26 January 2023

A New New Call to Peacemaking?

Quakers are clear on their obligation to wage peace, serve those in need, and pursue diplomatic channels, no matter how narrow they might be. But what happens when diplomacy fails, justice is breached, aggression persists, and lives are endangered? How do we justify waiting for diplomacy as tanks approach Kyiv and missiles flatten maternity hospitals?

— Bryan Garman, "The Peace Testimony and Ukraine," Friends Journal, April 1, 2022.

Garman's article, with its assertion that "There can be, and in the case of stopping fascism there were, multiple truths," seemed to some readers to imply some flexibility in interpreting the Quaker peace testimony when we are on the "rugged terrain" of aggressive warfare.

Two of my friends were among those who took to the pages, and letter columns, of Friends Journal in response. David Finke's article, "The Spirit of Christ and our Historic Peace Testimony (April 18) pointed out that

... Our testimony against fighting with outward weapons has never been rescinded by Quakers as an organized group. (I note that the “Free Quakers” who supported American colonists’ armed rebellion against Britain were gone by the early 1800s.) It doesn’t matter whether or not governments heed our counsel or follow our example. Jesus’s calling to “Follow me” (both within us and among us) is a voice which I hope we can still hear and heed. Discipleship may be costly, but it leads to life.

Adria Gulizia is also on record (August 1), calling us to consider which "Light" is leading us:

So there are at least two “Lights” we might look to for guidance: the humanistic, psychological “Light of Reason” or the divine, authoritative “Light of Christ.” Knowing which we are referring to will determine whether we seek to follow it by gathering facts and using our brains to balance competing priorities—say, the harm caused by engaging in war versus the harm permitted by pacifism—or whether we seek to follow it by prayerfully opening our souls to the Divine Will.

For those of us in the orthodox or evangelical streams of the Quaker movement (broadly defined), there is not much flexibility at all:

We feel bound explicitly to avow our unshaken persuasion that all war is utterly incompatible with the plain precepts of our divine Lord and Law-giver, and the whole spirit of His Gospel, and that no plea of necessity or policy, however urgent or peculiar, can avail to release either individuals or nations from the paramount allegiance which they owe to Him who hath said, "Love your enemies." (Matt 5:44, Luke 6:27) In enjoining this love, and the forgiveness of injuries, He who has brought us to Himself has not prescribed for man precepts which are incapable of being carried into practice, or of which the practice is to be postponed until all shall be persuaded to act upon them. We cannot doubt that they are incumbent now, and that we have in the prophetic Scriptures the distinct intimation of their direct application not only to individuals, but to nations also. (Isa 2:4, Micah 4:1) When nations conform their laws to this divine teaching, wars must necessarily cease.

— Richmond Declaration of Faith, 1887, on peace (not edited for inclusive language; my italics).

Fifty years ago, the Superintendents and Secretaries of Yearly Meetings (bringing together annually the staff heads of major USA Friends organizations and those yearly meetings that have such staffing) surveyed their constituencies concerning the vision for a "new call to peacemaking," and recorded a favorable response. The next year, 1974, these Friends placed this concern in the hands of the Faith and Life Movement as the widest possible network of Friends concerned with identity and renewal issues among all Quakers in North America—evangelical, liberal, Holiness, independent, and conservative—which in turn began working on study materials for Friends to engage with this "new call."

The first publication was the booklet New Call to Peacemaking: A Challenge to All Friends. The contents began with chapters on the biblical basis and the theology of peacemaking, as you might expect for a movement sparked by Evangelical Friends (Norval Hadley was the editor). Other writers—all men—covered the disciple's relationship with government, the role of the peace movement, the past and potential contributions of international organizations, and the importance of a just world order in reducing conflict.

One passage by Charles Wells, in his chapter on "The Global Nuclear Threat and the Quaker Witness," speaks to our situation now, I think.

Consider this: The thousands of demonstrators who may walk the streets of Washington and other cities during days of decision never become visible or a pertinent influence to 99 percent of the public, or even to many Friends. I do not downgrade the importance of demonstrations in strategic locations, particularly those peaceful vigils in sight of our lawmakers. But how can we back up the witness of those whose testimony is expressed in this way?

Wells goes on to advocate that those who cannot, for whatever reason, join such protests should consider becoming contributors, in equal numbers, to help fund others who are willing to go but can't afford it. Additionally, other stay-at-home supporters could fund advertising that amplifies the message.

But we must present our messages in fresh language, in words that aren't worn out, bolstered by facts that are startling yet appealing, surprising but unanswerable—to break through the barrier of public indifference to traditional peace talk, so that the public will listen.

