QUAKERS, PEACE, AND THE PROPHETIC TRADITION by Mike Beranek
(A personal view from an Uxbridge Quaker)
One of the more startling sayings of Jesus is that he said he didn’t come to bring peace to the earth, ‘but a sword’. (Mt 10:34). It is a stirring battle cry. There is no place for a ‘peace’ that glosses over deep differences, peace without justice. Most Quakers from the beginning have refused to fight with physical weapons but have still considered themselves waging a battle against tyranny and injustice, in what was once dubbed The Lamb’s War. It was understood that the furtherance of the gospel-heralded Kingdom of the Lord would have to involve considerable courage of heart & cunning of mind, a spiritual war against the forces of darkness.
Quakers were born as a movement amidst the background of a bitter civil war. Friends’ corporate stand towards the newly restored monarchy in the late 17th century outlined in the following Declaration to Charles II gives a sense of this:
“… But we do earnestly desire and wait, that by the word of God’s power and its effectual operation in the hearts of men the kingdoms of this world may become the kingdoms of the Lord and his Christ, that he might rule and reign in men by his spirit and truth, that thereby all people, out of all different judgements and professions might be brought into love and unity with God and one with another, and that they might all come to witness the prophet’s words, who said, ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’.” (1660, Quaker Faith & Practice http://qfp.quaker.org.uk 24.04)
Prophetic witness lies at the heart of Quaker opposition to war. It involves a sense of living ‘under the ordering of the Spirit of Christ’, ‘in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars’. It is under this banner that Quakers have and continue to take up their spiritual swords and do battle against all strife and wars. The biblical role of the prophet went beyond merely foretelling plagues and famines, it was to be agent of the change that God wills for humanity working to instil in everyone an appropriate reverence for God and God’s power.