Photo on wikipedia.org
It is interesting that throughout history, God always highlights an issue of injustice in which He desires the Church to take on with truth and love. With each issue, God raises up a person to become the “prophetic voice” to speak to the sleeping Church and to the world. One such person in history was William Wilberforce, a member of the British parliament and a social reformer. He was one of the key influencers in the abolition of the slave trade, as well as slavery in the British Empire.
In a Christian History article, they gave a biography of Wilberforce’s life:
He was a native of Hull and educated at St. John’s College at Cambridge. But he wasn’t a serious student. Yet Wilberforce had political ambitions and, with his connections, managed to win election to Parliament in 1780, where he formed a lasting friendship with William Pitt, the future prime minister. He began to reflect deeply on his life, which led to a period of intense sorrow. His unnatural gloom lifted on Easter 1786. He had experienced a spiritual rebirth.
He abstained from alcohol and practiced rigorous self-examination as befit, he believed, a ‘serious’ Christian. He abhorred the socializing that went along with politicking. He worried about ‘the temptations at the table,’ the endless dinner parties, which he thought were full of vain and useless conversation. He began to see his life’s purpose.
In particular, two causes caught his attention. First, under the influence of Thomas Clarkson, he became absorbed with the issue of slavery. Wilberforce was initially optimistic, even naively so. As early as 1789, he and Clarkson managed to have 12 resolutions against the slave trade introduced – only to be outmaneuvered on fine legal points. The pathway to abolition was blocked by vested interests, parliamentary filibustering, entrenched bigotry, international politics, slave unrest, personal sickness, and political fear. Other bills introduced by Wilberforce were defeated in 1791, 1792, 1793, 1797, 1798, 1799, 1804, and 1805.
When it became clear that Wilberforce was not going to let the issue die, pro-slavery forces targeted him. He was vilified; opponents spoke of ‘the damnable doctrine of Wilberforce and his hypocritical allies.’ The opposition became so fierce.
Slavery was only one cause that excited Wilberforce’s passions. His second great calling was for the ‘reformation of manners,’ that is, morals. In early 1787, he conceived of a society that would work, as a royal proclamation put it, ‘for the encouragement of piety and virtue; and for the preventing of vice, profaneness, and immorality.’ It eventually become known as the Society for the Suppression of Vice.
In fact, Wilberforce was at one time active in support of 69 philanthropic causes. He gave away one-quarter of his annual income to the poor. He fought on behalf of chimney sweeps, single mothers, Sunday schools, orphans, and juvenile delinquents. He helped found parachurch groups like the Society for Bettering the Cause of the Poor, the Church Missionary Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society, and the Antislavery Society.
In 1797, he settled at Clapham, where he became a prominent member of the ‘Clapham Sect,’ a group of devout Christians of influence in government and business. That same year he wrote Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians – a scathing critique of comfortable Christianity that became a bestseller.
All this in spite of the fact that poor health plagued him his entire life, sometimes keeping him bedridden for weeks. His antislavery efforts finally bore fruit in 1807: Parliament abolished the slave trade in the British Empire. He then worked to ensure the slave trade laws were enforced and, finally, that slavery in the British Empire was abolished.
Historian G.M. Trevelyan said that the abolition of slavery in the British Empire was, “one of the turning events in the history of the world.”
Is there another issue that could be a key turning event in the history of the world?
I believe that right now, it is the issue of human trafficking. It is noted that human trafficking is the second largest global organized crime today. There are close to 27 million people who are enslaved worldwide and anywhere between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked internationally. Sadly, 70% of them are female and 50% are children (there are 1.2 million children who are trafficked for sex).
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2009 report, it is estimated that human trafficking generates close 32 billion USD each year. Alarmingly, trafficking for sexual exploitation generates 27.8 billion USD each year.
What would Jesus say? What would Jesus do?
Even though this issue has always been in existence throughout history, there are moments in history where God puts a high-beam on an issue so that the Church can unite together to stand for justice and speak for those who do not have a voice.
This is one of those times. We are going to need more fanatics in our generation.
“If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”