Interfaith Initiative Centre County: Quakers stick to principles in work to bring peace

At a recent coffee hour sponsored by Interfaith Initiative Centre County we discussed the question of how do we — or can we — promote peaceful teachings and practices of each of our faiths? There was particular interest in how to do this in cooperation with other faiths.

The Religious Society of Friends (often called Quakers) began in 17th century England during a time of turmoil between Royalists and followers of the revolutionary, Oliver Cromwell. George Fox, founder of the Society, told King Charles II: “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fighting with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world. …”

This principle has often led people to regard Quakers and other pacifists as “passive.” Yet conscientious objection to war leads pacifists to design activities and programs that prevent war and ameliorate the suffering caused by war.

Our coffee hour discussion considered a couple of such efforts that Friends have established and The Friends Committee on National Legislation brings spiritual values to bear on public policy decisions made by the U.S. Congress. Three of their priorities for work with the current 114th Congress are:

•  Advance peacebuilding, including peaceful prevention and resolution of violent conflict.

•  Reduce military spending and militarized responses to global and domestic situations

•  Promote nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Last November, 440 Friends and other concerned persons from 43 states attended the FCNL Public Policy Institute, and then made 200 visits to their Senators and Representatives to urge support of U.S. diplomacy with Iran for nuclear disarmament. Pro-diplomacy statements were issued by 25 members of Congress whose offices were visited by these citizens.

Friends often serve as well in areas of conflict or open warfare. In 2002, Mel Duncan and David Hartsough, a Friend with a lifelong record of peacemaking, co-founded Nonviolent Peaceforce to provide an international presence and training in nonviolence for local people in areas of warfare.

NP teams include Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and others who share a common vision of peacemaking. A year after their founding, Nonviolent Peaceforce had their first team in Sri Lanka. In 2007, NP was invited by local groups in the Philippines for help resolving conflict between the Moro Islamic Front in Mindanao and the Philippine government. The NP team provided training, presence in threatened villages, and mediation between armed groups. They played a significant role in the March 2014 comprehensive agreement between the Moro fighters and the government.

Currently NP has over 125 persons from 35 countries working in their various teams in several countries around the world. NP has received news of a grant from the European Union to commence a project in support of people in Syria partnering with local Syrian groups to train and support civilian protection and violence interruption programs.

As a result of their work, NP has been invited by the UN to provide information to their Peace Operations Panel and will be leading a Good Practices Conference on Unarmed Civilian Protection later this year.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation and Nonviolent Peaceforce are only two of the means by which members of the Religious Society of Friends promote the peaceful teachings and practices of their faith.