In 1914, an ecumenical conference was held in Switzerland by Christians seeking to prevent the outbreak of war in Europe. Before the conference ended, however, World War I had started and those present had to return to their respective countries. A German and an Englishman parted company with the words "We are one in Christ and can never be at war." Inspired by that pledge, about 130 Christians of all denominations gathered in Cambridge at the end of 1914 and set up the FOR. The Fellowship of Reconciliation in the U.S. was founded in 1915 by Christian pacifists. The organization, whose members are now drawn from many religious groups, seeks to apply principles of peace and social justice and non-violent social change to issues such as disarmament, conscription, race relations, economic justice, and civil liberties. The FOR-USA is affiliated with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Detailed historical note
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) is an interfaith peace organization whose members "recognize the essential unity of all creation" and who commit themselves "to explore the power of love and truth for resolving human conflict." From its beginning the FOR has opposed war and has worked for a just and peaceful society. Nonviolence is accepted as both a transforming way of life and strategy for social change. Though founded by Christian pacifists, the FOR now affirms the diversity of religious traditions and seeks to achieve its goals by the united efforts of people of many faiths. Members join by signing a statement agreeing with the principles of the Fellowship and their intention of working to carry them out.
The FOR had its origin in England a few months after the outbreak of the first World War. A group of 130 Christian pacifists met at Cambridge University in the last days of December 1914 to express their repudiation of the war system and their determination to work for a new social order based on Christian teachings. A core group chose the name Fellowship of Reconciliation for its biblical significance. In the fall of 1915 Henry T. Hodgkin, an English Quaker and a leading founder, came to the United States and spoke widely around the country, sharing the message about the spiritual crisis and the war. Finding a receptive public, he invited about a hundred interested persons to a conference at Garden City, Long Island on November 11-12, 1915. The result was the decision by a vote of 68 attendees to form an American Fellowship. A month later there were 300 members, and by 1920 the number reached 1800. Local groups were formed across the country.
The first officers were chairman Gilbert A. Beaver, secretary Edward W. Evans and treasurer Charles J. Rhoads. Norman Thomas served as co-secretary with Evans from 1917-1919. Bishop Paul Jones was secretary 1919-1929, and John Nevin Sayre became co-secretary in 1924. Additional leaders during the World War and post-war period included the following, some as council members:
Roger N. Baldwin
Harold A. Hatch
John Haynes Holmes
Jessie Wallace Hughan
Frederick J. Libby
Ethel P. Moors
Oswald Garrison Villard
The Fellowship of Youth for Peace was formed in 1924, and four years later it became the Youth Section of the FOR. National conferences of FOR members were held annually 1916-1941, and less regularly thereafter. The World Tomorrow, a Christian socialist journal, was published 1918-1934 as an unofficial organ of the FOR. Editors included Norman Thomas, Devere Allen, John Nevin Sayre, Anna Rochester, Reinhold Niebuhr and Kirby Page.
Statement of Purpose; Challenges
Since the formative period of the FOR the Statement of Purpose has expressed its fundamental principles, and also has served as a basis for its membership, program, and activities. The wording of the early versions was explicit about the Christian nature of the Fellowship, in accordance with the original English statement. Before long some members thought that all pacifists should be welcomed, and that the "Christian label" was unnecessary and divisive. In order to reconcile divergent views, a questionnaire was sent to the members in 1930. The result was a new version of the Statement of Purpose which recognized other sources of religious guidance, in addition to the teachings of Jesus. By the end of the 1950s, new ways of thinking in the post World War I era pointed to the need for another revision, and one was adopted in 1965. It states that "the Fellowship seeks the company of those of whatever faith who wish to confront human differences with nonviolent, compassionate and reconciling love." Since 1965 there have been only occasional minor changes to update the wording.
Some issues of an ideological nature have challenged the principles of the FOR. In 1933 the council and national staff were divided over the use of force in industrial struggle. The matter was finally resolved by a referendum to the members. 90% of the responses affirmed the use of nonviolence on all fronts, not just the international. A number of resignations followed and some members withdrew, but a larger number of new members joined. Reorganization took place in the council and staff, and the course for the future was settled.
