By Hilary White

  LONDON, March 28, 2007 ( – William Wilberforce, a twenty-one year old rookie politician in the cynical, corrupt, cutthroat world of 18th century British Parliamentary politics, dedicated his life to Christ. Through that conviction, he also became dedicated to the cause of human rights, the dignity of the person and the “reformation of manners,” which we now call “changing hearts and minds”. Against incredible odds, and after decades of work, he saw his legislation abolishing the African slave trade in the British Empire pass in 1807.

  Released during a flurry of events and remembrances of the 200th anniversary of the ending of Britain’s involvement in the African slave trade, the movie of Wilberforce’s struggle, Amazing Grace, has done only moderately well at the box office. It is however being lauded in political and social activist circles. The film is making its biggest splash in Britain where it opened this weekend, playing in over 230 theatres and bringing in £430,000. 

  That Wilberforce’s dedication to the abolition of the African slave trade, as well as his less celebrated accomplishments of prison, hospital and poor-law reform, were based on his Evangelical Christian principles, is a message not being lost on modern politicians and would-be reformers.

  Wilberforce himself wrote, “Almighty God has set before me two great objectives: The abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of society.”

  His work was cut out for him. The 18th century was a dark time: public drunkenness, crime, child prostitution and disease were scourges of the poor. Indifference to religion and contempt for morality was rampant among the elites, including clergy.

  The film’s website offers study guides for teaching school children about the Christian basis of opposition to the slave trade and the development of modern notions of universal human rights. Online discussion groups, classroom materials and group ticket sales for church organizations have become de rigueur for movie-based evangelization.

  With the abolitionists’ philosophical roots in Christian moral principles, the parallel between the struggle against slavery then and against abortion now has not been lost on the pro-life leadership. Campaign Life Coalition, Canada’s pro-life political lobby, has long held William Wilberforce as a model of the struggle against abortion, euthanasia and other attacks on the dignity of the human person.

  CLC National President, Jim Hughes, told, “Although Wilberforce’s most important political work was the abolition of the slave trade, as a Christian social reformer, he was aware of the larger context of a problem in British society.”

  Hughes said Wilberforce’s Christian conviction that the larger goal, the “reformation of manners,” is well understood by today’s new generation of young pro-life advocates.

“Us older ones sometimes missed the bigger picture at first, but now the young people are strongly aware of the need to change hearts and minds, exactly as Wilberforce did, to create a broader understanding of the dignity and sanctity of all human life in the wider social sphere,” Hughes said.

  In Washington State, in Michigan, Wyoming and at the White House, hundreds of legislators have attended showings where the film’s portrayal of principled political action is being used as a model or bipartisanship in often jaded and cynical modern political circles.

  Senator Sam Brownback, referred to Wilberforce when announcing his presidential run. He said, “As the 200th anniversary of British slave trade abolition approaches we should celebrate Wilberforce’s victories and use his legacy as an inspiration to renew our culture by continuing to fight for human life and human dignity.”

  Read the text of SPUC’s pro-life pamphlet, “Who Will be Today’s William Wilberforce?”


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