Thursday, July 31, 2008

William Wilberforce: An Anniversary Well Worth Celebrating

An Anniversary Well Worth Celebrating
William Wilberforce: 1759 to July 29, 1833
(175 Years Ago Today)

*Note: For the actual radio interview with Dr. Kellemen on Moody Prime Time America, please follow this link:
Summary of William Wilberforce’s Life and Ministry

Most people know William Wilberforce, if at all, because of the 2007 movie Amazing Grace. And while the movie did a good overall job depicting his crusade against slavery, it did not, and no movie could, totally depict the depth of his struggle nor the cause of his motivation.

His struggle was so great—over eighteen years—that he lost his health and at times even lost his will to continue.

His motivation was not primarily political. It was spiritual. He fought against the sin of slavery because he had already been freed by Christ from the slavery of sin. Wilberforce had lived a life of luxury and even decadence. But in 1786, at age 27, he saw his personal sin against God and his personal need for a Savior and committed his life to Christ. From that day forward he was a changed man.

We can all learn from him today that the true motivation for any of our social causes must begin with an internal surrender to Christ as our personal Savior from sin.

After his commitment to Christ, he found his purpose:

“God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Morals.”

A William Wilberforce Time Line

1759 Born, surrounded by wealth and a life of ease.

1780 Age 21, elected to parliament.

1786 Age 27, converted to Evangelical Christianity

He now saw that, “My life is a public one. My business is in the world, and I must mix in the assemblies of men or quit the post which Providence seems to have assigned me.”

1789 Age 30, he begins an eighteen-year battle to end the slave trade.
Under the influence of Thomas Clarkson, he became committed to the abolition of slavery.

“So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the trade’s wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be what they would: I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition.”

His resilience: he was vilified; he was opposed. The battle was overwhelming and costly to his health.

The amazing grace that saved and changed him was the same amazing grace that empowered him to live out a courageous mission despite years of defeat and discouragement.

His friends’ encouragement: “We understand that you are struggling to decide whether to do the work of God or be a political activist. We humbly suggest that you can do both.”

1807 March 25, Age 48, Parliament abolishes slave trade in the British Isles. After 18 years!

1833 July 26, Britain outlaws slavery in all its territories—giving freedom to all slaves in the British empire.

1833 July 29, he passes into glory.

Impact of His Mentor, John Newton

After yet another defeat of his bill, this one in 1796, (after seven years of concerted effort) Wilberforce’s hopes were crushed. He contracted a severe fever, followed by excruciating intestinal troubles. Gravely ill, exhausted, and emotionally spent, he serious considered retirement from public life. Seeking counsel from his spiritual mentor, John Newton, he wrote his friend on July 21, 1796.

Newton both empathized with Wilberforce and encouraged him. “You meet with many things which weary and disgust you. But then they are inseparably connected with your path of duty; and though you cannot do all the good you wish for, some good is done.”

Ultimately, Newton pointed Wilberforce to the Bible—to Daniel in particular, and to Daniel’s God. “It is true that you live in the midst of difficulties and snares, and you need a double guard of watchfulness and prayer. But since you know both your need of help, and where to look for it, I may say to you as Darius to Daniel, ‘Thy God whom you serve continually is able to preserve and deliver you.’ Daniel, likewise, was a public man, and in critical circumstances; but he trusted in the Lord; was faithful in his department, and therefore though he had enemies, they could not prevail against him.”

Newton continued, “The great point for our comfort in life is to have a well-grounded persuasion that we are where, all things considered, we ought to be.”

Neither man knew that 11 long years would pass before the goal was finally reached. Newton died the same year the slave trade was abolished in 1807, but not before hearing the news from his friend and disciple, William Wilberforce.

African American Testimonials to William Wilberforce

When news of Wilberforce’s death on July 29, 1833 arrived, the officers of the Free People of Color met at the Presbyterian Church in New York to draft this resolution honoring him. “The most extensive manifestations of feelings be recommended to the people of color throughout the United States, particularly in this state.”

Frederick Douglass saluted the work of Wilberforce “that finally thawed the British heart into sympathy for the slave, and moved the strong arm of government in mercy to put an end to this bondage. Let no American, especially no colored American, withhold generous recognition of this stupendous achievement—a triumph of right over wrong, of good over evil, and a victory for the whole human race.”

Wilberforce’s Impact on the Abolition of Slavery in America

Impact on William Lloyd Garrison

When news reached the American shores in 1833 that the British government had at last voted to emancipate the nearly 800,000 slaves in bondage throughout its empire, the leaders of the American Anti-Slavery Society took this as their cue to formally launch their efforts to secure emancipation in America. William Lloyd Garrison and the other leaders of the AAS believed that the momentum established by Wilberforce was a harbinger of better days for America.

