Throughout our history Friends have testified that our lives are not meant to conform to the ways of the world, but that we are meant to live in obedience to the Light of Truth within, and through this witness to contribute to the transformation of the world through the Light of Truth.
Let all nations hear the sound by word or writing. Spare no place, spare no tongue nor pen, but be obedient to the Lord God; go through the world and be valiant for the truth upon earth; tread and trample all that is contrary under…. Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.
George Fox, 1656
Our testimonies are our guides as we seek to apply George Fox’s advice in a world that is beyond his imagining, yet offers myriad opportunities to be valiant for the truth.
We believe there is that of God in every person, and thus we believe in human equality before God. Friends pioneered in recognizing the gifts and rights of women. Women were ministers and leaders of the early meetings. Friends came more slowly to recognize the evil of slavery and of discrimination in general, and have often been guilty of sharing the prejudices of the broader society. In recent years, Friends have discovered and taken stands against other forms of discrimination and oppression to which they had earlier been insensitive. An element of that insensitivity for some has been a failure to recognize the privileged status many American Friends enjoy. As we continue to seek the Light, ingrained habits and attitudes are subject to searching reexamination.
Enunciation of the principle of equality among human beings in the sight of God is important and necessary, but it is not sufficient. Realization of equality involves such matters as independence and control of one’s own life. Therefore Friends aid the nonviolent efforts of the exploited to attain self-determination and social, political, and economic justice, and to change attitudes and practices formerly taken for granted. Friends seek to bring to light structures, institutions, language, and thought processes which subtly support discrimination and exploitation. Beyond their own Society, Friends promote Spirit-led, sense of the meeting decision-making as an instrument of equality. And Friends continue to examine their own attitudes and practices to test whether they contribute as much as they might to social, political, and economic justice.
Friends work with groups that have been victimized by prejudice and exploitation. Too often this work has been difficult because of resistance by the prejudiced and by the exploiters, even within the membership of the Religious Society of Friends. The problem of prejudice is complicated by advantages that have come to some at the expense of others. Exploitation impairs the human quality of the exploiter as well as of the exploited.
Many early Friends were victims of an arbitrary and unreasonable criminal justice system. Knowledge of that experience has opened many later Friends to that of God in convicted persons. Friends continue to undertake work in prisons, ministering to the spiritual and material needs of inmates. Believing that the penal system often reflects structural and systemic injustice in our society, Friends seek alternatives. Friends have acted out of the conviction that redemption and restorative justice, not retribution, are the right tasks of the criminal justice system. We strongly oppose capital punishment.
Seeking to heal the wounds of criminal actions, Friends are called to many different kinds of service in the criminal justice system. Prison visiting, victim support services, conflict resolution training for staff of correctional institutions and offenders, and work to abolish the penalty of death are typical of these services. Such service is undertaken in order to restore the victim, the offender, and the community to the greatest extent possible. The healing love, and the trust in divine leading that such disciplined service requires, can greatly assist the rebuilding of broken lives.
Since all human beings are children of God, Friends are called to love and respect all persons and to overcome evil with good. Friends’ peace testimony arises from the power of Christ working in our hearts. Our words and lives should testify to this power and should stand as a positive witness in a world still torn by strife and violence.
The Society of Friends has consistently held that war is contrary to the Spirit of Christ. It stated its position clearly in the Declaration to Charles II in 1660:
We utterly deny all outward wars and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world…. The Spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, and again to move us unto it; and we certainly know, and testify to the world, that the Spirit of Christ, which leads us into all truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ nor for the Kingdoms of this world…. Therefore, we cannot learn war any more.”
Our historic peace testimony must be also a living testimony, as we work to give concrete expression to our ideals, often in opposition to prevailing opinion. We recognize that the peace testimony requires us to honor that of God in every person, and therefore to avoid not only physical violence but also more subtle forms—psychological, economic, or systemic.
In explaining his unwillingness to serve in the army, George Fox records that “I told them…that I lived in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars.” When we find that life and power within ourselves, we are strengthened to be valiant for God’s truth, to endure the suffering that may befall our lot.
The Individual and the Peace Testimony
In our individual lives, the peace testimony leads us to accept conflict as an opportunity for loving engagement with those with whom we disagree. That love can often be expressed in creative, nonviolent resolution of the disagreement. When we encounter people of sincere religious conviction whose views are profoundly different from our own, that love can also be manifested by acknowledging the sincerity of the other, while forthrightly expressing our own convictions.
The peace testimony also leads us as individuals to consider seriously our employment, our investments, our purchases, our payment of taxes, and our manner of living as they relate to violence. We must become sensitive to the covert as well as the overt violence inherent in some of our long-established social practices and institutions. We need to avoid, for example, benefiting not only from the manufacture of arms, but also from company practices that do violence to employees, consumers, or the natural world.
Friends and Military Activity
We support those who resist cooperation with conscription and those who oppose war by performing work as conscientious objectors. While counseling against military service, we hold in love our members who feel they must undertake it.
We work as we are able to alleviate the suffering caused by war. We acknowledge the contribution that military forces have in some situations made to the relief of suffering, but we are troubled by the use of agents of destruction for such purposes, and by the failure of nations to support the creation of nonviolent legions to undertake humanitarian missions.
Alternatives to War
The almost unimaginable devastation that results from modern war makes ever more urgent its total elimination. We would refrain from participating in all forms of violence and repression. We would make strenuous efforts to secure international agreements for the elimination of armaments and to remove the domination of militarism in our society. We would work for greater understanding at all levels, from the kindergarten to the United Nations, of proven techniques for the nonviolent resolution of conflict. And we would promote and assist programs of conversion to peaceful uses of facilities built for war.
Friends since William Penn have sought to promote institutions of peace. In this era we promote a vision of a new world order that recognizes the essential unity of a human family sharing a fragile planet.
We prefer governing institutions that work face-to-face, within small communities. But we acknowledge the need for governing institutions at all levels, both as supportive, coordinating bodies, and as courts of appeal from the arbitrary actions of lesser jurisdictions.
We are deeply distressed by a world order dominated by heavily armed nation-states. We apply our gifts—of spirit, of intellect, of time and energy—to work for a new international order under God, within which our communities will be able to redirect their resources from overdependence on the manufacture of arms to human needs and the preservation of the earth.
The Individual and the State
The State, Supportive and Coercive
The attitude of Friends toward the state is conditioned by the fact that the state has many facets. As a necessary instrument for meeting human needs and for maintaining an orderly society with justice under law for all, the state commands respect and cooperation. But when the state acts as a coercive agency resorting to violence, it acts contrary to Quaker principles.
Friends are not opposed to all forms of physical constraint. It is sometimes necessary and proper for peace officers to use minimal forms of physical constraints in dealing with persons who do injury to others or who will not cooperate with just law. But Friends must be watchful for the use of either physical or psychological violence in maintaining public order.
As a part of their witness to what society may become, Friends are called to participate in public life as voters, public officials, or participants in community groups or professional societies.
As private citizens in the public arena, Friends bear witness by demonstrating respect for others, flexibility, reconciliation, and forgiveness in difficulties, as well as faithful persistence in pursuit of their leadings.
In public office, Friends have an opportunity to bear witness to the power which integrity, courage, respect for others, and careful attention to different points of view can exert in creating a just community. Where there is a conflict between loyalty to God and a seeming necessity for action as a public official, a prayerful search for divine guidance may lead to a suitable resolution of the conflict or to a decision to resign.
From their earliest days Friends have counseled obedience to the state except when the law or ruling involved has appeared to be contrary to divine leading. The state has no claim to moral infallibility. Primary allegiance is to God.
If the state’s commands appear to be contrary to divine leading, Friends take prayerful counsel before responding. This usually involves testing one’s proposed action by the judgment of the Meeting. When the decision is to refuse obedience to the law or order of the state, in accordance with the dictates of conscience, it is proper for Friends to act openly and to make clear the grounds of their action.
If the decision involves incurring legal penalties, Friends generally have suffered willingly for the sake of their convictions. Friends not personally involved in such actions can strengthen the Meeting community by supporting their fellow members with spiritual encouragement and, when necessary, with material aid.
Stewardship of Economic Resources
All that we have, in our selves and our possessions, are gifts from God, entrusted to us for our responsible use. Jesus reminds us that we must not lay up earthly treasures for ourselves, for where our treasures are, there will our hearts be also. We cannot serve both God and Mammon.
Stewardship is a coming together of our major testimonies. To be good stewards in God’s world calls on us to examine and consider the ways in which our testimonies for peace, equality, and simplicity interact to guide our relationships with all life.
O that we who declare against wars, and acknowledge our trust to be in God only, may walk in the light, and thereby examine our foundation and motives in holding great estates! May we look upon our treasures, the furniture of our houses, and our garments, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions.
John Woolman, c. 1770
In a world of economic interactions far more complex than John Woolman could have imagined, Friends need to examine their decisions about obtaining, holding, and using money and other assets, to see whether they find in them the seeds, not only of war, but also of self-indulgence, injustice, and ecological disaster. Good stewardship of economic resources consists both in avoidance of those evils and in actions that advance peace, simple living, justice, and a healthy ecosystem. Good stewardship also requires attention to the economic needs of Quaker and other organizations that advance Friends’ testimonies.
Friends worldwide have accepted the idea that the testimony of equality in the economic realm implies a commitment to the right sharing of the world’s resources. Friends in comfortable circumstances need to find practical expression of the testimony of simplicity in their earning and spending. They must consider the meaning for their own lives of economic equality and simplicity, and what level of income is consonant with their conclusions. They should consider likewise what portion of that income should be shared beyond the immediate family. That decision entails balancing the social value of self-sufficiency against the social value of greater help for those more needy. It also requires judgments about what expenditures are essential and what are discretionary, and about the values that will underlie discretionary expenditures.
Walking Gently on the Earth
We recognize that the well-being of the earth is a fundamental spiritual concern. From the beginning, it was through the wonders of nature that people saw God. How we treat the earth and its creatures is a basic part of our relationship with God. Our planet as a whole, not just the small parts of it in our immediate custody, requires our responsible attention.
As Friends become aware of the interconnectedness of all life on this planet and the devastation caused by neglect of any part of it, we have become more willing to extend our sense of community to encompass all living things. We must now consider whether we should lay aside the belief that we humans are acting as stewards of the natural world, and instead view human actions as the major threat to the ecosystem.
Friends are indeed called to walk gently on the earth. Wasteful and extravagant consumption is a major cause of destruction of the environment. The right sharing of the world’s remaining resources requires that developed nations reduce their present levels of consumption so that people in underdeveloped nations can have more, and the earth’s life-sustaining systems can be restored. The world cannot tolerate indefinitely the present rate of consumption by technologically developed nations.
Friends are called to become models and patterns of simple living and concern for the earth. Some may find it difficult to change their accustomed lifestyle; others recognize the need and have begun to adopt ways of life which put the least strain on the world’s resources of clean air, water, soil, and energy.
A serious threat to the planet is the population explosion and consequent famine, war and devastation. Called on to make decisions to simplify our lives, we may find that the most difficult to accept will be limiting the number of children we have.
Voluntary simplicity in living and restraint in procreation hold the promise of ecological redemption and spiritual renewal.