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Peace Testimony

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The Peace Testimony is probably the best known testimony of Friends. The belief that violence is wrong has persisted to this day, and many conscientious objectors, advocates of non-violence and anti-war activists are Friends. Because of their peace testimony, Friends are considered as one of the historic peace churches.


It is largely derived from beliefs arising from the teachings of Jesus to love one's enemies and Friends' belief in the inner light. Quakers believe that nonviolent confrontation of evil and peaceful reconciliation are always superior to violent measures. Peace testimony does not mean that Quakers engage only in passive resignation; in fact, they often practice passionate activism. 


George Fox, perhaps the most influential early Quaker, made a declaration in 1651 that many see as the first declaration of Friends' beliefs on peace: “I told [the Commonwealth Commissioners] I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars and I knew from whence all wars did rise, from the lust, according to James's doctrine... I told them I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were.


The best-known version of this belief was stated in a declaration to King Charles II of England in 1660 by famous Quaker Margaret Fell, following George Fox's imprisonment after an armed revolt by religious radicals in London in January; its issuance at this particular time was as much to remove any suspicion that Friends might have been involved as a desire to make their position clear. This excerpt is commonly cited:  “All bloody principles and practices we do utterly deny, with all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole world. That spirit of Christ by which we are guided is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world. (From A declaration from the harmless and innocent people of God, called Quakers, London: 1660, as quoted in: Britain Yearly Meeting [Ed] Quaker Faith and Practice: the book of Christian discipline of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain London: 1994, 24:04. The extract quoted is considerably abridged from the original declaration - full text of the original declaration is available: A Declaration from the harmless and innocent people of God, called Quakers)


The Peace Testimony has had many manifestations among Friends, from individual/small group witness against war and injustice to national organizations focusing on both local and international relief efforts.  American Friends Service Committee, founded during World War I by Quakers seeking to serve both humanity and country while being faithful to their commitment to nonviolence, still works throughout the world in conflict zones, in areas affected by natural disasters, and in oppressed communities to address the root causes of war and violence. In 1947, AFSC was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, with the British Friends Service Council on behalf of all Quakers for our work “…from the nameless to the nameless….”


Friends Committee on National Legislation was founded in 1943 to connect historic Quaker testimonies on peace, equality, simplicity, and truth with peace and social justice issues. FCNL fields the largest team of registered peace lobbyists in Washington, DC.  Each legislative session it seeks input from Friends’ Meetings and churches across the United States on legislative priorities.  It regularly provides detailed talking points and background information on issues to anyone interested in lobbying their elected officials or writing letters.


The National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund was started in 1971 to support legislation to amend the Internal Revenue Code to provide that a taxpayer conscientiously opposed to any participation in war could have his or her income, estate, and gift tax payments spent for non-military purposes only. The Campaign advocates and educates on behalf of citizens who are petitioning the government for the right to pay 100% of their taxes without violating deeply held religious or ethical teachings. Fifty three Quaker organizations have  endorsed the U.S. Peace Tax Fund, along with many other religious groups,  including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a denomination constituting nearly three million members, and the General Board of Church and Society of the nine-million-member United Methodist Church.