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April 9, 2008
Column #1,389
Advance for April 12, 2008
"Creating The Better Hour"
by Mike McManus

     The film "Amazing Grace,"released a year ago on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade, tells the story of William Wilberforce, a frail Member of Parliament who led the battle for 20 years to stop ships from transporting slaves from Africa to America.

Wilberforce fought the rest of his life for the total emancipation of slaves in British colonies, a victory achieved July 26, 1833, days before Wilberforce died. It was a victory won at a huge financial cost to England, 20 million pounds paid to the slave owners, crippling the economy "for over a generation," writes Chuck Stetson in a new book, "Creating the Better Hour."

He achieved that victory 30 years before America fought a Civil War with a half million deaths to achieve the same result because America did not have a William Wilberforce.

However, that was only a fraction of Wilberforce's impact.  Born into wealth and a Member of Parliament at age 21, Wilberforce was a bon vivant for some years until he underwent a conversion to Jesus Christ, "a great change," as he put it. He started his day with prayer and reading the Bible for 90 minutes. This study led him to set two great life goals:

On October 28, 1787, he wrote in his diary, "God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the reformation of manners" (or morals, as we'd put it today).

            While the rich gambled and womanized, most British children died before adulthood. Why?  They worked 18 hour days as chimney sweeps or in unsafe textile mills. The decadence and corruption of a similar elite in France sparked the French Revolution. The wealthy of France "chose not to do anything about the poor and the oppressed," writes Stetson.  "The people became violent," during the Reign of Terror in which "thousands were sent to the guillotine."

      "England, facing the same conditions, was able to avoid revolution because of the efforts of Wilberforce and the Clapham Circle, wealthy men who saw that what was going on the world around them was wrong and decided to engage what was wrong and change it for the better. As a consequence, England got reformation."

   For example, too many British  men and women were hanged.  Wilberforce led a successful battle sparking prison reform. He also persuaded Parliament to pass the first child labor laws.

In fact, Wilberforce created or helped spark 69 different societies (or non-profit groups) to improve the plight of he poor.  He did not take on all these causes alone, but with a small circle of wealthy, influential people living in Clapham, near London, which became known as the Clapham Circle.

Stetson's book includes chapters written by people who were inspired by Wilberforce to launch their own crusades.  Three examples:

1.  Chuck Colson read a biography of Wilberforce a year after he launched Prison Fellowship and was inspired by his fight to end slavery and "clean up child labor laws, poorhouses, prisons, and to institute education and health care for the poor." Colson writes, "Like Wilberforce, I had a background in politics. And like him, I had my own `great change' in 1973." As I reported last week, he created "Angel Tree as a means of helping prisoners keep in touch with their children," inspired 30,000 volunteers to work with prisoners, and created Justice Fellowship to reform prison.

2.  Michael Horowitz, a Jewish human rights attorney who served in high level jobs in the Reagan Administration, keeps a biography of Wilberforce on his desk. He praises Christians, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, for being an "extraordinary force for human rights," fighting for passage of the International Religious Freedom Act to fight "intolerable religious persecution," and for NAE's "essential role in advancing the great slavery and women's issue of our time," sex trafficking which abducts a million females into sexual bondage yearly, by passing the Trafficking Victims Persecution Act.

3.  Baroness Caroline Cox, Deputy Speaker of the British House of Lords, argues that Wilberforce's mission "to abolish slavery is still unfinished - nowhere more so than in Africa." Disregarding high personal risk, she traveled many times to Sudan "where slavery is entrenched, systematic and widespread," and a "weapon of war by the regime" running the country. She has helped free thousands of the enslaved by raising funds to buy their freedom.

Chuck Stetson wrote his book to inspire you to fight injustices you see. (Buy it on Amazon.com for only $16.47.)
 

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