I've been reading Eric Metaxas book, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, and it has been as challenging as I thought it would be. I thought I knew a good bit about the abolition of slavery, but have realized that most of my knowledge about this horrible practice is from American history. Wilberforce was the leader of abolition in England, so I've learned a whole new aspect of history that has been insightful and made me really think about the implications for me in the 21st century.
By God's grace, slavery as they knew it in the 19th century is now over. Wilberforce led the effort as a member of Parliament in England. His driving conviction was that all human beings were created in the image of God--even African human beings. This belief catapulted him as the leader of the abolition movement, one that was not without tremendous persecution. Besides the fact that his physical condition was plagued by frequent illness, he faced death threats and hatred from his own countrymen on multiple fronts. Those involved in the slave trade were so tied to their belief that the slaves were nothing more than property that they would stop at nothing to remove this troublesome obstacle, namely Wilberforce.
As I read the horrific accounts of life for the slaves on the slave ships I was overwhelmed with sadness and anger. "How could Christians in Britain and America believe that this was the right thing to do, or let it go on for so long?" I thought. We have the vantage point of looking back now that this form of slavery is abolished, but are we really any different than our brothers and sisters from two centuries ago? Sure, we don't have a commercial industry devoted to buying and selling human beings. But we do have pristine abortion clinics masquerading as medical facilities devoted to the good of women and society. And let's not forget that millions of people, many of them women and children, are still in bondage as slaves even today. We might not ship slaves from Africa to serve on sugar and cotton plantations in the South and West Indies, but we do ship countless women and children to brothels and perverted men across the globe.
I don't know what the answer is. The activist in me wishes I did. There are good "Wilberforce-like" ministries in place that help pregnant women choose life, provide a healing place for trafficking victims, and prosecute those who buy and sell human beings. I can pray for them, and pray that God raises up more just like them. And I can pray that God gives me less complacency and more concern for the suffering and abused in this world. He is the only hope for all of us. Wilberforce understood that, as evidenced by his later efforts to make a way for missionaries to go to India. He wasn't about abolition for abolition's sake. He was about abolition so God would get glory.
Reading this book has been a sobering reminder that it's easy as a society to believe that the ways things are is the way things are supposed to be. As Christians, we have a greater authority than societal norms. Wilberforce understood that and did something about it. I'm thankful for his example for all of us. May I be willing to do the same.