The Quaker Testimony for Peace:
Introduction

Swarthmore College Peace Collection
Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College

Swarthmore, Pennsylvania 19081
USA
(610) 328-8557

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George Fox at Houlker Hall, 1662

 

We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and
fighting
with outward weapons for any end or under any pretense whatever;
this is our testimony to the whole world

George Fox and others, to Charles II
of England, 1660/61
(1)

 

From its beginnings in mid-seventeenth century England , members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) have upheld a peace testimony. This witness was a logical consequence of early Quakers' belief that there is an absolute and unreconcilable contradiction between the making of war and the "spirit and doctrine of Christ." (2). Quakers were not only to refrain from fighting in any war, but enjoined toward living their lives as peacemakers. Friends have affirmed that "our witness is not narrow and negative but far-reaching in its scope and intensely positive in the active service for Christ's peaceable Kingdom to which it calls us."(3). Friends have suffered death, imprisonment, and confiscation of property for their refusal to support war.


The peace testimony cannot be separated from other social testimonies of the Friends. As George Fox wrote in 1650, Friends were called to live "in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars." (4) Quakers were at the forefront of the antislavery and female suffrage movements; they have relieved suffering on battlefronts and in war-torn areas; they have turned public opinion toward more humane treatment of prisoners and people with mental handicaps. Quaker relief of suffering during war and its aftermath was recognized by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the [British] Friends' Service Council and the American Friends Service Committee in 1947.

 
In wartime and in peacetime, Quakers have led the way in demonstrating nonviolent methods of conflict resolution in interpersonal and international affairs. They have advocated quiet diplomacy and gestures toward reconciliation. John Haynes Holmes, who was not a Quaker, expressed the opinion of many who have found the Society of Friends to be an island of conscience and humanity in the most troubling times. "Friends...through three hundred years have borne witness to the inner spirit and its imperatives of duty. Through sheer fidelity to their faith, and a 'heart for any fate' of suffering and even of death, they have won the reverence and therewith the confidence of mankind. Armed not to kill, but to serve and save, they cross every frontier, dwell among every people, enemy and friend alike, and by their selflessness and triumphant lives they commend the way of peace to men who cannot understand but must believe." (5).

1. George Fox and others, A Declaration From the Harmles & Innocent People of God Called Quakers, presented to Charles II of England , 1660. (See cover image below).

2. Robert Barclay, Apology (1676), Proposition 15, section 13.

3. Christianity and War, London Yearly Meeting, 1900, p. 8.

4. Journal of George Fox. 8th ed. London : Friends' Tract Association, 1891, vol. 1, p. 11.

5. John Haynes Holmes, Out of Darkness, New York : Harper, 1942, p. 134-135.