This time we’re talking about the Quaker peace testimony. We’re combining three sections of the book Traditional Quaker Christianity here. We start out with talking about the historical context (coronation of Charles II) in which Quakers first wrote the peace testimony. The peace testimony is basically like “Dear king: we believe violence is a sin, and so is swearing oaths. So, while we won’t take an oath of allegiance, you can totally believe we won’t kill you.” It’s just also way longer than that. It answers all the “what if” questions people who don’t adhere to nonviolence typically ask.
Modern explanations of why we believe violence is always wrong often sound like “we believe there is that of God in every person, and therefore hurting or killing someone is like hurting or killing God.” That’s actually the complete opposite direction from the original Quaker peace testimony. That one goes “Christ commands both in scripture and in us that we do no violence.” So the older theology looks toward that of God in ourselves. Micah points out that the modern version isn’t necessarily bad theology, but it is different theology.
One thing in that original peace testimony is that it says:
That 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 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.
So we get to talk some about continuing revelation. It can be tempting, as we said in the episode on continuing revelation, to toss out passages that make us uncomfortable. But these Friends point to a consistency across revelation, even as it continues. This quote wasn’t in the episode, but I’m tossing it in here anyway:
The [healthy] mystic does not exalt his own experiences over historical revelation, he rather interprets his own openings in light of the master-revelations. He does not foolishly conclude because he has a vision of his own, that “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” is outdated and unnecessary.
Pacifism and Nonresistance
We talk about the words pacifism and nonresistance. The book says they’re synonyms and that we’re not that. Mennonites Mackenzie recently met asked whether Quakers are pacifist or nonresistant, so obviously they see them as different. Nonresistant isn’t the Quaker position, because the Lamb’s War requires that we resist what is wrong.
Micah doesn’t like the word “pacifist” because it’s often associated with a utilitarian way of thinking. “Pacifism is effective, so do it.” That’s not a moral statement. It suggests people would renounce pacifism if they found something violent that worked better,
Some people talk about how people are basically good, so if you’re good to them, they’ll be good to you. Recently, Henry Cadbury’s 1934 advice to Jewish rabbis to just be nice to the Nazis circulated around the internet.
The peace testimony includes answers to a lot of “what if?” questions non-Quakers would’ve asked. They still ask them. We’ve all encountered “are you really telling me you wouldn’t be violent if…” followed by outlandish scenarios. What they miss is that a commitment to nonviolence isn’t a claim to perfection. In the testimony, early Friends acknowledged they may be “driven to earth.” Mackenzie answered this online before by explaining that though she doesn’t know what she would do, she hopes she would be nonviolent. And she acknowledged that a failure in that would be sin.
Mackenzie: Welcome back to Quaker Faith and Podcast with Mackenzie and Micah. We are collapsing sections 7 C, D, and E in the book into one thing. It’s about Quakers at peace, is the topic that threads through all three of those, we’re putting all together, not breaking them up like that.
Mackenzie: So we talked last time about the lambs war and about it being spiritual warfare, not physical warfare or carnal warfare. I mentioned in there that the term lamb’s war could give some Quakers the heebie jeebies because we don’t like the word war because we have that thing about peace. So here’s that thing about peace, I also mentioned back in 1660 Quakers officially said we like peace and that was after Quakers had spent a bit of time in the, whatever armies, there was a bunch of armies during the Interregnum
Micah: Yes, new model army in particular.
Mackenzie: That one, yeah. Hi Brits, we’re Americans, we don’t know your history very well.
Micah: Just total random on the side, but I always did think that new model army would be an amazing name for a band.
Mackenzie: I could see that. So the context here is that Charles the First got beheaded in like 1640s, then the protectorate came in with Lord Cromwell.
Micah: Oliver Cromwell.
Mackenzie: There we go.
Micah: Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.
Mackenzie: There we go. Oliver Cromwell, I’m trying to say he was, the Lord Protector was Oliver Cromwell. There, that’s how I was trying to put it. Anyway, he was the Lord Protector of England, which was like a substitute, not exactly a king.
Micah: Served in the military dictator.
Mackenzie: Okay, and he’s dealing with, he was a parliamentarian, because the idea was that they wanted to parliament rule England without a king. Eventually, Cromwell died right.
Mackenzie: And then power racking always happen when a military dictator dies.
Micah: Cause I think his son was very briefly protector, and then was overthrown.
