If you ask most people what Friends are known for they usually respond by mentioning our opposition to war or efforts at building peace. In fact we are often referred to as one of three historic peace churches, which would include the Church of the Brethren and the Mennonites.
Both our Peace Testimony and testimonies about social justice are rooted in the belief that there is that of God in everyone. (See Barclay’s Apology Revisited page, proposition 5.)
In First Day School Quaker children learn the familiar excerpt from the 1660 declaration to King Charles II of England:
“We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever; and 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 unto it; and we do certainly know, and so 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.”
There is more to the story however. Friends were being accused of sedition, a serious charge in those days, the outcome of which could mean years of imprisonment. The original statement explains the Biblical and theological justification for this absolute stand. The above quotation is only part of the declaration, mostly from the first paragraph. To more fully understand the statement I invite Friends to read the entire statement at this link: http://www.qhpress.org/quakerpages/qwhp/dec1660.htm.
How the Peace Testimony is applied by Friends varies across the Society of Friends across the ages and from individual to individual. For some Friends it means a willingness to be a conscientious objector during times of war. For others it means resisting conscription and militarism in general. Many Friends these days are refusing to pay taxes that are used for war. War tax resistance is actually in keeping with our historic practices. For example, Friends could be disowned for paying war taxes during the American Revolution and Civil War.
Our social justice testimonies are many and varied but they are all based on our understanding of the demands of following the Inner Light. Friends’ testimony on equality is a direct result of the belief that there is that of God in everyone. How this testimony has been applied has changed throughout history, at first to include freedom for African Americans, then full participation of women in society, and in later years marriage equality for gay and lesbian people. Our understanding of our relationship with the natural world has grown to now include the immerging testimony of stewardship. How we treat the natural world reflects how we view the presence of the divine in all of creation.
We can no more separate our desire and obligation to work for peace and social justice from our faith than we can resist God’s promptings in our hearts. Our words and our deeds are one.
“Preach the gospel everyday; if necessary, use words.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi