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Letter from the general secretary

Letter from the general secretary

Published: February 19, 2016

 Peace and Planet | Photo: Kyle Depew

“All bloody principles and practices ... we utterly deny, with all outward wars and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world. ... Our weapons are spiritual and not carnal.” —A declaration from the Quakers to Charles II, 1661

This first recorded “peace testimony” from the young Quaker movement encompasses a few key commitments. Quakers refuse to bear arms or take part in military service, we accept an obligation to help the victims of war and conflicts, and we make a commitment to active peacemaking. We don’t shy away from conflict, but seek to transform conflict and build a just peace with tools that are infused with the spirit of caring for all God’s children.

The work of active peacemaking isn’t for the faint of heart. We must be willing to speak and act in ways that challenge the narratives of nationalism, fear, and hate that inevitably accompany war. We must be ready to accept censure. We must be steadfast even when suspected of being enemies of the state—as AFSC and its leaders were when we provided humanitarian support to German children and later to “communist” Russian children in the aftermath of World War I.

Working for justice also requires developing effective ways to challenge and change narratives that inflame fear by scapegoating one group—in different times and places, Jews, communists, Muslims—to justify war and violence. Once we are at war, the culture of militarism sweeps away our most basic values of human compassion, equity, and justice. It can be hard to find the courage to speak out for Americans of Japanese ancestry who were sent to internment camps in World War II or to provide medical treatment for Vietnamese children who have lost limbs to landmines during the U.S. war in Southeast Asia. 

But this compassionate witness is necessary, holy work to prepare the ground for peace with justice. When we are living examples of the alternatives to war and violence, even amid war and violence, that is when we are most effective in helping others embrace a new narrative of a world built around shared humanity and shared security.

As Nelson Mandela said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” Not only must we lift up the voices of the oppressed and embattled, we  must also address the oppressors.

This is the role AFSC plays in so many places around the world—opening the vision for alternatives through a thoughtful, holistic approach to peace that engages people at many levels. In this issue, you’ll find examples of how we lay the ground for peace by standing up for justice—using art to expose and oppose militarism, working alongside farmers in North Korea to demonstrate that partnerships are possible in even the most unlikely places, successfully advocating at the United Nations to ensure that the devastating link between war and poverty is addressed in the newly adopted sustainable development goals. 

In all of this work, AFSC stands with individuals and communities who work courageously in the gap between what is and what could be, knowing that their inspiring witness will change hearts and minds, paving the way for peace with justice.

In peace,

Shan Cretin
General Secretary