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.