Most of us play it semi-consciously, in our heads and rarely out loud. We think to ourselves, She drives a Prius; that is good, and we give her some positive points in our head. He came to work day, and that is really good—give him two points. A wonderful, rich, homemade chocolate cake for potluck: extra good, and we give her five extra points for that because we really love that chocolate cake and hope she brings it every week! Here are some more examples of what will earn you points in what I call the Quaker Points Game:
- You serve on more than one committee in your meeting.
- You live simply and drive an old car (or a hybrid).
- You have gone to one or more protests in the last year.
- As a man, you wear a beard.
- You compost and keep a garden.
Check, check, check! In this game, we give out and collect points for these things, keeping a mental tally in order to determine who is a “good Quaker.” Some believe that you are a really good Quaker if you satisfy any of the following:
- You have solar panels on your roof.
- You are a vegetarian.
- You are a clerk or are willing to teach First-day school (huge points for either activity).
- You keep chickens.
I’ve noticed among the Quakers I know that we generally agree on what behaviors or activities make someone a good Quaker or really good Quaker. These positive-point-earning items tend to be fairly easy to see and to check off on a list in our head.
There are good Quakers and there are . . . uh oh, what do we call the others besides “bad”? Maybe “not-good-yet”? How about “still-evolving” or “questionable” Quakers? If we’re awarding positive points, then we must be giving out negative points as well—ouch! But we don’t want to go there. We really do not like to look at our own dark sides or to acknowledge how making such general judgments may marginalize members of our faith community. But what if we did examine some of the stereotypes of what makes someone a “bad Quaker”?
- You smoke cigarettes. It’s bad for your health, the environment, kids, and the world—negative five points.
- You drive a fancy car. Definitely minus points for this; it’s not in following with the simplicity testimony. But is it negative four points for driving a BMW and negative six for a Cadillac or vice versa? We will need to have a meeting to find clearness on just how many for what kind of car.
- You own or carry a handgun or feel support for the National Rifle Association and their lobby. Guns are dangerous and are used to kill people—negative ten points for handguns.
- You own a business. Business is “them,” and capitalism is an evil machine controlling the world and our politicians. Off-the-scale minus points!
I’d like to investigate the last point more since I am a business owner and have felt the shame related to identifying myself as such within a Quaker context. A recent example of how poorly Quakers regard business people occurred at the 2014 Friends General Conference Gathering at California University of Pennsylvania this past summer. While attending the conference, I noticed a number of yard signs posted around campus that were part of a campaign called Karma Shave—modeled after the Burma-Shave (a brand of men’s shaving cream) roadside ad campaigns that became familiar in the 1950s and ’60s—a collection of “wisdom sayings” meant to inspire and provoke Friends. (This was not the first year the Karma Shave signs were present at Gathering.) However, some of the messages on the signs were bluntly critical of those in business. There was one series that made sweeping generalizations about greedy, evil bankers, and there was another displaying a poem that implies those who wear business suits are somehow not like Jesus: “Beware the TV Preacher / With Fame and Power to boot / ’Cause Jesus never wore / A fancy Business Suit.” This kind of exclusionary language goes against the Quaker belief of finding God in each person.
Friends also believe and recognize that diversity is important, even essential, for an open and healthy Friends community. Therefore, we should know that it doesn’t make us stronger to speak in terms that single out any group for ridicule or shaming. I and two others in the Quakers and Business Group (Lee Rada and Riley Robinson) have since written a letter to FGC’s Gathering Committee expressing our thoughts on the matter and asking the committee to consider the effect these sorts of derogatory messages have on members of the Religious Society of Friends and to consider excluding those signs from future Gatherings.
Responding to such put-downs of business is just one action we can do to change Quaker views and perceptions of the business community. I am currently following a leading to do just that. My goal is to shift our Society’s beliefs about having or earning money from viewing it as something evil to better understanding how money and business can be another tool with which to do God’s work. This is how I view my own work: as Spirit-led. There are amazing Quakers making changes inside of business—that is what Quaker business people do! We do it our own way, and we do good while we do business.
To accomplish this vision, Friends need to be able to talk about money and business freely and without judgment. Many business-owning Friends I know feel alienated by their meetings and so no longer attend. This is sad. I am unusual in that I do both: own a business and attend meeting. The four actions I’m working on as part of my leading are as follows:
- Respond to put-downs of business personally, individually, and directly. Speak up when one Friend unfairly judges another based on perceived negative assumptions about a profession.
- Share positive stories about Quaker businesses and point out how they are good and different from the norm—something I hope this new department in Friends Journal will encourage. (The success of the Occupy movement within our group illustrates how challenging it is to voice the positive attributes we have as ethical business people.)
- Educate our youth about what we do by teaching the history of Friends in business and sharing current examples of good businesses. (Quakers have such a bad opinion of business that we actively discourage our youth from exploring entrepreneurship. One young Friend I spoke with at the Gathering said he would “rather be a communist than a business owner because we should all be treated the same.”)
- Encourage and help one another who are in business. We must begin to be more accepting of different vocations so our Society can grow in numbers and diversity. (Historically a monthly meeting would oversee the business of its members by setting up committees to assist with finances, mentor young people, arrange apprenticeships, and help to overcome various setbacks. Today, most meetings offer emotional and spiritual support, but unfortunately no longer view business as the spiritual practice that it can be.)
Maybe the Quaker Points Game is pointless. Why judge a person—explicitly or implicitly—by the job he has or the car she drives? Sometimes we turn good people away with our generalized negative judgments of what we think is bad. The Light is found in even the strangest of places, and we need to be open to it in everyone, including those Friends in business.
Author chat with Richard: