Peace Testimony Minute

Minute approved on 9 Sixth Month, 2002

York Monthly Meeting has asked the monthly meetings of Baltimore Yearly Meeting to record a minute concerning the peace testimony. This request apparently has grown from a concern, expressed in York’s minute to the Yearly Meeting sessions at Ashland, Virginia (3.V.01) that “The [Religious] Society of Friends is known as a ‘Peace Church,’ yet some Quakers have discarded or ignored the faith’s traditional peace testimony.” Further, the York minute also states that since “the peace testimony remains central to the broad structure of Friends’ social concern and is the foundation of other Friends’ testimonies”. We believe a dialog needs to be brought forward in all Monthly Meetings “.. to bring about a greater understanding of ourselves, our Meetings, our faith, and our Testimonies.”

Valley Friends have been engaged in a spirit led discernment of our individual and corporate experience of, and response to, the Peace Testimony since the violence of 11 ninth month 2001. In tenth month, our Peace and Social Concerns Committee brought forward a minute urging the United States to seek nonviolent responses to the attack under the auspices of the United Nations. Monthly meeting was unable to unite around this minute. The range of initial responses to the minute was varied. For example, some Friends felt drawn to openly protest U.S. military action and advocate a United Nations response while others in the meeting expressed doubts about the ability of the United Nations to capture the individuals responsible for the 9-11 attack. Still others felt reluctant to support even a United Nations police action that would surely result in violence. To further engage these differences and discern the Spirit’s leading, several religious education second hours and Monthly Meeting discussions were devoted to 9-11 and our countr’s response to that violence and an ongoing Mid Week Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Peace was begun. The numerous discussions and months of additional worship seemed to bear fruit in second month, 2002, when ministry arose on a first day which called Friends to peacemaking with the “Other.” In third month, Valley Friends united around a proposal for action derived from that ministry entitled, “Two Peacemaking Proposals for Embracing the Other: Embracing George Bush and Embracing the Axis of Evil.” A copy is attached to this minute. The acceptance of this proposal stems from our growing conviction that peacemaking requires us to move towards and embrace those with whom we are in disagreement, or in conflict.

Thus, the first part of this proposal asks us to turn towards, and ultimately embrace, President Bush, a politician with whom many Valley Friends are in political conflict. Friends, and other peace advocates, often are harshly critical of political leaders who choose a military response to conflict. In effect, we turn away from these leaders, separate from them, even demonize them. They become our enemies. We seek to counter this separation by moving towards and embracing those political leaders with whom we disagree. This movement does not require us to abandon our commitment to nonviolence and peace. On the contrary, it compels us to expand our circle of loving concern to include those with whom we have the sharpest disagreements. Thus, steadfast in our vision of peace, as revealed by our experiences of the inner light, we feel called to embrace our political leaders with tender, loving witness. We have accordingly invited the President, by letter, to worship with us in our Dayton, Virginia Meeting House. We also will be issuing similar invitations to our senators and members of congress.

The second half of the proposal asks us to move towards, and ultimately to embrace, one of the three countries recently demonized as an “Axis of Evil” In fifth month Valley Friends united around Iraq as the focus of this long term effort. We are now beginning to plan the first phase of this project, i.e., learning about the geography, history, culture, language, and religion of Iraq. We envision that our embrace of Iraq, including reciprocal visitations and a sister relationship with an Iraqi religious community, will continue for decades, across generations of Valley Friends.

Our ongoing discernment of the spirit of peacemaking has also left us truly humbled. As Quakers, we try to live the life of nonviolence ministered by Jesus when he asked his disciples to “love your enemies” and to “turn the other cheek.” However, as individuals and as a community, we are painfully aware of our own shortcomings in the struggle to live life nonviolently. We are also aware that war and violence have been normative throughout human history and that bringing the world to the peace advocated by Jesus will require efforts extending over decades and centuries. And yet, we are compelled to continue along the path of peacemaking because of our experiences, in worship and prayer, of the living, inward light.

Valley Friends are thus united in a desire to be peacemakers, following the narrow path, our footsteps illuminated by the Inner Light, the teachings of Jesus and our Quaker religious heritage. Fundamental to this journey is the crucial action of turning towards and embracing those with whom we are in opposition. We must steadfastly choose this act, over and over again, in our homes, in our meeting and in our wider community so that we may effectively witness for peace for our nation and our world. Our individual and communal peacemaking efforts are all vital pieces, however small, of a very, very long term effort to move humanity away from violence.