These messages will require all the skill and heart the Society possesses. But within our membership are many experienced advertising professionals, designers, layout artists, and writers capable of making these display ads models of soft-spoken but penetrating power.

Indeed, some of those creative people have been hard at work all these years, and the Internet has added many new channels of expression, accessible to new voices and new audiences. But times have changed us and our churches in other ways, too. Are we more fragmented now, despite all these new channels of communication? Among today's Quakers, does any institution, any group, have the reach and credibility to organize a Friends-Church-wide NEW New Call to Peacemaking?

What would justify such a call on the attention and energies of the widest possible Quaker audience?

  • The first 22 years of this new century have been a butcher's block of violent behavior by states and non-state actors alike. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the peace movement—religious, secular, and mixed—seems practically asleep.
  • There's a lot of publishing going on among Friends, but much of it (often for very good reasons) seems inward-looking, either critiquing or glorifying our history and identity. Do we have the capacity to add some urgent, and at least somewhat unified, attention to the violence and death worship being conducted in our name and with our taxes just beyond our peripheral vision?
  • For those Friends and allies who are working hard on behalf of peace, can a "New Call"-style campaign of study, and a new call to commitment, amplify their hard work? Friends Committee on National Legislation has had modest success with their "War is not the answer" signs and stickers, but let's help them (a) make the message much more visible, and (b) work on our public answer to the implicit question, "... if war is not the answer, what is?"
  • Quakers and other Christians have had fifty years of growing experience decolonizing biblical studies and theology. Voices who were formerly marginalized (and far too often are still minimized) are now more available to the rest of us. What are we saying and learning, and what more might we learn together, as we envision a spiritual confrontation with those Powers and Principalities and evil in high places that continue to fool millions with the romance of violence? Those who've already had these confrontations first-hand have much to tell all of us.
  • Franklin Wallin's chapter in New Call on what we've come to call the right sharing of world resources has a few glancing references to the environment. This dimension of peacemaking is now in sharper focus, and should be part of a vision of a New New Call.
  • A revitalized peace focus among Friends could involve a huge range of the diverse temperaments and spiritual gifts among us. Our prophets, theologians, educators, pastoral ministers, tradespeople, scientists, bookkeepers, mystics, administrators, healers ... all are needed to work and pray our way toward a message for all those who assume war is the only answer, and who are caught in the war economy. I can imagine lively and fertile discussions/debates among evangelicals and liberals and "convergent" Friends of all generations, because they are all needed.
  • One of my most urgent questions: how do we re-envision the role of evangelist in this context?
  • Mark Hatfield, in his New Call chapter on "Christ and Caesar," touches on tax resistance (refusal to pay the military portion of our taxes) and "responsible disobedience" when the government goes astray. Do we have new ways of envisioning these practices? How would we discern when they should become part of our public witness?
  • Many of the structures that gave the Friends Church (a.k.a. the Religious Society of Friends) coherence have weakened in the last half-century. Many of our yearly meetings and our mission and service agencies suffer from shrinking constituencies and budgets. Social tends haven't helped, but I wonder whether these structures have truly been pursuing the most basic reason for their existence: to help us answer the classic query, "How does Truth prosper among you?" Is your meeting or church alive and expectant and accessible? Are people in your community experiencing grace, healing, and other signs of the Holy Spirit's presence? Do your meetings for business start with an agenda to find out what God wants to say and do through you in this time and place? If you're experiencing weakness in any of these areas, how can we support you?

    In other words, might our structures gain new vigor by serving as worthy channels for a new generation's Call to Peacemaking?

What have I left out?

Fifty years ago, the Superintendents and Secretaries of Yearly Meetings initiated the New Call to Peacemaking, which automatically guaranteed wide exposure for the concern. If you think it's time for us to restore this aspect of Friends discipleship to its rightful place at the heart of our witness to the world, how do you think we might get started?

What about Ukraine? (My view of the pacifist's dilemmas.)

C. Wess Daniels's 2018 lecture, Remixing Faith for the Love of the Quaker Tradition, takes a positive, encouraging approach to the challenges of re-awakening our sleepy Quaker movement.

Another fertile source of ideas and cases: Friends Peace Teams. (I'm on the Europe team.)

How does Truth prosper in the world of mass media? Maybe this interactive media bias chart may be helpful.

Curtis J. Evans on Martin Luther King and the unfinished work of nonviolence. And Terrence Rynne on a Catholic Nonviolence Initiative conference in Rome last December that could "serve as push for [a] papal encyclical."

Blues in Denmark: "You're going to need somebody on your bond!"


kfsaylor said...

