The Feast of William Wilberforce

WHM146809 Portrait of William Wilberforce (1759-1833), 1794 (oil on canvas) by Hickel, Anton (1745-98) oil on canvas © Wilberforce House, Hull City Museums and Art Galleries, UK German, out of copyright


Last night I witnessed an exchange between a friend, and lawyer colleague, and a gentleman who expressed his “dislike” for one of the presidential candidates and her party because he did not feel they represented his personal Christian beliefs as well as the other party and its candidate.  My friend was attempting to bring attention to the fact that unfounded criticisms had sowed the seeds of hate toward this woman whose intelligence, talents and abilities along with her record of public service far outweighed any deficiencies of character shown in her conduct and that the criticisms were largely born of suspicions and innuendo without clear proof.

I thought about this conversation this morning as I said the morning office.  For those of us who utilize a thirty day cycle of saying the psalms we found  that psalm 146 was on today’s menu.  In that psalm were these words:

2 Put not your trust in rulers, or any child of earth,*

For there is no help in them.

3 When they breathe their last they return to earth,*

And in that day their thoughts perish.

It seemed to me that God is telling us not to expect that our rulers, democratically elected or otherwise, are going to bring about the kingdom of God on earth as they are simply not capable of doing so.  What they can do is practice an ethic which relieves the distress of the largest number of people and enables them to live a meaningful productive life.

Some theologians have stated that in creating our nation the founding fathers set up a constitution which “attempted to construct a government without God that is a government “of the people, for the people, and by the people”.  We think of ourselves as the greatest nation in the world because we are free but as they point out “there is no freedom that does not acknowledge God.” What we have now they say is a people who are self-centered consumers of freedom who have forsaken the Christian conviction that we were created by God to live for, and by the truth which has resulted in a people who merely live by hoarding stuff.”

Looking to a particular political party to bring about a transformation to a “Christian” world would seem to be a “fool’s errand” as all political activity as we know it is based on lying and deception.  Politicians cannot tell the truth because it is not in their best political interests to do so.

But, there have been politicians who decided to put conviction above self-interest and to pursue what they truly believed to be God’ truth.  William Wilberforce was one such politician.  Mr. Wilberforce spent his life and political career with the goal of abolishing the slave trade as it was then practiced in the territories ruled by Great Britain.  He also promoted overseas missions, popular education, and the reformation of public manners and morals. “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 his day the slave trade was big business much like banking, oil, defense contracting and information services are today in the United States.  Every part of the British economic system of his day was affected, most of the time positively, by the huge profits it garnered.  So along he comes and sets out to abolish this “cash cow” and icon of economics based not upon his own political self-interest but upon his concept of the Christian faith and its devotion to truth.  Mr. Wilberforce pushed the British nation to look at itself and to ponder the deception it was practicing.  It was easy to justify the slave trade as “putting food on the table and making us a great nation” much as we justify “clear cutting” and “fracing” today.  But Mr. Wilberforce through his steady and persistent campaign appealed to people to think about how that as deceptive and how the truth was human beings were being “exploited” and their lives being destroyed so a few might live very well.

It is my hope that one of our presidential candidate might rise to the occasion and actually witness to the Christian faith by actually advocating the truth.  Banking and other large industries live by profit and profit is no respecter of persons.  Excluding immigrants is much easier than integrating diverse peoples into one.   A President who takes on the powerful will suffer materially but in doing so will advance the cause of God in the world.


For More Information about William Wilberforce



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