Pacifists: The Elders

These are the elders. By elders I mean those who came before us and who are major thinkers and activists regarding pacifism. I hope to echo here Thoreau’s complaint that it has been over 2000 years ago, since we were given a book which was  written to inform our actions with moral constraints. And, since the days of the Prince Of Peace, we have the Elders to reawaken us with their lives, their thoughts and their love for humanity.

Martin Luther King Jr.
Mahatma K. Gandhi
George Fox & Thomas R. Kelly
Leo Tolstoy

The Prince of Peace

Martin Luther King Jr. (Born: January 15th, 1929—-April 4th, 1968)

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was as close as America has ever come to having their own Prince of Peace. King was primarily known as a civil rights activist and only at the end of his brief life did he become a full-speed-ahead anti-war or peace activist. The catalyst was the Vietnam war.  King was moved to oppose the Vietnam war because of the injustice and poverty it imposed upon poor and discriminated against groups within U.S. society. King observed that war killed more young men from minority populations than majority groups and stole resources which could have gone to alleviating poverty. King viewed the U.S. war in Vietnam as a war against the people of Vietnam, destroying their people, their homes, their resources and their nation. He opposed the war in Vietnam because it violated all Christian values and societal norms. King  viewed the war as a form of exploitation of Vietnam through the use of military violence. King viewed the war in Vietnam as a moral crisis for his own country which could only be resolved by ending wars of empire and reinvesting those people and financial resources back into the people of the United States.  His most famous antiwar sermon was “Beyond Vietnam”. The speech was given at Riverside Church, April 4th, 1967. His primary mentors/spiritual influences were Howard Thurman, Mahatma Gandhi, and Bayard Rustin.

Mahatma K. Gandhi, (B. October 2, 1869—January 30th, 1948)

Gandhi developed the practice of Satyagraha, or experiments in truth, which included practicing nonviolent resistance to injustice. His nonviolence was based in Hindu practice of ahimsa, or of not harming living beings. He also believed that his fellow citizens could achieve freedom from colonial rule through independent industry such as spinning and manufacturing their own cloth. Gandhi’s belief in the power of nonviolent confrontation led to a long cat-and-mouse series of confrontations with India’s colonial oppressor, Great Britain. Gandhi’s focus on winning the spiritual battle with his people’s oppressors allowed him to be victorious and to have hope, before initiating any mass protest, and before encountering the villainous violence and punishments meted out by the all-thumbs members of the ruling powers. In addition to the community organizing aspects of his Satyagraha, he wrote quite a bit about the personal characteristics of a person who wished to wage a war of Truth:  The requirements for humility and the ability to suffer without retaliation describe near sainthood characteristics.  Gandhi wrote a paraphrased work of John Ruskin’s, Unto This Last, in which he explored the fundamental interfaces of social justice and economics.

Gandhi’s interest in civil disobedience was strengthened by the work of Henry David Thoreau who (although probably not a pacifist) was profoundly passionate about the duty of citizens to oppose governmental misconduct. It was Gandhi’s belief that the only way to prevent violence was to provide nonviolent means to give expression for feelings and a means to the redressing of grievances (p. 117, Satyagraha). Gandhi wrote extensively (over 50,000 pages) which were all printed by the Indian Press after his death.

M.K. Gandhi

Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy wrote a history of pacifism (entitled, The Kingdom of God is Within You) which recorded the history of resistance to war in Russia. War violated the Golden Rule of loving ones fellow creatures, but also war always appeared to be used to enforce social injustices. He asked why a young village boy should be conscripted by a judge or a local official to staff an Army. This same conscripted boy would then be used by local landlords to put down serf rebellions which might involve fights against his own family members. Tolstoy observed the eagerness with which leaders of all countries assembled armies, developed international alliances and secret pacts for mutual defense, which then led to universal war when the smallest conflicts erupted in the most isolated of places. Without any statistical studies to refer to,  Tolstoy knew that the majority of casualties in all wars are women, children, and men who are civilians and soldiers and not the well-off and powerful.

Leo Tolstoy

George Fox

Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, found pacifism in a ‘covenant of peace’ which was a product of his direct experience of “the Inward Light of Christ”.    He told others that he “lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars… [and] I told them I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were.” According to writer, Wilmer Cooper in his work, The Gospel According To Friends (1986), Fox lived in the strength of the power of the Spirit of Christ. He aspired to live as if the Kingdom had already arrived and as if he could live in “perfection” as a Christian in harmony and in peace with others. He believed that he was empowered by a daily dispensed measure of spiritual Light, to live out the reality of the Good News, in each day of his life. He experienced the infinite love of God and believed that this love could overcome the sin and evil in his world.

