Other Social Testimonies
Friends have always sought to witness to the issues of their own times. By placing a particular concern in the Light, they have individually and then collectively sought right action which would be in harmony with eternal wisdom. Some of these testimonies, such as work for oppressed groups, for prisoners, or for the victims of war, have eventually found corporate agreement.
There are issues, however, which should rightly arouse our Christian concern, but upon which the Society of Friends has as yet formed no corporate judgment. Some of our new technologies, such as nuclear power, genetic engineering, and the use of computers, present complex, ethical issues which many Friends believe we need to address.
Although we cannot as yet unite upon the answers to these questions, our responsibility to press the urgency of them is not lessened. With changing circumstances and fresh insights that new experiences may make possible, we have faith that light will be given us to see the will of God more clearly.
Sensitive to All Oppression
Fellowship in the life eternal brings a sensitiveness to all wrong and oppression and a desire to identify ourselves with our fellows and to take our share of the burden of the world's suffering. How hard it is to put ourselves in other men's shoes! During our Yearly Meeting we have tried to realize something of what it means to be a refugee, an unemployed man, a prisoner, a juvenile offender. We have had brought before us the privations of the underpaid and underfed at home and abroad, the disabilities laid on people of other colour and race, the failure of men to distribute equitably the abundant produce that the earth can supply. As followers of Jesus we are called to strive to remedy these injustices, not clinging to exclusive privileges for ourselves or for our nation, but remembering that the earth is the Lord's and that the fullness of it should be used for the well-being of all his children.
We have longed that in this time of world crisis the Society of Friends everywhere may be faithful in its witness to truth, as truth has been and is being revealed to us. Peace and righteousness are inseparable. Outward peace maintained by the conscious surrender of truth and justice can never be lasting. We may never desert the victims of oppression, but we must endeavor to realize the conditions and needs both of the oppressor and the oppressed. While we hate wrong, we must love our fellow wrongdoers. There is no place for self-righteous indignation, since the roots of evil are in our own hearts. Only by action that flows from penitence and love can hatred and tyranny be overcome.
Epistle of London Y M., 1938.
Fate of All Interrelated
The conception of the Inward Light leads to a belief that the fate of all men is inextricably interrelated; that, ultimately, no man is free so long as one person remains in bondage, that no man is secure so long as one man lives in fear, that no man is virtuous so long as one person is lacking in virtue, that no man is wealthy while another lives in poverty, and that God may make truth available through anyone.
Robert O. Byrd: Quaker ways in foreign policy, 1960, 77. 17.
Special Interest in Prisons
The terrible sufferings of our forefathers in the prisons of the seventeenth century have given us as a people a special interest in the management of prisons and the treatment of crime. George Fox protested to the judges of his day "concerning their putting men to death for cattle and money and small matters;" and laid before them "what a hurtful thing it was that prisoners should lie so long in jail;" showing how "they learned wickedness from one another in talking of their bad deeds."
In a later day Elizabeth Fry was the means of introducing urgently needed reforms in the administration of English prisons, particularly those for women. During the two world wars the imprisonment of many on grounds of conscience has made Friends more aware of prison conditions and has deepened the concern of many for more enlightened treatment of the offender. We gratefully recognize the reforms which have already been effected.
There is, however, much work still to be done, in creating a right understanding of the nature and causes of crime, and in emphasizing the need for redemptive treatment rather than retributive punishment.
London Y: M.: Christian faith and practice, 1960, no. 573.
Prevention Rather Than Punishment
Friends' influence has been felt in the abrogation or modification of harmful laws and customs in many fields. Government by spiritual forces rather than by arbitrary compulsion and the prevention of criminal acts rather than their punishment are the primary objectives of Friends. Their testimony against capital punishment is based on the belief that it is a violation of the sacredness of human personality, that it disregards the fundamental capacity of all persons to respond to right influences, and that it gives no opportunity to reform the offender.
New England Y M.: Faith and practice, 1950, p. 89.
Deep Reverence for Human Life
The real security for human life is to be found in a reverence for it. If the law regarded it as inviolable, then the people would begin also so to regard it. A deep reverence for human life is worth more than a thousand executions in the prevention of murder; and is, in fact, the great security for human life. The law of capital punishment while pretending to support this reverence, does in fact tend to destroy it.
John Bright, in letter to Martin H. Power, 1868. In Report of Select Committee on Capital Punishment, London Y. M. Proc., 1930, para. 283.
Sanctity of Human Life
We feel that we should at this time declare once again our unwavering opposition to capital punishment. The sanctity of human life is one of the fundamentals of a Christian society and can in no circumstances be set aside. Our concern, therefore, is for all victims of violence, not only the murderer but also those who suffer by his act.
The sanctioning by the State of the taking of human life has a debasing effect on the community, and tends to produce the very brutality which it seeks to prevent. We realize that many are sincerely afraid of the consequences if the death penalty is abolished, but we are convinced that their fears are unjustified.
London Y. M. Proc., 1956, p. 241. Statement contained in minute 39.
Healing the Soul as Well as Body
Most relief work begins with some obvious physical need. But almost always there is, behind the physical need, something much less concrete, a damaged or lonely or hopeless or hungry spirit, and relief work which does not penetrate to this level, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, and make some contribution to healing is a job only partially done.
Inspired relief workers cease to be external agents; like Woolman they have a sense of "being mixed in with" suffering mankind: unselfconsciously they become part of the chaos, the misery and the perplexity in which they move, and yet they neither accept nor are degraded by the situation. Because of their certainty of the will of God for them they are not frightened to find themselves in the centre of the world's evil, and because of their experience of the love of God, they have the patience and the understanding to speak to the condition of their fellows. They do not go about looking for a job to do. They are drawn by their divinely-rooted imagination to the service of God and their fellows in the way that the Lord wills. A relief organization, then, ought to be a corporate body capable of both common-sense and imaginative action, combined with a natural ability to convey to others a sense of inner peace and stability, surviving outward chaos and yet not divorced from it.
Roger C. Wilson: Authority, leadership, and concern (Swarthmore lecture), 1949, pp. 15, 18-9.
Serving God in Addressing Poverty and Unemployment
In practice we find that divine leading is inseparable from a righteous adjustment of our lives to our mundane surroundings, and especially to the lives of others. Experience has shown that we cannot draw a line between religious and secular affairs. The service of God may be found in seeking work for the workless and in searching for the underlying causes of poverty and unemployment as much as in preaching the Gospel in England or broad.
Shipley N. Brayshaw: Unemployment and plenty (Swarthmore lecture), 1933, pp. 118-9.
Larger Measure of Liberty
We have thought of the widespread exploitation of economically underdeveloped peoples, and of those industrial and other workers who are also exploited and heavily burdened. We must therefore work for a larger measure of liberty in political and economic life. For not only is this at the heart of the Christian message, but we have seen that peace stands on a precarious footing so long as there is unrelieved poverty and subjection. Subjection, poverty, injustice and war are closely allied. This situation demands sweeping political and economic changes; and we are convinced that the hope of freedom does not lie in violence, which is at its root immoral, but in such changes as may be brought about by fellowship and mutual service.
Epistle of London Y. M., 1937