Chapter 23 » 23.103

Friends and state authority

Crime and punishment

Reconciliation in its basic form occurs between two people face to face… But we must be clear that reconciliation, in the sense of meeting, comprehending, and working to prevent the future following the pattern of the past, is not always possible. The demand for justice, the desire for revenge, may prevent it. Quakers in particular seem to have a horror of revenge as a motive. We need to remember that, in the interests of social harmony, law-abiding citizens have voluntarily surrendered their rights of retaliation to the state. It may be true that when the state takes revenge, nothing constructive has been achieved. But it is also true that if not even this is done, the hurt remains with the person who has been wronged. Where the burden of suffering is clearly on one side, the burden of wrong-doing on the other, it is a kind of insult to tell the victim that he or she should be reconciled. We are told that there is no peace without justice. How are we to meet the claims of justice without forging the next link in the chain of hurt?

Restitution … accepts the reality of what has happened and the right of the sufferer to ‘have something done about it’. It accepts that the perpetrator is in most cases feeling guilty, or at least humiliated to have been detected. But it offers him or her an opportunity to regain the good opinion of the sufferer and the community, and to be seen as a person who can give as well as take away, who can right wrongs as well as cause them… When I was working with deviant and deprived children, and almost all disciplinary matters were decided by the whole community on a basis of putting things right, I was able to see how the victims feel supported and protected by this approach. It was moving to see how much they wanted to accept the evidence of contrition, how much they wanted to forgive. Provided that we could ensure that it worked effectively, those who had been hurt were satisfied; it was outsiders, not directly involved, who became angry and told me that this was a sentimental option which did not face the realities of injustice. They were afraid of pain, hurt, violence, and the breakdown of order; and their fear made them violent. Those who had already experienced this breakdown recognised that restitution offered them a way out.

John Lampen, 1987

Those who have looked for a more forthright statement of a Quaker view on a subject which concerns them deeply, may experience some disappointment at not finding it here. However we hope that Friends will appreciate that this may be because Friends are still searching for a corporate view, or because we have not been able to find a suitable extract, or because this book cannot hope to cover every aspect of human affairs.

Some individual Friends have provided the challenge which has led the Society to consider a subject more deeply. Often we have been able to make corporate statements on issues such as war and poverty which challenge ourselves as well as the larger society. Sometimes we can suggest how we should set about seeking a remedy, but often we have to realise that in such a book as this we cannot hope to provide detailed consideration leading to any definitive statement. Indeed we have to beware of putting forward our corporate findings too dogmatically. We must humbly admit our own failings, and then work and pray that we may be led to find a way forward.

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