And This is Our Testimony to the Whole World

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 4:43-47
I’d like to dedicate this piece to a weighty Friend and former professor of mine, Ralph Bebe.  During this lenten season I read his book “A Garden of the Lord: A History of Oregon Yearly Meeting of Friends Church” and was so blessed by it.  His testimony deeply affected this part of my faith journey, and I will be forever grateful for that.  

"Jordans Quaker Meeting" by Ron Waddams

Pacifist is a term that I never thought I would use to describe myself, as there was a time not too long ago when I would frequently study war.

War was more than anything to me, interesting.  As a little kid it was kinda like a forbidden fruit, as I recall not being allowed to watch “violent television” (thats the Power Rangers for anyone who is wondering) and age requirements for games and media were to be strictly followed.  No bb guns allowed. Period end of story. Because I said so.

Even with that though, I was still fascinated by the many different aspects and facets of war when I was younger.  I loved learning about the major characters involved in it, the politicians and the generals, and the pivotal world moments that they acted in.  And oh man did I love learning about the technology of it!

Want to know the standard issue sidearm of the US army in 1890?

Want to know the first war where two jet fighter aircraft faced each other in combat?

Want to know which military was first to widely adopt a semi-automatic main battle rifle?

Indeed, I have no doubt that my early fascination with war pointed me to eventually choose Political Science and History as my majors. 

However, while I found the recounted history of war to be fascinating, I counted myself as a extremely conflict averse and gentle person.  I tried to mediate or avoid arguments, protect the feelings of others, and wouldn’t consider hauling off and hitting someone no matter how angry I get.  Hitting someone in anger after all, would have been a sin.

This was my mindset until well into my Junior year at Fox.  By the time I was a Junior though I had already decided that this new Jesus that I was learning about  and knowing more through Common Ground was personally worth following…which was a really strange place to be at.  I enrolled in a “War and Conscience in the United States” class, not because I was particularly interested in pacifism, but because I wanted to beef up my knowledge of the American Civil War.

The professors, Ralph Bebe and Cherice Bock, started off the class with theories about war, and they asked questions about war that bugged me.  They just didn’t seem to ever relent that there was a situation where war would be necessary, a position which I thought had very suspicious logic. Frustrating as it was for me to admit, it was an undeniable fact that I learned the early Church was pacifist. 

…But they could be wrong.  Thankfully we came to Augustine, oh thank God for Augustine!  My beliefs now had a strengthened intellectual buttress around them in the form of his “just war” theory for faithful Christians.  And so from that point on I called myself a just war theorist, which did not raise an eyebrow on the GFU campus.

What about Hitler? How would you stop him without war? No satisfying pacifist argument. I win. 

Some part of that buttress cracked one day while I was walking to class, a day with beautiful blue sky.

I felt the lovely warm sun rays on my skin, inhaled the fresh morning air, heard the birds song fill the canyon, and thoroughly was enjoying the experience of being human.  The thought occurred, what if right now, in this moment, it was over in a flash.  What if for a mile around me, everything was atomized inside the blaze of a sun.

All the dreams, all the hopes of so many people, gone in atomic fire.  It did happen on a beautiful day decades ago, a day with beautiful blue sky.  The injustice of that proposition appalled me, and I was anti-nuclear weapons after that day; surely they could not be justified in proportionality or military targeting.  Nevertheless, my belief in just war still stood.

There was a tiny splinter left over.

Shortly after my experience in the canyon, the Arab Spring began.  I watched on TV the destabilizing of Libya and the crackdown by Gaddafi’s government.  I started to advocate strongly for intervention, we were going to be enforcing a UN mandate, protecting life.

However, while I sat watching the footage of navy missiles beginning their arc up into the night sky towards distant targets, something occurred to me.

Something was not right.  I stopped speaking out in favor of the intervention.

The thing was maddeningly small, and I wanted it gone.

I started attending West Hills Friends before the intervention in Libya started.  I was reveling in the joy of belonging to a church community again.  No one sat me down to give the “peace talk”, which I half expected would be a requirement when getting involved in Quakerism.  Well what would would you do to stop Hitler? What they did do, was demonstrate to me the love of Christ, and I became even more interested in the Jesus I was experiencing.

One night I was lying in bed watching the movie “Downfall” which has been endlessly spoofed on youtube.  It depicted the final days of Adolf Hitler and his experience in the bunker.  When the end credits began to roll I noticed something about the man I saw, the one who necessitated the response of war and the destruction of his country around him. He was was at the end a pathetic, twisted, and angry man…but at his core I didn't see him as an evil thing.  Why are there tears in my eyes?

