National Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors

Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors

Friends' Peace Witness in a Time of Crisis
Guilford College Greensboro, NC

Reprinted by permission of Quaker Life at
Article appeared in April 2003 issue of Quaker Life

The physical conference was a gathering of over 200 participants from 28 Yearly Meetings/Associations. There were 17 workshops, 22 plenary panelists, a score of interest groups, and 18 home groups. It was the first time in 30 years that there has been a called gathering to Listen around a testimony.

While there were international participants, the clear focus was upon the condition of the United States. It is the spirit of this nation that has shifted. It is the US that has declared a perpetual war as a seemingly permanent style of leadership. It is the United States' policies that are causing suffering and consternation worldwide. And thus we were gathering to have a true understanding of our condition and seek God's guidance for Way Forward.

To my eyes, the gathering moved on two levels that informed and shaped our Leadings-the conceptual and the experiential.

On the conceptual level, key concepts gave us common framework and language. Peace was no thin discussion of no-war-in-Iraq. It was a full and dynamic space of Life and Power that was fully attentive to the roots, the seeds, the fruit of Shalom/the wholeness and well being of all. The parable of the Good Samaritan became the language for talking together about the paradoxical demands of peace and justice. We were made aware that in being peacemakers, we can become the Pharisee who walk a wide berth around the wounded while they are still being beat upon. Or worse yet, our lives and choices may actually be digging the ditch and abetting the assaults. The Lamb's War became the metaphor to frame our vigorous assault against the powers of destruction with weapons of Light, Love, Trust, Confession/repentance/restitution, Simplicity, Community. Despite our theological diversity, we moved in a sense of unity around the privilege and responsibilities of being faithful to God who invites us to join the transformative/redemptive Gospel Order in the midst of darkness.

On the experiential level, there were discernable movements that moved like waves. The first motions were a sense of relief that at last we were gathered in shared discernment and community. A common recognition of the true severity of our national sins. An air of expectancy that God would Lead.

The second motion that washed over us was fear. Fear of what faithfulness might be asking of each of us. Fear of our inadequacies for the tasks-both individually and Quakers as a whole. Fear that we wouldn't be able to discern the movement of God and leave with only hand wringing and empty talk. The third motion was a shift from pieties to practicalities. We let ourselves embrace the paradoxes. Peace and Justice. Peacemaking as process as well as result. Renewed intentionality toward families, Meetings, neighbors, communities while still working for systemic changes. Life style needs in light of economic and environmental shalom. The fourth motion rose like bubbles as water starts to boil. An individual opening here and there. A catalyzing worship message. An interest group on celebration. Then a consciousness shift from fear to good news. Good news of the amazing invitation to join God's heart in peacemaking. Good news of grace and enough-ness upon people who know themselves to be clumsy and inadequate. Radiant lived-through testimonies of joy in the midst of suffering. The Yesness of God's Spirit rose transforming the landscape of the crises-altering our attentions and intentions.

The conceptual and experiential flows converged-and there was a sense of God's invitation forward.

  • Forward in the blessing of empowerment.
  • Forward in reaffirming our individual, corporate and generational Covenant of Peace.
  • Forward in taking steps to
    • --get education and learn the work of peacemaking
    • --unmask the mythologies of our culture; intercept the culture of violence propagated through media, military and entertainment.
    • --examine and change our economic and environmental ethics looking specifically at the seeds of war in our attitudes of entitlement, life style choices, our shopping, our business practices, investments, etc.
  • Forward in laboring without arrogance for Shalom in the building blocks of our society. Our families, neighbors, Meetings, communities.
  • Forward in radical faithfulness with large nonviolent incursions into crisis situations.

A challenge was issued to have one person from each North American Meeting/Church be liberated for short or long term service of Friends Peace Witness, e.g. Friends Peace Team, Christian Peacemaker Teams. Forward to Listen for Leadings. Test them in community. Get busy being faithful.

We parted, not with Minutes, epistles and papers, but as changed people. We parted with a joined intentionality to step forward with an urgency commensurate with the dangers of these times.

Jan Wood, North Seattle Friends Church

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