Tag Archives: movies

The Story of William Wilberforce

20 Nov

Life has been busy. Really busy. I haven’t used my online blockbuster account in at least two months. Last Friday I wandered into Blockbuster and exchanged Amistad for the movie Amazing Grace. I then proceeded to watch the movie three times last weekend. I’m a sucker for movies in which people have given up everything to make this world a better place. I don’t know if that is because I like to live vicariously through others and do nothing myself or because they move me to do something. Probably a little of both at times.

It came out last year on the heals of the 200th anniversary of the slave trade in England being abolished. It was not an action adventure multi-million dollar blockbuster but it did have the creators of Ray involved so the story was told well. While watching the movie thoughts kept on going through my mind as to the darkness of humanity and what we are willing to do to each other. A nation of people wouldn’t mind building their kingdom on the backs of others? They would rather choose loyalty to the king which meant filling his storehouse with product harvested by slaves than treat others as equal? For the greater good maybe we shouldn’t eliminate slavery now, only taper it? What is it about the human condition that can become so warped that we are willing to let this happen to others?

There was a scene in the movie that I think depicts a schism that happens in the church when it comes to confronting these issues. William Willberforce is an up and coming voice in the abolitionist movement. And then something happens in his life depicted in a conversation between Wilberforce and his servant.

Richard the Butler: You found God, sir?
William Wilberforce: I think He found me.

At this point William does not know what to do. He feels that if he has found or has been found by God then he must go into the “ministry” and that he must choose “ministry” or the abolitionist movement. Pitt the Younger, the future Prime Minister of England, says to Willberforce that he must choose to either “praise the Lord with his mouth or change the world.”

Is that true?

Serve God or change the world?

Because you can’t do both?

So often this becomes the way of thinking of many Christians. The reasoning is that I have become very passionate about God and where do you find people who are passionate about God? In a building on Sunday morning speaking. So for me to be passionate means that I need to leave everything behind and talk in a building on Sunday morning.

Jesus did call some to leave everything behind, hardly to do programming or organized religion, and follow him. And yet we see than many times he says to the people he encounters to: stay a tax-collector, stay in your home town, stay a soldier but become a different kind of tax-collector, citizen or soldier. You can be a lawyer, or used car salesman and be passionate about Jesus but you will be a different kind of lawyer or used car salesman.

Pitt the Younger, perhaps realizing the Willberforce may choose religion over the abolition movement, brings a group of people to eat dinner with Wilberforce and one of the men pulls out the slave chains and puts them on before him. They then speak to him about his dilemma to serve God or fight the slave trade when a woman at the table delivers the line, “we don’t see why you can’t do both.”

Through years of trial and physical suffering Wilberforce led the charge in which slave trade was ended (I believe about 50 years before we wised up in America) and Lord Charles Fox stood up after the vote to end slavery took place and said:

“When people speak of great men, they think of men like Napoleon – men of violence. Rarely do they think of peaceful men. But contrast the reception they will receive when they return home from their battles. Napoleon will arrive in pomp and in power, a man who’s achieved the very summit of earthly ambition. And yet his dreams will be haunted by the oppressions of war. William Wilberforce, however, will return to his family, lay his head on his pillow and remember: the slave trade is no more.”

The church needs leaders today who can speak to those they encounter and express that it isn’t a choice between serving God or changing the world, but to say “we don’t see why you can’t do both.”

This movie also causes me to ask what I give my life to. After I have given my life and youth to something, as Wilberforce did, what is the speech that others might give?

That I was a nice person? I liked to jog or play tennis? I memorized a lot of bible verses?

Was anything different because I took my calling to follow Jesus seriously?