions we’ve built and into some new space.

Revolutionary Peacemaking

When I think of “pacifist,” I think that the word is too small to hold what I would like to mean, and I’m not sure what the word is, so I’m going to try and work it out. “Pacifist” implies someone who denies or abhors or negates the use of physical violence and war—which I do—but it doesn’t in my mind open up the truly revolutionary possibilities that are implied in peacemaking, especially in faithful peacemaking and more specifically, for me, in Christian peacemaking.

“There is enough.”

There’s some word—maybe it’s “reconciliation”—to describe Jesus’s ministry, which he ministers to the pain and suffering not just of those afflicted by violence but by poverty and greed, other forms of violence that aren’t the physical violence implied by war, which then gets me to pacifism.

So I was thinking about this, maybe I’m a “shalomist”: someone who believes in God’s shalom—God’s peace and abundance for all—who believes that God wills that everyone has abundance and peace and is doing what they are supposed to be doing.

Or maybe I’m a “Jubilee-ist,” who believes that we can work to a time when we have dismantled human structures and institutions, as we’re invited to by the description of the Jubilee year: to lay down all contracts, to let the slaves go, to let the land lie fallow, to return all of the landholdings to their original owners. It’s like a big cosmic reset button of possibility, of reconciliation, and acknowledgment that there is provision, that there is enough.


She speaks of “shalom.” It is a very rich Hebrew word that connotes rightness of relationship in the economic and political and social and interpersonal realms. While I’ll still claim the title “pacifist” and welcome the discussions about the difference between the mass indiscriminate violence of war and the institutions of peacekeeping that a Quaker might affirm, I’m also glad for Friends and their friends to keep exploring what are, as the prophet Jeremiah said, “the things that make for peace.” Perhaps this venue, this forum, is part of what is getting us there.  David H. Finke (Columbia, Mo.)

You gave a very thoughtful and sincere sharing of your peace testimony, seeking a place beyond pacifism.

After 21 months of combat in Vietnam, I returned an alienated and broken man. In my dark night of the soul, I found a small Quaker meeting, and when I saw the peace testimony posted on the wall, I knew I had found my home. If I had been brought up a Quaker, would I have avoided my experience in war? A few years later, I had the opportunity to interview a Quaker who had volunteered to serve in World War I. I could understand Quakers who felt led to serve as medics etc. and in WWII to stop Hitler, but WWI seemed to me to be an unnecessary and unjust war, just like my war. Alfred told me that he believed in President Woodrow Wilson, that his was the war to end all wars, that his was the war to make the world safe for democracy. These were my reasons too. I believed in President John Kennedy and the mainstream churches—that we had to make the world safe from godless Communism. Now of course, the mantra is to make the world safe from so-called Muslim terrorism.

When will they ever learn? To live in the light and power that takes away the occasion for all wars; that there is no way to peace—peace is the way; that the love of money is the root of so much evil; that only the truth can set us free.

When I sit in my meeting for worship and reflect on the damage and destruction that the United States inflicts around the world, and then hold that in the light of our Quaker peace testimony, I only know that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness—better to know truth as revealed by Divine Light inwardly than to trust outward forms.

Your testimony has lit one candle in the darkness. Thank you.  John Everheart (Carson City, Nev.)

Wonderful approach, Kristina! I took about 20 minutes to get to a receptive place before I even pressed play because I had made some incorrect assumptions about what I was going to have to wrestle with in listening. That was a good use of time because then I heard what you said so much more clearly than just tapping on an easy agreement piece on peace. I am in the middle of learning more about Jubilee traditions, and this is a great challenge to pick up. Thank you for this encouragement and challenge. Best eldering!  Keith Lightminder (Via YouTube)


Watch on QuakerSpeak: quakerspeak.com/why-im-not-pacifist/ 

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