A couple of nights ago, we decided that we didn’t really want to do all the “stuff” that needed doing…that we wanted to watch a movie. So we sat down and watched (again) Amazing Grace, the story of Wilbur Wilberforce, the force behind the eventual decision of the English House of Parliament to abolish the slave trade.
I had watched it before–but this time I was watching it from a somewhat different perspective.
Wilburforce and his good friend William Pitt–one of England’s best prime ministers–were, in many ways, just kids when they set out to change the world. They were in their early 20’s–as one line in the movie states…”too young to know that some things are impossible, so we just go ahead and do it” (my rough paraphrase).
Struggling between his sense of calling as a minister and his knowledge that a political career lay beckoning before him, Wilburforce finally responded to Pitt’s suggestion that in fact he could do both through his work in Parliament.
And so he did.
His passion was to help others–lords and commoners alike–see all as human beings, and to that end he brought his first bill to abolish the slave trade. It was rejected. He brought it again…and again it was rejected. He continued to bring it–even during the war between England and France, when those sentiments were seen as seditious and his friend Pitt (acting in his role as prime minister) discouraged him. He continued to bring it after the war–when Pitt (again, acting as prime minister) rather discouraged it…but acting as friend, strongly encouraged it.
Ultimately it passed.
But only after long years of frustration and disappointment…twenty-six years!
And I wondered. If I had seen the same kind of moral issue as he did then, would I have been as willing as he to continue fighting for justice? It’s not just a rhetorical question…not for me in this time. While the issue of injustice I see is not slavery–although I know that slavery does continue to be a problem, not just in far-away countries but also in my own–but the issue of treatment of members of the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered) community. It’s an issue I was tangentially aware of for a number of years, but it has become much more personal as I have come to know family members who belong to that community.
So what’s my response? To silently support them? Or to do something else?
I see injustice both in my political community and in my church community…and to be quite honest, I’m not really sure how to respond. Politically I can vote and support those who choose inclusion over exclusion. But the challenge in my church community is more difficult in many ways. We are a world church, and that means there are different understandings, laws, and culture surrounding those I call brother and sister. Some face death if this issue of injustice is even mentioned.
And yet… There are those in my own country who face death because this issue of injustice is quietly pushed under the rug. Sometimes physical death–but often emotional and spiritual death. How can I let that go unchallenged?
Part of it comes through education–as Wilburforce and Pitt found. Their fight was not just a political one–it involved education…and it involved personalizing the issue, in one case bringing a load of MPs on a boat trip through the docks–and ending up by a slave ship with all its stink…and the knowledge that it had left Africa with over 600 people on board, but arrived with just over 200.
I’m not a loud, pushy activist…but I have come to realize that I must find ways to help us–all of us–learn to accept each other as we have been created…not just tolerate, but accept. I can no longer sit quietly in my chair, feeling sorry for those who are marginalized, but I must do my part in educating, encouraging, persisting….until (as the spiritual says) “All God’s children are free.”