Speaking Truth to Power
Fox spent most of his life speaking out publicly in market places and churches where he was often accused of “disturbing the peace” or worse, being a heretic or subversive. Over and over again he was savagely beaten, arrested, and/or driven out of town for these efforts. Faced with jail time, he wrote numerous letters to judges, chastising them for not following the law, or for failing to behave as followers of Christ.
These activities were similar to those of activists today, like George Lakey, David Hartsough, or the Berrigan brothers. Civil disobedience, direct action, and being arrested for one’s convictions are essential to prophetic ministry. They demonstrate commitment and moral authority. I remember once being asked by a nurse who was giving me a flu shot, “What do you do?” “I’m a peace activist,” I replied. “Ever been arrested?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied. “A few times.” “Cool,” she said as she put a band-aide on my arm, “I guess you’re for real.”
Early Friends were definitely for real by this criterion. By 1680, 10,000 Quakers had been imprisoned in England, and 243 had died as a result. Margaret Fell spent ten years in prison. Since the population of England was one tenth what it was today, the number of Friends jailed is mind-boggling: equivalent to 100,000 people.
. Despite being cruelly treated, Quakers responded nonviolently, much like the Civil Rights workers in the South during the 1960s. The following story about Fox’s response to an attack is reminiscent of what happened to Quaker activist David Hartsough when he sat in with blacks at a lunch counter in Virginia and was threatened at knife point by a bigoted young white man.
One time when I was at Pall-Mall there came an ambassador with a company of Irishmen and rude fellows. The meeting was over before they came, and I was gone into a chamber, where I heard one of them say that he would kill all the Quakers. I went down to him, and was moved in the power of the Lord to speak to him. I told him, "The law said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth'; but thou threateneth to kill all the Quakers, though they have done  thee no hurt. But," said I, "here is gospel for thee: here is my hair, here is my cheek, and here is my shoulder," turning it to him.
This so overcame him that he and his companions stood as men amazed, and said that if that was our principle, and if we were as we said, they never saw the like in their lives. I told them that what I was in words, I also was in my life. Then the ambassador, who stood without, came in; for he said that this Irish colonel was a desperate man that he durst not come in with him for fear he should do us some mischief. But Truth came over the Irish colonel, and he carried himself lovingly towards us; as also did the ambassador; for the Lord's power was over them all.
· Have you ever been arrested committing civil disobedience? Describe your experience and what you learned.· Have you ever been in a dangerous situation and responded nonviolently? Describe how you responded and what, if anything, prepared you to respond as you did.
Fox and early Quakers faced many dangers and had to learn many nonviolent skills. They adopted methods that were not confrontational. They sometimes used “relational power” to influence leaders. As the founder of a mass movement, George Fox had access to leaders like Oliver Cromwell, the “Lord Protector” of the Commonwealth. Fox’s wife, Margaret Fell, was the widow of a prominent judge, and had the social status to be able to meet with King Charles II and other royalty to try to convince them to do the right thing. Their use of relational power is similar to what Quaker lobbyists do today.
Fox’s Meeting with Oliver Cromwell (1653)
I was moved of the Lord to write a paper to the Protector, Oliver Cromwell; wherein I did, in the presence of the Lord God, declare that I denied the wearing or drawing of a carnal sword, or any other outward weapon, against him or any man; and that I was sent of God to stand a witness against all violence, and against the works of darkness; and to turn people from darkness to light; and to bring them from the causes of war and fighting, to the peaceable gospel. When I had written what the Lord had given me to write, I set my name to it, and gave it to Captain Drury to hand to Oliver Cromwell, which he did.
After some time Captain Drury brought me before the Protector himself at Whitehall. It was in a  morning, before he was dressed, and one Harvey, who had come a little among Friends, but was disobedient, waited upon him. When I came in I was moved to say, "Peace be in this house"; and I exhorted him to keep in the fear of God, that he might receive wisdom from Him, that by it he might be directed, and order all things under his hand to God's glory.
