The Wilberforce Strategy

Britain's great abolitionist worked to change society's values, not just its laws.

"In a time governed by the elite, one man took a stand for its people."

I heard those ringing words during November's election. No, it wasn't another overblown campaign commercial; I was in a theater previewing Amazing Grace, slated for release in February. It is the story of my great hero, William Wilberforce, the British parliamentarian and abolitionist.

For me, the spine-tingling moment came when Wilberforce (played by Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd) announced, "Almighty God has set before me two great objectives: The abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of society." Striving to achieve both objectives simultaneously was the secret of Wilberforce's amazing success (and of the resulting revivals).

While watching Amazing Grace on Election Night, Wilberforce's words, penned more than 200 years ago, proved to be providential—especially given the fact that election returns, which were coming in as we watched, revealed a conservative rout. Many religious conservatives despaired, seeing hopes for a marriage amendment, abortion restrictions, and the confirmation of strict constructionist judges doomed. But if they really believe the fate of the world or any one agenda rises or falls on a single election, they should dry their eyes and see Amazing Grace.

They will learn that when Wilberforce began battling slavery, the prospects could not have been worse: The slave trade was a boon to England's economy, hundreds of parliamentarians were in the pockets of slavers, and the public was indifferent to suffering slaves in the distant Caribbean.

The prospect of reforming society's morals was equally daunting. Public drunkenness and crime were rampant, clergymen routinely took mistresses, and the elites of Wilberforce's day (like ...

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Christianity Today
The Wilberforce Strategy
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In the Magazine

February 2007

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