Back in February, 200
7, when the film Amazing Grace came out, I blogged on a group of Christian activists who achieved the unthinkable: the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.
Compared to the abolition of slavery - an institution as old as human culture and part of nearly every civilization in history - overturning Roe v. Wade and a mere 35 years of judicial activism is relatively simple. We could learn alot from the "Clapham Sect" a group of faith-driven Christian Activists who changed the course of Britain's history.
As I wrote then:
I just returned from seeing the film Amazing Grace about the life of William Wilberforce. It is not exactly brilliant movie making but it is very solid with good performances, a very careful period look, and a compelling story. Well worth a trip to the movies. I could do without the bagpipe version of Amazing Grace at the end - but oh well.
But the story of the impact that a small group of highly committed lay Christians at the end of the 18th and first decades of the 19th century had upon their time is deeply inspiring. At the center of this movement was a gathering of like minded Anglicans, Quakers, and evangelicals whose primary goal was the abolition of slavery in the British empire.
(The picture is that of the famous ceramic Wedgewood anti-slavery badge "Am I not a Man and a Brother?")
In their spare time, they tackled bull fighting and bear baiting, prison reform, the abolition of the death penalty, factory working condition, amd educational reform. They founded schools, mission societies, the Foreign Bible society and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Wilberforce supported the end of anti-Catholic penalties, the so-called "Catholic Emancipation" in 1829.
And eventually in 1833, they did suceed in ending slavery throughout the British empire. Slavery would be abolished, but the planters would be heavily compensated. "Thank God', said Wilberforce, 'that I have lived to witness a day in which England is willing to give twenty millions sterling for the Abolition of Slavery". Three days later, on 29 July 1833, he died. Wilberforce had been fighting slavery for 46 years. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
The Christian History Institute has an interesting brochure on the "Clapham Sect" to which Wilberforce belonged. At the end, the author lists a dozen characteristics of the approach of the Clapham group to achieving significant societal change as disciples.
I find several of these characteristics particularly compelling in light of our work at the Institute.
- Set clear and specific goals
- Researched carefully to produce reliable and irrefutable evidence
- Built a committed support community. The battle could not be carried on alone.
- Refused to accept setbacks as final defeats
- Committed to the struggle for the long haul, even if it took decades.
- Focused on issues, not allowing opponents' vicious attacks on their person to distract them, or provoke them into similar response.
- Empathized with opponents' position so that meaningful interaction could take place.
- Accepted incremental gains when everything could not be achieved at once.
- Cultivated grassroots support when rebuffed by those in power.
- Transcended a single issue mentality by addressing issues as part of overall moral climate.
- Worked through recognized channels without resort to dirty tactics or violence.
- Proceeded with a sense of mission and conviction that God would providentially guide if they were truly acting in his service.
What do you think?