Maybe something else could have helped him…

My heart started to race, and a wildfire began inside my mind, why? My belief that I had clung to for my entire life, was crumbling, and fast.  I felt dizzy.

Hitler, in my mind, became a human.

A human with that same undeniable spark of God that I was learning I had in myself.  A human that my life has a responsibility towards. 

I hurried to the bathroom, looked at myself in the mirror, and heard the truth of God, that I was wrong.  I slowly sank onto the floor, and began weeping uncontrollably.  I felt the weight of what I had desecrated.

I was guilty of dehumanizing, seeing people being mutilated and blown to bits as figures on a page or simply collateral damage.

That tiny thing that had been driving me crazy, that I wished would go away, was the voice of God.

I had blessed the killing, and I had sinned. I. Had. Sinned.

I choked out on that bathroom floor, “I’m sorry!…I’m sorry….I’m so sorry”

I fully expected to remain crumpled up on that floor for hours immobilized in my grief.

Then an unexpected thing happened.

I felt, powerfully, the presence of God.

I felt, remarkably, held…and forgiven.  My weeping stopped, and I rested for a precious moment in the tenderness of a God who saw me, guilty of defiling Her creations for years, and still appeared to love me.

Grace lifted me up off the floor, and I have decided that grace will lead me home.

I will always remember that night, and how my heart changed.  The mercy and forgiveness that I received has made me more merciful and forgiving.  This heart change helped me immensely to only use non-violent action in my work at George Fox University.  I call myself a pacifist, which irritates and makes many fellow Christians uncomfortable.  I don’t judge them though, because I was there, and it is not my job to argue or attempt to force a change on their minds.

Jesus is the inward teacher. 

I don’t have a watertight intellectual answer for what I would do if confronted with a Hitler, but I have a testimony. 
To those who would have me dehumanize for a just cause, use the “other” to make my community stronger, or to concede that violence can be used for good I say…

I live in the power that takes away the occasion for all wars

As a Friend l will be trying to seek for and listen better to that small thing.


  1. Your childhood experience with war is much like my own.

    I wasn't ever banned from watching violent things on TV. But I was born into a peace church tradition. That kind of helped shape the dynamic: I was fascinated by war in theory, but I was never the kind of kid who would ever be violent. Plus I grew up learning simultaneously about great pacifists like Martin Luther King jr and when I was in high school, great theologians like John Howard yoder and peace orgs like Christian Peacemaker Teams.

    But I have to admit that I am a lot less certain of pacifism. I think the war on terrorism, specifically watching the actions of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, really rocked my pacifistic stance. Their unjust ideology, brutality, conviction, and political savvy,that I've witnessed over the years have caused me to seriously doubt the possibility of Non-violent resistance against movements like them. Which raises the question: is peace, even under a regime like the Taliban's preferable to armed resistance against them?

    I honestly don't think so. But I'm also as convinced that for the follower of Jesus, non-violence is our only course of action. Because we are called to believe ultimately in the final victory of Jesus over all principalities and powers. So essentially there is no such thing as failure for the follower of Christ because God will have the final say.

    I'm not sure how to reconcile my belief in the necessity of nations resisting evil men and actions, by force if necessary, with my belief that Jesus wants us to "love our enemies" and "put away (our) swords".
    But the closest I've come to an answer is the one that Gandhi gave in an essay on 1920. In it, Gandhi declared it better to resist evil using force than to not do so at all. Something I sincerely believe to be true. But Gandhi also said that the victories gained by violence were only temporary. And the damage, spiritual as well as physical, long lasting. Sohe suggested that we who believe in peace and justice should prepare ourselves and others to to be willing to suffer, even die, in confronting fully the evil of the world. And by the testimony of our self-sacrifice effect change in the hearts of our oppressors that would lead to a just peace.

    This to me sounds like an approach that a follower of Jesus should make. Not to condemn utterly those who are not yet prepared to resist evil non-violently, while making clear that there is a more excellent way.

    Thanks, Friend, for giving your testimony. It gives me much to think about.

    1. Hey Daniel : )

      I always look forward to hearing what you have to say, think I can count you as a regular reader! X )

      What peace church tradition did you grow up in? In the Apostolic Faith tradition of my youth, I don't recall much of a discussion at all on matters of peace. I remember we had an American flag in our sanctuary, and that I was to pray for the troops who were defending our freedom. So I recall doing that and praying that they would win as a kid, but I can't recall if I prayed for the other side...which makes me sad.

      And yeah the beliefs about resisting evil and loving our enemies is an extremely difficult one to reconcile. I just try to remember that the Jesus I pray to was welcomed into the world with exhalations of peace on earth, and that he was to be called the Prince of peace. I try to imagine what the early Christians hiding in the catacombs under Rome were thinking when they were moved not to violently resist when they were captured. Something about peace resonates something deep within me that I feel is a truth, and something about war upsets my core as some terrible untruth. I'd be lying though if I said that even thinking about that doesn't leave me still feeling conflicted sometimes, as Friend told me one day though, "Some days ya just can't be a good Quaker". Ha! Ain't that the truth : P thank God for grace.

      Another cool practitioner of non-violence was named Bayard Rustin. He based a lot of his own theory off of Gandhi and was a black gay Quaker involved in the civil rights movement : )

    2. First, I LOVE Bayard Rustin. He's one of my heroes. Did you ever read the book by John D'emilio "Lost Prophet"? It's an amazing read. There is also a great book of Bayard Rustin's letters by Michael G Long called , who is a good resource on the history of Christian Nonviolence.

      I grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist tradition. Outside of the Defense Department most people aren't aware that the SDA CHurch officially chose to become pacifist after the end of the civil war in 1867. But the weird thing about Adventism is that they also loved to talk about Protestant warriors battling it out with Catholics during the Reformation so that same experience that we grew up with, that tension between being fascinated by the personalities, tactics, and outcomes of war and being convinced that Jesus wants us to love our enemies, was reflected in Adventist literature.

    3. Sorry I didn't tell you the title of that book by Michael Long. It's called "I Must Resist".

    4. Yay! I did one of my senior book reviews on "Lost Prophet" and I agree it was truly a treat to read : ) I'll have to give "I Must Resist" a look when I have a chance!

      Most of what I know about Seventh-day Adventists I learned from a documentary I saw at the Gay Christian Network conference called "Seventh gay Adventists", and it was really interesting. I feel like now that you mention it I remember something about them being opposed to war! There is also a big Adventist conference center in my Portland suburb that has a store that I frequent for vegetarian food, and I also got my Bible there : )

  2. Thanks for sharing this story with us, AJ.

    1. Thanks Wess! This felt like an important one for me to write down : )

  3. Thank you, A.J. You literally brought tears to my eyes. This is a powerful personal narrative and I hope it gets more widely spread.
    Love and appreciation,

    1. Aww thanks so much Joe : ) my blog has been featured a couple times on QuakerQuaker, which is super exciting! And I've loved being in contact with people from all over who have stumbled across it.
      This story gives me more of an understanding of what Fox was saying to Penn about wearing the sword.

  4. Replies
    1. Haha...I hope its a good wow and not a bad wow X )

  5. A.j., Have you ever taken a look at Notre Dame's International Peace Studies institute? I think you should. Here's the link: Also, this book is really great:


    1. Added it to my amazon wishlist : )

      And wow....I've never heard of that before!!! The masters program sounds so cool : D may have to consider applying.

  6. This is powerful AJ. Recognizing the humanity of all people, even oppressors, is a difficult journey indeed.

    1. Thanks Josh : ) and yeah...its pretty horrifying what failing to recognize that humanity can free us to do.

  7. Yes, an "us" and "them" perspective necessarily denies that of God in the other. As Lily Tomlin once said, "we're all in this together . . . alone."

    1. Hey Anne : )

      I agree completely...that was definitely one of the most identifiable and meaningful paradigm shifts in my life. I love that quote, and thanks so much for reading!

  8. I appreciate finding you folks, through a variety of Quaker connections, and offer you every encouragement. Two comments (for now):

    (1.) Mention of the Adventist tradition is close to my heart. My mother (Madge Axford Finke) was a professor of religious education at the one liberal arts college of the Advent Christian Church -- a First-Day adventist expression growing out of the same Millerite revial movement of the mid-1800s that also gave rise to the better-known S.D.A.s. It was not the tradition of my parents, who met in a Methodist church as fellow pacifist and human equality advocates in the late 1930s. But being connected with the college, I became familiar with much of the Adventist tradtion -- long since left behind when I discovered and embraced Quakers.
    When I turned 18 I applied for, and eventually after some appeals received, recognition by Selective Service as a religious Conscientious Objector. Somewhat to my surprise, I found some support within the A.C. denomination for taking that stand, though the church had long since not thought of itself as pacifist, and certainly not in the "historic peace church" tradition. My Sunday School teacher came with me to my draft board hearing, and affirmed that my claimed position was consistent with the teaching of the Gospel and the examples of Jesus. I also learned that in addition to the traditional "Ten Principles" of belief shared by the Advent Christians, the denomination added an eleventh one in the 1930s, supporting the right to claim conscientious objection in faithfulness to Christ's teachings. I am not sure what other young people in the latter half of the 20th century claimed that authority in dealing with Selective Service or the military.