Impact on Maria Stewart

Garrison had already been moved and motivated by another Abolitionist—a young, widowed, female African American—Maria Stewart. Married at 23, widowed at 26, converted at 27, she challenged a nation at 28. In the fall of 1831, she entered the offices of Garrison, the editor of the newly established abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. Stewart handed Garrison the manuscript of her challenge to African Americans to sue for their rights.

Referencing what was happening in Britain and beyond, she notes, “All the nations of the earth are crying out for liberty and equality. Away, away with tyranny and oppression! And shall Africa’s sons be silent any longer?”

Like Wilberforce, she was motivated by Scriptural convictions. “Many think, because your skins are tinged with a sable hue, that you are an inferior race of beings; but God does not consider you as such. He hath formed and fashioned you in his own glorious image, and hath bestowed upon you reason and strong powers of intellect. He hath made you to have dominion over the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fish of the sea (Genesis 1:26). He hath crowned you with glory and honor; hath made you but a little lower than the angels (Psalms 8:5) . . .”

Impact on Political Leaders

He also influenced George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson, many of whom he met and/or corresponded with, and all of whom read his writings and followed his career with admiration.

Impact on Josiah Wedgewood

He encouraged Josiah Wedgewood to design a medallion of a slave in chains on his knees with the inscription, “Am I not a man and a brother?” This was powerfully used also in the United States to communicate the personhood and equality of African Americans.

Implication for African Americans Today—and for All Americans

But God . . . We are image bearers—we are equal in worth and value. We are equal in intellect and dominion.

Freedom from the slavery of sin is the motivation for us to fight for freedom from the sin of slavery or any other societal sin.

Resilience comes ultimately not from our self-effort, but from God’s grace empowering us.

We all need mentors like John Newton who will dare us to be Daniels and Esthers.

Wilberforce’s “Other” Ministries

He supported 69 philanthropic causes. He gave away one-quarter of his annual income to the poor. He fought on behalf of orphans, child laborers, single mothers, and juvenile delinquents. He also was active in Foreign Missionary Societies and Foreign Bible Societies.

Friday, July 11, 2008

How Can Any Christian African American Vote for Obama?

Today, with his permission, I re-post a blog originally written by Pastor Eric Redmond. Eric is a brother in Christ, an Evangelical African American pastor, an author (Where Are All the Brothers?), a friend, and a colleague in ministry at Capital Bible Seminary.

Eric writes today not to give an endorsement, but to open a dialogue and to increase multi-cultural understanding. Allow Eric, whether you agree with his perspective totally or not, to stretch your/our mind(s) and to challenge you/us to build bridges of racial understanding.

Posted by ericredmond on July 11, 2008

© Eric C. Redmond, 2008
Herein lie buried many things, which if read with patience may sow the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the twentieth century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line. (W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk [New York: Pocket Books, 2005]: 3.)

“But how can a Christian vote for Obama?”

I am paraphrasing a question asked of me while in attendance at the Hampton University Ministers’ Conference five weeks ago. It had become obvious to my interrogator that an African American, Democratic version of wrapping the Cross of Christ in the Stars and Stripes had taken a prominent place in the sermons of those preaching at the conference. We were being challenged by speakers to be diligent not to squander our moral responsibility to push Obama into the White House. Roaring responses of clapping and shouting followed these charges as if all of the thousands of African American church leaders and laity present were in full agreement.

Such laudation of the senator from Illinois, by those proclaiming to know the Creator through the Incarnate Son, bothered my friend. An Illinois citizen and theologically conservative Christian, he could not reconcile a vote cast for Obama with anyone who professed the name of Christ. To him, it was very obvious that Obama’s views on abortion and same-sex marriage are so far from what Scripture requires of us that, seemingly, to vote for Obama would be to deny the very things Christians believe. So he turned to me for some explanation of how African American Christians could vote in good faith for Obama without sensing conviction for endorsing one who takes anti-Christian positions on the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage.

