In the footsteps of Wilberforce

Craig Schwarze

There are few evangelicals as universally admired as William Wilberforce. Do you ever imagine yourself in his shoes, confronting parliament about the evils of slavery, and challenging the conscience of a nation?

There were Christians on both sides of the debate, of course - some argued that slavery was natural and inevitable, while others saw it as an abomination that had to be eliminated. Which side would you have been on?

We like to imagine we would have supported Wilberforce, but his cause was not popular, not in the early days, at least. To stand with Wilberforce would have taken courage, and a willingness to go against the crowd.

There have been a number of issues like this in recent history, issues of right and justice that revolve around race. Think of the US civil war and it’s connection to slavery. Think of the civil rights movement in the sixties. Think of apartheid in Africa. In all these instances, Christians were on both sides of the conflict. Yet most of us now would wish to be on the “right” side of these debates, on the side of a John Newton, or an Abraham Lincoln, or a Martin Luther King jr.

Why am I bringing this up?

Well, there is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come, and it seems to me that now is the time to seek reconciliation with, and justice for, our Indigenous population. The church can and should have a powerful role to play here. It may even be that we will once more rise to the heights of a Wilberforce, where a conservative and evangelical theology flowed out into a commitment to justice, righteous and the social good, regardless of the cost.

For many of those reading this, it will soon be time to nail your colours to the mast.

Which side you will be on? For those who are wavering - be bold! Follow your conscience and follow in the footsteps of Wilberforce, and trust in the provision and grace of God for the rest.