Mackenzie: So the result is that they go and fetch Charles’s son who is also named Charles, and they bring him back and go, “Alright we’re going to make you king again, this whole protector thing is not working out.” So we get this king come back. Now this new king, Charles the second, he’s very concerned because he’s in a country where there’s a whole bunch of people who killed his dad and are still really not into this idea of having a king anymore. So, he wants to votes of allegiance from everybody basically. And one of the groups that he’s concerned about are Quakers, because there are all these people who used to be in the New Model Army. So Quakers publish this declaration in 1660, that is a declaration from the harmless, innocent people of God, called Quakers, against all sedition, plotters, and fighters in this world. And it’s further addressed to the king, saying “Don’t worry, we’re not going to try to kill you,” with a whole bunch of theological reasoning for why they would never try to kill the king like those other people did in the 1640s who are definitely not us.
Mackenzie: So I think the, I guess I feel like the main starting point, or the main important thing to pull from looking at the 1660 declaration is that we will not fight because it’s, it says “We can neither kill men nor swear for or against them,” which would be taking the oath of allegiance part. Because it is contrary to the Spirit of Christ, His doctrine, and the practice of the apostles, even contrary to Him for who we suffer all things and endure all things. One of the sections that we are sorta skipping in here, or sorta condensing into this, is the misunderstandings to the peace testimony one, which I think personally that the most common misunderstanding of the peace testimony is that we don’t do violence on other people because there is that of God in them and then would be hurting the God that is in them, which is coming at it from the complete opposite direction versus we don’t fight because there’s that of God in us, telling us that it’s wrong.
Micah: Which, to be fair isn’t a totally terrible idea, this new idea that you mentioned, I mean when I first became Quaker, my first exposure to the peace testimony was essentially this idea, as I understood it at the time, that the reason we couldn’t, that we weren’t called to engage in violence was that God is present in every person and so to do violence against another person would be like doing violence against God. That’s not a terrible idea, and actually I think it’s similar to the idea that destroying the creation is essentially blasphemous, that destroying the creation is an act of violence against God since God created everything good, and God created human beings in God’s image. There’s some theological consistency I think in saying that we shouldn’t hurt other people and we shouldn’t kill other people because God has made people in God’s image. Basically don’t vandalize God’s stuff, thanks. God made this stuff, right?
Mackenzie: That reminds me of the definition of respect that I was taught in Catholic school as a child. Respect is treating ourselves, others, and other people’s property as a gift from God.
Micah: Right. So actually I think that’s an okay argument against both violence and warfare and against destruction of the creation in general, such as environmental destruction, or waste of resources, or things like that. It’s like, it’s not your house, don’t mess it up. I think the book that we’re reading here points out correctly that whether or not this is a good argument, it’s for better of words, it’s not the original Quaker argument. The original Quaker argument is that we are disarmed by Christ, not because of any sorta rational argument we can make about violence but because Christ has disarmed us. It’s once again, we might think whatever we want to think about violence, but Jesus has said don’t fight, and so we can’t. We are commanded not to, so I think the original Quaker peace testimony is fairly absolutist and fairly, it’s not a discussion really, it’s well Jesus told us not to period and that’s the end.
Mackenzie: Which on the other hand, it’s also an extremely long document.
Mackenzie: Where it’s not simply three sentences because it also answers all the objections that people raised.
Micah: Yes, and also goes at great length to explain why they shouldn’t be imprisoned, and tortured, and killed by the government, because they are definitely absolutely not a threat.
Mackenzie: Right, and so this chapter, well the original peace testimony chapter of the book is arranged as, it’s like a catechism, where there’s like a question and answer, like an FAQ on Quaker’s at peace. So one of the questions that it asks, and one that I’m sure plenty of us have heard from non-Quakers, is “Well I mean the commandment not to kill, that’s not absolute, right?” The answer that the early friends gave was that 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 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.
Mackenzie: In the book here, they go onto point out the not changeable part of that, and give a [inaudible 00:08:58] now we’ve all heard the phrase continuing revelation used by Quakers and so, talking about why continuing revelation as a Spiritual concept for us doesn’t actually mitigate this or undo our commitment to peace. To summarize that, continuing revelation, you know that it’s from the same source if it’s not contradicting the old stuff, but simply adding to it.
