The message of the angels surfaces once a year: at Christmas. Peace finds its way into shop windows and on to Christmas cards. Everybody is in favour of peace, well… more or less, as long as it doesn’t include x, y and z, to name just a few. Most people don’t know much about Quakers, but they usually know that they don’t do war, that we are into peace.
But are we? Unless I’m very mistaken, the one thing for which we are so widely respected is something we take for granted. In the times when young men were called up to do their duty by queen and country Quakers were exempted. They had, after all, gone to prison rather than carry a sword. Today, there is no price to pay. For many Friends their pacifism has evolved into passivism, something very different, peace in our hearts. I hear some good Friends shaking their heads. Surely, we have a peace committee to represent the Religious Society of Friends wherever lobbying needs to be done. Surely, there are Quakers wherever people are at war with war.
True, but if my diagnosis is correct, we have, collectively, succumbed to the general lethargy that characterises our privatised society. We have largely opted out of the politics of protest. The Peace Movement is in the doldrums, in small part because of us. That will sound harsh to those few inside and outside the Society whose commitment is unflagging. They are still marching, but how many are following? How many Friends even know of Bruce Kent’s Movement for the Abolition of War, are paid up members of the Peace Tax Campaign, or think of digging out their old CND badge, wearing it and telling people why? Do white poppies distinguish us from the rest when even no poppy makes a statement?
The Peace Movement is struggling. Are our Meetings up and down the country seen to be in on the struggle? Our nation is in the midst of a significant and calculated re-militarisation of society. Does Trident simply cost too much or are we heard to be saying that it is a monstrous crime? The glorification of our armed forces is in full swing. Are we heard to cry that our eighteen year olds in Afghanistan are victims not heroes? Are we prepared to take on all the political parties that sign up to the national patriotic consensus?
I would love to think that my assumptions are wrong and that the answer to my rhetorical questions is yes, yes and yes again. In short, I think there is no better time to revitalise our peace witness than Christmas when a vulnerable child, who came to stand for everything that violence is not, is even commemorated on our postage stamps. That implies not just an emotional yes to peace but a political no to everything that frustrates it.
Our need to respect the demands of the natural environment and our duty to struggle for greater justice, especially for the poor, are permanent tasks for the human family. The need to end organised violence is a precondition for all that. Given the ‘advance’ of weapons technology and the astronomical cost exacted by the industrial-military complex, Albert Einstein recognised almost a century ago that unless this apocalyptic beast is defeated there is no human future. Jesus was no idealist, but a realist.
Naught for our comfort, the Angels call us, in the shoes of early Friends, to direct action – now.