From Pacifism to The question of God
I appreciated the thoughtful letter from Jan Arriens (15 April). But I think his view of Quakers as ‘standard bearers of the peace movement’ in the century following the Napoleonic wars, should be qualified; the era of ‘Pax Britannica’ was largely based on the military (and particularly naval) superiority established by those wars.
British power enabled the nineteenth-century imperialism in which Quaker bankers and industrialists thrived. Their social, political and economic influence grew inseparably from foundations that were only gradually challenged by Quakers themselves, until the crisis of faith that confronted us at the outbreak of war in 1914.
Some Quakers then found themselves more deeply invested in ‘defending the nation’ and its imperial project than in a Peace Testimony that hadn’t been directly tested in their lifetimes (and certainly not by military conscription). For others, the crisis led to a soul-searching renewal of commitment to peacebuilding and social justice.
The context changes but similar dilemmas resurface whenever we are ‘called’ by war, whether as combatants, supporters or objectors.
Nourish our action
How do we experience worship community and witness?
How can we build Quaker communities that respond to challenges and put faith into action?
How can we transform thinking and action in Quaker communities and wider society?
Ken Smith and Evelyn Shire (22 April) are concerned that Yearly Meeting in 2022 will be an exercise in navel gazing. In the midst of horrifying reports of the war in Ukraine and ongoing conflict in other parts of the world, a cost of living crisis which could leave up to forty per cent of the UK population in fuel poverty next winter, and the terrifying slow burn of the climate crisis, there are certainly times in our planning cycle each year when, as members of Agenda Committee, we have questioned this too.
However, I hope our Friends can look again at the three questions which frame our discernment and see the potential for looking out as well as in. As Quakers, we commit to a process of listening for truth, and we invite Friends to join us in May, at Friends House in London and online, to consider how our faith and our communities can nourish our action.
Clerk of Yearly Meeting Agenda Committee
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