Monday, April 13, 2015

Did the Quakers' Fox Escape or Overcome the Dogs of War?

"Our principle is, and our practices have always been, to seek peace and ensue it; to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God; seeking the good and welfare, and doing that which tends to the peace of all. We know that wars and fightings proceeed from the lusts of men, as James iv. 1--3...All bloody principles and practices, as to our own particulars, we utterly- deny; with all outward wars and strife, and fightings with - outward weapons, for any end, or under an pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world."
"That 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 certainly know, and 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."
George Fox, 1660

However, the excellent biographer H. Larry Ingle said the Quakers' ethical view, Fox's in particular, was ambiguous and may have been politically motivated: "George Fox’s role as first among Friends was never more clearly evident than in the evolution of his sect’s witness for peace. Not only did he refuse to participate in the civil wars that wracked the Midlands countryside that was his home, he also specifically rejected a captaincy in the New Model Army offered to him while he was in Derby jail in 1651. Citing the apostle James epistle, Fox answered that he knew wherein wars arose, "Lust," and added that he "lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars."5 On another occasion he rejected a similar request by saying that he had been "brought off outward wars."

Fox’s statement was the first we know about on English soil of what we could call "pacifism." In that context, his comment pushed the peace movement a giant leap forward in his own country, particularly in that he was rejecting participation in a conflict with whose overall aims he was in fundamental agreement."

"Many joined Friends and remained in army ranks. Both officers and recruits found that Quakerism spoke to their condition, and early Friends, including Fox, targeted them as potential converts without requiring them to give up their positions. Indeed, many early Quaker leaders were refugees from military service. Richard Hubberthorne himself and James Nayler...had held high positions in the army, and others like Thomas Curtis, one of Fox’s closest early companions...served as militia commissioner...and busily raised soldiers for the army as late as 1659; Pearson accepted the post but refused to don a sword, a kind of symbolic balancing act highlighting the tensions produced in the period."

"Committed to his own personal peace witness, Fox never, until 1661, took the kind of unequivocal position that Agnes Wilkinson evinced in 1853. In a brief epistle to "all who wear swords"..."to strip yourselves naked of all your carnal weapons..."

"The implications of the peace testimony thus stand apart from most modern Quaker peacemaking, which owes more to the aristocratic Penn than to the ruder Fox..."

The Politics of Despair:
The Quaker Peace Testimony, 1661
by H. Larry Ingle

Also, read Ingle's fine biography of George Fox, First Among Friends.

What do you think?

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

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