Quaker agreements and disagreements
John's headmaster was keen to talk of Quakers who had abandoned their pacifism. In reality, most Quakers opposed the war, although they differed in what this meant in practice. Once war broke out, Quakers were faced with the need to make some sort of official statement on their position.
Meeting for Sufferings was (and is) the national committee of British Quakers (so called because it had been set up in the seventeenth century to support persecuted Quakers). It included Quakers with varied views but a few days after Britain entered the war, they agreed on a public statement.
It was entitled 'To Men and Women of Goodwill in the British Empire: A message from the Religious Society of Friends'. For some critics, it was too pacifist and too radical. For others, it was not radical or pacifist enough. It was a very long statement and this is an abridged version.
We find ourselves today in the midst of what may prove to be the fiercest conflict in the history of the human race. Whatever may be our view of the processes which have led to its inception, we have now to face the fact that war is proceeding upon a terrific scale and that our own country is involved in it.
We recognise that our government has made most strenuous efforts to preserve peace, and has entered into the war under a grave sense of duty to a smaller state towards which we had moral and treaty obligations. While, as a Society, we stand firmly to the belief that the method of force is no solution of any question, we hold that the present moment is not one for criticism, but for devoted service to our nation.
In the distress and perplexity of this new situation, many are so stunned as scarcely to be able to discern the path of duty. In the sight of God we should seek to get back to first principles, and to determine on a course of action which shall prove us to be worthy citizens of His Kingdom. In making this effort let us remember those groups of men and women, in all the other nations concerned, who will be animated by a similar spirit, and who believe with us that the fundamental unity of men in the family of God is the one enduring reality, even when we are forced into an apparent denial of it.
The conditions which have made this catastrophe possible must be regarded by us as essentially unchristian. This war spells the bankruptcy of much that we too lightly call Christian. No nation, no Church, no individual can be wholly exonerated. We have all participated to some extent in these conditions. We have been content, or too little discontented, with them. If we apportion blame, let us not fail first to blame ourselves, and to seek the forgiveness of Almighty God.
In the hour of darkest night it is not for us to lose heart. Never was there greater need for men of faith. To many will come the temptation to deny God, and to turn away with despair from the Christianity which seems to be identified with bloodshed on so gigantic a scale. Christ is crucified afresh today. If some forsake Him and flee, let it be more clear that there are others who take their stand with Him, come what may.
This we may do by continuing to show the spirit of love to all. For those whose conscience forbids them to take up arms there are other ways of serving, and definite plans are already being made to enable them to take their full share in helping their country in crisis.
Our Master bids us pray for and love our enemies. May we be saved from forgetting that they too are the children of our Father. May we think of them with love and pity. May we banish thoughts of bitterness, harsh judgements, the revengeful spirit. To do this is in no sense unpatriotic. We may find ourselves the subjects of misunderstanding. But our duty is clear – to be courageous in the cause of love and in the hate of hate. May we prepare ourselves even now for the day when once more we shall stand shoulder to shoulder with those with whom we are now at war, in seeking to bring in the Kingdom of God.
The copyright for the above document lies with Britain Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).