A "Proposer" In Action - Why We're Involved in Politics (part 2)

It's one thing to discuss the differences between imposing and proposing in concept, but real-life examples may make the difference even more clear. The first such example that jumps immediately to my mind is William Wilberforce.

Wilberforce was the British member of Parliament in the late 18th and early 19th century who is best known for abolishing the slave trade, and later slavery itself, throughout the British empire. He joined Parliament as a young man, and his charisma and powerful rhetorical skills all but guaranteed him a long career of power, success, and self-indulgence. That all changed when God interfered, and Wilberforce committed his life to Jesus. Over the next few years his priorities and goals in life all radically shifted, and it is instructive to see how this career politician lived out his faith as a legislator. (A great brief summary of Wilberforce's life and what made him unique can be found here).

Two things stand out to me about Wilberforce's life. First, he was a passionately committed Christian. In today's parlance Wilberforce was a "conservative evangelical," and many of his opponents would label him with the modern-day term "fundamentalist." Wilberforce's book Real Christianity is a head-on, no-holds-barred assault on the shallow, meaningless Christianity of his day. He lambastes the the fact that almost all 19th century Englishmen called themselves Christians, but in truth they lived secular lives that were guided by secular goals. The book is incisive, biblically accurate, and intelligent, but it is not diplomatic or delicate - Wilberforce minces no words. If an American evangelical wrote that book today he would immediately be pilloried as a narrow-minded bigot. Of course Wilberforce was no bigot. He was simply a (very intelligent) man who had the audacity to believe that the Bible was actually true, and should actually inform our lives and our priorities. And that's the case he proposed to his countrymen.

Which leads me to the second thing about Wilberforce: his faith was not a segregated component of his life, it was the driving force behind everything he did. Wilberforce understood that Christianity is a worldview, and his commitment to Jesus formed the basis of his entire political career. In a 1787 journal entry Wilberforce famously wrote "God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners [moral values]." Wilberforce sought not only to end slavery, but to re-awaken morality in a secular, decadent age. In other words, Wilberforce didn't just intend to end slavery by seizing political power and forcing an end to the slave trade by law (impose). Rather, he recognized that he needed to appeal to the conscience of his fellow countrymen - to persuade them of the evils of the trade, and make his case in their hearts, not just in Parliament (propose).

To this end, Wilberforce and his allies engaged in many public efforts outside the halls of government. They went directly to the British people through speeches and rallies, petition drives, books and pamphlets (one a first-hand account from a former slave). They initiated campaigns which thousands of people joined, such as a refusal to buy or use sugar from slave plantations. They enlisted the help of famous British artistic potter Josiah Wedgewood, who created a medallion that was one of the enduring images of the abolition movement (pictured right).

In all these efforts, Wilberforce and his friends were appealing to the hearts and minds of their fellow countrymen. They were proposing a much better way of life: a humanitarian, life-honoring, compassion-saturated, truth-dedicated way. And it worked.

Wilberforce began his political quest to abolish slavery in 1787, and his first official bill to abolish the slave trade was handily defeated. But on February 23 of 1807, after twenty years of work both inside and outside government, a bill abolishing the slave trade was passed by a whopping 283-16 vote. It was the death-knell of British slavery, and in 1833 (more than 45 years after his quest began) slavery itself was outlawed in the British Empire. Wilberforce died three days later.

In all of this, Wilberforce was a great proposer. He frequently took unpopular stands (even against his own party), and was routinely mocked by his opponents. If job-approval polling had existed back then he would have made the even the least popular American presidents look like rock stars in comparison. In fact his moral stands likely cost him a chance to become Prime Minister. Being a Proposer doesn't mean we're always trying to make the public happy. It often means just the opposite.

Wilberforce was after the truth, not just popularity or re-election. And over time, with perseverance, he was able to persuade the majority of his countrymen of the rightness and justice of his cause, and re-awaken their conscience.

So, my fellow Christians, what about us? How do we become Proposers today rather than merely Imposers? How do we advocate for a better way of life, rather than just try to get our way? On issues of great concern to evangelicals, such as the breakdown of traditional family structures, moral laxity, and other things we believe are hurting our nation: are we making that case? Are those who disagree with us hearing a well-reasoned, passionately-believed, and consistently-lived explanation of why we think what we think about poverty, the environment, abortion, marriage, national security, immigration, etc.? We generally know where we stand on these issues, but we may need to become better at making the case for those issues - making a great Proposal.

One thing this definitely implies is that we can't just sit in our churches and bemoan the sorry state of affairs, emerging only briefly to vote in a given election. We have to engage people, and not just in election years. We have to think carefully about how to make our case in this era where politics and religion are taboo subjects. These are not easy things to do. It wasn't easy to get the British to talk about slavery either, but thank God Wilberforce didn't let that stop him.

If you haven't yet seen the film Amazing Grace which chronicles the life of Wilberforce and his fight against the slave trade, I highly recommend it. It's a high quality and entertaining film, but it also effectively captures the faith and actions of this man who did so much to propose a better way of life based on God's truth... and succeeded like few others have.


Tim KC6QLV said...

You bring up a very good subject(s). I look back some 25 to 30 years of my life as I started High School in the 80's (1981-1985 St, Anthony's Seminary, Santa Barbara, Ca) Ronald Reagan started his first term in Office, John Lennon's assination, The American Hostages in Iran were comming to a close. The list goes on.. I'Ve seen The values of marriage deterate over the years, The Supreme Court case of Roe vs Wade were Abortion was outlawed and then reinstated.( I personaly against it myself being raised a Catholic, Abortion is only allowed if the conception was made by a violent crime like rape, A know medical condition that would cause death to the mother, you get the picture.) GOTO You Tube: Look up Ronald Reagan 1975's Radio adress on Adoption, It will bring tears to your eyes. "There are Million's of Americans who can't have Children.." Take is under 4 mins. ADOPTion Over Abortion.

We have to sit back and really look at these Current Canadates for President ( Obama Vs Mccain.)
Talk is cheap, It's ACTION that makes the difference here. Look at their records in Senate and Political Affairs.
There are lot's people living out of wedlock raising kids. Something That both of our Grandparents would raise an eyebrow. IT's A NEW geration, and as the Baby boomers reach retirement the Values will go down with them. It's sad to see Matt.
Anyway, I've updated my Blog, (Still working on it.)
GOD bless


Ken said...

Well, you had to expect this one was coming...

This is an awesome story of someone who put his own moral conscience ahead of his desire to get re-elected. That is what I believe is missing from politics today. Too many politicians do not follow their own moral convictions and instead choose to lead rather than follow.

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