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Bill Samuel, August 4, 2002
Bill Samuel

Quaker Response to Events
Since September 11, 2001

by Bill Samuel
Original version published November 1, 2001 at

The events of September 11, 2001 in which commercial airplanes were used in attacks on symbols of American power have affected those in the Society of Friends (Quakers) as well as others. As a faith body with a strong peace testimony, it has raised significant questions about appropriate response.

Many Quaker bodies have issued statements, and a number have undertaken activities, related to these attacks and subsequent events. There are several elements in the response of various Friends groups that appear repeatedly:
  • Concern for Victims. Like so many others, Quakers have been moved by the grief and suffering experienced by many and have reached out with helping hands. Consistent with our heritage, Friends have sought to embrace victims on all sides of the situation, including those directly affected by the events of September 11, those affected by the military conflict in and over Afghanistan, and those who have been mistreated because of their ethnic or religious identity.

    Friends have collected bath towels, batteries and work boots to help with relief efforts in New York City. Friends are providing blankets, sheets, food and medicines to Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Many Friends meetings and churches have reached out to Arabs and Muslims in their areas to foster understanding and counter hate crimes.
  • Support for Bringing Criminals to Justice. Friends support due legal process to address criminal acts. This includes support for international judicial mechanisms and treaties which facilitate international cooperation for justice. These events have highlighted the long held concern of Quakers about U.S. reluctance to commit to a world court, and U.S. failure to ratify many treaties, including the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombing.
  • Opposition to a Spirit of Vengeance. Friends are deeply concerned that people resist the tendency to strike out in vengeance and anger, exacerbating tensions and creating more victims. Quakers question the reliance on military force as a "solution" to complex problems which have long festered.
  • Addressing Underlying Conditions. Friends encourage a deeper response than just directly to recent incidents. We believe governments, other institutions and individuals need to look at past and current actions that have contributed to creating an environment in which people have come to feel that striking out in violence against civilians is justified to redress real or perceived grievances. If we address conditions of oppression and poverty, we will also have a safer world.
All of these aspects of the Quaker response to recent events have clear ties to Biblical themes in both the Old and New Testaments. These are concerns that have long been held by many in the faith community. As Friends speak out and act, we often find ourselves working in concert with other people of faith.

Over the centuries, different groups of Friends have moved in different ways, so that today we are divided into several branches with different emphases. Quakers today encompass a very broad theological spectrum. Yet in looking at how Friends are speaking and acting related to these recent events, I do not see the different groups going in different directions. There is a unity on the kind of concerns I have delineated here that is deeper than the things that have divided Friends.

Resources on the Web

Friends have put a considerable amount of material on the Web related to Quaker response to recent events, and more is added frequently. Here are just a few places you can look: See also Depending on Our Own Power and Strength, my own reflections after the September 11 actions.

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Recommended Books: see all items
A Living Faith: An Historical and Comparative Study of Quaker Beliefs
Cover imageWilmer Cooper, founding Dean of Earlham School of Religion, provides an historical look at the beliefs of Friends (Quakers). Includes study questions.
Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home
Cover imageRichard J. Foster. Describes 21 types of Christian prayer. Harper San Francisco, 1992. 288 pages.
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Cover image20th Anniversary Edition of Richard J. Foster's million- selling work on Christian spiritual disciplines.
Imagination & Spirit: A Contemporary Quaker Reader
Cover imageA selection of excerpts from 15 contemporary Quaker authors who reached the mainstream market. See review.

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The Peaceable Kingdom
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29 in. x 23 in.

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