Growth and Development of Quaker Testimony, 1652-1661 and 1960-1994

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This study examines the historical and spiritual underpinnings of contemporary Quaker approaches to conflict in Third World military settings. Early Quaker Testimony (EQT, c.1647-61) was predicated on conflict on three levels: (i) inner, in which sin was purged, (ii) among themselves, and (iii) from hostile external forces. EQT also possessed a tripartite form: (i) settling conflicts within and beyond their movement, (ii) witnessing for justice and peace, and (iii) establishing mutual support systems. Contemporary Quaker Testimony, also arising from conflict and in tripartite form, is compared to EQT to delineate convergences and divergences in theology, language use, approaches to authorities, public witness and mutual support systems. Specifically investigated is South African Quakerism under Apartheid–between the Sharpeville atrocity (1960) and all-party elections (1994) and whose odyssey makes possible an analysis and discussion of individual and corporate experiences of conflict; these reflect EQT since South African Quakers were familiar with oppression, civil war and in-movement conflict. South African Friends played an important conciliatory role with the principal disputing parties, became active in the anti-Apartheid struggles and enacted systems of mutual support. Of special interest is Hendrik W. van der Merwe who helped facilitate eventual talks leading to the release of Nelson Mandela whom he knew. Quaker mediation is described along with conflict disputes techniques within the context of mediation-conflict theory. This study will benefit individuals and organizations involved in mediation, facilitation and Third-party intervention, and community, industrial, school, church and family dispute resolution.


“Why study the Religious Society of Friends? Quakers are, after all, a tiny sect. The days when they were an important political force in the British colonies of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Rhode Island ended over two centuries ago, with the American Revolution. For the past century, while they have shown impressive growth in a few places, most notably Kenya, their numbers have declined in the places that gave rise to and shaped Quakerism, the British Isles and North America.

Quakers, however, have always been a group with an influence beyond their small numbers. The first generation of Friends, in the British Isles and North America, served for Puritan and Anglican alike as the incarnation of all of the pestiferous heresies to emerge from the turmoil of the 1640’s, and they directed attacks at Quakers accordingly. In the eighteenth century, as Friends had become less theologically threatening, they found new ways to afflict the established order with a growing social conscience, especially in opposition to human slavery. In the twentieth century, the public image of Friends around the world, when not set in the commercialism of the genial Quaker Oats icon, has been as social activists, challenging oppression as champions of peace and non-violence, attempting to transform conflict from war into peace. For many Friends, this activism is the attraction that brought them into Quakerism or held them there.

Since the 1960’s, some Friends have worried that commitments to bringing peace and justice to the larger world hold the potential to crowd out the spiritual commitments on which previous generations of Quakers based their vision of a world that lived according to the will of God. The author’s book is an important contribution to this discussion. The author has engaged in a wide ranging, close reading of the works of the first generation of Friends, not just familiar figures like George Fox and James Nayler, but a host of more obscure “public Friends” as well. It is a reading that is informed, however, by a deep knowledge of a century of scholarship about the beginnings of Quakerism. The author’s interest is not as much historical as it is practical understanding how Friends today approach conflicts, and how historic Quakerism informs that approach. His contemporary focus is South Africa from 1960 to 1994. His larger purpose is to reconnect Friends with their roots. His argument is that since the beginning of the Quaker movement, Friends have aimed for establishing the Kingdom of God on earth as a prelude to the Heaven to come. In something of a paradox for a group that has prided itself on peacemaking and conflict resolution, the author concludes that conflict is helpful, even necessary, in the pursuit of truth. Just as the first generation of Friends combined imagery of the Lamb with a metaphor of war, so conflict can help bring forth Truth. In the best tradition of Quaker scholarship, the author thus presents us with research that is both informative and useful, a basis for a Quaker activism more firmly grounded in the Christian foundations of Quakerism.” – (from the Preface) Thomas Hamm, Professor of History and the Archivist and Curator for the Lilly Library’s Friends Collection at Earlham College

“In this book, the commitment of early and contemporary Friends to justice, peace and reconciliation – mentioned in this order – is duly explored and strongly emphasized. It is described as the pivotal central element in a tripartite testimony. This book will enable readers to make and apply the crucially important distinction between a mere pacification and a real transformation and a real transformation of justified violence into genuine peace.” – Jannie Malan, Emeritus Professor of the University of the Western Cape

“In this book, the author engages the reader with an insightful analytical look at conflict. Quakerism arose at a conflicted period in English history and the author carefully guides the reader in this early Quaker history with observations that are fresh even for those who know early Friends. The author is doing theology via history. From this context Quaker views on testimony [are examined] with compelling and contemporary relevance.” – Alan Kolp, Professor of Religion, Baldwin-Wallace College

Table of Contents

List of Tables
Preface by Professor Thomas Hamm
Chronology of Events, 1624-61
1. Early Quaker Testimony
2. Contemporary Quaker Testimony
3. Synthesis
4. Non-Quaker and Quaker Approaches to Mediation
Abbreviations and Endnotes

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