Much has been written about the role of some Quakers in the Underground Railroad, that network of safe places where those escaping enslavement found help on their journey northward. It seems not as many Friends were involved as we might have thought. It was recognized that it would not be possible to speak against enslavement when one had their own enslaved people. Over many years, those Quakers who had enslaved people working for them released them.
Looking back to those times, it is difficult to believe that any Quaker could participate in the enslavement of others. There are many other conflicts Friends find while living in the United States today, including white privilege, fossil fuel consumption, excessive consumption, racism, intrusion of religion into politics, stigmatizing and oppressing “others”, militarism and the endless war on terror.
What are we doing today that future generations will look back on and find it hard to believe we lived as we are now?
The Peace Testimony has been a fundamental part of Quakerism. For centuries many Friends have worked against, and refused to participate in war. But the nature of war has changed. Our country has found ways to be involved in international conflicts without formal declarations of war. It was a shrewd move to build volunteer armed forces, making it possible for most citizens to pretend the country is not at war. Protests against war largely went away when the children of the upper and middle classes were no longer directly threatened.
Here is a link to a collection of stories Iowa Quaker Don Laughlin gathered that he titled “Young Quaker Men Face War and Conscription.” https://1drv.ms/b/s!Avb9bFhezZpPiaMFA58DbzX6vnhaYw
Many people still think of peace as the absence of war. Or today, think of peace as the condition where war can be adroitly hidden from view. But the fighting, death and destruction continue.
A common message heard during rallies and demonstrations is “No Justice, No Peace.” We are not at peace as long as any among us are oppressed. When one of us is in pain, we all experience pain. We feel the shared pain of children torn away from their families on our southern border, for example.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was led to speak out against the Vietnam War, a decision many in the civil rights movement disagreed with. Many feared that would dilute the campaigns for social justice, but Dr. King recognized how this was all related.
Speaking out against militarism and gun violence are among the many themes of the new Poor People’s Campaign. Working with this campaign to address injustices is one way to work for peace today.
Here is a link to a SWAY presentation about “Peacebuilding” I created several years ago: https://sway.com/GHWWMUcypHaJ1K4S
I recently came across the following Theory of Active Peace by John Wilmerding.
The Theory of Active Peace– by John Wilmerding (January 4, 2009)
Presented here, for comment and discussion, are the five developmental stages toward Active Peace.
[0. ‘Surface’ — conformity without question. Unconsciousness, unawareness, denial, or opposition to issues of social conscience involving violence, oppression, subjugation.]
1. ‘Acquiescence’ — You know there is something wrong, but take no action, or it doesn’t affect how you live your life. Your response is to remain ‘quiet’ to others and within yourself. “Things have always been this way … there is nothing that I or anyone else can do to change them.”
2. ‘Pacifism’ — You are no longer quiet within yourself. Your discomfiture with violence, oppression, etc. begins to affect how you live your life. You might turn the other cheek in a fight, for example. You are likely to witness to others (and to yourself) that organized violence and oppression is wrong.
3. ‘Passive Nonviolent Resistance’ — Many or all of your private decisions become influenced or governed by conscience. ‘Conscientious objection’. You make changes in your own behavior by reasons of conscience but are not necessarily social about it, or don’t publicly, systematically cite your actions or your reasons for them. It’s also akin to the concept of ‘standing aside’ or of ‘abstaining’ on a vote.
4. ‘Active Nonviolent Resistance’ — You take social leadership in attempting to thwart the forces of violence, oppression, and subjugation, or join with others who do, publicly, and attempting to spread the word about the initiative and get others to take part. ‘Standing In The Way’.
5. The triad of ‘Active Peace’:
5A. ‘Peacemaking’ — the transformation of conflicts away from violence, oppression, and subjugation by social and political means. Mediation, conferencing, circles peacemaking, and kindred ‘encounter’ forms. ‘Workshop’ methods such as AVP can also be effective. There are hybrid forms (encounter/workshop) such as HROC, a spinoff of AVP in Rwanda.
5B. ‘Peacekeeping’ — Nonviolent Accompaniment. Need not be organized or public in its motivations, but is more effective when it is done publicly, and the reasons are publicized. [Not what the UN does with guns and uniforms, though they call it that.] Most well-known exemplars are Nonviolent Peaceforce, the proposed Canadian Civilian Peace Service, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Muslim Peacemaker Teams. “Why are the missiles called peacekeepers when they’re aimed to kill?” — Tracy Chapman
5C. ‘Peacebuilding’ — Sustainable Development — providing for human needs so that the associated conflicts involving sustaining life (land, water, food, health care, etc.) are ameliorated or eliminated. Fair Trade as opposed to ‘”free trade”. Local economic initiatives. Local alternative currencies. Barter economies. ‘Organic’ agriculture. Methods of redistribution of wealth, including economic stimuli, may be useful on the way to more synergistic outcomes where the weal is more naturally held and distributed in common.
One interesting aspect of the five-stages theory seems to be that the next one only becomes visible or understandable to you once you have attained the one before. In this way, each stage represents a ‘perspective’, both individual and social, and social ‘organisms’ can be said to progress through the stages as well as individual ones.
Another dynamic is that, for various psychological reasons I won’t go into here, people or social groups can vary in how they move through the stages, and sometimes regress. However, my understanding is that one one has a firm purchase on a stage, retrogression becomes much more unlikely. Human beings and social organizations are very complex, however, so there is still much more to learn about how to bring everyone into higher stages. Education about these things is both inevitable and necessary.
Of the five stages, only Active Peace — stage V — can accurately be interpreted as ‘the ocean of light flowing over the ocean of darkness.’
by John Wilmerding