My first farmhand gig was on an idyllic operation in Southwestern Ontario. I had signed up for a long since killed off government program called The Junior Agriculturalists, which placed young people from urban centres out in the country for the summer to learn about farming. It took me a couple of weeks to adjust, having abruptly left a smoking, drinking and carrying on lifestyle behind for a quiet, hard working life in the country but I ended up in the best shape I’ve been in my life both physically and mentally. Thankfully, we never did any work on a Sunday – except for what was absolutely required like feeding the livestock. The farmers also happened to be Quakers, a faith I knew very little about but grew to appreciate, even as a fun loving atheist from the gritty old city. When they say “all are welcome”, they truly mean it.
A core Quaker belief is that there is an inner light within all people; the essence of God can be found in the soul. It’s a highly personal spiritual connection. Their experience in matters of faith is cumulative and does not cease, continuously evolving with the times and history. Due to this, Quakers are not firmly attached to a rigid creed. Instead, their values are represented in a series of Testimonies, which can be changed, usually after deep reflection as a collective group. Of these, the oldest and most well known is the Peace Testimony of 1660, which reads in part:
“All bloody principles and practices we do utterly deny, with all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole world.”
No need for clarification on that. The Quakers don’t completely withdraw from the world in times of conflict though. If anything, their testimony calls them to step up in a different way. In 1947, the Society of Friends (their actual name) won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work during the 20th century’s world wars to relieve the suffering of people caught up in these conflicts. Their commitment to peace continues to this day. It’s hard to believe but this has made the Quakers some enemies, particularly around the perpetual conflict in Palestine.
The mere use of the P word will rankle certain people. No matter who you are, weighing in on the situation will upset some of the belligerents, even if you happen to be a member of one of the most peaceful faiths on the planet. No one has ever been killed in the name of Quakerism. There are other groups such as the Mennonites, Amish and Doukhobors you could say the same for but beyond that, the majority of others have all killed in the name of their Lord at some point in time. Violence and hate is not part of the historic peace church playbook.
This past week the Canadian Government has stated it intends to use hate crime laws to prosecute anyone who endorses the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign directed at Israel. BDS is an attempt to exert economic pressure, with the hope that this will non violently influence how the Israelis treat the Palestinian people. Unfortunately, many groups, including our federal government, automatically accuse anyone involved in this movement as being anti semitic. This includes groups as diverse as university clubs, certain churches and trade unions. The Quakers are among them. It is incredibly lazy to argue that any and all criticism and analysis of the Israeli government’s actions equates to anti semitism. It’s a non starter. The anti semites are out there and they need to be continuously challenged but I can guarantee that Quakers do not hate Jews nor would they ever want them to come to harm. The mere insinuation of this is a cheap, convenient political ploy in an attempt to silence criticism.
During World War Two, a Canadian immigration official famously stated on the prospect of the number of Jewish refugees coming to Canada that “none is too many”. Meanwhile in Europe, the Quakers were intensely active in the evacuation and placement of some 10,000 mostly Jewish children from the continent to England, out of harm’s way. They did not hesitate to be critical of Nazi scum and paid a price for facing down that enemy with words and heroic deeds in a non violent manner, as is their way.
No doubt this posting is going to get me put on a watch list somewhere, embedded deep in an Ottawa server, a place among enemies of the state waiting for the clampdown. Someday they’ll start chipping away at it until we’ve all been silenced or re-educated. If it’s a list with the Quakers on it, then I’m in good company.