“Pacifism + non-resistance are by-products of some central things to which we have to testify.”
Although Rev. Richard Roberts was the chairman of the founding conference of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) at Cambridge in 1914, its first general secretary, and the key figure in its early ideology, he has largely been ignored in the secondary literature. Admittedly, Vera Brittain, in The Rebel Passion, sketched an appreciative vignette, but Jill Wallis, in her more recent FOR study Valiant for Peace, mentions him only six times without discussing his ideas. Even Roberts' daughter Gwen's biography, Grace Unfailing, fails to analyze the basis of his contribution. Yet, seven decades after attending the founding FOR conference, its only survivor, Horace Alexander, wrote that, while he could not recall the details, Richard Roberts had impressed him most, for he “got right into [him], and helped [him] find a sure foundation for life.” Alexander's comment points in the direction Martin Ceadel began to develop when he defined pacifism as a faith. But Ceadel restricted that faith to its relation to war, a restriction that was inappropriate for the early FOR. Pacifism, its leading members posited, should pervade all of life, private as well as public. Their conception of the new organization sounded like a worldview, a framework through which they viewed the world. Nevertheless, although pacifism should influence all of life, it was, as Roberts suggested, a by-product rather than the central element. Hence, rather than explicating his understanding of pacifism, at the founding conference Roberts focused on Christ's atonement as the ground of all ethics and as supplying the regulative principle of the Christian's reconciling ministry in the world. From this perspective he drew the conclusion that reconciliation implied a wide range of social activities for which the energies of youth, being used in warfare, should be mobilized in something akin to a Franciscan tertiary order. It was this call for social regeneration combined with evangelism that impressed Alexander. Only in passing Roberts declared the “simple,” pre-1914 pacifism bankrupt, while expecting that reconciliation in all spheres of life would undercut the commonly held view that war was “a hateful affair yet a noble enterprise of Christian chivalry.” This notion of reconciliation, with all that it entailed, became central. Even before the FOR had a conscription committee it had established committees for its rehabilitation of young offenders commune, for education, and for social service. The limited secondary literature has generally ignored these committees and failed to analyze the notion of reconciliation, focusing instead on the by-product and on conscientious objectors. Methodologically, Ceadel defined the FOR as quietist, and compared to the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF) that would be quite accurate. Indeed, for while the FOR encouraged its members to be politically involved—it had a political group committee—it shied away from being a political pressure group, regarding the NCF tactics incompatible with reconciliation. Although its methodology was quietist, its ideology was radical, aiming at the transformation of society. In order to understand this largely Roberts-influenced reconciliation ideology, it is necessary to take a closer look at Roberts' worldview.