Moral Injury

I’ve been praying and writing about this unsettled time for me. I know there are other members of my Quaker faith community who also feel this way. As I try to explain here, Spiritual discernment to leave Quakers, I was led to temporarily distance myself from Quakers. I didn’t have a clear understanding of why that was necessary, what distancing myself meant, and what would need to happen for me to return to Quakers. What I had no doubt about was the spiritual message that was what I must do.

Over the past six years I’ve been led in multiple ways to connect with, become friends with, Native people. I recently wrote I have a spiritual bond with this new community. Multiple Spiritual Communities. This has opened a whole new way to see my Quaker community.

There is a tragic history between these two communities. Beginning in the mid 1800’s, Quakers and other denominations took on the role of forcefully assimilating Native children into White culture. The stated reason was to help those children learn how to live in the white world that was enveloping them. The more sinister reason was to quell the resistance of Native nations to being forced off their lands. (see: Much worse than I realized )

The recent verification of the remains of 215 Native children on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia was devastating news to Native peoples in Canada and the US. Many have been triggered by this atrocity. One of my Native friends wrote that she was NOT OK. Another told me, “I’m trying not to be enraged in my mourning.”

The concept of moral injury is helpful for me in the context of the tragedies of the Indian boarding schools and my relationship with my Quaker community.

Moral injury is the social, psychological, and spiritual harm that arises from a betrayal of one’s core values, such as justice, fairness, and loyalty. Harming others, whether in military or civilian life; failing to protect others, through error or inaction; and failure to be protected by leaders, especially in combat—can all wound a person’s conscience, leading to lasting angerguilt, and shame, and can fundamentally alter one’s world view and impair the ability to trust others.

Moral Injury, Psychology Today

Moral injury refers to an injury to an individual’s moral conscience and values resulting from an act of perceived moral transgression, which produces profound emotional guilt and shame, and in some cases also a sense of betrayal, anger and profound “moral disorientation”.


The concept of moral injury emphasizes the psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of trauma. Distinct from psychopathology, moral injury is a normal human response to an abnormal traumatic event. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the concept is used in literature with regard to the mental health of military veterans who have witnessed or perpetrated an act in combat that transgressed their deeply held moral beliefs and expectations. Among healthcare professionals, moral injury refers to unaddressed moral distress leading to the accumulation of serious inner conflict that may overwhelm one’s sense of goodness and humanity. It is important to note that, despite the identification of moral traumas among both veterans and healthcare professionals, research has remained oddly independent between these two groups, and as such, the terminology is not uniform.

Moral injury – Wikipedia

Enslavement, colonization and forced assimilation

Quakers were among those involved in enslavement. There were also Quakers among the white settlers who colonized native lands. In addition, Friends were involved in the forced assimilation, the cultural genocide, of native children. There are many Quakers who don’t want to deal with this today. Suggesting this was in the past, or we don’t have a responsibility for what our ancestors did.

Unfortunately those traumas are passed from generation to generation. Influence both those who experienced the trauma, and those who caused it, today.

Economic injustice and Mutual Aid

The moral injury I’ve been experiencing for the past several related to economic injustice. I believe it is immoral for an economic system to deny access to basic necessities for those who don’t have money to pay for food, shelter, clothing, medical care and/or education. Those who don’t have money through no fault of their own. The COVID pandemic and it’s economic impact have resulted millions more falling into economic insecurity.

I’ve been blessed to learn about and participate in Mutual Aid. The concept that everyone in a community can work together to find solutions to problems that affect the whole community. With Mutual Aid there is no vertical hierarchy. Rather a flat hierarchy where every contributes to the work. Where survival needs are addressed immediately. Work that helps satisfy people’s desire to be involved in meaningful work.

I feel disappointment that Quakers as a whole do not see the urgency to create Mutual Aid projects. Do not see the moral imperative to leave an unjust system, and create one that is just.

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