I spoke much to him of Truth, and much discourse I had with him about religion; wherein he carried himself very moderately. But he said we quarrelled with priests, whom he called ministers. I told him I did not quarrel with them, but that they quarrelled with me and my friends. "But," said I, "if we own the prophets, Christ, and the apostles, we cannot hold up such teachers, prophets, and shepherds, as the prophets, Christ, and the apostles declared against; but we must declare against them by the same power and Spirit."
Then I showed him that the prophets, Christ, and the apostles declared freely, and against them that did not declare freely; such as preached for filthy lucre, and divined for money, and preached for hire, and were covetous and greedy, that could never have enough; and that they that have the same spirit that Christ, and the prophets, and the apostles had, could not but declare against all such now, as they did then. As I spoke, he several times said, it was very good, and it was truth. I told him that all Christendom (so called) had the Scriptures, but they wanted the power and Spirit that those had who gave forth the Scriptures; and that was the reason they were not in fellowship with the Son, nor with the Father, nor with the Scriptures, nor one with another.
Many more words I had with him; but people coming in, I drew a little back. As I was turning, he caught me by the hand, and with tears in his eyes said, "Come again to my house; for if thou and I were but an hour of a day together, we should be  nearer one to the other"; adding that he wished me no more ill than he did to his own soul. I told him if he did he wronged his own soul; and admonished him to hearken to God's voice, that he might stand in his counsel, and obey it; and if he did so, that would keep him from hardness of heart; but if he did not hear God's voice, his heart would be hardened. He said it was true.
Margaret Fell’s Meeting with the King (1662)
The restoration of King Charles II posed a huge risk for Quakers. They were seen as subversive and dangerous and were threatened with even more severe persecution than they experienced under Cromwell. It was imperative for Quakers to make the King realize they did not pose a threat, like some violent dissenters. Margaret Fell felt led to pay a visit on the King and other members of the royal family to reassure them that Quakers were a peaceable people. Note that she went not knowing exactly what she was supposed to do. She was “moved of the Lord” and open to whatever God required of her. This passage was written at the time of the so-called “Quaker Act” that required Quakers to swear loyalty to the King. Because they refused to swear oaths, they were seen as disloyal, persecuted and jailed.
"I stayed at home about nine months, and then was moved of the Lord to go to London again, not knowing what might be the matter or business that I should go for. At Warrington, I discovers an act Parliament had made against the Quakers for refusing oaths. And when I came to London, I heard the King had gone to meet the Queen, and to be married to her at Hampton Court. At this time Friends' meetings at London were much troubled with soldiers, pulling Friends out of their meetings, and beating them with their muskets and swords; so that several were wounded and bruised by them; and many were cast into prison, through which many lost their lives. All this was done to a peaceable people, only for worshipping God, as they were persuaded in their consciences. Then I saw the King and the Duke of York at Hampton Court, and I wrote several letters to them, and therein gave them to understand what desperate and dangerous work there was in London; and how that soldiers had come in with lighted matches and had drawn swords among Friends, when they were meeting in the fear and dread of the Lord to worship Him; and if they would not stop that cruel persecution, it was very likely that more innocent blood would be shed, and that would witness against their actions, and lie upon them, and the nation. Within some certain days after, they beat some Friends so cruelly at the Bull and Mouth (meeting) that two died of the beatings. The King told me that his soldiers did not trouble us, nor should they, and said the city soldiers were not his, and they would do as they pleased with them; and after a little time they were more moderate, and the King promised me that he would set those at liberty that were in prison; and when he brought his Queen to London, he did set them at liberty. And then I came home again, having stayed about four months in and about London."
Public statements: Petition to the Commonwealth (1659)
And The Peace Testimony (1660)
In addition to face-to-face meetings with leaders, Fox and early Friends also issued public statements and petitions. Some addressed specific concerns, like the 59 Particulars; others were more general, like the Peace Testimony. All had a political purpose, that is, they were intended to influence policy.
