George Fox, the founding force of the Religious Society of Friends in England, was imprisoned many times in the early 1650s because of his beliefs. He refused to fight for Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the Parliamentary forces in the Civil War at the time. His words have resounded in Quaker history ever since: “I told them that I lived in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all war.” Peace is not just the absence of war. It is about our day-to-day relationships with our families, our neighbors, people in our towns and cities, and in other countries. Peace is about how we cope with people that we may find difficult and different from ourselves—adapted from Harvey Gillman, A Portrait of Friends in Testimonies compiled by Sidwell Friends School, Washington, DC.
The basic Quaker belief in the Divine presence in every person is manifested not only in a stand against war and violence, but also in the constant advice to live daily in love and learn from one another (Faith and Practice, Pacific Yearly Meeting). The conviction that there is that of God in every person commonly appears in the mission statements of Friends schools and is often used interchangeably with phrases from Quakerism’s early beginnings, such as the Inner Light, the Inward Teacher. The Quaker commitment to peace, voiced since the beginning of the Religious Society of Friends, is alive in Friends schools today through intentionally created ethos and curricula, as illustrated in this issue of Chronicles of Quaker Education.
The Friends Council’s research study of moral growth in Friends high schools, Embracing the Tension (1998), showed that seeds of peace are cultivated in Friends schools through attending to and working conscientiously with any kind of conflict, such as bullying, put-downs and hurtful words between students. The investment of teachers and administrators in working with students to immediately address and resolve conflict sends the message that the community cares for everyone involved. Respect surfaced as a common theme across Friends schools. The study found that the distinctive nature of a Friends school leads the school community to expend time and energy working through differences and tensions in ways that cultivate respect, understanding, positive outcomes, and moral growth.
I invite us to reflect on, and let our lives demonstrate, this optimistic message from the Lincoln School (Providence, RI) Peace Testimony: We know we are not many and most of us are young, but we also know that every act of trust, honesty, kindness, and love increases the trust, honesty, kindness, and love in the world. We believe these are the seeds of peace.
Irene McHenry, Executive Director