Excerpts from the writings of Rufus M. Jones regarding Fox’s pacifism suggest that Fox while considering himself to be a new man, a new Adam, who practiced love and forbearance instead of hatred and revenge, he also considered others to be free to follow their own Lights. Fox was able to meet physical attacks and verbal abuse without fear and anger and able to pass through conflict instead of becoming stuck in conflict. His compeer, William Penn, a Quaker, governed the new colonial state of Pennsylvania in America, and was instrumental in instituting policies supportive of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. Fox believed that Penn would eventually be led by the spirit of Love to abandon his need to wear a sword!

The Prince of Peace:

Liberation theologists hold up Christ’s central concern with the welfare of the widow, the orphan, the poor, the alien/immigrant and with social justice concerns. But Howard Thurman (author of Jesus and the Dispossessed) also wrote that Christ speaks to the psychological needs of the terrorized and beaten down, of the excluded and estranged who are forced to the margins of society. His version of Christ also  speaks to those afraid of being killed by the more powerful and to those who live in fear of being ‘cut off’ from jobs, food, and shelter by the controlling persons within their segregated societies. Believers could draw on the bravery of Christ’s suffering and know that they could stand tall and hold to the illusion of future success even if they were to be cut down by the powerful, the jealously self-interested, the crony or tribal-like elements within their own communities. They could draw from Christ’s strength, the inner will to overcome the daily violence of an overwhelming and intimidating larger culture, and psychologically endure the looming future violence which could come at them even if they offered no threat, even if they completely conformed to all of the rules of the dominant group(s).

But Christ is also seen as the model for nonviolent confrontation, negotiation, and resolution of conflicts with the powerful.  Both his personal characteristics of humility, gentleness, and forgiveness and his social strategies of working directly with people and avoiding pointless aggressive encounters with potentates, are viewed as integral to his effectiveness as a peace-maker.  He acted to shape public opinion and to instruct and to explain the issues of his day, rather than to seek political power and to face-off with the powerful in the temples and in the king’s court. He avoided merit-seeking and status- seeking activities, yet sought every opportunity to raise the consciousness of everyone he met, especially persons who occupied positions of power and authority (tax collectors, Roman Army officers). And, he did all of those things while abhorring the use of ‘swords’ lest the owners die from the use of swords. He derided wrathfulness and quarrelsomeness (Matt:5:24).  In Christ’s requirements, I can see parallels to Gandhi’s requirements for those persons who wished to join him in his Satyagraha campaigns: the insistence on humility and non-quarrelsomeness. The abhorrence of medals and external honorifics. The refusal of public office (to avoid having to conform through obligation to the sins of the rulers). Christ’s love principle was so powerful that its message has lasted 2,000 years.

Thomas R. Kelly (1893-1941)

Quaker Mystic and writer. Served in the civilian corps as a Quaker pacifist in WWI and since he spoke German, he was permitted to work with German prisoners of war. Later, he worked with American Friends Service Committee members in Germany in the 1930s. His work is unintelligible to those not laid hold of by Holy fire.

His pacifism might be explained by this quote about the source of the social sensitivity of Friends:

….”It is not in mere obedience to Bible commands. It is not in anything earthly. The social concern of friends is grounded in an experience–an experience of the love of God and of the impulse to saviorhood inherent in the fresh quickenings of that Life. Social concern is the dynamic Life of God at work in the world made special and emphatic and unique, particularized in each individual and group who is sensitive and tender in the leading-strings of love. A concern is God-initiated, often surprising, always holy, for the Life of God is breaking into the world. It’s execution is in peace and power and astounding faith and joy, for in unhurried serenity the Eternal is at work in the midst of time, triumphantly bringing all things up unto himself.” (p. 303, Quaker Spirituality, 1984)

Whereas the founder of Quakerism, George Fox had seen a vision in which…”I saw that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love which flowed over the ocean of darkness.”…………….Thomas R. Kelly’s spectacular accomplishment was to describe being transformed and transfigured by the Invading Love of a timeless Divine Presence.  His pacifism may have been a practical expression of what he experienced happening within himself.

Final Words:

In 2007, Tom Thumb wrote:

“We are poor bearers of the work of the Prince Of Peace.
Where we could have accepted the anger and illusions of others,
We felt wounded and took our revenge if only in silence.
Did we feel entitled not to be wounded?
Or did we wait for someone else to come forward?
Or disappearing, did we decide we did not care…
That it did not matter, when the pain of caring
Seemed too deep?”

O that we could have the determination of the Elders!

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