The Issue of Hope

I started by explaining that for African Americans, there is a sense of hope no longer being deferred. Instead, hope is at the front door knocking furiously, waiting to see if African Americans will answer. If we open the door, forty million African Americans are going to witness a fellow African American getting the largest slice of the American Dream Pie—a dessert many had hoped to see people of color eat in their lifetime, but the many fell asleep having embraced such promises from afar. As the struggle for social and economic equality has been a struggle for all African Americans, regardless of belief system(s), we all share in the joy when one of our own achieves the (presumptive) nomination for the highest office in the land—an office that has been reserved for white males only until now. Obama’s candidacy would allow all African Americans to say to our forefathers, “we finally did it! Your attempts at escaping slavery, deaths by lynching, scars from the scourge of slave masters’ whips, pain from the full blast of unleashed water hoses and muzzle-free police dogs, humiliation by white hecklers at lunch counters, degradation at “coloreds only” fountains and restrooms, indignation on the back of buses, forced acceptance of poorer educational materials and facilities, and marches at the threat of beatings and bombings have not been for naught! Hope, yea victory, is finally here! We are equal at the highest level!”

Factoring all of the historical pockmarks into the hope equation seems to be African Americans’ expression of the reality of “the problem of the Twentieth Century” (DuBois). For African Americans, Christians and non-Christians alike, race, racial prejudice, racial segregation, racial discrimination, racial injustice, racial hatred, racial educational and economic disparity, racial self-consciousness, the racialization of society and all attempts to address problems attributed to the majority culture’s mistreatment of African Americans in any form based on race alone only serve to remind African Americans of their “double-consciousness” (DuBois). As Dubois wrote, in this society African Americans are:

a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world— a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world… It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness— an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder, (3).

The Issue of Identity

If we take DuBois’ musings as an accurate analysis of African American existence, we can see another factor involved in Christian African Americans’ support of Obama: identity. We now have a candidate who we think identifies with the experience of African Americans. He has experienced the struggle of the great-great-great-grandchildren of slaves (even though he is not one). So surely, it is supposed, he will fight for policies and programs that will be sensitive to the plight of his people and that work toward uplifting the entire race of people to the place where the playing field is level. Surely, as one of us, he will sign into law measures that will protect the gains made during the Civil Rights and post-Civil Rights Eras. Because he is one of us, we have hope that we will no longer have to look at ourselves through the contemptuous eyes of others—i.e., white Americans. We now can look at ourselves through the eyes of the man who could hold the most well-known office in the free-world, and he can look at the world through our eyes. Such looking is inherent when one is in the majority culture; in that culture it is never hoped for or awaited. It is part of being in the majority. For African Americans, to deny Obama would then be, in some sense, to deny one’s own identity. Yet it remains true that no one ever thinks a white man not voting for Clinton, Bush or McCain is a denial of whiteness.

I would suggest that Obama, more than any other candidate, has the ability to say to African Americans, “my fellow Americans,” and do so with the implicit trust of African Americans. His Father’s Day speech demonstrated this ability, for he is the only presidential candidate who can risk bringing up a major social problem in the African American community in an African American pulpit without fear of ostracizing himself. He was able to play a black race card on an all black table in such a way that to outsiders it simply looked as if he still had his card in his hand. But those at the table gladly folded their cards having seen the winning hand.

Being able to see the potential for mutual embracing of identities in a candidate further means that African Americans will not feel the need to settle on the candidate who represents the lesser of two evils. By common consent, many African Americans feel that their votes are taken for granted by one major political party, and only courted as tokenism by the other major party. The votes do not result in policy changes that benefit African Americans as a whole no matter which party’s candidate wins office. As a result, African Americans often resign simply to give a vote to one of the two white candidates, without feeling that their best interests will be taken up truly. An Obama candidacy immediately changes the hopeless feelings of resignation as the fall approaches. His candidacy means African Americans will have the opportunity to make a choice excitedly and confidently. Higher than average African American attendance at the polls in November could be a reflection of the joy brought on by the ability to pick a candidate without mental or emotional reservation and resignation.

The Issue of Justice

I think there is a third reason African American hail Obama: justice. That is, we have placed faith in liberal government to save us when we perceived that those who were conservative politically were weak in running to aid those experiencing race-related injustices. Historically, it seemed that change in race-relations in America was slow to come about through personal moral change on a wide scale. As a result, African Americans looked to Federal policy to institute change in institutional structures. That is, “if you will not find it in your heart to grant me the same access to bid on business contracts, I will look to the government to enact legislation to make you give me access to bid equally on business contracts regardless of my skin color.”

An Obama nomination looks like a nomination for social justice – far more than does a nomination for someone from the other party. If the Illinois senator will carry both white and Black voters in November, unlike Democratic candidates from other ethnicities, he will not be able to make promises to African Americans without accountability to keep his promises. Instead, he will be under pressure not to let his people down judicially. He will have to reject policies that stand against the Democratic version of racial progress, and he will have to sign into law policies that stand for such progress. Anything short of this will bring more ire from African Americans than that directed toward any other president who fell short on his promises. Because the hope is greater, the expectation will be greater, and the backlash for perceived failure will be greater. But African Americans do not expect Obama to fail. They expect social and economic justice policies to find favor with this candidate, for Affirmative Action to be strengthened, for racial profiling and racial inequities in the legal systems to be brought into account and see diminishing statistics, and for “equal justice for all” to be more than words on the halls of justice.

