By Dr. Mark Denison — You have probably heard of George Washington. You may have heard of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Paul Revere. These are among our greatest Revolutionary War heroes. Add another name to that list: John Woolman. You remember him, don’t you? Not an outgoing, gregarious type, Woolman was a quiet Quaker from Pennsylvania. In a time when almost all men were hunters, John did not carry a gun. His hobbies included tailoring clothes and long nature hikes. Intent on learning about his fellow man, Woolman embarked on an unarmed expedition into the Indian territories. His goal was to simply learn about the natives while spreading a message of love.
As his admiration for Native Americans grew, he became conflicted on the matter of human rights. He began to question the accepted institution of slavery at a time when it was a universally accepted practice. Woolman spent 20 years traveling the colonies and journeyed back to England. He became a quiet advocate for the abolishment of slavery. His audience was his own religion. His message was universally rejected, but there was something different about John Woolman that his opponents could not easily dismiss – his character. John was a peaceful, kind, patient man. Never rude or confrontational, he let his integrity carry his message. Woolman died in 1772, never seeing his dream fulfilled. But in just four short years, the Religious Society of Friends (aka “Quakers”) voted to abolish slavery. It would take another 89 years before the country followed suit.
You need a cause bigger than yourself. John Woolman found one. What is yours? A few years ago, Beth and I enjoyed a dream vacation, a cruise to Alaska. On one of our many hikes, we witnessed salmon swimming upstream toward their death. Sometimes, when you carry an unpopular message that is bigger than you, you will have to swim upstream. And like the salmon, you may die before you reach your intended destination. John Woolman lived for a cause worth dying for. He was a man of character, a man ahead of his time. But this quiet Quaker was an American hero for one reason. He found a cause bigger than himself and he gave himself to that cause in the face of opposition in his new land and even from his Church. That is character. That is integrity. And that can be you.