Micah: Yeah, this is continuing revelation I think a lot of Quakers like to think this is a particularly Quaker doctrine but actually this is a Judeo-Christian doctrine, which you look at the early church and they are constantly pointing out to where in scripture, and by scripture they mean the Old Testament. They are constantly pointing out where the things that they are now discovering have been foreshadowed. So, you know they’re always pointing to Isaiah, it’s foreshadowing the Messiah. They’re always pointing, Peter points to Joel as foreshadowing Pentecost and the Holy Spirit, and I think I for one today would point to Peter and Cornelius’ discovery of God breaking down the clean/unclean barriers in the book of Acts, I would point that as a foreshadowing of the acceptance and inclusion of LGBT Christians in the church. So, I think as Mackenzie says, continuing revelation is not God throws out everything that was said a thousand years ago and brings us something entirely different, it’s that God builds on or expands on what God has already taught us, and makes it even more expansive than your [inaudible 00:10:49] and powerful.
Mackenzie: Or even if you wanted to take that LGBT one back to the getting rid of the clean/unclean foods’ thing, then you can also go back to the expansion of including Ruth the Moabite and all those sorts of things.
Micah: Yep, and so, I guess the point here is that when we go back and look at scripture, when we want to understand how this new revelation fits in with the existing revelation, we need to look back and say, “Well does this fit, how does this fit with the character of God as we know it from scripture traditionally we already have?” I think in this example we’re giving, there are several, there are many stories and experiences of the church and of Israel that point to the way that God includes the outsider and brings in groups that were fully considered unclean, and separate, and not admittable into the community. I think it works that way with anything, I mean, I’ve actually recently read a good book about, I think the book is called, The Old Testament Case for Non-Violence, and basically it sorta goes and explains how the whole Old Testament, I mean obviously the Old Testament is about many things, not just about non-violence, but how the whole Old Testament is moving us towards an ethic of non-violence, even though it obviously does not start there.
Micah: So a lot of this is about life, the continuing revelation piece is like looking at the motion of God, not formation, the transformation that God is working in us, not just, we don’t look just look at any particular point and be like, “Well that’s the end right there.” Jesus Himself said, I think in the book of John, when the Holy Spirit comes, Holy Spirit is gonna teach you and have you do even greater things.
Mackenzie: I was going to say that we still haven’t mentioned that I will send my Spirit to teach you the things that I have not taught you yet.
Micah: You couldn’t bear to hear them now, yeah.
Mackenzie: There’s also a bit in one of these chapters about peace stuff, where the definition of pacifism comes up, and actually I had this conversation with a couple of Mennonites this past weekend. When they asked whether the Quakers are pacifist or non-resistant, and I answered pacifist. Then Micah asked, “Do you know what definition of pacifist they meant,” and I found it interesting that in this book they say, “We’re not pacifist because that means not resistant.” I was like wait, that is not the definition those Mennonites were using clearly, and so for clarification what I usually think of it as, is that pacifist are non-violent, but fine with resistance, whereas, non-resisters are obviously not fighting through this thing at all. I know where they get that from scripturally, because Jesus said do not resist an evil doer. I would say that, I’m just going to plug another book, it’s called, But I tell you by Karen Oberst, and it goes line by line through the sermon on the mount explaining like what context for each line, and talks about how resisting that context would have actually meant fighting back.
Micah: Yeah, I think that the word pacifist and pacifism, I actually never, I ruefully never use those words, and I certainly never use them to describe myself, because I think it’s very difficult to pin down what pacifist means. I think for a lot of people, pacifist, first of all pacifist means non-resistor, meaning if someone is doing something evil, I do nothing, right, which is definitely not what I believe. But then also, I think pacifism
Mackenzie: Because that’s what Lamb’s war, right?
Micah: Right that’s not Lamb’s war, Lamb’s war is not non-resistance in the sense of not even calling into question structural injustice and justice individuals, but there’s another condition of pacifism which I also don’t identify with, which is the idea that pacifism is about a reasoned moral decision not to take life because for what ever reason, it’s ineffective, it would be better if we didn’t kill people, or whatever, but it’s this sorta reasoned [crosstalk 00:15:12]
Mackenzie: Moral high ground.
Micah: Yeah, it’s this reason ideological position, and that’s also not what I believe in, because I mean frankly there are lots of situations where it certainly seems better to kill somebody than to let certain things go on, right? Like,
Mackenzie: The preverbal going back in time, and killing Hitler.
