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William Wilberforce

I saw the movie Amazing Grace when it came out in 2006, but I recently took the time to watch it again. I think that it is very important for us to remember the life of William Wilberforce, the man who led the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. This movie will introduce you to this great man whose faith compelled him to work for justice.

We’re living in a stressful time for American Christianity. To me if feels as though we are more fractured today that at any point during my life. Of course, that could simply be my impression. The ease of communication today may fuel our differences, or it may simply reveal differences that have always been of this magnitude. Either way, it is a great burden for us.

One of the battle grounds seems to be over the concept of social justice. In the Body of Christ we’re seeing a renewed emphasis on feeding the hungry, drilling wells for clean water in third world countries, fighting against child prostitution and the forced labor of children, and so many other expressions of the call Christ gave to us. At the same time, there are those who fear the concept of social justice. To them it smacks of social engineering and the redistribution of wealth apart from the values of Christianity. To some social justice is simply a distraction from the work of the gospel—saving souls. What I love about the story of William Wilberforce is that it is a presentation of what so many of us mean by social justice. God is a God of justice. There can be no denying that. The First and Second Testaments resound with the call of God’s people to work for justice. This is not a distraction from the gospel. It is part of the gospel. Wilberforce’s life is a testament to what it means to have a burning desired to be used by God to change this world.

My theological forebear, John Wesley, emphasized the fact that you cannot separate the personal nature of the gospel from the social calling. As he so famously put it, “The gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness.”

Watch Amazing Grace and allow the Lord to use it to call you to yearn for His justice in our world. You may also find it doing something else to you. It may cause a hunger for the kind of political leadership that William Wilberforce practiced. We may just get that kind of leadership if we all begin to realize that politics should not simply be the act of voting for and defending our own interests. Rather, it should be part of our overall Christian responsibility to “look to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). In that environment we may be able to recognize the next William Wilberforce. Perhaps it will be you.


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