How Should Pacifists Quakers Commemorate Veteran’s Day?

How Should Confirmed Christian Pacifists Commemorate Veterans Day?

           Veterans’ Day this year falls on Sunday. In most years Veterans’ Day passes in churches with little or no mention. Historically and traditionally, Veterans’ Day has been more a civic than a sacred observance.Armistice Day became Veterans’ Day by an act of Congress in 1954, changing its purpose and scope. President Eisenhower called on the nation not only to remember the sacrifices of those who fought in all our nation’s wars but to rededicate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace. 

Kay Ellison found the 1941 report to Oregon Yearly Meeting the 1941 by Levi Pennington, the  Superintendent of Peace. His report began: “What can a Christian pacifist do in a world that is war mad?”

Veterans’ Day this year falls on Sunday. In most years Veterans’ Day passes in churches with little or no mention. Historically and traditionally, Veterans’ Day has been more a civic than a sacred observance.

World War I ended on November 11, 1918, with the signing of the Armistice by the Allies and Germany. In the first Armistice Day proclamation in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson called for the nation to remember those who had died in their country’s service and to make the day an opportunity for America to “show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nation.”

In 1938 Congress called for the observance of Armistice Day in churches and schools — again dedicating the day to the cause of world peace.  Note the order here: the nation called the churches to celebrate this day. This was not an initiative arising from the churches, but from Congress. The timing was significant. The strong stirrings of World War II had already begun in earnest in Europe. The United States was still reeling from the effects of World War I and the Great Depression, and the political climate overall was against any sort of engagement in wars.

Of course, within three years, the United States became involved in the War in Europe and in the Pacific.

Since the end of World War II, observances of Armistice Day have been held all over the nation, but especially in our national cemeteries and monuments.  Armistice Day became Veterans’ Day by an act of Congress in 1954, changing its purpose and scope. President Eisenhower called on the nation not only to remember the sacrifices of those who fought in all our nation’s wars but to rededicate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace. 

In a book drive that is part of West Hills’ Friends Meeting’s Hunger Month fund raising Kay Ellison found a treasure: Minutes of Oregon Yearly Meeting of Friends Church, 1941.  In the Peace with Justice blog on Northwest Yearly Meeting’s web site she posted the report to Oregon Yearly Meeting of the Superintendent of Peace, Levi Pennington.  Remember, this is 1941 just as the United States was entering World War II. His report read:

What can a Christian pacifist do in a world that is war mad? This is the question which has engaged the attention of the Friends of Oregon Yearly Meeting throughout the year. And the answer has been chiefly along two lines as it concerns us, and two lines as it concerns others.   or ourselves, we are concerned first that we shall maintain our peace testimony before the world, and not appear, by any change of attitude, to believe that truth changes with changing conditions. For most of us this has thus far been relatively easy. We can still affirm our belief in the power of understanding and justice and love. We can still insist that for us war is wrong, and we cannot engage in it.  But while this is relatively easy for most of us, for young men of draft age it is not so easy. They must make a decision personally which may cost them something. Their stand as conscientious objectors makes other efforts to maintain our peace testimony look a bit formal and academic.

One of our members, whose conscience would not permit him to register for the draft, has been for nearly six months now in a federal prison camp. It is hoped that he may soon be paroled, but it is evident that this will be to the civilian public service camp at San Dimas rather than to his work as a teacher on the Pacific College faculty.

The second concern as it relates to our own membership is the case of those who do stand firmly by their Christian and Quaker convictions against war and war preparations, and who at best are assigned to Civilian Public serve camps. In addition to the moral and spiritual support of such as these, there is the problem of their financial support when they take up their work in camp.

In our relationship to others, our task has again been two-fold. First we have sought to promote peace by helping to keep the United States out of war, not merely that we might save ourselves, but that America might be in position to aid in the restoration of peace. To this end we have sought to influence our representative in Washington, from the president down, by resolutions, petitions, and personal communications.

Our second concern has been to care for the victims of war. Last year one of our members was on leave of absence from Pacific College faculty in the work of caring for German war refugees in Cuba, after spending half a year in war relief in Spain. During the year just closed, another of our members has been in this Cuban work, and has been given leave of absence for yet another year from his duties at Pacific College for other work under the American Friends Service Committee. Clothes for Shanghai have been collected in different parts of the Yearly Meeting, and other efforts have been made to alleviate the suffering that war has caused. One of our members is on the national committee for the relief of the European democracies, of which Herbert Hoover, another member of this Yearly Meeting, is honorary chairman and the most notable worker.

Three of our  young men, one from the Pacific College faculty, are leaving this afternoon for the relief of the suffering caused by the recent earthquake in Mexico. These are Richard Binford, George Thomas, and Harvie McCaffree.  (By the way, George Thomas is Becky Ankeny, NWYM Superintendents father and later in his life a missionary.) 

Some of these activities are in the field of the newly selected service committee, which will naturally handle them in the future.

In work of this kind, it is difficult to collect statistics. In some cases a quarterly meeting will report less work in a given line than a single individual member of that meeting has done. Here are the figures as shown in the report:

Most of the committee met at the beginning of the year to plan their work.

There were 31 special meetings held in the interests of peace, mass meetings, discussion groups, regular meetings in charge of peace committees, meetings to hear reports of peace conferences, etc.

There were 67 peace sermons and addresses during the year, with the Quaker peace teaching given many times in Sunday schools, in sermons, in connection with other teaching, etc.

Three quarterly meetings report 5,645 pages of peace literature distributed. This is in addition to many letters on the subject—one peace superintendent alone sent out 86 letters to members of the meeting of draft age.

Among the peace periodicals taken by our members, mention was made of the American Friend, Peace Action, the Messenger of Peace, Fellowship. Only one quarterly meeting reported the number of subscriptions, 16.

Three quarterly meetings report $62.15 raised to carry on the peace work of the meetings.  This is in addition to the $10.00 appropriated by the Yearly Meeting and much more than that spent by the peace superintendent and others who made a report of their expenditures.

It is reported that none of our members are engaged in military service, except one associate member.

In the matter of communications to government officials, statistics are hard to obtain. One meeting sent 58 copies of our discipline to draft boards, that they might have official knowledge of our peace position. One quarterly meeting reports six communications from meetings, and 500 from individuals. Another quarterly meeting reports “many.”

Young men of draft age were reported from three quarterly meetings. One made no report, another stated that this information had been sent, but failed to state to whom it was sent.

Two quarterly meetings report 32 signed as conscientious objectors. No report from the other quarterly meetings.

Little has as yet been done, certainly nothing on a sufficiently large scale, to provide financially for our conscientious objectors who may be assigned to civilian public service camps. This will be one of the tasks of the newly appointed service committee.

One quarterly meeting report included a very clear and helpful statement of the situation as it confronts conscientious objectors, and of their duties and privileges under existing laws. The quarterly meeting superintendent in this quarterly meeting, and others concerning whom no report was made, as none was asked for, have written numerous and telling articles for various newspapers.

Advisory boards have been formed, some among Friends and others in connection with the other historic peace churches and other peace organizations, for the counseling of conscientious objectors.

Among the other reports and suggestions are the following:

“Pray, and then work in harmony with our prayers. National days of prayer for peace cannot avail very much, if all our energy is spent for war.”  “Our youth should be taught Friends’ methods of dealing, which is Christ’s method.”  “To seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, praying much that God’s will be done in each of us, in these days that are ahead. That we be careful to uphold the peace testimony of our church, realizing at all times the right of the individual to follow the dictates of his or her conscience—But keeping in mind what our church discipline has to say on peace, being careful at all times when giving advice or counsel to others that we do not hinder the will of the spirit—And that we become a more united people in our testimony of peace.” “The education of the growing boys—age 12 to draft age—on Quaker peace principles.”

With the hope that the Peace Committee and the Service Committee may cooperatively handle adequately the educational and practical peace testimony of Oregon Yearly Meeting, this report is respectfully submitted. Levi T. Pennington, Peace Superintendent.

What an important piece this is of our history and tradition as Quakers in this Yearly Meeting! I hope it puts in context for us our having organized and hosted the timely sessions last month focused on the implications of Congress working in these next two months on balancing the Federal Budget and the extent to which our nation’s spending on things of war are of major importance.

The question before us today is how with integrity do confirmed Christian pacifists, followers of the way of Christ Jesus and Quakers commemorate Veteran’s Day?  I think the answer is that we pray for peace.  Not just any peace but the peace of God which passes all understanding and which keeps our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ!


So will you join me where you can in such a bidding prayer

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