An Obama presidency would portray justice in another odd sort of way. Akin to the issue of hope above, his election would be seen as vindication. It would have a self-correcting effect on the errors of America’s history, with its sins of chattel slavery, Jim Crow laws, and ongoing civil injustices. What better way for African Americans to hear the country say, “join us in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!” What greater way is there for African Americans in turn to say, “We have overcome!” What an Obama in the White House would do for African Americans is allow us to feel we can say, “Now this country is going to treat us equally, fairly, justly.”

In order to understand the sentiment of African Americans as a whole – of whom Christian African Americans are a part – one would do well to consider that African Americans have not yet been free in this country for as long as we were slaves, (1654-1865, [211 years] vs. 1865-2008. [143 years]). Moreover, the Civil Rights Era only ended 33 years ago with the extension of the Voting Rights Act (1975). It was only ten years prior to this extension that Jim Crow laws were brought to an end with the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Many of the citizens who rode through this era on the back of the bus are still alive waiting on even more gains for African Americans—gains they feel will not come at the hands of white leadership. These same citizens, who often daily drank in the fears of an Emmett Till episode or a Birmingham bombing—this while whites separately drank in American prosperity free from fear, at the expense of African Americans— diligently taught their children to trust African Americans to uplift African Americans. That generation, and their children to the third and fourth generations, sees in Barak Obama one for whom we can say, “finally, we’re driving this bus.” This attitude even has been expressed by African American conservatives, such as J. C. Watts and Armstrong Williams, who are considering
jumping party lines in order to cast a vote for Senator Obama.

The Cross and the Ballot

The above thoughts do not make a judgment on whether Christian African Americans should or should not vote for Obama. The intention of this work is only to offer some reasons that explain why Christian African Americans might vote for Obama in the fall. It does not address the suggested contradiction between voting for a pro-choice candidate and claiming to be a voter who holds a pro-life position. Personally, I think that sanctity of life issues only deal with one of ten areas of sin in the Decalogue, so they are not to be elevated above all of the other prohibitions and commandments. I hold this belief in spite of the fact that my favorite modern Christian author, John Piper, who is a pastor, theologian, Christian statesman, and friend that I highly respect and with whom I rarely find disagreement, proposes
a different view of the significance of one issue in an election process, writing “everybody knows a single issue that for them would disqualify a candidate for office.” (See the antecedent hyperlink for the full article and bibliographical information.)

I should also say that even the most simul justus et peccator among us vote both righteously and selfishly at the same time. As I have said elsewhere,

Preserving what we each value the most serves as the motivation for almost everyone’s vote. It would be difficult to find anyone who votes from a purely selfless stance, i.e., “this is in the best interest of the entire country.” Rather, we each vote from either a “survival” or “success” stance. Those who have experienced financial and/or material success generally care about issues that will ensure that such success is maintained. Issues of survival seem trite to them. In contrast, those attempting to survive, or to get to a certain level of social achievement—whether that is to gain the American Dream so as to get out of coal mining and Black Lung disease, to get out of a neighborhood of poorer schools and crime to the suburbs, or to keep from losing all they have earned in life—generally do not concern themselves with the issues of the successful. They want mobility, access, opportunity and aid.

What person of success would selflessly vote in the interest of those needing aid at his own expense? And what citizen simply trying to survive would vote for smaller government, although this would certainly be the wisest and best choice for any successful business owner? Yet believers are called to consider others better than themselves, to deny themselves, and to care for the poor, needy and oppressed. This calling cannot be set aside as one exercises one’s right to suffrage (”Believers at the Ballot Box,” Beauty for Ashes Magazine [July/August, 2008]).

While it might seem a contradiction for Christian African Americans to vote for Senator Obama, each of us votes with many contradictions in both the righteous and selfish hopes of having the best possible earthly government and society. Such hopes yield appointments of pro-life justices and unjust war decisions. But when we “pull the lever,” we vote our consciences, our blind spots, and unknown future actions of our candidates and those in their selected cabinets and staff. At best, going to the ballot box as believers is one great act of hope in the God who rules all things for good, who “
removes kings and sets up kings,” and whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion” (Dan. 2:21; 4:34). It is best that we look to his Son for true hope, identity and justice. This is the only way any of us will stop throwing cards on the table each election cycle.