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The Peace Testimony and Violence in the World Economy

Some Food for Thought

assembled by Edward Dommen
Reprinted with permission from the The Wider Quaker Fellowship 1994


These quotations were assembled by Edward Dommen for discussion at the 18th Triennial meeting of the Friends World Committee for Consultation, which met in Abiquiu, New Mexico, USA, in August, 1994. They were then printed as a pamphlet by The Wider Quaker Fellowship.

After discussion, the Triennial approved a brief Minute on the Violent Effects of Economic Structures.

The root of the matter

1. 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.

- George Fox (1651)

The economy oppresses

2. May we look upon our treasures and the furniture of our houses and the garments in which we array ourselves and try whether the seeds of war have any nourishment in these our possessions or not..

- John Woolman, A Plea for the Poor, Chap. 10 (1763)

3. Some claim a much greater share of the world than others: and while those possessions are faithfully improved to the good of the whole, it consists with equity. But he who, with a view to self-exaltation, causeth some ... to labour immoderately, and with the monies arising to him therefrom, employs others in the luxuries of life, acts contrary to the gracious design of him [the Creator] who is the true owner of the earth.

- John Woolman, A Plea for the Poor, Chap. 2

4. What aggravates the evil is that the pride of one might supply the needs of ten. Gross impiety it is that a nation's pride should be maintained in the face of the poor.

- William Penn, No Cross, No Crown (1682)

5. Reduce and simplify your material needs ... so that those who live for the Spirit ... do not correspondingly increase the material burden weighting on other people, cutting them off from the possibility or even the desire to develop their spirit also.

- Pierre Ceresole, Vivre sa verite (1937)

6. We must relinquish the desire to own other people, to have power over them, and to force our views on them.

- Statement on peace issued by New Zealand Quakers (1987)

7. We are angered by actions which have knowingly led to the polarisation of our country-into the affluent, who epitomise success according to the values of a materialistic society, and the "have-leasts", who by the expectations of that same society are oppressed, judged, found wanting and punished.

- London Yearly Meeting (1987)

Money makes the economy go around

8. The goal of every economic activity is to supply people with the goods necessary to their lives. When making decisions, more emphasis should be placed on what serves life-or can damage it-and not only on what is financially rewarding. To equate needs with the amount of money people are willing to pay excludes a considerable part of humanity from the functioning of the economy ad distorts our judgment of what is truly essential.

- Grete Scherer, German Yearly Meeting "Thoughts for the Triennial 1994"

9. In the use of money there are only two possibilities:

(1) personal responsibility for one's own money, reasonable and social use, without succumbing to the fascination of money and its consequent power;

(2) the worldwide intertwining of money in trusts, corporations and banks, and that is now beyond control ... In a society molded only by money all ideals founder, and especially now one can truly speak of serving God or Mammon.

- Alfred Naumann, German Yearly Meeting "Thoughts for the Triennial 1994"

10. So much has the public conscience been warped from the living truth that a man who has acquired wealth by operations on the Stock Exchange is spoken of as having "made" his money regardless of whether any useful purpose has been served. True enlightenment would show that, if nothing is given in return, the wealth so gained has been misappropriated and the whole transaction ... is, in its essence, a violation of the eighth commandment.

- Shipley Brayshaw, Swarthmore Lecture, 1933

11. We are all thieves, we are all thieves.

- Margaret Fox (1694)

The oppression is structural

12. In our Advices [1931] we are warned against commercial speculations of a gambling character, and we are told to "remember how widespread and diverse are the temptations to grow rich at the expense of others." The faithful observance of this advice points the way to an issue greater than personal rectitude with regard to gambling. It should lead to an examination of the system which permits or encourages these abuses, and to a demand for drastic changes.

- Shipley Brayshaw, Swarthmore Lecture, 1933

13. The people on the frontiers ... are often poor; and ... they venture to the outside of a colony in order to live more independently of the wealthy, who often set high rents on their land ... If all our inhabitants lived according to sound wisdom, labouring to promote universal love and righteousness, and ceased from every inordinate desire after wealth, and from all customs which are tinctured with luxury, the way would be easy for our inhabitants ... to live comfortably on honest employments, without the temptation they are so often under of being drawn into schemes to make settlements on lands which have not been purchased of the Indians.

