Quakers and peace
Hilda and Edith were willing to suffer while helping the victims of war. For them, this was a natural result of their Quaker faith.
Quakers use the expression “the peace testimony” to refer to the ways they testify to their spiritual experience by seeking to live nonviolently and by campaigning for peace. The peace testimony is not a document or a form of words, but a lived reality.
A well-known declaration of Quaker pacifism was made in January 1661, in the early days of Quakerism. The peace testimony can never be confined to a written statement, but this declaration has long been important to Quakers. Hilda would certainly have been familiar with it. In rejecting violence, it also challenges the status quo, preferring “the Kingdom of Christ” to “the kingdoms of this world”. Here's an extract.
Our principle is, and our practices have always been, to seek peace and ensue it, and to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God, seeking the good and welfare, and doing that which tends to the peace of all.
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.
And as for the kingdoms of this world, we cannot covet them, much less can we fight for them, but we do earnestly desire and wait, that by the word of God's power and its effectual operation in the hearts of men the kingdoms of this world may become the kingdoms of the Lord and of his Christ, that he might rule and reign in men by his spirit and truth, that thereby all people, out of all different judgements and professions might be brought into love and unity with God and one with another, and that they might all come to witness the prophet's words, who said, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2,4; Micah 4,3).
Quakers have issued statements about peace much more recently. The following is an extract from the minutes of British Quakers' Yearly Meeting in 1993.
The peace testimony is about deeds not creeds; not a form of words but a way of living. It is the cumulative lived witness of generations of Quakers.
The peace testimony is not about being nice to people and living so that everyone likes us. It will remain a stumbling block and will itself cause conflict and disagreement. The peace testimony is a tough demand that we should not automatically accept the categories, definitions and priorities of the world. We look to the Spirit, rather than to prescriptive hypothetical statements. The peace testimony, today, is seen in what we do, severally and together, with our lives. We pray for the involvement of the Spirit with us, that we may work for a more just world. We need to train to wage peace.
The first extract is no longer covered by copyright. The copyright for the second extract is held by Britain Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
Find out more about the Quaker peace testimony.
While some Quakers sought to save lives by campaigning against the war, others wanted to help war victims directly.