Just prior to the outbreak of World War I in 1914, English Quaker Henry Hodgkin and German peace activist Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze met on the platform of the railroad station in Cologne, Germany. Both men were highly dedicated to the principles of worldwide amity, pledging to each other that “we are one in Christ and can never be at war” – with a conviction that led to the formation of a very unique global organization known as the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). The two men were not alone in their beliefs, since they had just met each other at a Christian pacifist conference in Konstanz, a city located in southern Germany. Siegmund-Schultze had a prior history of reaching out to Great Britain, having served as the secretary for a German religious organization promoting friendly relations between the two countries. Hodgkin’s dedication to the pledge led him to Cambridge, England, where he organized the “Fellowship of Reconciliation” in 1915 – whereas the German counterpart met stiff resistance and would not hold its first conference until 1932. With the advent of Nazi Germany, Siegmund-Schultze was forced to live in exile until the fall of Hitler in 1945. The American version of FOR sprang from a later conference Hodgkin organized in Garden City, Long Island in November of 1915, leading to the enrollment of over 1,000 U. S. members before the 1917 United States entry into World War I.
The international aspects of the movement became evident in the years intervening between World War I and World War II, especially in the late 1930s. Following the end of World War I, the different fellowships that had arisen throughout Europe and the United States agreed to form an umbrella organization known as the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), under which the individual chapters would be affiliated. Meeting in the town of Bilthoven in the Netherlands, representatives from 10 different countries met to found this worldwide organization, which chose Swiss engineer and pacifist Pierre Ceresole as its first secretary. Ceresole was also responsible for organizing the Service Civil International, which has a long history of employing volunteers to operate work camps in areas that have been affected by war. Throughout the 1930s, “Ambassadors of Reconciliation” visited with world leaders that included Adolf Hitler, Mussolini, and Franklin Roosevelt – for the purpose of espousing diplomacy and peace, rather than the bloodshed that eventually took place during World War II. After the war these efforts spread into other regions of the world, such as Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa – through the efforts of “travelling secretaries” such as Hildegard Goss-Mayr, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times and referred to as the “greatest living peacemaker” for her lifelong efforts in promoting world amity.
The IFOR International Secretariat is located in Alkmaar, Netherlands and it coordinates worldwide communication between member affiliates. The main governing body of the organization is a council that comes together every 4 years, developing policy, organizing programs, and regulating the day-to-day work of the association. Perhaps the most noted director of IFOR is Francesco Candelari of Italy, who believes that “an organization that counts among its past and current members six Nobel peace laureates should assume a leading role in conflict resolution and interfaith dialogue at the international level.” The overriding vision and mission of IFOR is that actions of love have the power to transform political, social, and economic injustice – thereby promoting peaceful coexistence for humanity on the planet. The main thrust and emphasis is to foster the empowerment of groups and individuals in their efforts to transform conflict into interactive engagements that involve constructive discussion and reconciliation. IFOR’s programs include a “Fellowship School” that offers nine weeks of training in nonviolent intervention to applicants ranging in age from 18 to 28, with the ultimate goal of providing
leaders for the global nonviolence movement. There is the strong inclusion of religious tolerance in the efforts of IFOR, involving interfaith delegations that are dispatched to areas of conflict and the publication of materials on nonviolence from a variety of religious perspectives. A strong proponent of disarmament, IFOR has offered backing to conscientious objectors, pontificated for an end to land mines, and called for the end of nuclear weapons and other forms of mass destruction.
The International Fellowship of Reconciliation has achieved a great deal of worldwide notoriety and success in its nearly 100 years of existence. Influenced by IFOR, diligent and persistent nonviolent resistance in the country of Chili led to the dissolution of military tyranny and the restoration of democracy in 1989 – and the impact of Goss-Mayr’s training in the Philippines played a major role in the peaceful overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. Within the United States, the principles of nonviolence espoused by IFOR profoundly influenced the ideology of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., who was an admirer of Mohandas K. Gandhi. King’s interaction with the Fellowship of Reconciliation began in 1955 during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, when FOR veterans Bayard Rustin and Glenn E. Smiley (who was serving as the national field secretary for FOR) came to Montgomery, Alabama to join in the nonviolent efforts to defy racial segregation. As close advisor to King, Rustin became “one of the most influential and effective organizers of the civil rights movement,” even bringing together the now famous “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”
The ideals espoused by IFOR are essential to any hope of ending international terrorism, for radical violence will never be eliminated through military efforts alone. As the Huffington Post noted in 2011, in many respects the Iraq War has only served as a “recruitment ad for al Qaeda” that “helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism.” A respected champion of peace, the Dalai Lama has also noted this tendency, warning that “while today there is one bin Laden, after a few years there will be ten bin Ladens … and it is possible that after a few more years, there will be 100 bin Ladens.” The Fellowship of Reconciliation also cautions against the use of violent solutions to the worldwide problem of terrorism, especially drone strikes that often kill innocent civilians – thereby serving as a “recruiting tool for extremists.” Instead, the U. S. office of FOR has promoted “10 nonviolent ways” that the threat of terrorism against American citizens can be reduced. One other way that peace and the struggle against terrorism can be advanced is by clicking on the link below and signing the petition to which this website is dedicated. Join us!
You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.