In 1940 a less crucial matter arose from the efforts of US communists to form a united front in opposing entrance into the war in Europe. Confusion among FOR members led to a policy statement by the FOR executive committee which said that it was impossible to work with communists and their sympathizers because they rejected pacifism in principle. The statement also affirmed the right of such persons to civil liberties. This policy has remained unchanged and upheld.
A major challenge concerning the very nature of the Fellowship of Reconciliation arose in the early 1960s. In January 1963 the Internal Revenue Service revoked the long standing tax-exempt status of the FOR as a religious institution. A five-year investigation of its program and activities of some members led to the conclusion that it was an "action" organization, not a religious one. After 18 months of negotiations an understanding was reached which resulted in restoration of the tax exemption in June 1964. This case was crucial since it raised questions about the pursuit of peace as a legitimate commitment to ultimate values.
The Fellowship has been fortunate in its choice of leaders, both in terms of their qualifications and the length of their service. Four executive secretaries
have held their positions for more than ten years: Paul Jones, John Nevin Sayre, A.J. Muste and Alfred Hassler. (See the list of Executive Secretaries/ Directors at the end of this Historical Introduction.) The most prominent, and also the one who had the greatest influence on the peace movement, was A.J. Muste. He came to the helm of the FOR in August 1940, a time of crisis in the first year of World War II. Muste was uniquely qualified by his religious heritage, experience in the labor movement, and experimentation with Marxism. In 1936 he returned to Christian pacifism and the FOR with a strong commitment. After retiring in 1953, Muste remained closely connected to the FOR as Secretary Emeritus. He was a prime example of one who actively practiced what he preached.
Other executive secretaries also left their distinctive marks on the FOR. John Nevin Sayre served faithfully and continuously in various capacities from 1924 to 1967, especially in the international field. Alfred Hassler's leadership, including publications work, extended from 1942 to 1974 and included the critical years of the Vietnam war.
In War and Peacetime
Much of the agenda of the FOR has been determined by the wars which have dominated the 20th century. It is natural that the principal focus has been on the prevention of war, supporting disarmament and arms control, opposing conscription and the militarization of society. In wartime the FOR has worked extensively with conscientious objectors by providing counseling, help for dependents, special attention to men in prison or alternative civilian service, and help with legal assistance. War victims have been a special concern: the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942, the uprooting and treatment of European Jews, and the saturation bombing of German civilians by the Allied powers.
Intervals between wars have afforded opportunities for working on social problems in an effort to reduce the causes of conflict. These have been some of the issues: labor disputes, working conditions, economic and racial inequities, prisoners, capital punishment, militarism, and violence in society. Several of the many special projects should be mentioned. Two "Food for China" campaigns followed periods of famine in the early 1950s and 1960s. One featured the sending of little bags of grain to the White House to support the proposal for sending surplus food to China. An unexpected result was the President's decision not to bomb China when so many Americans cared about the Chinese. Another creative FOR response was the "Shelters for the Shelterless" project in 1961 when the government's civil defense program was promoting fallouts shelters. Similar creativity was used during the 1990 Gulf War when symbolic oil barrels with the message "No Blood for Oil" were mailed to Washington.
Barely 20 years after the bombing of Hiroshima, the peace organizations were propelled onto the world stage by the war in Vietnam. The FOR and four other groups sponsored the first national protest in December 1964. The next year, as the anti-war movement grew, the demonstrations expanded rapidly in number and size, especially in Washington. FOR's young staff members were leaders in planning and carrying out mass disciplined mobilizations. They also conducted extensive draft resistance and counseling.
