Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, as they are more properly known (members are known as 'friends'), are generally known for their Peace Testament and celebrated their 350th anniversary in 2002.
Founded in England in 1652, Quakers are somewhat unusual as they do not have a written creed. This tends to prevent them from being rigid, intolerant or bigoted, and this can be seen as one of their strengths. Quakers aspire to inclusivity.
Quakers have a number of testaments (tenets):
The peace testament is based on the same understanding of the nature of God and of human beings. How can one kill another child of God, a potential channel of Truth, no matter how misguided he or she may seem at the moment? This testimony has led Friends to oppose all wars and preparation for wars.
Quakers have been imprisoned and discriminated against over the years for their refusal to fight. Conscientious objectors during the two World Wars were imprisoned, although some chose to join the ambulance service and some chose to fight. Whether or not to fight has always been a matter of individual conscience. Quakers and Mennonites in North America were enlisted during World War II, reconciling their pacifist beliefs with the idea that whatever solutions non-violence had to offer the world, they were lacking a response to Adolf Hitler.
Harmless - The Original Peace Testament
WE UTTERLY DENY all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretense whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world. The 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.
From A Declaration from the Harmless and Innocent People of God, called Quakers, presented to Charles II, 1660
The Nobel Peace Prize
During both World Wars, the Friends Ambulance Unit was active. It was composed of pacifists, Quaker and non-Quaker, who originally worked in France under the direction of the military, but purely in a non-combatant manner. The work was both with the civilian population behind the lines and with the wounded at the front.
At the end of the First World War, food relief for the German and Austrian peoples was undertaken by both British and American Quakers. This relief, known as Quaker-Speisung in Germany, made a lasting impression on the people. Because of this, during the Second World War, Quakers were often able to give help to those suffering in Germany when others could not.
In the immediate post-war years, international relief and reconciliation work was a major pre-occupation of Friends, and in 1947 the Friends Service Council, together with the American Friends Service Committee, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Quakers United Nations Office
Quakers are represented at the United Nations. The Quakers United Nations Office is a non-governmental organisation focusing on human rights, refugees, peace and disarmament, and trade and development.
Quakers and Terrorism
This section is taken from an article by Robert Griswold, Mt View Meeting, Colorado, USA1.
The result of terrorism is never what terrorists think it is going to be. Terrorists believe that their act is going to get people to change their ways or to 'teach them a lesson they won't soon forget.' The hope of terrorists is to instill a level of fear in people that will make them willing to give up their status as persons worthy of respect and care and thus, become submissive to the icon (religious, patriotic, tribal or whatever) of the terrorist. Terrorists can believe this works only because they have themselves given up their status as people worthy of respect and care and have become submissive to an icon. They have been afraid at the meaninglessness and hopelessness of their lives and have made a pact to exchange their fear for a rage that offers only their own (and others) extinction. As Nietzsche said, 'Rather than believe in nothing, people will believe even in nothingness.'
But the faith of terrorists never succeeds. Most often the result is counter-terrorism which is merely terrorism itself in a new disguise. Those attacked become afraid and in their fear they become willing to give up their status as persons worthy of respect and care by becoming willing to cease treating others as persons worthy of respect and care. Instead of accepting the terrorist's icon, they cling to their own icons and hide the reality of what they have surrendered under the flag or the cross or the hammer and sickle or the swastika or the six pointed star or the tartan or the family or 'our way of life.' Those attacked become terrorists willing to inflict injury on any and all who have come to represent the source of their fear even it in the process many innocent bystanders are killed. The common consequence of counter-terrorism is the spread of terrorism and the breeding of more terrorists.
Anger is not a primary emotion and 'anger management' is a fantasy. Anger is a secondary emotion that comes out of fear; it is a way (a poor way) of translating fear by becoming a fearful creature yourself. Hot anger is dangerous. People kill each other in hot anger all the time. But it is not the worst because hot anger burns out quickly and usually only a few people are left killed or injured. Worse is cold anger. Cold anger arises from fears and angers that have burned out our capacity for compassion, our capacity to care, even our capacity to recognise other human beings as human. Once we have turned our fear to anger we are lost.
'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.' Notice that it doesn't say there will be no evil. That is not something that I should be hoping for. That hope is an indulgence in fantasy. What I need to be concerned about is my fear. We are so little aware of the consequences to us of fearing evil. Everything we fear is strengthened and empowered by our fear. Fear makes us act in ways that increase the force of whatever we fear. Fear changes us and makes us become defensive. When we become defensive, we create a gap between us and that which we fear and then we are fully equipped to do evil ourselves. Furthermore, the gap we have built also cuts us off from those who might love and support us. The price of fear is not sometimes too high. It is always too high.
Fear comes from the ego's need to defend itself. Hence, the only way to let go of fear is to find a guide other than self. And the other guide is indicated in another section of the Psalm. 'He leadeth me beside the still waters; He restoreth my soul.' It is when we are quiet and have come to a still place inside, underneath the ego, that we become enabled to let go of our fears. In that place we come to know a connection to reality where we can never be anything but safe. The separation between ourselves and what we saw as a threat to us fades away. Saying this is easy; doing it is a hard discipline. Most people would rather die angry than subject themselves to this discipline - killing is an easier discipline to learn. They fantasize that they can nurture their anger and destroy their enemy and thereby 'keep the peace' or return to it later. They ignore that their 'peace' was never real but was merely the studied lack of awareness of the surrounding violence.
If we hold fast to our Inner Guide, we will be able to let go of our fear. We will be able to retain our love, compassion and recognition that even terrorists are human beings, however lost they have become. Both love and hate have power to change people. But love alone can heal the world. The only hope is to let go of fear and equip ourselves with love. All the rest is a snare and an illusion.
Quakers tend to work in a low profile manner, focussing on the challenges and desired outcomes rather than blowing their own trumpet. Have a look at the Quaker.org website and you will struggle to find a reference to the Nobel Peace Prize - it's there; you just have to look really hard for it.