Friday, March 30, 2007

What does it mean to get involved Wilberforce style?

I had a smashing night out seeing the new film 'Amazing Grace' which tells the story of William Wilberforce and I commend it heartily. Wilberforce was a man of extraordinary vision, courage and perseverance and this film shows how a crucial piece of history played out in the life of this nation. The key dynamic is the friendship of Wilberforce with William Pitt the Younger and the highs and lows of the lifelong campaign to bring an end to the slave trade. Albert Finney gives a stunning performance playing as the ex-slave trader John Newton. This film is funny, sad, heart-warming and inspiring and well worth scheduling an evening out to watch. (View the trailer on the sidebar)

Recently, I heard Lord Hastings on this subject of slavery and it made me think deeply. At the time of Wilberforce there where 4m slaves worldwide. Today, conservatively, there are estimated to be 12.4m slaves and one agency has quoted a figure as high as 27m. These range from children enslaved as industrial labour to the ever increasing sex-trade from Eastern Europe and beyond. Remember the drowned Chinese cockle pickers? They were 21st century slaves This is is a living reality in many cities across the UK. There is as great a need for a call for justice for slaves as ever there was 200 years ago.

But how do you go about doing anything? One thing you can do is have a voice and sign a petition You can also give your money away to a variety of charities or you can get involved in political campaigning. It was on this subject that Lord Hastings had the most interesting insights.

This was his advice. Firstly (and he said this as a committed Christian) Christian's write the most annoying letters of all the ones he receives and are often the most narrow-minded and short-sighted. He used the example of the sex-discrimination act where lots of Christian groups had written to him demanding he make this HIS issue and saying that he had to make a stand. His response was a simple one. He said "Why this issue?". "Why homosexuality?" "Why didn't you write me a letter about the 200K children living in poverty in the UK, about stem-cell research, about euthaniasia, about prison reform, about nuclear weapons, about the Aids pandemic in Africa and a host of other crucial legislation that has been across my desk in the last 12 months?" Rightly, he said, if these groups and individuals had written to him about these things then he might have listened to them on sex-discrimination. Fair point.

He concluded with some straight-talking. He said "Don't write a letter to your MP". If you want to enact change and fight for justice then you have to go and see your MP face to face. That's getting involved. When was the last time any of us did that? Have you or I ever been to see our MP's in their surgery and if not why not? Surely that is the legacy of Wilberforce. He didn't just talk and write but he acted. Not just for a day, or while the issue was in the news, but he gave his whole life and being to it. He stood on the deck of the slave ship Madagascar and breathed in the stench of death and injustice such that he would never allow himself to forget it. That's getting involved the Wilberforce way.

'He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God' Micah 6:8

And why did Wilberforce do what he did? What motivated him to a life of such passion and perseverance that it cost him his money, his reputation and eventually his health and life? Well, perhaps John Newton answers that question for us as well as anyone: "My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour"

And so he is. Wilberforce, above all things, knew that and took it deep down into his heart and life and may each one of us know it too.