In his introduction, Larry Ingle explains that this petition didn’t make much of an impact on Parliament, which was on the verge of dissolving at this time. Fox went into a deep depression and the petition was lost to history, until it was recently rediscovered and reprinted by the Quaker Universalist Fellowship. Quakers in the 18th and 19th century tended to downplay the radical politics of early Friends, just as they tried to ignore the miraculous cures that Fox reportedly performed. Ingle writes of this document: “Reading Fox's list of particulars, one can readily understand why Quakers were regarded as dangerous radicals by those committed to establishing order and keeping the lower classes in check. At least in 1659, when there seemed a real chance for fundamental change, Fox was willing to free the lower orders so the promise of the revolution might be achieved. The pamphlet thus exemplified the farthest reach of the radical Quaker tide, propelled by Fox himself.”
TO THE PARLIAMENT OF THE COMMON-WEALTH OF England. Fifty nine Particulars laid down for the Regulating things, and the taking away of Oppressing Laws, and Oppressors, and to ease the Oppressed. By George Fox LONDON, 1659.
29. Let all those Abbie-lands, Glebe-lands [the land belonging to a parish church, or an ecclessiastical benefice], that are given to the Priests, be given to the poor of the Nation, and let all the great houses, Abbies, Steeple-houses, and White-Hall be for Alms-houses (or some other use than what they are) for all the blind and lame to be there, and not to go begging up and down the streets.
30. And let all that worship God, worship him in spirit & in truth & not tyed up to will-worships. Let all those Schools & Colledges down, who makes Ministers by the will of man, so that all may come to wait upon God and Christ Jesus, whereby they are made Ministers by his will that redeems people out of the earth, and let not the mouth be stopped which the Lord opens.
31. Let all those crosses upon seals be pulled off, and off the silver, and the gold, and weights, and off the Steeple-houses, and chimnies, and Ships, and signs, and Mayses, and arms, and scucheons, and flags, and Ensignes, and standards. It is the Pope's Crosse; let it be rooted out of the Nation, and the Pope and his authority.
32. Let all those Fines that belong to Lords of Mannors, be given to the poor people, for Lords have enough. Now the people of the World that come into our meetings, spit on us, throw stones at us, set and throw dogs at us, speak all matter of evil upon us, and all manner of slander. Them that be great Professors and great talkers and pluckers down practice this, yet if our friend go into the Steeple-house, and ask but a question, they will hale him out, and cast him in prison, or if he speak never a word, they will cast him in prison, and if he do not go, they will cast him in prison for asking a question.
33. Let all the poor people, blinde and lame, and creeples be provided for in the Nation, that there may not be a beggar in England nor England's Dominions, that you may say you come to be equal with the Jewes, that had the law that made provision for widows, strangers and fatherless. He that turns his ears from hearing the poor, turns his ears from the Law, which says to provide for them, for ye have read the practice of the Church, the Saints which were in the Gospel, which doth condemn this Nation's practice. Where is so many Beggars among them, both the Jews in the Law, and the Church in the Gospel? And so let all great gifts given to great men, be given to the poor. Let the receiver deny it, and the giver return it to the poor; for the rich may give to the rich, but the poor cannot give it him again, so minde Christ's Doctrine.
34. Let all those Easter-reckonings, Midsommer-dues, be taken and thrown aside, and let no one's goods be spoiled, who for conscience sake cannot give the Priest these things, and let all the Burying the dead for money, and Marrying for money, and Christening for money, and Churching of women for money, let all these things be swept away, and let the Nation be a free Nation, and what anyone doth, let them do freely. Let these twenty shilling Sermons, and ten shilling Sermons, and ten groats the grave for the Priest be laid aside, and then see whose mouth the Lord will open, for money choaks, and gifts blindes.
· Have you ever felt led to speak out against injustice, as Fox did when he wrote the 59 Particulars? When have you done so? What was the result?
· How is our Quaker community speaking out against injustice in today’s world?
· Do you support Quaker bodies taking a stand and speaking out on issues of conscience and concern? If so, how and when?
After the Restoration of Charles II, Quakers felt the need to reassure the King that they did not pose a danger. They also wanted to reaffirm their commitment to nonviolence. They issued the Peace Testimony with this clear political agenda in mind.
Quakers did not relinquish their vision for a new society, however. They continued to yearn for a social order based on Gospel principles, as they understood them. “We do earnestly desire and wait, that, by the Word of God's power, and its effectual operation in the hearts of men, the kingdoms of this world may become the kingdoms of the Lord, and of his Christ; that he may rule and reign in men by his Sprit and truth.”
