The peace testimony is probably what most people who know a little about Quakers will most associate with us – we have often been described as one of ‘the historic peace churches’. Although as said above there are no set form of words to the testimonies, when it comes to the Peace Testimony many Quakers are quite attached to a declaration which was made to the newly restored king Charles II in 1660, which began: “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fighting with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever”; it has to be admitted that this declaration was as much a pragmatic attempt by those early Quakers to distance themselves from the politically revolutionary factions involved in the execution of Charles’ father as it was a sincere statement of the pacifist way.
Many Quakers prefer the term ‘peacemakers’ to ‘pacifists’; the latter implies a passivity in the face of violence which is not necessarily our way, rather our conviction is that the way of peace is always the better one, that peaceful solutions to conflict always exist which will be more successful than violent ones – and that violence only ever breeds yet more violence in return. We are not naïve about the realities of violent conflict; indeed, there are some Quakers whose calling takes them right into the very heart of it, whether as aid workers or practical peacemakers sponsoring mediation and reconciliation programmes. George Fox called on us to “live in the life and power which takes away the occasion for all wars” – in modern terms this means sowing the seeds of peace, and seeking to remove the social inequalities local, national, and international which overwhelmingly are the true roots of conflict and war.