History of the Fellowship of Reconciliation
Founding of the Fellowship
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. At a railroad station in Germany, two of the participants, Henry Hodgkin, an English Quaker, and Friedrich Sigmund-Schultze, a German Lutheran, pledged to find a way of working for peace even though their countries were at war. Out of this pledge Christians gathered in Cambridge, England in December 1914 to found the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The U.S. FOR was founded one year later, in November 1915, at a conference in Garden City, Long Island, New York.
FOR has since become an interfaith and international movement with branches and affiliated groups in over 50 countries and on every continent. Today the membership of FOR includes Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Indigenous religious practitioners, Baha’i, and people of other faith traditions, as well as those with no formal religious affiliation.
Essays About the Fellowship of Reconciliation
- The Rebel Passion: Eighty-five Years of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Richard Deats
- The Good Fight, Claudia Rowe
FOR’s History: Some Highlights
- 1916-1917: Helps organize the National Civil Liberties Bureau, now the ACLU. Supports World War I conscientious objectors (CO) and contributes to legal recognition of CO rights.
- 1920s: Helps organize the National Conference of Christians and Jews (now the National Conference on Community and Justice). Sends a peace delegation to meet Sandino in Nicaragua.
- 1930s: Works to strengthen the labor movement in its drive to secure better working conditions. Sponsors Ambassadors of Reconciliation to visit world leaders.
- 1940s: Encourages nonviolent resistance to World War II. Leads the struggle against internment of Japanese Americans. European FOR members rescue Jews and other political refugees fleeing Nazism. Sponsors an interracial team on the first “freedom ride” to test court decision outlawing discrimination in interstate travel. Organizes extensive campaign to prevent the Pentagon from extending wartime conscription into universal military training.
- 1950s: Helps organize the American Committee on Africa (now part of Africa Action) to support the movements for African independence. Conducts six-year Food for China program in response to Chinese famines. FOR staff work with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Montgomery bus boycott, and hold workshops in nonviolence throughout the South. Produces a full-color comic book, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, that sells over 250,000 copies.
- 1960s: Launches Shelters for the Shelterless, building real shelters for homeless people, in response to increasing public demand for fallout shelters. Makes contact with Vietnamese Buddhist pacifist movement and sponsors world tour by Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. Forms International Committee of Conscience on Vietnam with 10,000 clergy in 40 countries. Raises money for medical aid for both sides in Vietnam.
- 1970s: Founds Dai Dong, a transnational project linking war, environmental problems, poverty and other social issues, involving thousands of scientists around the world. Seeks to reverse the Cold War and the arms race with campaigns, marches, educational projects and civil disobedience. Opposes death penalty in concerted campaign with ACLU.
- 1980s: Takes the lead in initiating the Nuclear Freeze Campaign in cooperation with other groups. Initiates U.S.-U.S.S.R. reconciliation program, including people-to-people exchanges, artistic and educational resources, teach-ins and conferences. Leads nonviolence training seminars in the Philippines prior to the nonviolent overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship.
- 1990s: Sends delegations of religious leaders and peace activists to Iraq to try to prevent war and later, to see the massive devastation caused by the economic sanctions imposed upon Iraq. Starts the Campaign to Save a Generation, an ongoing project centered on saving Iraqi children from the horrors of the sanctions, and American children from the poverty rampant in the United States. Launches “Stop the Killing, Start the Healing” campaign in response to escalating levels of gun violence in the United States. Initiates Bosnian Student Project, bringing students from the former Yugoslavia out of war zones and into U.S. homes and schools, and later starts the International Reconciliation Work Camp Project. Works to bring an end to the suffering of the Serbs and Kosovars during and after the war in former Yugoslavia. Works to ensure the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Panama.
- 2000s: Organizes a People’s Campaign for Peace and Justice to inspire nonviolent witness in Washington, DC and nationwide. Accepts invitation from the Colombian Peace Community of San José de Apartadó to provide protective human rights accompaniment in a rural war zone in northwestern Colombia. Launches the I Will Not Kill campaign for young people to make a life commitment to resist participating in violence. Pressures the U.S. military to end its testing of bombs in Vieques, Puerto Rico, and to be accountable for the environmental devastation of the island. Sends delegations of people committed to civilian diplomacy to Iran to build relationships between the West and Iran, and to seek to prevent military intervention.
“Your goal is, in my opinion, the only reasonable one and to make it prevail is of vital importance.”
—Albert Einstein, in a letter to FOR
“The Southern Christian Leadership Conference values its long partnership with FOR and recognizes FOR’s outstanding work in the anti-war movement and continued commitment to peace and nonviolence.”
—The Rev. Joseph Lowery, Southern Christian Leadership Council past president
“Reconciliation required connection, not separation. I want to be connected with those who have the courage to care, the muscle to be compassionate. That is why I belong to FOR.”
—Rabbi Leo Beerman, Leo Baeck Temple, Los Angeles
“FOR has been in the forefront of the nonviolent struggle for peace with justice. What is important about FOR is what it stands for. And that is a courageous dedication to the liberation of humanity from the triple evils of poverty, racism, and violence.”
—Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change
“I joined FOR because of the people who represented the Fellowship. They were really for nonviolent action and were penetrated deeply with the sense of humanism with which Buddhists are familiar. What makes FOR meaningful to me is the presence of open-minded, deeply humanistic, and creative people.”
—Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, author, poet