Fellowship of Reconciliation

The Lokashakti Encyclopedia of Nonviolence, Peace, & Social Justice


Fellowship of Reconciliation

The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) was the central pacifist organization in the United States during the first half of the Twentieth Century. It helped to bring a broadened and more progressive constituency into the peace movement and under its influence, pacifism became more of an aggressive, creative and radical force, with less of its educational and legalistic aura.

The FOR was founded in England in 1914, a result of a pledge by two Christian ministers, Henry Hodgkin of England and Sigmund Schultze of Germany, not to let the war destroy their friendship or interrupt their work for peace. A few months later, in 1915, the FOR was established in the U.S. with the help of Gilbert Beaver, Edward Evans, Charles Rhoades, and others, and FOR groups were subsequently organized in 27 other countries, with an International Secretariat in Brussels.

Throughout World War I, the Fellowship raised vehement protest against the evils of massive warfare and, after the Armistice, it emerged as one of the more outspoken and action-oriented of the peace societies formed during the war. Its members included ministers, students, teachers, YMCA and social workers, professional people and others of many faiths “who recognize the essential unity of all humanity and who have joined together to explore the power of love and truth for resolving human conflict.

After the war, the Fellowship encouraged its members to unite the Christian ideals of loving service and community with a commitment to nonviolent social action. FOR members supplied nonviolent leadership and support in labor struggles and strike relief efforts in the Twenties and Thirties, wrote for and edited the radical religious journal The World Tomorrow (published from 1918 to 1934), and were influential in the No More War movement. They also helped build coalitions of peace groups and serviced conscientious objectors in the years just prior to the second World War.

While involved in disarmament, peace education, and social reform efforts in the mid-30s, the Fellowship began to prepare for the war by developing a “crisis strategy” involving the creation of both community and denominational groups to identify, recruit and organize pacifists during wartime. By 1936, there were over sixty local Fellowships and FOR membership increased from about 5,000 in 1938 to just under 15,000 at the war’s end.

During World War II, when the Japanese-Americans were forcefully relocated from the West Coast in 1942, the FOR protested to the government, agitated for the release and resettlement, and provided friendship and relief to Japanese-Americans in internment camps. While many of FOR’s members and staff were in prison or CPS camps for their opposition to the war, the FOR published a special supplement to its magazine Fellowship which exposed the Allied policy of saturation bombing and the terrible suffering it caused civilians in Europe. This passionate protest, written by British pacifist Vera Brittain, won the endorsement of 28 prominent American religious leaders and was widely publicized and debated by the American press and radio.

After years of planning and work for racial equality, the FOR made a substantial contribution to the civil rights movement after World War II. The Fellowship helped found the Congress of Racial Equality in 1942 and cosponsored the first Freedom Ride in 1947. FOR organizers, such as Glenn Smiley and James Lawson, trained Southern civil rights groups in nonviolent direct action, worked in Montgomery during the bus boycott, and were involved in many of the subsequent civil rights campaigns in the North and South.

A.J. Muste served as Executive Secretary of the FOR from 1940 until 1953, sharing this position for part of that time with John Nevin Sayre, who was also International Secretary. During this period, Bayard Rustin, George Houser, and John Swomley were active in FOR youth, inter-racial, and anti-conscription campaigns.

The Fellowship stood up for free speech and civil liberties during the McCarthy era, campaigned for commutation of the death sentence imposed on Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and organized a Carnegie Hall meeting in 1956 to give Communists (and pacifists) an opportunity to speak publicly.

The Fellowship co-sponsored the first important demonstration against the war in Vietnam in 1964 and was active in many protests throughout the following years. FOR members joined in coalition actions and organized projects aimed at educating the public about the war and relieving some of the misery of those directly affected by the fighting. They ran full page ads in newspapers calling for an end to the war, sent an early interdenominational investigating group to Vietnam, and raised sums for relief. In 1965 the Fellowship established the main American link with the pacifist Buddhist resistance movement in Vietnam. The FOR continued to speak out against Ameircan militarism after the war and campaigned for disarmament and a reappraisal of American priorities for “the endangered human species.”

Out of the FOR grew such organizations as the National Conference of Christians and Jews, American Civil Liberties Union, National Religion and Labor Foundation, War Resisters League, Workers Defense League, Committee on Militarism in Education, American Committee on Africa, National Council Against Conscription, Peacemakers, Society for Social Responsibility in Science, Church Peace Mission, and Dai Dong. After over 90 years, the Fellowship of Reconciliation continues to be an important force in the development and practice of active nonviolence in the United States.

Robert Cooney and Helen Michalowski, reprinted with permission, from The Power of the People: Active Nonviolence in the United States.  Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1987.
  • Bios   ( 24 )
    Inspirational noteworthy figures in the history of nonviolence, peace, and social justice
  • Groups   ( 24 )
    Groups and organizations that have played significant roles in nonviolent movements
  • Concepts   ( 18 )
    Important concepts related to peace and nonviolence, especially in regards to nonviolent action
  • Movements   ( 26 )
    Movements and historical events where nonviolent action was used entirely or in large part
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