William Wilberforce — Amazing Grace

Today the Episcopal Church commemorates William Wilberforce, who campaigned to end the slave trade. You can read all about him on James Kiefer’s excellent hagiography site. The story of the struggle within the church to end the slave trade makes fascinating reading. There are, I think, some interesting parallels to today’s struggles over the inclusion of GLBT Christians in the sacramental life of the church. In the 19th century, arguments were made that slavery was natural, that it was biblically supported, and that tradition favored the practice of slavery. Sound familiar?

I’ll leave you to ponder these things, but there’s another thing to tell you about. I’ve learned today that clergy and youth workers can receive a free copy of the DVD of Amazing Grace. This excellent film tells the story of William Wilberforce and his quest to end human slavery. Clergy and youth workers, go request your copy, and then show the film in your church. It comes with a license for church viewing, so you’re good to go.

For American Episcopalians, Amazing Grace might be a good way to begin conversations about the impact the slave trade had in your diocese or in your congregation. General Convention has asked us to explore the ways in which the slave trade influenced and benefited our church institutions. We should contemplate our response based on what we learn. Is it morally acceptable to retain ill-gotten wealth? For more on this question, see Traces of the Trade.

In any case, today remember the struggle to end a vile practice. Remember that it was a lonely struggle at first, but finally the church rallied around the Gospel and worked to change the world — to make God’s love real.

Credit where credit is due: I first learned about the free Amazing Grace DVD on Twitter from @HeyToepfer. She’s also written about it on her most excellent blog.

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4 Responses

  1. Phil Snyder says:

    I agree that the abolition of slavery would be great model to use when discussing the blessings of same sex unions.

    Wilberforce used scripture to argue against slavery. He also (I believe) use Aquinas and other traditional sources to argue against slavery. Can you show me the scriptural support for SSBs?

    YBIC,
    Phil Snyder

  2. Laura says:

    1 Corinthians 13 comes to mind. Especially v. 7 “[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,” which sounds like what a lot of gay and lesbian couples have had to go through.

    I’d also point out the verses at the end of the chapter: “For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end…Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” For those who have been revealing only part of themselves out of fear of retribution, I’d think these would be freeing words.

    I’d also use all of the passages when Jesus takes people to task for missing the point of the law: “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” All those passages when Jesus makes it clear that we get out of whack when we focus on the law as written rather than the point of the law: love of God and neighbor.

    There are a lot more passages I could cite, but I’ll stop now. Thank you for the question.

    Laura

  3. It is a superb movie. Too bad the free DVD is only available in the United States.

  4. Bob Chapman says:

    In Acts 10, Peter finds out that he didn’t need to follow the law.

    http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=116335641

    In his vision, Peter was told to forget some of what he had learned about the Law. Things were not unclean by category alone. Instead, God showed no partiality and the Gospel came to Gentiles.

    Turning the question to same-sex unions, is it fair to say all are unclean by category alone, even if previous teaching and law said to do that? What if it means making someone live a lie? What if the person not called to celibacy is unable to create a life with a helpmeet?

    Christians have overturned previous teaching and Law using Scripture, Tradition, and reason under the guidance of the Spirit. It’s right there in Acts. It happened with Wilberforce.

    Don’t think Christians are so infallible that we won’t have to do it again.