Oppression in the extreme appears terrible: but oppression in the more refined appearances remains to be oppression; and where the smallest degree of it is cherished it grows stronger and more extensive. To labor for a perfect redemption from this spirit of oppression is the great business of the whole family of Christ Jesus in this world.
– John Woolman,
"A Plea for the Poor," 1763
The Religious Society of Friends possesses no blueprint for social order. However, our Society, since its founding, has labored for the ordering of a community life in which all may have free and full opportunity to express and develop that divine potential with which everyone is endowed.
We should like to see a greater unity between the religious service of our meetings and the social service of Friends, each being complementary to the other, since they are rooted in the same life and spirit; and to see this expressed in meeting houses which act as centres for varied activities of the surrounding neighbourhood.
– London Yearly Meeting, 1944
We can draw no clear line between religious and secular affairs. We find ways to serve God in the world. We expect each Friend to live each day in holy obedience, secure in the faith that the Light illumines all relationships. Accordingly, Friends are enjoined to have a deep concern for the welfare of the community. This involves intelligent care for the dignity and welfare of all; love for adversaries, not merely for those who love us; and special care for those whom the world neglects, exploits, or condemns.
The task is never over. The vision is never complete.
We have a concern, based partly on Friends’ three-hundred-year history of imprisonment for conscience’s sake, for the humane treatment of those held in prison. There are many ways to help those convicted of a crime, as well as their victims, to rethink and remake their lives, and it is important in doing so that we avoid activities that support the destructiveness of the prison system. Many Friends encourage and support meetings for worship among prisoners, teach prisoners and staff, work with and counsel lawyers and offenders, and help released prisoners to find work and to build new lives.
While we recognize a need to restrain those whose dangerous behavior is a threat, that restraint and any help offered must reflect our concern for that of God in everyone. The prejudice, dishonesty, and racism prevalent in society frequently lead to unfair and unjust sentences and to brutality in the handling of prisoners. Improvement in the parole system and the reduction of pretrial time are greatly needed.
We have consistently opposed capital punishment. Each person is uniquely valuable and divine, and none is totally beyond redemption. Capital punishment rejects the message of forgiveness. In some cases, it legally destroys innocent persons, and in all cases it degrades the humanity of the executioners and of the society that endorses the act.