As the protests grew in 1965, so did the appeals for changes in US policy. Anti-war organizations believed that the public was not adequately informed about military action in Southeast Asia. The FOR developed some of its own channels of communication. One was the use of full-page ads in the New York Times and other papers which included coupons for feedback. The first one presented a message from the Clergymen's Emergency Committee which was formed by the FOR. An important source of information about Vietnam proved to be investigative teams sent by the FOR. The first group was from the clergy committee who reached a large audience with their spoken and written reports. Their two-page statement in a New York Times ad was endorsed by 10,000 religious leaders in 40 countries. The text was reprinted in various languages and countries. Out of this effort came the FOR-sponsored International Committee of Conscience on Vietnam. By the end of the war there were 19 active national groups protesting the war and providing humanitarian aid. In the next five years the FOR sponsored three more fact-finding missions to South Vietnam. One of them broke the story of the infamous "tiger cages" for political prisoners.
Another outcome of the missions was the communication established by the FOR with the Buddhist pacifist resistance movement, sometimes called the "third force". Some of their leaders, notably the monk Thich Nhat Hanh who joined the FOR, came to the US on speaking tours. Further attempts to inform the public were made through the books by Nhat Hanh and Alfred Hassler (executive secretary of FOR, 1960-1974) which the FOR sponsored.
The prolongation of the war resulted in conflict in the anti-war movement between the pacifists and the proponents of liberation, which was reminiscent of the dispute over the use of violence in the class struggle in the early 1930s. Again the issue had an impact on the FOR council and national staff. Even after the fighting in Vietnam ended there was a painful period for US pacifists, revolving around human rights issues and the way they were handled by the post-war government of Vietnam.
Even before the fighting in Vietnam ended, the FOR launched a trans-national peace effort which linked war and the environment to poverty and other social problems. The program, called Dai Dong, promoted contact between the peace movement and thousands of scientists and economists around the world. In 1972 the United Nations held its first Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, and Dai Dong held an Independent Conference on the Environment as an alternative forum.
When the UN convened Special Conferences on Disarmament in New York in 1978 and 1982, the FOR had an alternative forum on a smaller scale called Plowshare Coffee House. The same format was used in 1979 at MIT when the World Council of Churches had a conference on "Faith, Science and the Future".
After the Vietnam war, nuclear disarmament became the major focus of most peace organizations. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and other critical events, a new stage of the arms race was feared. FOR took the lead in calling a meeting of some 30 pacifist leaders in February 1980 to reflect, share thoughts, and search for new alternatives to national security. This was the first step toward the Nuclear FREEZE Campaign which, within two years, became the largest grass-roots movement in US history. Support for the disarmament in the religious community was promoted by FOR's Covenant Peacemaking Program. A specific disarmament project of FOR and American Friends Service Committee was their eight-year campaign to close down the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Colorado. It exposed severe damage from radiation, and led to Citizens' Hearings in Washington.
Concurrent with the protests, marches and demonstrations of the disarmament movement in the eighties there were positive and creative actions which were attempting to turn the tide of the cold war. The FOR launched a major program of US-USSR Reconciliation which included a variety of people-to-people projects intended to humanize the "enemy" image of Soviet-American relations. These efforts contributed to the changes which took place at the end of the decade. The FOR had made contacts in Eastern Europe in the 1960s through clergy members of the Christian Peace Conference in Prague which fostered East-West relations during the cold war.
The FOR had been engaged in reconciliation work in other parts of the world from its early years. The longest relationship was that with Latin America, going back to 1929-1932 when FOR had a full-time staff worker in Central America. Intensive work was done in South America in the 1960s with help from IFOR personnel. Fighting in Central America in the early eighties, stemming from Washington's fears of communism, led to FOR's investigation and the decision to form a Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean in 1983. Panama became an area of special concern with the US invasion in 1989.
In the Middle East there have been continuous efforts to build peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Since the beginning of the Persian Gulf War, a major concern of the FOR has been the suffering of the Iraqi people. Humanitarian aid and reconciliation efforts have continued. In the Balkans the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 led to the Bosnian Student Project, bringing young people into homes and schools in the US in order to continue their education.