Thank you for this peace and the links to others. I posted this response to Adria Gulizia's article:

Through the inshining power and presence of the spirit of Jesus Christ upon my conscience and consciousness, it is discovered to me that the act of physically harming another is out of the awareness of Christ's presence. Such behavior would draw me out of my experience of and habitation in the continuous and unreflected presence of the indwelling Spirit. The concept of peace is of the reflective nature. The presence of the Spirit in my conscience is drawn me out of being guided and informed by the reflective nature and its thought-agents like peace. In this way, I do not promote the reflective nature I testify to the witness of awareness of the spirit of Christ's motion which, in the case of physically harming others, threatens to diminish habitation within the inshining Light itself in itself. My research suggests this living witness I share with the witness of many early Quakers.

Marshall Massey said...

It’s not that I haven’t been reading you, Johan, and mostly agreeing with you, in your posts about Russia & Ukraine and what we might be called to do in response.

It’s only (as you surely know) that the whole thing is so messy.

Apart from tax-paying, the Gospels do not address what political policies we should advocate; they focus on how we should respond as individuals in person-to-person relationships. And that strikes me as very sensible. The more deeply we delve into issues of social policy, the more we end up paying obeisance to phantasms that exist only in our hopes, our fears and our imaginations: “just settlements”, “the Free World”, “democratic solutions”. These things confuse us, and we then, like sheep, go astray, every one to his (or her) own way. I note that Jesus in the Gospels focuses on situations where we can much more clearly hear his pleadings in our hearts.

The progressives’ confidence of a century and a quarter ago — that Godly western civilization would simply keep marching ever upward into greater and greater enlightenment and goodness — fell victim, in the trenches of World War I, to a painful realization that humanity really prefers to stay fallen. Therein, as I’m sure you already know, lay the beginnings of the reclusive-fundamentalist movement. In regard to the question, “Where is the peace movement?”, I suspect the answer is the same one the fundies gave back then: too many of us have seen that too few people are going to listen to enlightened slogans like “War Is Not The Answer”. And so we are sticking to matters where we can clearly hear Christ’s pleadings in our hearts.

I more-or-less agree with the passage you quote from Charles Wells: inspired witness should not cease. But most demonstrating does not appear to me to be inspired witness. A great deal of it is knee-jerk, some of it turns into the kind of resisting-perceived-evil that Jesus warned us against, and some of that provokes a very counter-productive backlash. Absent clear prophetic inspiration, many of us might better serve the will of Christ by binding up the wounds of the victims, feeding the starving, clothing the destitute, and finding homes for the refugees, than by holding up peace signs to a world that finds them foolish. There are good agencies doing such humanitarian work; my wife and I have been supporting the UNHCR, the World Food Program, Kidsave, and IFAW.

In my own personal opinion, a “New New Call to Peacemaking” is not going to be a productive use of our time if it goes no further than “lively and fertile discussions/debates among evangelicals and liberals and ‘convergent’ Friends of all generations”. All that means is that we privileged will be feeling virtuous, talking amongst ourselves, far from the firing lines. Anything we do should, at the very least, also bind up the wounds of the victims.

Now, if you feel God demanding to speak through you, that is of course another matter: you might be guided to reach the witness of God in the hearts of others, and I hope you will be faithful. But that leads me to the thought that perhaps what we Friends need first is not so much a “New New Call to Peacemaking” but a Samuel School for Adults.

Much love to you, my friend.

Johan Maurer said...

Marshall, what I loved about the OLD New Call to Peacemaking was that it was an opportunity for a significant representation of the breadth of North American Friends to look at our discipleship together. Our structures actually served us well. Admittedly, I have a personal relationship with this experience: I read the New Call materials in my earliest time as a Friend, and it all made a deep impression on me. I wonder whether we're capable of as sustained a campaign of study and reflection now, but I wouldn't want to say "no" without our trying. And to me, the peace testimony is one of the signs and wonders that I would love to see flourishing again as a public source of hope.

I don't remember "feeling virtuous" as one of the benefits of the old New Call. And in terms of being "far from the firing lines," I would expect that a serious process would lead some of us closer to the firing lines. After the New Call expanded to include Mennonites and the Church of the Brethren, the Christian Peacemaker Teams organization was founded. I don't know for sure that the New Call prepared the way for CPT, but I think it is likely.

Hmm, a Samuel School for Adults. Interesting, and not mutually exclusive. I wonder what led you to propose that?

Marshall Massey said...

Thank you, Johan, for that very civilized and positive reply. We don’t see eye to eye, but I like the way you see.