The Quaker vision of the Peaceable Kingdom was based on the prophets Isaiah and Micah, who wrote: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more,” Isa. ii. 4., Mic. iv. 3.
Quakers endeavored to turn this vision into reality when they were given land and an opportunity to found a colony called Pennsylvania in 1681. Many came to this new land fleeing persecution in England. Once they arrived, they created a refuge not only for themselves but for other persecuted religious sects. They cultivated nonviolent and just relations with native people. The artist Edwards Hicks depicted this era as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy of the Peaceable Kingdom. Pennsylvania was not perfect, of course, but even Voltaire was impressed with the “wise and prudent laws” that Penn enacted, guaranteeing freedom of religion.
For the next three hundred and fifty years, Friends would continue to uphold the vision of a Peaceable Kingdom, seeking new revelations and new ways to bring peace and justice for all, including the natural world. The Peace Testimony has become the bedrock of Quakerism, one that continues to be relevant and needed today.
A DECLARATION FROM THE HARMLESS AND INNOCENT PEOPLE OF GOD, CALLED QUAKERS, AGAINST ALL SEDITION, PLOTTERS, AND FIGHTERS IN THE WORLD: FOR REMOVING THE GROUND OF JEALOUSY AND SUSPICION FROM MAGISTRATES AND PEOPLE CONCERNING WARS AND FIGHTINGS.
George Fox and others.
Presented to the King upon the 21st day of the llth Month, 1660.
This Document is on The Quaker Writings Home Page.
[Text from the 2 Volume 8th and Bicentenary Edition of Fox's Journal, London: Friends' Tract Association, 1891.]
"Our principle is, and our practices have always been, to seek peace and ensue it; to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God; seeking the good and welfare, and doing that which tends to the peace of all. We know that wars and fightings proceed from the lusts of men, as James iv. 1--3, out of which the Lord hath redeemed us, and so out of the occasion of war. The occasion of war, and war itself (wherein envious men, who are lovers of them-selves more than lovers of God lust, kill, and desire to have men's lives or estates) ariseth from lust. All bloody principles and practices, as to our own particulars, we utterly- deny; with all outward wars and strife, and fightings with - outward weapons, for any end, or under an pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world.
"….The Spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, and again to move unto it; and we certainly know, and testify to the world, that 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.
"First, Because the kingdom of Christ God will exalt, according to his promise, and cause it to grow and flourish in righteousness; 'not by might, nor by power (of outward sword), but by my Spirit, saith the Lord,' Zech. iv. 6. So those that use any weapon to fight for Christ, or for the establishing of his kingdom or government—their spirit, principle, and practice we deny.
"Secondly, We do earnestly desire and wait, that, by the Word of God's power, and its effectual operation in the hearts of men, the kingdoms of this world may become the kingdoms of the Lord, and of his Christ; that he may rule and reign in men by his Sprit and truth; that thereby all people, out of every profession, may be brought into love and unity with God, and one with another; and that they may all come to witness the prophet's words, who said, ' Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more,' Isa. ii. 4., Mic. iv. 3.
"So we, whom the Lord hath called into the obedience of his truth, have denied wars and fightings, and cannot more learn them. This is a certain testimony unto all the world, of the truth of our hearts in this particular, that as God persuadeth every man's heart to believe, so they may receive it. For we have not, as some others, gone about with cunningly devised fables, nor have we ever denied in practice what we have professed in principle; but in sincerity and truth, and by the word of God, have we laboured to manifest unto all men, that both we and our ways might be witnessed in the hearts of all.
"And whereas all manner of evil hath been falsely spoken of us, we hereby speak the plain truth of our hearts, to take away the occasion of that offense; that so being innocent, we may not suffer for other men's offenses, nor be made a prey of by the wills of men for that of which we were never guilty; but in the uprightness of our hearts we may, under the power ordained of God for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well, live a peaceable and godly life, in all godliness an d honesty….For this we can say to all the world, we have wronged no man, we have used no force nor violence against any man: we have been found in no plots, nor guilty of sedition. When we have been wronged, we have not sought to revenge ourselves; we have not made resistance against authority; but wherein we could not obey for conscience' sake we have suffered the most of all people in the nation. We have been counted as sheep for the slaughter, persecuted and despised, beaten, stoned, wounded, stocked, whipped, imprisoned, haled out of synagogues, cast into dungeons and noisome vaults, where many have died in bonds , shut up from our friends, denied needful sustenance for many days together, with other the like cruelties.
