Quakers and The Lamb's War: A Hermeneutic
for Confronting Evil
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Quakers and The Lamb's War: A Hermeneutic for Confronting Evil
International Historic Peace Church Consultation
Bienenberg Theological Seminary, Switzerland, June 25-28, 2001
The Peace Testimony Today
So what is the basis of the Friends peace testimony today? Wilmer Cooper,13 former Dean of the Earlham School of Religion, mentions five reasons for the peace testimony: George Fox's "opening" that bearing arms was wrong; the Bible and particularly the teachings of Jesus; concern about what the spirit of violence will do to ourselves; preserving "that of God" in others; and the pragmatic fact that war does not pay. We have already seen how Fox described his opening, and if it did not resonate with our own experience of the leading of the spirit, or Vehiculum Dei (the divine principle or light of Christ), it would not be convincing.
As to scripture we have only to look to the Sermon on the Mount, ask how one can reconcile "love your enemies" with war, and as in the Declaration of 1660 hear Jesus tell Peter to put up his sword. If the "time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near" (Mark 1:15), and "the kingdom of God is among [us]" (Luke 17:21) we can't put off obedience to these commands.
As to what the spirit of violence will do to ourselves Howard Brinton14 relates the journal entry of a 18th century Friend who said he could not defend himself with violence; for by so doing he would endanger his own soul and condemn his adversary, who should he die, would have no time to repent his attack; while if the Friend died without defending himself would die in grace while his attacker would still live and have time to repent (Brinton, page 61). Modern Friends might not embrace this in those words but I think the attitude would be understood. Responding in kind would violate the next point as well.
"There is that of God in everyone" has become a common response of modern liberal Quakers when asked what Quakers believe. This phrase comes out of the writings of George Fox and was used by him often. He admonished Friends in 1656 in a letter from Launceston jail (and many other times) "Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you go, so 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 every one." The modern understanding is that by addressing the potential for good that potential will be actualized.
The fifth reason is the pragmatic one. War does not pay. Every war contains the seeds of the next one. Nonviolence is risky but so is violence. But even more, nonviolence does work. Witness the nonviolent revolutions in the last decades of the 20th century. There were places where evil held sway: Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia come to mind, as well as South Africa under Apartheid which is the context Walter Wink first addressed in describing Jesus' Third Way.
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