JOSHUA EVANS: Christian, Abolitionist, Vegetarian, Tax-Refuser and all round Committed Guy

Joshua Evans (1731-1798) was a radical Quaker, an abolitionist, a vegetarian, and he refused to pay taxes that went to war efforts. He wouldn’t even buy import goods so as to not pay an excise tax that would then contribute to military spending. That guy’s serious.

As for Evan’s worldview, you surely won’t hear it in these ‘modern’ days from, say, the Christian Right (or most any other religious group). Indeed, libertarian/conservative Ron Paul was just removed from the advisory board of the conservative (so-called) organization Young Americans for Freedom, largely for his anti-war/foreign policy beliefs.

Anyway, Evans wrote in his journal, around the time of the American Revolution:

I cannot see how to reconcile war, in any shape or color, with the mild spirit of christianity; nor that devouring disposition, with the peaceable, lamblike nature of our blessed Saviour. It seems to me we might as well suppose, theft and murder do not contradict his royal law, which enjoins the doing to others as we would have them do to us.

That view that doesn’t actually really exist anymore, ironically, at least not in places of Power and even most religious organizations. When a vote was taken after the 9/11 tragedy to give more or less all going-to-war powers to then President George Bush, Democrats and Republicans voted 518-1 in favour. Barbara Lee’s solo vote was the only one in opposition. For this she received immediate death threats, and had a bodyguard put on duty to protect her life.

Here’s to the great and early abolitionists, from all over.



10 Responses to “JOSHUA EVANS: Christian, Abolitionist, Vegetarian, Tax-Refuser and all round Committed Guy”

  1. Jason G says:

    What do you mean by “most religious organizations”? Which ones are you paying attention to? Most of them quietly go about feeding & sheltering the poor & abandoned, helping trafficked women, caring for the environment, and counselling the broken. For free. And this is just a list I made up from close friends of mine involved in such work.

    It is, unfortunately, the loud and obnoxious and politically/power driven people who use religion as a weapon who get all the press. Dig deeper and you’ll find plenty of those who follow in the footsteps of Joshua Evans.

  2. I generally think of my wonderful friend Jason when I write about religion, and sometimes think, “Uh-oh.” Your point is well taken, my friend, and I know that’s true on many levels, with amazing work, but I hold solid with most religious organizations.

    Joshua Evans is seriously intense, and his choices and intensity are rarely matched—in fact by no one I know or have heard of. Indeed, I would suggest we are so overwhelmed by the machine and what is in the pesent-day, literally, a well-crafted and manipulated ‘instinct’ to consume products, regardless of how or where or with what they are made. Given that brainwashing, we can probably barely imagine what these abolitionists did.

    Evans wouldn’t buy goods because of the tax benefits to military build-up. That’s not going about ‘quietly’ doing much needed charity—which is beautiful. Joshua Evans is doing a direct hit to a ‘system’ he disagrees with. The Gandhian idea of ‘non-participation in an evil system.’

    This I rarely see amongst the grounded religious or non-religious folk (in other words we do see sort of non-social movements like David Koresh etc), but not beautiful, original, alternative movements of any significant number. Indeed, you’ve likely read my beef (no pun intended) and confusion about scientists and global warming. Even they, telling us the world is doomed, literally, do not leave their tenured positions to join forces in protests. They keep on with their work, and maybe publish a book. Again, I am generalizing, but…

    I may be wrong, but the miniscule amount of people who would do this—Christian, any other religion, atheists, scientists, me—are virtually non-existant.

    Also, and this may be wrong, but I rarely (none come to mind) hear any outcry about the treatment of animals—in particular the factory-farm system of relentless deprivation and mistreatment—from religious groups like, say, the Quakers. If it happens, are the numbers not tiny?

    Most of the wonderful Christians that I know have no sense of meat-to-brutality at all, and certainly don’t care if it comes up. That is a clear sign that it certainly isn’t preached at their place of worship. I’m not talking about vegetarianism—even decreasing meat consumption for animal reasons.

    If you give me some organizations that do such things, I’ll blog about them for sure. And again, there are so many religious and non-religious groups doing wonderful, beautiful things, as you know. Are they literally changing/opposing a system, like the abolitionists? Writing tons of pamphlets. Disturbing church meetings? Waking up the congregation? Maybe. But you’d have to help me out there.

    By the way, check out Benjamin Lay from the previous blog. Staggering. A four foot hunchback:

    Lay was barely over four feet tall and wore clothes that he made himself. He was a hunchback with a projecting chest, and his arms were almost longer than his legs. He was a vegetarian, and drank only milk and water. He would wear nothing, nor eat anything made from the loss of animal life or provided by any degree by slave labor. He was distinguished less for his eccentricities than for his philanthropy. He published over 200 pamphlets, most of which were impassioned polemics against various social institutions of the time, particularly slavery, capital punishment, the prison system, the moneyed Pennsylvania Quaker elite, etc. Refusing to participate in what he described in his tracts as a degraded, hypocritical, tyrannical, and even demonic society, Lay was committed to a lifestyle of almost complete self-sustenance. Dwelling in a cottage in the Pennsylvania countryside, Lay grew his own food and made his own clothes.

    Now, know I love you, and you must hold both hope and forgiveness in your heart for my transgressions (and I’m not kidding!). And I love you for pointing out the ignorance of my generalities.

    Pete xoxoxox

  3. Jason,

    Actually, a question. These abolitionist/vegetarians often found their reasons and inspiration for not killing animals for food in the description of the pre-flood garden. This was laid out in the book Bloodless Revolution. Are there any remotely respected/accepted, remotely mainstream Christian groups who generally subscribe to this?