    (2.) I put in 6 years on the staff of American Friends Service Committee (Chicago office) during the Vietnam war, and a major part of the work was organizing reliable service for draft counseling and understanding both the basis for and operation of conscientious objection, under and also outside of the law. The demands of the draft meant that a whole generation had to confront the kinds of question you men are raising and exploring, and of course this exercise at looking at competing demands of Christiain Faith and the State is not confined to men, although only they were subject to the draft (which could change at any time.)

    So even though we've now gone several decades without active conscription (although registration for males is still required under the law), we really have very little public discourse or examination within the church about how the Christian is to relate to a war-making State. I'm glad that you're opening up at least some of these questions.

    When it appeared that one or the other of our nation's adventures in Iraq was likely to lead to a reactivation of the draft, Illinois Yearly Meeting started a "Peace Resources Committee" which is active to this day, and whose resources can be found under the "Committee" pages on I was so glad, when I was active in the early days of the committee, to have found a very good collection of resources on Conscientious Objection compiled by the youth ministry of Northwest Yearly Meeting. I believe I have read that during the Second World War, there was a higher percentage of faithfulness to the historic Friends Peace Testimony by Quakers in Oregon Yearly Meeting (the name back then) than within Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which has always been more "establishment." I do hope you folks will help keep that flame alive.

    Sent in Friendship and with sincere Best Wishes, your fellow Quaker, David H. Finke
    (former presiding clerk, Illinois Yearly Meeting).

    1. Hey David : )

      Thank you so much for sharing part of your story, and for your faithfulness to the testimony of peace. I'm glad to hear that IYM was so proactive about helping their young men prepare for being a CO, and that NWYM had some helpful resources! I have only been involved in Quakerism for the last two years or so, so I don't know what my Yearly Meeting did when the War on Terror started. I've been told by Quakers who are older than me that there used to regularly be workshops held at annual sessions that helped young men prepare everything that they would need for a draft board, and that is definitely something I'd like to see us do again. I just finished reading a history of the then "Oregon Yearly Meeting" and am pretty sure I saw that fact comparing us to PYM! Fascinating : ) and I get the sense from young Friends today that the flame is definitely alive.
      Personally, I've been helped and advised by my Friends in my Monthly Meeting to prepare my packet for the draft board (God forbid that day ever actually come!) and it has felt like a really meaningful thing to do.

  9. A.J. - I know the commonplace about the early Church being pacifist (and filled with martyrs), but the evidence tends to point in the opposite direction (and yes, I know Yoder et al.'s work backward and forward). The Church was tiny and really going nowhere until the defeat of the second Jewish messiah, Bar Kochba, in 135 A.D. Christians had refused to fight alongside Bar Kochba, not because they were pacifists, but because they already had the first Messiah.

    Following the defeat, contrary to being persecuted, Christians were highly favored by the Romans, and many seemed to have joined the military. We know that because of Origen and Tertullian's rather virulent preaching against Christians in the military - you don't preach against something that doesn't exist. The First Council of Nicene found so many Christians in the Roman Army that they went out of their way to condemn Christian PRIESTS who had joined the Army - yes, there were Christian priests in the Roman military.

    Post-Constantine, of course, Christians flooded the Roman Army. More Christians died at the hands of other Christians in the 20 years post-Constantine than all the Christian martyrs created in the 300 years prior.

    I LOVED your testimony.

  10. Hey David : )

    Thanks so much for commenting David!

    I'd push back against your historical interpretations, and to define what I mean when I say "early Church" I'm speaking of the Church of Acts and the one that was in the catacombs under Rome. I reject the assertion that the Church was "tiny and really going nowhere" because it steadily grew even under early persecution. Overwhelmingly, the Church was pacifist, and I recognized this as someone who wished it wasn't. The apostle Paul's conversion and ministry speak to this pretty plainly, but more importantly the character and teachings of Jesus would tend to incline someone not to enlist in the Roman legion...

    I think your example of the preaching of the apostolic fathers against Christians fighting proves my point a bit more than yours. Of course I'm not saying that no Christian was in the military, and that was and is true of even Quakers. What I am saying though, is that I believe that is an error, and that Origen and Tertullian were trying to correct a serious error which at that point was still a minority opinion. Similarly, when Peter struck the ear of one arresting Jesus, he was corrected.



Meet The Author