Thursday, March 01, 2007

One Life's Impact

Last Saturday Angela, Alex and I stared at a whole afternoon of free time and decided to see the movie “Amazing Grace.” My motivation was three-fold: First, I am a strong admirer of William Wilberforce, a Christian whose unceasing efforts in the British Parliament in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s led to the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. Second, I wanted to support with my pocketbook any efforts to bring responsible Christian-themed movies to the public. Third, I thought it would be a good movie for my 12-year old daughter to see (you know, sort of like a history lesson and a Bible class combined, plus popcorn). You will note that anticipation of actually enjoying the movie was not one of my top motivations. Let’s face it, some of the Christian-themed movies in the past five years have been long on sincerity and effort but somewhat short on high-quality acting and cinematography.

Friends, “Amazing Grace” is a high-quality, thoroughly enjoyable and hugely inspiring movie.

Wilberforce decided in college not to enter his father’s successful business but rather to run for a seat in Parliament, which he won at age 21. At age 26 he experienced a religious conversion, which the movie treats vaguely, after which he resolved to commit his future life and work fully to God’s service. He assumed this would be as a member of the clergy, but John Newton (a former slave ship master who later became a Christian and wrote “Amazing Grace”), along with Wilbeforce’s friend William Pitt, then Prime Minister, counseled him to remain in politics and “serve God where you are.” Wilberforce joined a growing group campaigning against the slave trade and made his first major speech on the subject of abolition in 1789 (age 30). In the movie he is depicted as a handsome, witty and highly effective orator, and while I have no idea how historically accurate the depiction is, it certainly made the movie more enjoyable for Angela. His first bill was soundly defeated in 1791, but he and the minister Thomas Clarkson were responsible for generating and sustaining a national movement which mobilized public opinion as never before.

Wilberforce’s bills in Parliament were repeatedly defeated in the 1790’s, even as public opinion toward slavery shifted. In 1805 (at age 46) his bill passed in the House of Parliament but was defeated in the House of Lords. Finally the Slave Trade Act was passed into law in 1807. In case you’re counting, that’s twenty-two years of persistent effort to abolish the slave trade.

Wilberforce also succeeded in introducing missionary work to India through Britain’s trading companies, and founded the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. At age 38 he met and married Barbara Ann, eighteen years his junior; their swift romance is charmingly depicted in the movie (though Angela thought he should have married someone closer to his own age).

I said this movie is very inspiring and the reasons should be fairly obvious. There is so much good Christians can do in the world “serving God where we are.” And the power of Godly persistence and cooperation is enormous. As the saying goes, “You don’t have to cross the sea to be a missionary; you just have to see the cross.” Few of us will make an impact like Wilberforce did; but each of us can make an impact.


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