    Here’s one, God love them—I don’t know its size or influence, if any. It’s non-denominational:

    Which says to me, more: Vegetarian Christians Seek Home! And here’s a wiki page on Christianity and vegetarians:

    Pete x

  4. Jason G says:

    This is great. I love ya tons, Pete.

    You certainly have a very specific type of bar for “adequate” activism. Public rallies, etc… And it’s very specific to vegetarianism/veganism. Yes?

    It’s certainly true that many Jesus followers are not vegetarian. (Jesus was a practicing Jew, and would have consumed meat.) And many of the same friends of mine who have forsaken everything and moved in among the poor of the downtown eastside (not far from your house) to fend for and stand in solidarity with the poor, will kindly accept whatever food is put in front of them. And (goodness gracious) there may even be a couple of them who buy chickens from the grocery store (ironically, I can’t think of any, but let’s assume they do). Does this make them “inadequate” as activists? Hardly.

    But again, I ask, who are you paying attention to? Are they supposed to come to you? I know of many Christians who are out there working against the systemic evil that we are all complicitly participating in. Do they need to form visible organizations that put out pamphlets? Why don’t you walk down the street and visit Tom or Tim or Michelle who are working to reclaim all of creation (people, animals, land). Or Emily, who is an active vegan and who works with a group that works for peace between Israel and Palestine. They aren’t flashy, but they do it with their whole lives.

    In fact, the answer, as you know, is always grace. Grace. We can’t help but be complicit. And somehow God still loves us and redeems us. Even people like me who don’t grow our own food, occasionally eat meat, and don’t do anything except try and make (somewhat mediocre) art. Even the thief on the cross, who at the last minute recognized the coming of God’s kingdom. There is no bar to be adequately holy.

  5. Those people you spoke about are heroic to me, and in that category of highly inspirational. I’m not sure if they ‘speak’ for some religious organization, which was my point. And actually, yes, we do need to, if we can, be slightly more organized and more pamphlets, if only to encourage more to join in! And that adequate bar isn’t mine—if it was I would dislike myself even more! I was saying, almost as an obvious truism, there aren’t many like the Joshua Evans and Benjamin Lays.

    As for vegetarianism and/or veganism, I understand it is only by privilege that I can choose that lifestyle as I do. I am not actually against meat consumption. I am against the ongoing brutality against animals, particularly the billions we eat, and truly am shocked this reality isn’t more outrageous to everyone, let alone religious groups. It just seem so obvious! But how must some of my choices look to others? And food, and the food we eat, is deep in our ancestral psyche, and well spun by the propaganda machine.

    But again, your point is well made, I’m a jack-ass, and I adore your friends you mention, and they have my similar adoration…

    Pete xox

    PS i’m typing with a little one over my shoulder, one fingered, so…

  6. Jason G says:

    I can’t speak for Christian vegetarian organizations, though I know many individuals, but I can speak for Christian organizations that seek to bring shalom to all of creation: land, animals, communities. is one that’s dear to our hearts.

    But your initial blogpost was about a guy whose desire to seek shalom covered all areas of his life. And he lived with integrity to the best of his ability. (Which naturally resulted in a stance, at times, of protest.) I can assure you there are many, many Christians who aim to live the same way. They may not get interviewed on TV, but neither was Jesus.

  7. Finally, my friend, that there a countless formidable, wondrous Christians doing beautiful, even stunningly beautiful, things for their inner world, and this wild outer world, was and is never in question.

    And let’s face it, for the most part, TV sucks. But I’d still like to one day borrow your John Adams series.

    You rock, as in the Rock of Ages. Vaya con dios, as opposed to Vaya con carne,


  8. Jason G says:

    I loaned it out. ;)

  9. Karen says:

    Hi Pete and Jason,

    Sacrifice. I feel like that’s the word that’s missing here, and that Evans and Lay have in common. They did without, and they replaced that which they could not do without by their own hand in accordance with their beliefs. They made personal sacrifices.

    It’s one thing to blow a Saturday collecting clothes or food for the poor. Or go out of one’s way to drop off clothes/food at a collection box twice a year. Helps, but there is no real sacrifice.

    Those I respect are like Jason’s friends. They get their hands dirty.

    We’ll never change anything as a society unless we make sacrifices. Pay more for the food we eat, eat less of it, change our idea of what constitutes healthy eating and appropriate portion size, get closer to how our food is obtained.

    There is no real food (e.g., processed sugary/salty products, fast food, and the like are not real food) that is not healthy for us, in moderation, and with discernment as to how it is grown or raised. In an ideal world we would all worry about this.

    But I believe, first, access to real food must be equal for all. Then activism can focus on where the food comes from. This is not to say that as access becomes more equitable in an area, activism toward animal respect can’t be right behind it.

    Finally, it seems to me the major issue is: Are we willing to make the sacrifices, as a society, needed to create a more equitable world for all creatures? We can only hope.

    Love to you both and those you love.

    PS: I don’t subscribe to any religion, but I do believe in doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing.

  10. Dear Karen,

    Ah, what a thought: food equity. And paying the real value of food and energy. Interesting. How fast would paying the real value of energy push us to renewables? And sacrifice is interesting. A friend once told me that if it doesn’t hurt, it’s not a sacrifice—whether it’s giving money or time. If it’s easy, it may be generous and kind, but it’s not a sacrifice.

    So little here, trying to figure it out, in such a big world. Somehow, we long to connect the two, through faith and works, science and love and devotion and so on…

    Pete xo

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