By Chuck Fager
Quaker Thoughts on September 11 Terrorism
The shocks of 9/11, the September 11 attacks, on and their aftermath have abruptly put the Peace Testimony at or near the top of the priority lists of many Friends and meetings. As this soul-searching continues, here is an admittedly haphazard and highly personal list of resources that may be of use to Friends and meetings for discussion and reflection.
Before plunging into a listing of books, essays and websites about the why, when and how of peace witness, it seems to me there is some emotional-spiritual business that needs to come first: Ninth Month 11, 2001 was a shock, a trauma, to many of us. So before we go on, what can be said, or offered, to help cope with the lingering effects of that trauma?
Dark Night Journey, by Sandra Cronk
Speaking strictly personally, there are two places I would look and suggest to others:
First, the book Dark Night Journey, by the late Sandra Cronk (Pendle Hill paperback). I’ve read it twice before, but those were in times of personal, private stress and grief. Looking at it again this autumn, Cronk’s text speaks to the impact of such outward shocks as well:
“Suddenly our nicely ordered world can fall apart into meaninglessness,” she writes. “Not just the emotional shock of a particular tragedy strikes us. Along with the shock we discover that those pillars which we used to feel were so strong as manifestations of God’s love and purpose are taken away.”
I found strength in Cronk’s exploration of this process, which she calls “stripping,” and how she shows that, rather than the end of the road, it is a well-recognized track on most serious spiritual pathways. While much of the context of the book is individual, the wisdom in it can, I think, be of use in coming to terms with the larger impact of mass violence as well.
The other book that speaks to me in this time is Job. After all, Job’s trials begin, in part, with deadly “terrorist” attacks on his family by the Sabeans and Chaldeans. Job’s grief, his rage and the ambiguity of the divine response–all these ought to be even more familiar to many of us now than they might have been before Ninth Month.
Other Friends will draw comfort and strength from other writers or from other disciplines: e.g., prayer, worship, the fact of community. There are two essays on the web by Quaker healer John Calvi which also relate to this ongoing work of self-care:
Back to Work For Peace after 9/11
As we are able to return to thinking about, discussing together, and seeking leadings on how to bear our Peace Testimony in this new war, my own view is that it will be helpful to do some thoughtful reading and study. All the items mentioned below (as well as Cronk’s book) would be useful in small group discussions. Many are available on the web at no charge.
For background, permit me to recommend a book I edited for Pendle Hill: Sustaining Peace Witness in the 21st Century. It includes twenty essays and studies by a wide range of scholars and activists, and touches on many issues which were in truth as urgent in 1997 when it was prepared as they are today. Included in it is an overview of Quaker peace witness in the 20th century by Maya Wilson, a catalog which takes up more than sixty pages. We didn’t expect the list to be so lengthy, and I found it reassuring, a sign that the “spiritual DNA” of Quaker peace work was continually fertile throughout the most destructively warlike period in human annals. This record gave hope that we can persevere.
The Friends Peace Testimony as ‘Questing Beast.’
Another overview of the Peace Testimony is a delightful piece by Chel Avery, somewhat whimsically titled, “The Friends Peace Testimony as ‘Questing Beast.’”
This insightful piece was published in the collection, A Continuing Journey, published by Pendle Hill in 1996. It is also on the web.
Avery’s “Questing Beast” is a figure from Arthurian legend. Her use of it to illuminate the peace testimony today is not only original and trenchant, but fun as well.
Histories & Theories
For those who want a historical overview, and are ready to plunge into weighty tomes, here are two:
The Quaker Peace Testimony: 1660 to1914 by Peter Brock
Part of a much larger history of pacifism, Brock puts 250 years of witness and struggles into 380 pages.
The Quakers in Peace and War, by Margaret Hirst
An earlier volume, The Quakers in Peace and War, by Margaret Hirst, covers much of the same ground, but from an earlier perspective. (Brock’s study was published in 1990; Hirst’s is from the 1920s.)
An Inquiry into the Accordancy of War With the Principles of Christianity
A more theological argument, once widely read among Friends, was advanced by Jonathon Dymond in his work, An Inquiry into the Accordancy of War With the Principles of Christianity, published in the 1820s. A version of this work is now online.
If you want a more contemporary, social-science approach, hunt down a copy of Kenneth Boulding’s excellent little book, Stable Peace (University of Texas Press).
Boulding once told this writer that the book, originally a set of lectures at the University of Texas, was an effort to make peacemaking sound “stuffy and conservative” for an audience of that sort. It is a pleasure to report, however, that it is an utter failure in this regard: Boulding’s lucidity and wit flash through regularly, and his thinking is so clear that this book has been a basic and abiding influence on my own thinking.
1661 and After
Turning to historic Quaker documents, the “basic” or “original” statement of the Peace Testimony goes back to 1660, in what was titled “A Declaration from the harmless and innocent people of God, called Quakers,” prepared by Fox and several others. Excerpts from this declaration are in most books of Faith and Practice. The complete text is available on the web.
Also available on the web is a brief, vivid and thought-provoking essay by historian H. Larry Ingle, “The Politics of Despair: The Quaker Peace Testimony 1661.”
Ingle, who wrote the definitive biography of George Fox, examines how this document came to be written, in a time of turbulence both within and outside the nascent Society, and assesses some of its impact on Quakerism’s later development.
Peace, Not-Peace, and War
While the 1661 statement seems absolutist in its pro-scription of all violence all the time, Fox’s thinking seems to have developed (or did it wander?) as time passed. For instance, he wrote a letter in 1676 to Friends on the Carribean island of Nevis about what they might expect from the “magistrate” (i.e., the is-land’s government) and what their obligations to it might include.
This letter, “To all Friends in Nevis. . .” is also on the web at.
As this missive shows, Fox could be much more at home with official use of force than some might think. But what does that mean for us now?
Of course, it’s up to us to work this through. In this effort, a fine new book brings this question into even sharper focus: Walking in the Way of Peace, by Meredith Baldwin Weddle (Oxford, 2001). Weddle’s focus is the actions and rationale of the Quakers who held most high offices in the colony of Rhode Island during the bloody Indian conflict called King Philip’s war in 1675-1676. These Friends had a peace testimony. They also ran a war.
In point of fact, determining where to draw lines between acceptable and unacceptable uses of force, whether private or public, has been a recurring issue among Friends. Wars that were “popular” at the time have been especially difficult for many Friends–and the present war is no exception. Many of us will have heard of Friend Scott Simon (of National Public Radio) and his public abandonment of pacifism after 9/11.
(Another version is in Friends Journal, December 2001, p.16-20.)
Seeking A Way (Or Ways) Forward
Such reconsiderations of Quaker pacifism, whatever we think of them, are nothing new. In World War I, a large group of Hicksite Friends published a statement rather aggressively endorsing US entry into the war, and insisted that doing so was consistent with the peace testimony. Their declaration is online.
Despite such defections, many Friends in successive generations have stood fast in a refusal to take part in war. The World War I pro-war Hicksites’ declaration was answered, in part, by essays like, “The Higher Cause,” by Thomas Jenkins, published as a pamphlet by Friends General Conference in 1917, and on the web.
For the following generation, there is a fine and sobering Pendle Hill lecture on “The Integrity of German Friends During the Twelve Years of Nazi Rule,” by Brenda Bailey, on their site.
For more on this subject there is the book, Quakers and Nazis, by historian Hans Schmitt (University of Missouri Press).
Two recent books from Pendle Hill, Friends in Civilian Public Service (World War II), and Friends and the Vietnam War, include many striking and moving personal stories from men and women who served their country by refusing to serve in the military, plus accounts by some veterans who challenged the wars they had fought in.
Indeed, several reports on important peace topics, which emerged from Pendle Hill’s Issues Program, which this writer directed, are still available online.
There is a new collection of twenty-three papers on the web from an International Historic Peace Church Consultation in June, 2001 at Bienenberg Theological Seminary, Switzerland. Participants included Mennonites, Brethren and Quakers (among whom was our Co-Editor, Ann Riggs. She discusses the consultation elsewhere in this issue).
Also available there are the Consultation’s Epistle and a study paper entitled, “Just Peacemaking: Toward An Ecumenical Ethical Approach From the Perspectives of the Historic Peace Churches.”
Turning to our current situation, documents are proliferating, especially on the web, and any listing will be outdated by the time it is in print. Even so, here are a few which seem to me particularly suited to use for study and reflection:
One of the best is by a Mennonite, John Paul Lederach, “The Challenge of Terror: A Traveling Essay.” Lederach, one of the most experienced and respected international peace scholar-workers, wrote this piece while trapped in a Guatemala airport after 9/11 grounded US flights. He was returning from a peace-building mission in Colombia. The piece is on the web, with many responses.
For that matter, there is also much to be learned from Lederach’s colleagues at the Conflict Transformation Program at Eastern Mennonite University. They have a site with a collection of papers grappling with 9/11 and its aftermath.
There are many other books and articles which might be mentioned here; but this listing is meant only to offer a way into the literature, not an exhaustive survey. To close on a personal note: My own concern and struggles since 9/11 have resulted in creation of “The Quaker Peace Page,” on the web, on which several of the above pieces, and numerous others, are posted or linked. The hope is that this can be a growing resource for Friends in sorting out peace issues.