- John Woolman, Journal, Chap. 8 (1761, 1762)

14. Poverty and powerlessness are bound up with each other. Poverty leads to powerlessness, and powerlessness leads to poverty.

- Martin Wyatt, Gifts and Discoveries (1988)

15. The duty of the Society of Friends is to be the voice of the oppressed but [also] to be conscious that we ourselves are part of that oppression.

- Eva Pinthus, The Friend (1987)

16. Our world today is characterized by an unjust distribution. We refuse to believe that development is governed by inexorable laws of economy-which we regard as manifestations of greed and selfishness. We do believe, however, that God has given humankind the capacity to discern the principle of justice, that is, the equitable distribution of the gifts of God. This is our guiding star. But the high level of consumption in the wealthy world is an insult to all justice. As Quakers, we entreat people in the wealthy world to consider the connection between the high level of consumption there and the misery of the poor countries. We should also work toward an altered production, with intent to pave the way for human conditions for all ...

We believe that the unjust distribution of wealth is in itself an evil that we protest against... Today, economic impoverishment and structural violence-that is, violence that no one individual can be held responsible for-are powerful weapons that lay kill and waste. Never to seize weapons has since 1660 been the central theme of the Quaker peace testimony. It is still valid.

- Sweden Yearly Meeting

17. We have a variety of strategies for passing by on the other side ... some of us imagine that Biblical morality only enjoins us to direct personal charity ..., having nothing to do with justice, with political action to change unjust structures. (A strange love this, which would shelter a Jew but ignore the struggle to prevent the rise of Naziism.

- Jonathan Dale, QSRE Journal (1988)

18. Were all superfluities and the desire of outward greatness laid aside, and the right use of things universally attended to, such a number of people might be employed in things useful, as that moderate labour in the blessing of heaven would answer all good purposes relating to people and their animals, and a sufficient number have time to attend to proper affairs of civil society.

- John Woolman, A Plea for the Poor Chap. 2

So what should we do?


19. A poor person is often held responsible for his own misery. He is considered unable or unwilling to advance himself. I believe, however, paraphrasing the words of Albert Schweizer, that whoever has received more than others in health, in talents and in success is obligated to render in return an unusually great sacrifice of his own life for other life.

-Grete Scherer, "Thoughts for the Triennial 1994

20. It remains to speak of the Way of Service ... Business in its essence is ... 'a vast and complex movement of social service." However some may abuse its methods for private ends, its true function is not to rob the community but to serve it.

- London Yearly Meeting (1911)

21. We believe that, as Quakers, we should put our whole lives under the guidance of the Spirit. This should determine our choices ... between saving and spending and the way in which savings are invested. We are led to choose investments that benefit the community at large ... and to refuse to deal in products or services which are hurtful to individuals or to society as a whole.

-London Yearly Meeting Young Friends Central Committee (1980)


22. If we think of simplicity in terms of doing without certain things, of voluntarily reducing our standard of living, I believe this is almost irrelevant at the economic level in view of the scale of the world's need..

- L. Hugh Doncaster (1976)

Above all, don't ignore the issue

23. True godliness don't turn men out of the world but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavours to mend it ... Christians should keep the helm and guide the vessel to its port, not meanly steal out at the stern of the world and leave those that are in it without a pilot to be driven by the fury of evil times upon the rock or sand of ruin.

- William Penn, No Cross, No Crown (1682)

24. The Friends testimony on right (just/fair) sharing of world resources grows from our fundamental belief that there is That of God in every person. Because we are part of the vast web of life and members of the community of the Earth, our careful stewardship of resources is required. We acknowledge the need for each of us individually and as a group to develop an awareness of the underlying assumptions and institutions of our economic system which foster injustice, and to move from that awareness. As Friends, we seek the opportunity to share with others the gifts God intended for all peoples; to participate without greed in the economic life of the community; to make our lives a testimony of fair dealing and the promotion of social justice; to live simply that others may have the wherewithal to live; and to conserve the world's resources on the one hand and share them fairly among all peoples on the other hand.

- Intermountain Yearly Meeting, 1993


All the quotations except 8, 9, 16, 19 and 24 are to be found in Britain Yearly Meeting's draft revision of the Book of Discipline.

Sweden Yearly Meeting drafted a version of 16 for the Friends World Conference in 1991. It is still being reworked. The extract presented here combines several versions.

8, 9 and 19 were drafted specifically for this theme at this Triennial