Micah: Exactly, like you know, I think it’s pretty easy to find a place where you’re like well certainly killing someone or many people is justified in this place, right? And so for me, I don’t really identify with the term pacifist or pacifism, I think I would go with the term follower of Jesus, and Jesus has clearly, as the early Quakers said in their declaration, Jesus has commanded us not to fight. There’s a saying that when Jesus disarmed Peter, He disarmed the church, and for those that don’t recall, Jesus disarmed Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was being taken away by the temple authorities and the disciples had a couple of swords with them.
Mackenzie: Which, can I interrupt there?
Micah: Go ahead.
Mackenzie: It’s common to say that Jesus was not anti-violence because He told the disciples to bring the swords with them, but it also says in the Bible, He said this so that this prophesy would be fulfilled, He would be counted among the
Micah: Yep, and so they got these few swords so that the scripture could be fulfilled that He would be counted among the lawless, but then when they show up and are taking Jesus away to kill Him, the disciples, as any of us would have done in their situation start pulling out their sword and start getting ready to fight, right. And Jesus says, “Put away your sword, for he who lives by the sword will die by it.” And Peter actually, before Jesus says this, cuts off the ear of one of the servants that are coming to take Him away, and Jesus actually heals the man’s ear. And so, from this story, among many other things, just the fact of the cross, many Christian theologians, especially pretty much the entire early church for the first 300 years of the church came to the conclusion that Jesus had commanded us not to fight and not to fight without our weapons as the early Quakers said.
Mackenzie: One of the other things in these sections that comes up a couple of times, comes up in the Lamb’s War and peace and it comes up in the common misunderstandings as the idea that this a position based on the inherent goodness of people. That people are naturally good, so if you’re good to them then they will be good to you.
Micah: You know this actually came up recently, I guess there’s an article from the New York Times from the 1930s that’s been recirculating recently.
Mackenzie: Right, the one about Cadbury.
Micah: Yeah, Henry Cadbury was a professor at Princeton, he was a professor somewhere important.
Mackenzie: [inaudible 00:18:11]
Micah: Haverford maybe, anyway Henry Cadbury was sorta a big deal back in the days.
Mackenzie: He was the head of AFSC.
Micah: Right, so he was sorta a big deal, in the Quaker community and beyond, and I guess back in the 30s, he was invited to this conference for a Rabbi, where Jewish Rabbis were, and he advised them that they should really cut out all those boycott stuff with Nazi Germany, and they should really start being nicer to Nazi Germany because all this confrontation stuff with Nazi Germany wasn’t going to help, and if they were nice to Nazi Germany maybe Nazi Germany would stop being so mean to Jews.
Mackenzie: Right, and Cadbury was considering boycotts to be violent which is quite a stretch in defining violence.
Micah: Right, so that would be sorta I think a misunderstanding of the tradition and a misunderstanding of Christ’s commands to sort of, I guess wimp out in the face of evil and refuse to stand up for those that are being oppressed.
Mackenzie: And he’s telling them, don’t even stand up for yourselves, really in that case.
Micah: Yeah, so Quaker commentator Martin Kelley said, “It was a cringe worthy speech that he gave.” I think that was accurate. I think caution to us now, because of course looking back you’d be like, “How could someone have possibly said that to a gathering of Rabbis in the 1930s, that you shouldn’t boycott Nazi Germany.” But I think we are seeing similar debate, and this is why it’s being recirculated right now, we’re seeing similar debate today of how strident.
Mackenzie: Is it okay to be?
Micah: Is it okay to be in resistance to evil? And what’s the right strategy to pursue in trying to stop evil?
Mackenzie: So other things in the declaration continue on basically with a whole bunch of what ifs, right, and I think any pacifist or any Quaker who agrees with the peace testimony is accustomed to someone that is not of that bent going, “Okay but what if,” and then coming with just these ludicrous scenarios of “Okay, so you’re tied up and they’re gonna rape your wife, but you have a gun,” and you’re like “Really, when is this going to happen?” And, so I do encourage looking in the book or just reading the declaration to see how friends answer, don’t you feel bad that other people are going to fight wars on your behalf, does it make you a coward or whatever, are you sure that you really resist this and things like that, and so this chapter, the last of these three chapters on peace conclude by saying, “Friends often confess after they’ve studied the declaration, I’m a poor Quaker, I could never embrace this when push comes to violence. That confession is a good starting point for a deeper witness for early friends positive no easy victory, recognizing that indeed they might be “driven to earth” in spite of their good will and non-violence.”