"And the cause of all these sufferings is not for any evil, but for things relating to the worship of our God, and in obedience to his requirings. For which cause we shall freely give up our bodies a sacrifice, rather than disobey the Lord: for we know as the Lord hath kept us innocent, so he will plead our cause, when there is none in the earth to plead it…
"And whereas men come against us with clubs, staves, drawn swords, pistols cocked, and beat, cut, and abuse us, yet we never resisted them; but to them our hair, backs, and cheeks, have been ready. It is not an honour, to manhood or nobility, to run upon harmless people, who lift not up a hand against them, with arms and weapons.
"Therefore consider these things, ye men of understanding: for plotters, raisers of insurrections, tumultuous ones, and fighters, running with swords, clubs, staves, and pistols, one against another; these, we say, are of the world, and have their foundation from this unrighteous world, from the foundation of which the Lamb hath been slain; which Lamb hath redeemed us from this unrighteous world, and we are not of it, but are heirs of a world of which there is no end, and of a kingdom where no corruptible thing enters. Our weapons are spiritual, and not carnal, yet mighty through God, to the pulling down of the strongholds of sin and Satan, who is the author of wars, fighting, murder, and plots. Our swords are broken into ploughshares, and spears into pruning-hooks, as prophesied of in Micah iv. Therefore we cannot learn war any more, neither rise up against nation or kingdom with outward weapons, though you have numbered us amongst the transgressors and plotters. The Lord knows our innocency herein, and will plead our cause with all people upon earth, at the day of their judgment, when all men shall have a reward according to their works.
"Therefore in love we warn you for your soul's good, not to wrong the innocent, nor the babes of Christ, which he hath in his hand, which he cares for as the apple of his eye; neither seek to destroy the heritage of God, nor turn your swords backward upon such as the law was not made for, i.e., the righteous; but for sinners and transgressors, to keep them down….
"O, Friends! offend not the Lord and his little ones, neither afflict his people; but consider and be moderate. Do not run on hastily, but consider mercy, justice, and judgment; that is the way for you to prosper, and obtain favor of the Lord. Our meetings were stopped and broken up in the days of Oliver, under pretense of plotting against him; in the days of the Committee of Safety we were looked upon as plotters to bring in King Charles; and now our peaceable meetings are termed seditious. O! that men should lose their reason, and go contrary to their own conscience; knowing that we have suffered all things, and have been accounted plotters from the beginning, though we have declared against them both by word of mouth and printing, and are clear from any such thing! We have suffered all along, because we would not take up carnal weapons to fight, and are thus made a prey, because we are the innocent lambs of Christ, and cannot avenge ourselves! These things are left on your hearts to consider; but we are out of all those things, in the patience of the saints; and we know. As Christ said, 'He that takes the sword, shall perish with the sword;' Matt. xxvi. 52; Rev. xiii. 10.
"This is given forth from the people called Quakers, to satisfy the king and his council, and all those that have any jealousy concerning us, that all occasion of suspicion may be taken away, and our innocency cleared.
As countless examples show, early Friends were not reluctant to issue statements of their principles and to let the world know where they stood. They also made specific and often very challenging demands of those in power. These statements were backed up with concrete action and changed lives, but they were not always effective—the 59 Particulars addressed to Parliament were largely ignored. For Friends, it was more important to be faithful to the Inward Light than to be successful in the ways of the world. Early Friends had a compelling vision they took great risks to proclaim: “This is our testimony to the whole world.” What are we Quakers proclaiming today to the whole world through our deeds as well as our words? Are we still willing to be a prophetic voice, even it entails self-sacrifice and risks? These are questions worth struggling to answer.
· How do you live the Peace Testimony in your personal life?
· How does your Meeting support the Peace Testimony?