Quaker Theology -- Issue #17


Reviews, continued


Study War Some More (If You Want to Work for Peace). Chuck Fager. Quaker House, 60 pages, paper.

Reviewed by Doug Gwyn

This small book of sixty pages offers a good mix of biblical reflection, lessons from Quaker history, and distillations from Chuck Fager’s years of work for peace.  It’s a call to Friends for a more rigorous and long-term strategy of peace witness.  As the title suggests, if Friends are serious about working for peace, we could learn a few lessons from the military. 

Fager begins with the 1660 Declaration, the first categorical statement of the Quaker peace testimony, in particular the refusal to bear arms either for or against any state.  But the Declaration also confirms Paul’s assertion in Romans 13 that the state has rightful authority to wield “the sword.”  As resolute as the early Quaker refusal of violence was, it conceded that the kingdoms of this world are not yet the kingdoms of Christ.  Fager goes on to cite Meredith Weddle’s study of Quaker leadership in colonial Rhode Island in the 1670s, when faced with a violent Native American uprising.  First, Friends established the right of conscientious objection in the colony, and then they prosecuted war against the tribes.  Weddle concludes that the Quaker peace testimony is “a great deep.”  Quaker history reveals a continuum of ways in which Quakers have tried to work out their peace witness.

I would suggest another way of describing this troubling history.  Early and traditional Quaker peace witness partakes of a tragic consciousness, an outlook arising from a deep acquaintance with the cross.  Just as Jesus carried his witness straight into the teeth of the Roman Empire, foreseeing the consequences clearly, early Friends bore their peace testimony with a tragic sense of the human condition and the affairs of nations.

Only in the last century did this painful witness become an ideology of pacifism, claiming to show nations a better way to resolve their conflicts.  There is much to be said for modern pacifism and the constructive alternatives to violence it has pioneered.  Yet, if we lose the tragic sense that undergirds peace witness, we may fall prey to facile, bumper-sticker mottos that evade the tougher questions.  We may be prone to sudden capitulations of our witness, such as public radio reporter Scott Simon’s well-known endorsement of war in the Middle East.

With that concern in mind, I applaud Fager’s call for a more visionary, sustained and downright stubborn peace activism.  He draws upon Sun Tzu’s ancient manifesto, The Art of War, to suggest a more clear-eyed, non-reactive strategy of long-term struggle for peace.  I personally don’t find the handful of lessons drawn from Sun Tzu all that revelatory, but I take Fager’s basic point that we should follow Jesus’ advice to become “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” in our work for peace.

Fager quotes at length from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1961 warning against the growing danger of the military-industrial complex (MIC).  Many are generally familiar with that historic denunciation by a career military man.  But Fager draws attention to this key passage:

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience.  The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government.” 

Eisenhower’s prophetic analysis of the spiritual danger of the MIC has been overlooked.  Fager takes it as a point of departure for the rest of this book.  This is the primary point of engagement for Friends as a particular people with a particular calling in the world.     

Elaborating on total influence of the MIC, Fager schematizes it as the “Wheel of War,” the symbiotic system of institutional forces that keeps military spending and adventurism in perpetual motion.  He draws upon Ephesians 6 to reflect that our real struggle with the “principalities and powers,” the spiritual power of institutions, rather than against flesh-and-blood human beings.  That was the vision of the early Quaker “Lamb’s War,” a nonviolent struggle primarily against the institutional miasma of a state-enforced church and its enfranchised clergy. 

Fager calls us to a more long-term strategy, a “Hundred-Year Lamb’s War” against the MIC, the single most destructive and demonic force in American society today.   Like early Friends, Fager poses our struggle also in terms of Revelation 13, John’s vision of two beasts.  These are the point of engagement for the Lamb and his followers (Revelation 14).  Fager suggests that these two beasts are embodied today by the MIC and a right-wing “war Christianity” that seeks to inculcate the American military with a Crusader mentality.  This is good re-interpretation of Revelation for our times.

And it’s a compelling call to action.  Fager poses three main objectives for a Hundred-Year Lamb’s War: first, make the US a law-abiding member of the international community; second, move the three great monotheistic religions toward a nonviolent inter-relationship; and third, make the Religious Society of Friends a meaningful player in both arenas.  He adds to these three objectives a list of six strategic actions for concerned Friends to take in this long-term struggle.  The larger aim of this work is to counteract the “Wheel of War” with a “Wheel of Peace, Love, Justice and Mercy,” which he also schematizes, showing the symbiotic and sustaining force of various forms of faith-based peace witness. 

Fager cites the example of Lucretia Mott, who clearly thought long-term in her struggle for the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, etc.  Mott was not as distracted as we often are by elections, knowing that true social transformation must generate from a deeper social-spiritual level.  Fager closes with a scenario of the Hundred Year Lamb’s War in progress, twenty years from now.  It’s is a useful piece to include, since most of us have difficulty imagining such a sustained project.  Again, the challenge is to get beyond our usual reactive posture, outraged and fearful over the latest exploits of the MIC.  As long as we remain in that posture, we will continue in retreat. 

This little book possesses some of the provocative qualities of an early Quaker tract, updated for new times and different challenges.  And like an early Quaker tract, its wonky typography adds charm and occasional surprises!  I am grateful for Chuck Fager’s contribution, combining good biblical reflection, relevant Quaker history, and trenchant contemporary analysis. 


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