Liberal Quakerism’s eroded Peace Testimony

It is by subjection to the Light that ‘the exacter and violent doer in them might be thrown out: and they that had been hypocrites, might come to bring forth first fruits of repentance, and their mountain of sin and earthliness might be laid low in them…’ (George Fox, Journal, p32). This is a timely reminder of the obligation, set out by early Friends, to wage the Lamb’s war of resistance against the forces of violence, militarism, and hypocrisy. Some Liberal Quakers deflower the peace testimony in the name of psychology and rationalism. Others subject it to relativist revisionism. For many, consent or denial of the peace testimony is optional. The only absolute recognised is that of the vicissitude of the individual’s notions and phantoms. Why are many today not willing to ‘seal with my blood’ (Fox, Journal, p493) the Quaker ‘witness against all violence’ (p493)? Perhaps understanding of the realm of Force has been diminished? For what does connivance with it entail? Consent to violence transforms a living being into an inert fragment of matter; likewise, concupiscence ossifies the soul into inert matter. In the realm of Force both vanquished and vanquisher are subject to this demiurgic transformation. We must not forget that ‘violence overwhelms those it touches. In the end, it seems as external to the one who wields it as to the one who endures it. Here is born the notion of a destiny under which executioners and their victims are similarly innocent: conquerors and conquered are brothers in the same misery, each a heartache to the other’ (Simone Weil, The Iliad or the Poem of Force, p57).

Force wants to impose itself everywhere. It demolishes the Christian witness of the Testimonies: by setting up another being as an enemy the testimony to equality is destroyed. Its eschatological meaning is denied in setting oneself up as the enforcer of a judgement which uses carnal weapons in order to obscure a greater Judgement at hand.  The testimony to Truth is likewise destroyed in the process. In Truth, equality, and the Spirit of Christ, admitting to the false oppositions (and consciousness) born of violence and its geometric concupiscence, is to worship a false god. Consent to violence makes a person dwell in the ranks of those which Revelation describes as seeking death but being denied it.

Against this assault on the prophetic foundations laid by early Friends we have to remain clear-sighted enough to proclaim that the Testimonies are eschatological incisions in time, space, and mortality. They are the marks of the Lamb’s teeth curtailing the cult of concupiscence and reproving the wrath of humanity, greed, acquisitiveness, and complacence. If we are to maintain the covenant of peace, then let us reaffirm with courage: ‘It is impossible to love and to be just unless one understands the realm of force and knows enough not to respect it’ (Simone Weil, The Iliad or the Poem of Force, p67). Lewis Benson summed it up perfectly: ‘When we walk contrary to the customs of the world, our behaviour should indicate that our singularity is a consequence of hearing a word that comes from God’ (The Future of Quakerism Part 3).We may then ‘witness the crown that is immortal that fades not away, from him who to all your souls is a friend, for establishing of righteousness and cleansing the land of evil doers, and a witness against all wicked inventions of men and murderous plots, which answered shall be with the light in all your consciences, which makes no covenant with death, to which light in you all I speak, and am clear’ (George Fox, Journal, p493).