A Response to Pacifism Comments

My most recent post has drawn a lot of interest, lengthy comments, and thoughtful interaction with the issue of pacifism. It has been a delight to read your thoughts and to continue to wrestle with the issue. I did want to provide some feedback to a few of the comments, which is what follows (my comments are in bold):

Rich Accetta-Evans wrote:

Even before that, when military service was not an issue but violence was, Fox had chosen to respond to violent abuse with what we would call non-violence. I don’t have the exact quotation handy, but I recall one occasion on which he was being man-handled and turned to offer himself as a target for more blows, saying “here’s Gospel for you”, a reference to Christ’s teaching about answering evil with good.

I really like this quote, Rich. It has been fun to imagine Fox uttering this line in the face of oppression for his beliefs, and I can clearly see the conviction with which he would have uttered the line. I can clearly see how Fox used love for Christ and love for others to infiltrate everything he did and said, one of the reasons I look to him as a spiritual hero.

Will T

It is not surprising that this was a process the early Friends were making it all up as they went along. It took a while to work out all of the implications of Quakerism for daily life and it was mostly a process of seeing what God required at any given moment.

Will T, my main issue with this is that it makes the earliest forms of Quaker belief/action as reactionary and not as a life lived with firm conviction based on what the Holy Spirit was doing in their midst as individuals but also as a community gathered in Christ.

Thy Friend John

God forbid that the Quakers should make a doctrine out of pacifism! But I believe that the living Christ made a doctrine out of pacifism, and gave it to us Quakers.

Thy Friend John, this is exactly why I wrote the post originally. Doctrinal positions have historically been avoided among Quakers, and yet you insinuate it was preposterous for me make such a comment. In the same way, it seems to me the closest Christ ever came to creating “doctrine” was in the Sermon on the Mount.

kevin roberts

Does it matter whether an issue like this conforms to a modern political orthodoxy?

Kevin, thanks for your comment. I guess for me it matters because there is correlation between someone’ s faith values and the expression of those in the public sphere. So a pacifist belief, while it should not conform to modern political orthodoxy, still highly influences modern political “praxis,” at least among fellow Quakers.

Thank you all, for the time you have spent in your lives considering this issue, and your desire to share it with others. May the Lord continue to bring you peace and the rest of the world peace.


3 comments so far

  1. Rich Accetta-Evans on

    You have indeed sparked a lot of interest with this post, and I believe that’s a good thing. While I dearly wish for Friends to bear a continuing witness to our testimony against war, I don’t think that testimony will have life in it if we embrace it without questioning it and testing it first.

    A couple of comments about your response to other comments:
    First, I see that you thought “Thy Friend John” was insinuating that something you said was “preposterous”. I suppose John can speak for himself, but I have to say that I did not read him that way. I think he was only saying – quite simply and without any intention of irony – that whatever “doctrines” or teachings Friends embrace should not be our own doctrines, but teachings we receive from Christ.

    I agree with you that “the closest Christ ever came to creating ‘doctrine’ was in the Sermon on the Mount,” though I’d go further and say that Christ gave his followers a wonderful and absolutely vital set of “doctrines” in that Sermon. And of course it is precisely in the Sermon on the Mount that we find the fullest teachings about loving enemies, returning good for evil, praying for persecuters, etc. – – in other words the fullest teaching of “pacifism”.

    I think, though, that I am less put off than I sense you are by that word “doctrine”. It really just means “teaching”. It’s not the same thing as “creed”, and it’s not something that Friends have always been afraid of. Two volumes of the collected works of George Fox are called the “Doctinals” and are devoted to his writings that were purely about doctrine. Many of his epistles and much of his journal also contain “doctrine”.
    I recommend some essays Marshall Massey has written about the importance of doctrine to authentic Quakerism on his “Quaker Magpie Journal” blog.

    I see that another theme in the comments is about the whole subject of voting. I suppose I’m likely to vote for Obama in the general election, but I can’t say this is a “leading” or a direct result of any aspect of my faith. Certainly I don’t delude myself that Obama is a pacifist. Rather, I think that who we vote for and whether we vote at all are things that God leaves up to us. And then we are to pray for whoever wins. I think that’s another whole discussion that Friends might want to have, though it’s only tangentially related to the Peace Testimony question.

    Well, I see that I’m running on. I probably should write more on my own blog and stop cluttering yours. Thank you for raising these important topics. If you ever come to New York, I hope you’ll stop in at 15th Street Meeting, the un -programmed meeting where I’m a member, and/or at Manhattan Meeting, the pastoral meeting that is held in the same building (and which I also attend).

    Peace of Jesus,
    – – Rich

  2. jrjohnson on


    I agree, preposterous is too strong of a word! Thanks for reminding me of that. Ironically, I have never been against doctrine – in fact, I have been educated in a reformed seminary that very much emphasizes orthodoxy so that as a Quaker, even though I was accepted, I was not “normal.” Your distinction between creed and doctrine is also a good reminder of the categorical definitions that form the foundation of one’s faith, and if we were to only follow the “doctrine” of the Sermon on the Mount, our world would be a much better place.

    Thank you for the invitation – I may just take you up on it the next time I am in New York.


  3. Rich Accetta-Evans on

    Thanks, Jamie.
    Incidentally, I apologize for inadvertently mis-spelling your name in my last post.
    – – Rich

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