Slaying Giants

Highlights of an article in Christianity Today online:

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

Charles Colson with Anne Morse
| posted 2/19/2007 08:50AM

...I was in a theater previewing Amazing Grace...For me, the spine-tingling moment came when Wilberforce...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).

...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... Every year, Wilberforce introduced bills against the slave trade, and for 20 years, Parliament voted down.... He persevered, and in 1807, Parliament finally abolished the slave trade by an overwhelming vote. In 1833, as Wilberforce lay dying, slavery was abolished throughout the empire—46 years after the battle was joined.

Wilberforce ultimately prevailed because he understood the futility of attempting to end a systemic evil without also changing citizens' values and dispositions. He knew he not only had to work for justice; he also had to convince people of the need for the moral consensus that flowed from a biblical worldview.

I learned the wisdom of the Wilberforce strategy early in my own ministry. ...Studying crime's causes, I discovered crime was not, as sociologists had long claimed, the result of environmental factors such as poverty or racism. In 1977, two psychiatrists completed a 17-year study. Their conclusion: Crime was the result of individuals making wrong moral choices. In 1985, two Harvard social scientists, James Q. Wilson and Richard Herrnstein, agreed, blaming crime on a lack of moral training during the morally formative years. The real problem was the declining moral condition in America.

...The key to Prison Fellowship's success is something all Christendom must learn: Preach the gospel while also winsomely working for justice and truth, so that lives and communities can change. ...transformed people living in a transformed culture. This is what John Calvin called making the invisible kingdom visible.

...Wilberforce's half-century campaign reminds us that we must tirelessly persevere in battles against modern moral horrors: abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, aids—and, tragically, African slavery.

At the same time, like the Great Abolitionist, we must open our neighbors' eyes to the truth: A moral basis is essential to support a just society. Once they understand this, our neighbors can say, in the words of former slave trader John Newton (colorfully portrayed in the film): "I once was blind, but now I see!"