Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Give Peace Month a Chance

“The first step to peace is to stand still in the light.” –George Fox

The Stats (according to TIME magazine): The US Military budget amounts to more than the next top 20 nations defense budgets combined. From 2001 ($316 Billion) to 2010, it has more than doubled ($693 Billion). In that same span of time incidents of terrorists attacks have risen. In the year 2000- 423. In the year 2009 - I10,999 (4,584 in Iraq and Afghanistan).

This January Boise Friends Church, along with many other churches in our Northwest Yearly Meeting, will be celebrating the second annual Peace Month. The *irony is that this is a topic that stirs up more controversy and conflict that perhaps any other in Quakerdom. I go into this year's "celebration" with some degree of fear and trepidation. Last year we explored peace in accordance with our Quaker roots as one of the Historic Peace Churches. We taught about our current and historic statements of nonviolence, peace, and justice. The feedback (that I heard) was mostly positive.

I heard from consciousness objectors and closet pacifists who joined the Friends Church because of our peace testimony and were encouraged to finally hear mention of it. Why the silence and near secrecy? Controversy. What do we say to the courageous men and women who have sacrificed and suffered and lost friends in combat? What do we say to those who have the unoriginal but challenging questions like: What if someone attacked your loved ones? What about Hitler? Check out this Article Five Questions Your Pacifist Friends Are Tired of Answering for some answers. http://www.burnsidewriterscollective.com/social/2007/02/five_questions_your_pacifist_f.php

I find myself compromising in some ways. Like, to our veterans I honor their courage and sacrifice while still holding my position on nonviolence. Is that a cop-out? I recognize that I don't know what I would do to defend my family. Probably whatever it takes. I grant (reluctantly) that their may have been times in history when military action was unavoidable. But for each unavoidable military action are a dozen actions that we look back on and say why couldn't both sides find a nonviolent resolution. We look back and say, the violence wasn't worth it. In fact it has done more harm than good.

As I reflect on Jesus’ words and I look at the state of the world I am grieved and confused and challenged. What does it mean to love our enemies? To turn the other cheek? To go the extra mile? To be called a child of God for being a peacemaker? To hunger and thirst for justice and be filled? And maybe the strangest paradox of Jesus – to inherit the earth by being meek?

Friends, through the centuries, have been willing to take an unpopular position - the unwavering view that we should be willing to suffer for peace and justice, before we are willing to inflict suffering. Quakers through the centuries have been active and courageous in their peace-making efforts. They have been imprisoned and persecuted for their convictions and actions. They have put themselves in harm’s way to protect the innocent and to bring relief to those who are suffering in war time. They even won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for their relief efforts. The presenter of this prestigious award had these words to offer during his speech:

The Quakers have shown us that it is possible to translate into action what lies deep in the hearts of many: compassion for others and the desire to help them - that rich expression of the sympathy between all men, regardless of nationality or race, which, transformed into deeds, must form the basis for lasting peace. For this reason alone the Quakers deserve to receive the Nobel Peace Prize today. But they have given us something more: they have shown us the strength to be derived from faith in the victory of the spirit over force.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers to our global or personal peace problems. But I do have a few guiding assumptions and convictions. #1. Violence often escalates to more violence. #2. Anger and violence always feel justified. #3. Jesus calls us to be peacemakers. #4. Jesus calls us to love our enemies. #5. Peacemaking requires courage and creativity. #6. It is easier to hold a grudge than to offer forgiveness. #7. A posture of peace and love and forgiveness is our greatest hope in this world for healing and reconciliation.

*Irony is not used here in the most accurate sense of the world.


  1. I think that no one in the Friends movement wants to knee jerk make war but on the other hand.. not everyone is willing to sit back and take abuse. It is a subject of endless dialog over what the Peace Testimony means fleshed out in everyday life. Mostly I think that it is lived out by loving our neighbor as we love our self. It is easier to discuss then.

  2. Phil, great insight. I think in a general stance regarding our neighbor, it's pretty indisputable. I know that CS Lewis has an essay titles Why I am not a Pacifist. He firmly believes that Jesus' words were meant about defending one's self not in defense of others. Seems like rhetorical gymnastics to me... but he is CS Lewis.