Influence of the FOR
Although the Fellowship of Reconciliation has never been a large organization in terms of numbers, it has had a significant influence on the peace movement in the US, especially in the pacifist wing, and in some cases on the society in general. From the earliest years a major focus has been on the human rights of conscientious objectors who were very harshly handled in the first World War. Direct intercession with President Wilson in 1918 brought about changes at a federal prison. The following years led to legal recognition of all religious objectors by 1940, and plans for alternative civilian service. FOR staff devoted much effort to counseling and helping COs and their families. At the end of World War II there was a major effort by the US Army and veterans organizations to impose Universal Military Training on all young men. FOR leaders formed a coalition called National Council Against Conscription which conducted an 8-year campaign (1944-1952) and defeated the plan.
The FOR was a significant channel for the transmission of Gandhian principles and the practice of nonviolence to the USA, particularly for the civil rights movement under Martin Luther King's leadership. From the 1920s on a good number of FOR members had direct contact with Gandhi and his ashrams in India. Books by two of his disciples were published in the 1930s and widely used in the FOR: The Power of Nonviolence by the American Quaker Richard Gregg and War Without Violence by Krishnalal Shridharani, an Indian graduate student. The combination of the publications and personal experiences became helpful for the training of leaders in the practice of nonviolence for three decades.
Also in the 1920s racial justice and harmony in the South became a special concern of the FOR. Fulltime regional secretaries worked there from 1929-1946, providing leadership for integrated grassroots work. In the 1940s two young African American men on the national FOR staff worked throughout the country with youth and race relations institutes. In 1942 the combination of Gandhian nonviolence and interracial direct action resulted in the formation of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). It was intimately related to the FOR, sharing staff and office space until 1957. Jointly sponsored workshops and institutes led to the struggle for the integration of public facilities in Washington, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver and other cities. The Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 led to very close collaboration between the FOR and Martin Luther King. His rise to prominence facilitated the acceptance of FOR's commitment to nonviolence on the part of Black ministers. Out of this relationship came the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. Ongoing training in the philosophy and practice of nonviolence by the national FOR staff still continues in countries around the world.
Fellowship publications have been effective in spreading the peace message both within and beyond the membership. The World Tomorrow was published 1918-1934 as a Christian socialist journal, but not as an official FOR organ. Its editors and contributors were nationally known, and it was widely circulated. It was followed by Fellowship which has continued without interruption since 1935. Indexing and abstracting in eight periodical services in the 1990s extends its usefulness beyond the membership. In earlier decades the publications program included short books, pamphlets and leaflets, often used as study resources. The greetings card program, started in the 1940s, adds another dimension to the public outreach.
The interfaith nature of the Fellowship of Reconciliation is a distinctive contribution to the peace movement. Although it was founded by Christians, over the years its adherents have broadened their concept of the spiritual sources of love and truth. The membership now embraces people of many faiths, and there are affiliated groups which include the Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim Fellowships as well as Christian denominational ones. These people with a common bond and a resolve to work together nonviolently for a better world are in a unique position to serve today's diverse society.
Other organizations and groups which FOR helped to launch or organize:
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 1916
American Committee on Africa, 1953
Brookwood Labor College, 1918
Church Peace Mission, 1950
Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA), 1957
Committee on Militarism in Education, 1925
Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), 1943
National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1923
National Council Against Conscription (NCAC), 1944
Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign (FREEZE movement), 1980
Servicio Paz y Justicia en América Latina (SERPAJ), 1971
Society for Social Responsibility in Science, 1949
Southern Christian Leadership Conference, 1957
War Resisters League, 1923
Workers Defense League, 1937
National and International FOR Offices
The national office of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR-USA) was located successively at seven addresses in New York City from 1916 to 1957, when it was moved to Nyack, NY on the Hudson River. The Swarthmore College Peace Collection is the official repository for the records of the FOR-USA. The organization is affiliated with the International FOR (IFOR) which was founded in 1922. It now includes some 40 national Fellowships on all continents. The IFOR secretariat has been located in Alkmaar, Netherlands since 1977. The archives are in Berlin with the Central Archives of the Evangelical Church of Germany.
(Essay by Wilma Mosholder)