Quaker Social Witness

367 Years of Social Witness

Quakers have long been known for their advocacy of peace, their renunciation of war, and their work on behalf of social justice.  Writing in 1651, George Fox, the most prominent of the early Friends, said:

“I told (the Commonwealth Commissioners) I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars
and I knew from whence all wars did rise, from the lust, according to James’s doctrine…
I told them I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were.”

In 1660, Fox and other Quakers wrote a letter to the restored King Charles II that contained the most famous expression of the Peace Testimony:

“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.”

Many Quakers were imprisoned for their unwillingness to fight.  This led early Friends to work for prison reform — an issue of interest to this day.  Friends were also early advocates for abolishing slavery in both Britain and the United States.  They worked with William Wilberforce to abolish slavery in the British Empire and were later prominent in the Underground Railroad.  They also advocated women’s rights: four of the five organizers of the 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention were Quakers, and Quakers were prominent supporters of the Women’s Suffrage movement.  In the 20th century, they advocated on behalf of working people, in the Civil Rights movement, and in various movements to oppose wars.  More recently, Friends have been active in ending discrimination, in  aiding refugees, in developing alternatives to violence, and in caring for the environment.  Friends Meeting of San Antonio was one of the first religious groups in the city to declare its willingness to celebrate marriages “without regard for gender” — long before anyone dreamed that same-sex marriage would become law.

In the words of New England Yearly Meeting:

“For Quakers, the most vital expressions of our faith go beyond words into action.
We witness to the Spirit of Love and Truth as we work to bring the society around us
more into harmony with God’s peaceable kingdom and the natural world. 
Quakers take up this work through community action,
Meeting support of an individual Friend’s social justice ministry,
and through participation in organizations dedicated to creating a peaceful, just and sustainable world.”

Or, to use the slogan of Friends Committee on National Legislation — a Quaker non-profit that lobbies Congress on issues of importance to Friends:

We seek a world
free of war and the threat of war. 

We seek a society
with equity and justice for all.

We seek a community
where every person’s potential may be fulfilled. 

We seek an earth restored

For more information:

FMSA Statements on Social Issues
On Conscientious Objection to War
Links to Quaker Organizations