Micah: Yeah, so I’ve been asked this question a lot and actually for not going to get to go this year, but for like the last five years, I’ve been asked to come and talk on July 4th with an Inter Varsity Fellowship Group about Christian non-violence. It would have been really great to go celebrate the Fourth of July by going and talking with college students about non-violence, Christian non-violence.
Mackenzie: Which college is this at?
Micah: You know, I don’t know, because I never went to the college, it’s a summer group that Inter Varsity Fellowship puts on.
Mackenzie: Oh okay.
Micah: And like they’re out in the city. But so, anyway, at those sessions I always have to implicitly have to answer that question of how can I justify non-violence in a world where violence is so terrible and needs to be resisted. And I find that there’s sure two pieces to my answer that they’re both really important. The first is basically, Jesus tells me not to, Jesus tells us as Christians not to, and it’s not in my call, it’s what Jesus says and I’m following Jesus, that’s the first part but that’s not sufficient. The second part is, as Peter says of himself when he realizes who Jesus is, he says, “Go away from me Lord, for I’m a sinful man.” I am of the earth, I am a violent person in my nature, it is not natural for me not to strike back when I’m struck, and I don’t know for sure what I would do in a given situation, but my conviction is that I should follow Jesus.
Micah: So not claiming a moral superiority for myself, but saying, “I’m trying to be a follower of Jesus and here’s what I believe Jesus is calling us to”, but I don’t claim that I’m somehow on some different spiritual plain, or like I’m just incurious to the terrors and horrors of this world.
Mackenzie: Yeah, I remember somebody coming into the Quakers supper, asking basically one of those okay, but would you really questions, and the answer I gave to this person was that the Quaker peace testimony is not about practicality, it’s not about strategy or tactics, it is the conviction that it is wrong to violence, and so while I can not claim that I actually would behave perfectly in any given scenario that could arise, I can say that I believe it would be sin, that some of the possible reactions I could have would qualify as sin. I’m not perfect so I might fall into that sin, but I’d still acknowledge that they would be sin.
Micah: I think it’s also worthwhile, I mean we are talking about violence and that doing a violence and whether it’s acceptable and in what circumstances it’s acceptable, but I think it is useful to widen the circle to and say at the end of the day, as is with anything in Christianity, at the end of the day this is about love, and what does love look like. I think it’s just really difficult for me to say that love looks like killing people, and in what circumstance am I loving an individual by killing them. I think they probably actually exist, but I think there are very few where that could actually happen. So, I think the simple command of Jesus is our conviction and it was the conviction of the early church for the first 300 years, the simple commandment of Jesus, do not kill, and another very simple command of His, love one another as I have loved you, and Jesus died on the cross rather than destroying his persecutors.
Micah: Can we imagine Jesus fighting a battle in WWII, can we really imagine that? I can not.
Mackenzie: I’m now remembering the time that there’s like a Facebook page that was for people who really like guns and they posted asking what model gun would Jesus have, and somebody replied with a picture of a nail gun, because Jesus was a carpenter.
Micah: Yeah, that’s awesome! But I think, again I would say that this as Mackenzie’s already said, this is not for us as Christians trying follow Jesus, this is not primarily a discussion of practicality, this is a discussion of obedience, and so I think it’s more challenging, I think the place where I find a lot of challenge is when sometimes these discussions happen outside of a faith context and having the conversation about this with a secular American. The conversation is sort of over in a sense when they say, “Well why wouldn’t you fight”, and I say “Because Jesus told me not to”, it’s like oh okay, well there’s nothing more to say.
Mackenzie: I mean that’s the point that they start arguing with you about whether, sometimes they start arguing with you about whether you should actually listen to Jesus, but if you’re a Christian then there’s not really.
Micah: Right, and I guess it’s an opportunity for witness, because I think a primary way that we witness as Christians, that we bear witness to Jesus in the world is through the absurdity of our lives, and the joy with which we live it. And so the fact that we’re absurd and hopefully the fact that we’re joyful and know a peace that the world doesn’t understand, those two things together I think can draw attention and can invite other people to discover the Kingdom of God.
Mackenzie: You can find us on the web at Quakerpodcast.org as Quaker podcast on Twitter, Facebook or Patreon, and on iTunes.