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The Quaker Peace Testimony

Margaret Fell and the first Quaker Peace Testimony

At the outset of the Quaker movement there was no established position with respect to military service. Many early Quakers had served in the New Model Army during the Civil Wars and in the early writings of Friends there is a diversity of views. The perceived need to articulate a position on this issue arose at the time of the restoration of the monarchy, in 1660. Margaret Fell travelled from Lancashire to London to petition Charles II and his Parliament for freedom of conscience in religious matters. Her testimony, A Declaration and an Information from Us, The People called Quakers, to the Present Governors, The King and Both Houses of Parliament, and All Whom It May Concern, explained Quaker principles. She stated that Friends "bear our testimony against all strife, wars, and contentions that come from the lusts that war in the members...", and this statement is regarded as the first public declaration of the peace testimony.

George Fox and the Quaker Peace Testimony

The accession of Charles II was accompanied by a further period of unrest which included an unsuccessful attempt by a millenarian group, the Fifth Monarchy Men, to overthrow the government. In order to make the Quaker position in relation to war and violence clear, in January 1661, the leading figure among early Quakers, George Fox, in conjunction with Richard Hubberthorne, drew up and, along with ten other leading Quakers, signed a Declaration from the Harmless and Innocent People of God called Quakers. This was issued as their "testimony to the whole world" and represents what is now widely known as the Quaker Peace Testimony. In part this Testimony states:

We utterly deny all outward wars and strife, and fighting with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatever; 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 as to move us unto it; and we certainly know, and to testify to the world, that the Spirit of Christ, which leads us unto 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… Therefore we cannot learn war any more.

The Peace Testimony is perhaps the best known of the Quaker testimonies and the basis upon which the Religious Society of Friends, along with the Mennonites and the Church of the Brethren, is known as one of the three historic peace churches. There are other testimonies that have been adopted by Quakers. These testimonies are statements as to the manner in which Quakers aspire to live their lives. The other recognised testimonies are those to Integrity or Truth-telling, Simplicity, Equality and Community and the emerging testimony of Earthcare. Along with the Peace Testimony, these other testimonies are grounded in a belief that life should be lived in a spirit of love, truth and peace and from a sense of equality and compassion, answering that of God in everyone and seeing the sacred in all life.