Threshing Session on the Quaker Peace Testimony

On 3/3/2002, the Peace and Social Justice Committee sponsored a threshing session on the Quaker Peace Testimony.  A summary report was made to the business meeting on 4/28/2002 and was to be sent to York Friends Meeting and Baltimore Yearly Meeting.  A synopsis of comments shared was also prepared.

Threshing Session on the Quaker Peace Testimony
March 3, 2002
Summary of Proceedings

A dozen Friends participated in the Threshing Session to share their respective views about the Quaker Peace Testimony.  A synopsis of the sharing is attached.

“It is not easy to be a Quaker; you have to think and consider issues”.  This comment made by one member captures the gist of the profound seriousness of the spiritual, emotional, even physical struggle each participant experiences when confronting the Peace Testimony.   What is pacifism?  What about the use of force generally? What are its limits?  What does the Peace Testimony imply as a spiritual discipline and way of life?  These are some of the questions challenging us.  How does the testimony apply to parenting and families?  What about abortion?  How does the testimony relate to the arms race and the gross economic inequities in the world? What are the Testimony’s implications for one’s professional life?

A particularly moving experience was shared by one person who does not profess to be a pacifist and was a participant in the US Armed Forces during the Vietnam War.  However, when he was assigned a rifle and recognized that its purpose was for killing other human beings, and that he was expected to kill others with it, he had difficulty doing so.  As he said, ‘I was not a good soldier.’  Although the actual experience occurred long ago, the emotional, and profound spiritual nature of that pivotal life event, when shared in the group, was as if it were occurring in the present moment. The gathered Friends were deeply touched by the individual’s personal compassion, integrity and commitment.

What became very clear from the session was just how deeply we are all challenged by the call of the Peace Testimony.  We are all grappling with the subject in our own ways.  We clearly believe that we are called to be peace makers, but an individual’s expression of that calling might be quite varied.  Friends find themselves disturbed both by the actions of our government in waging war and by concerns about how well their own interpretation of the Peace Testimony aligns with Quaker values.  Taking the opportunity to share our individual experiences and differences was an important part of the healing process for our meeting.


Synopsis of Threshing Session on Quaker Peace Testimony
March 3, 2002
Sponsored by the Peace and Social Justice Committee, John Farrell, Clerk

Twelve friends and attenders gathered for this Threshing Session.

The following statement by Emma Byrne was presented to open the session:

Friends are known for their Peace Testimony more than for any other single reason.  The Peace Testimony stems from our basic spiritual belief that ‘there is

That of God’ in every person, therefore, doing violence to any person does violence to God, the Creator.  From the beginning of Quakerism, this belief in the sanctity of Life, has been consistent for over 300 years.  We make no distinction between killing within a nation/state or killing those in another nation.  We abhor all violence.

Recognizing that silence may be taken as support for actions that are against these beliefs, Friends believe in ‘Faith and Practice–Speaking Truth to Power’ and, with God’s help, try to show the way to a more peaceful life.

Following a period of silence, these views were shared:

Person 1  I have a lot of questions.  Just what does the Peace Testimony mean?  What if I were attacked personally?  Do I allow violence to be perpetrated?  What about my children?

Do I protect them if they are being threatened?  What about abortion?  How about the airplane that crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept 11?  Was the action taken then contrary to the Peace Testimony?

Person 2  There are a lot of ‘Truths’.  Mao said that political power comes out of the barrel of a gun–that is a truth.  There is a word in Dutch with no exact translation in English–to ‘un-ken’ or to un-know.  To un-know someone is the beginning of violence.  There are questions about peace and justice.  Sometimes muscle or force of some sort is necessary to separate from another person, or to get others to respect the rest of society.  We need to be able to confront concepts that lead to violence.

The absolutist nature of the 1660 statement of George Fox is puzzling.  (‘We… utterly …deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretense whatsoever.  And this is our testimony to the whole world…the Spirit of Christ which leads us into all Truth will never move us to fight and war against any many with outward weapons…we cannot learn war any more’…The Journal of George Fox)

We need to interpret our own Peace Testimony.

Person 3  Any attempt to speak on this topic can only be a partial response.  About the events subsequent to 9/11…the war in Afghanistan is contrary to the Peace Testimony.  Things get confusing where military and police actions merge.  Are sanctions violent?  When we focus on a violent response to a situation, all resources (mental, emotional, and material) seem to turn to support the violence.

We have been less clear on the abortion issue.

When soldiers refuse to fight, that is a powerful testimony.

Person 4  It is really hard to be a Quaker.  You have to consider issues and make up your own mind.  There is no dogma that will tell you what is right.  It is the very nature of Quakerism to listen.  If you are already under attack there seems to be little opportunity for peace.

The original Peace Testimony was in quite a different historical period.  The Testimony needs to be interpreted by each of us individually.

Person 5  I, too, have all kinds of problems with the Peace Testimony.  Specific responses are deeply personal matters.  Quakers have also insisted on the need to think about issues.  That what the queries are about.  Also, we must respect how others think about these complicated issues.  Conscientious Objector status is not treason.  Abortion, for example, is a deeply personal issue, and not something for government to legislate.  If physically attacked personally, I don’t know what I’d do.  We must consider alternative to violence.  Is your first response to a situation going to be a violent one?  Friends don’t necessarily know the answers to violence, but they have certainly seen the consequence of violence.

If we aren’t going to take up arms, what are we going to do?  (Person 4–emphasis needs to be placed on the word/concept  conscientious objection–you have to think about it)

Person 6  What are we to do now that the horse is out of the barn?  What about our participation in the arms race?  What about the gross inequities in the world?  Quakers need to focus on policy changes that can remove the ‘occasion for war’  Why was our country attacked?  What are the reasons behind that?

Person 7  What does the Peace Testimony mean?  How do we respond to it.  I’m reminded of George Fox’s words to William Penn ‘Wear your sword as long as you can’.  How do we live the Peace Testimony?  In the practice of Aikido we strive to restore harmony in the least possible violent means.  We are agents of God and the Universe.  What do we do to bring peace to the world?  Martin Luther King, Jr.  and Gandhi exercised active, creative resistance.

Person 8  September 11 caused me to consider the Peace Testimony.  I’m not a pacifist.  I feel it justifiable to use violent force to prevent greater harm to more people.  I largely approve of our government’s response in Afghanistan, but I’m appalled at the government’s limited options when it comes to alternatives to military service.  I believe certain wars have been justifiable.  We need to better understand the underlying issues.  Quakers need to examine the causes of conflict and encourage non-military means of opposing conflict.

Person 9   The Peace Testimony for me refers to the New Testament generally and to the  Sermon on the Mount, specifically.  The Testimony calls me to a way of life, to live mindfully and make choices for non-violence.   I’m less concerned with the global implications of choices others are making,.  I’m striving to make consistent choices in my personal life which reflect the Peace Testimony.  Think globally, but act locally.

Person 5   I remember a couple of things from childhood.  I used to tease another child.  And in Sunday school we learned the ‘Jesus wants you for a sunbeam’. .  I’m still learning how to reconcile those teachings with my life actions.

Person 3  The Peace Testimony is a way of living in the world.  We must speak the truth about aspects we are clear about, even if we can’t speak to all aspects of it.

Person 10  We have military people in our community.  It is important not to confuse them with the larger government.

The Threshing Session on the Quaker Peace Testimony closed with a period of Silence.


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