Soical Action, Peace and the Quakers
Long before I reached the crossroad of Quakerism on the treacherous path of my own spiritual journey, I recall learning about a group of stubborn, peace-loving people who took a stand as Conscientious Objectors during the World Wars. Something stuck in my teenager mind and the Quakers' famous peace testimony was one reason that some years later, I began my personal exploration of the Quaker way.
This week, we were asked to write a blog about an organisation which inspires our work on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and perhaps it wasn’t expected that I should choose a religious organisation, specifically, the very organisation I self-identify with. But how this organisation inspires my work on the MDGs goes beyond the religious. It is the practical as much as the spiritual elements of the Quakers’ concept of social justice which inspires me. The Religious Society of Friends and their historical approach to social action underpins, informs and inspires my work on the MDGs.
As someone who is relatively new to Quakerism, I feel it’s important to further my religious and spiritual education by reading both the teachings and the history of the Society. So amongst my on-going library of books which I dip in and out of, I have been reading a biography of George Fox – one of the earliest Friends and considered the founder of Quakerism. In Fox I have found a difficult character; someone who boldly shouted his truth and who consequently got thrown out (literally) of churches and towns, who faced stoning and verbal abuse and who spent a great deal of time in prison for his beliefs. So whilst Fox was a preacher of peace, the Quaker way, as I understand it, is certainly not one of passive peace. And this then becomes the example by which I try to live and this is the framework for approaching my work as a Faiths Act Fellow. I long to live a peaceful existence but I need to be brave enough to stand up and speak my truth – that is, to speak of the societal injustices that I hope to fight in my work with Faiths Act. I often wonder if I am prepared to meet with hostility; could I face being heckled and abused; would I go to prison for the strength of my beliefs?
During the First World War when Quakers were indicted as cowards and treated as criminals for refusing to carry arms, they actively placed themselves in the most dangerous circumstances as they reached out to help the sick and the hungry; to care for those most affected by the terrible consequences of war. This expression of belief and this example of compassionate practical action never fails to inspire me.
The Quakers’ social action during and between both World Wars was formerly recognised in 1947 when the Religious Society of Friends was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. And so I’ll leave you with an extract from the prize presentation speech by Gunnar Jahn, Chairman of the Nobel Committee:
“The Quakers have shown us that it is possible to translate into action what lies deep in the hearts of many: compassion for others and the desire to help them - that rich expression of the sympathy between all men, regardless of nationality or race, which, transformed into deeds, must form the basis for lasting peace"
Charlotte Dando, Faiths Act Fellow