Society & Politics

Leadership Lessons from the Public Life of Jesus - Lesson 5 Part 2

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Preston Manning, Senior Fellow

This article is the eighth in a series by Preston Manning on leadership lessons from the public life of Jesus. A member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1993 to 2001, founder of two new political parties—the Reform Party of Canada and the Canadian Reform Conservative Allianceand the Leader of the Official Opposition from 1997 to 2000, Preston works with the MI on the development and communication of faith-informed approaches to political leadership and public policy.


Christ-like Wisdom and Grace in Action:
The Wilberforce Campaign to Abolish Slavery
(Part 2 of 2)

In a previous article[1], under the headline of “The Great Guideline”, we examined the key instruction given by Jesus of Nazareth to his earliest followers before he sent them out to do “public work” in his name: “Be wise as serpents and gracious as doves”.

In a follow up article[2], we began to examine one of the most famous and successful “issue campaigns” in the history of British democratic politics, led for the most part by Christian believers operating with both wisdom and graciousness at the faith-political interface—namely, the campaign by William Wilberforce and his associates to eradicate the slave trade and then slavery itself within the British Empire.[3]

In particular, we considered the following lessons drawn from that campaign and some of their implications for faith oriented issue campaigners today:

  • Choose the initial campaign objective and strategy wisely.
  • Seize the high moral ground by first strongly identifying with the suffering to be alleviated.
  • Reframe the issue to place it within the conceptual framework best suited to advancing the campaign objective and strategy.
  • Move the debate, if possible, into the decision-making arena most conducive to success.
  • Build a principled coalition to advance the cause.
  • Legitimate the discussion, graciously.
  • Do the necessary research thoroughly and well.
  • In this article we shall identify nine more guidelines and again conclude by considering some of their contemporary implications and applications.

    1. Make Maximum Use of Existing Law

    The campaign to abolish slavery and the slave trade did not occur in a legal vacuum. Some laws and legal rulings pertaining to slavery already existed and the abolitionists learned to take advantage of them.

    The right to petition the Crown, for example, was recognized in Magna Carta[4] of 1215 and restated in the Bill of Rights[5] of 1689.  The abolitionists turned “the right to petition” those in authority into a powerful tool for advancing their cause.

    A further use of existing law was made by Granville Sharp, one of the forerunners mentioned earlier, who arranged for the legal defense of James Somerset, an escaped slave whose owner was trying to recapture him. Sharp argued forcibly that British law allowed no one to be a slave in England itself. The case was heard by Lord Chief Justice Mansfield who did everything possible to avoid it being decided by trial. When eventually obliged to rule, Mansfield’s carefully worded judgment, rendered on June 22, 1772, set Somerset at liberty without automatically freeing other slaves.[6] But almost everyone, including many lower court judges, believed that Mansfield had indeed outlawed slavery in England.[7] It was also a significant moral victory for the abolitionists to get Mansfield to declare, however reluctantly, that slavery was “odious” to the court; the task of the abolitionists was to now make it “odious” to the public and lawmakers in parliament.

    Many Canadian Christians regard the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as hostile to faith-based arguments and causes because the Supreme Court of Canada has ignored the Charter’s reference to the supremacy of God, affirmed Canada to be a secular society, and rejected faith-based arguments in striking down laws prohibiting abortion, same sex unions, and physician assisted suicide.

    But neither the Court nor the secularists who use the Charter and the secular bias of the judges to their advantage can erase the fact that the Charter explicitly guarantees freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, and expression.[8]

    These rights as exercised by people of faith do not need to be “written in” to the Constitution in response to interest group pressure through test cases; they already are “in”. What faith oriented Canadians need to learn is to how to take greater advantage of these fundamental rights just as the Wilberforce abolitionists learned to take full advantage of the provisions of Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, and the eventual willingness of the court, however reluctantly, to declare “odious” practices and institutions previously considered morally and judicially acceptable.

    2. Make Maximum Use of the Tools of Democracy

    The campaign to abolish slavery did not occur in a legal vacuum; nor did it occur in a political vacuum. British politics in the 18th century was in transition. A new breed of politician—more independent and less tied to hereditary privilege and tradition than the parliamentarians of the past—was entering the arena. The informal organization of voting coalitions formed in and sustained by membership in the old political clubs was giving way to what would eventually become the party system. There was a constant and growing demand to expand the franchise (i.e. the right to vote)—more and more people insisting on a greater say in their public affairs. The abolitionists learned to harness the energies behind these changes to their own cause and also to engage in political innovation themselves.

    One the most influential forerunner groups, the Quakers, were non-hierarchical with respect to church and community organization and their democratic organizational techniques infused the anti-slavery movement from its beginning.[9]

    Petitioning parliament,[10] direct-mail fundraising and pamphleteering,[11] public rallies featuring prominent spokespersons, the use of graphic symbols (e.g. Wedgwood’s china depiction of a slave in chains beseeching recognition of his humanity), sermons and music (e.g. John Newton’s Amazing Grace and the story behind it), promotional efforts including “book tours” giving victims a voice (e.g. Olaudah Equiano)— all tools used in issue campaigns by civil society organizations today—were pioneered in many respects by the campaign to abolish slavery.

    A particularly innovative tactic employed by the abolitionists was “the boycott” whereby they strongly encouraged the British public to boycott sugar from the slave-oriented West Indies in favour of sugar from India.[12] The boycott was essentially the work of women, many of whom were introduced to political activism for the first time. Their activism was not through election participation since British women (over the age of 21) did not get the right to vote until 1928, but through the issue campaign to abolish slavery. The boycott was such a novel idea that the very word would not come into common use in the English language for nearly another century.

    The relevance of all this to issue campaigning today should be obvious: use the existing law where possible to advance the cause; effectively use all the tools that have been invented or employed by issue campaigners in democratic societies over the last 200 years; use the issue campaign to introduce political activism to people who have been excluded or alienated from the current political system (e.g. the under 30 crowd today in many western democracies); and make innovative use of new instrumentalities, the most significant in our time being the social media.

    3. Communicate Wisely and Graciously

    Issue campaigns for the most part are communications campaigns so it is imperative that the campaign communications be aligned to the maximum extent with the overall campaign objective and strategy. This was generally the case with the campaign to abolish the slave trade.

    The key messages of the campaign—slaves are human beings, terrible human suffering is the main product of the slave trade, abolish the trade to relieve this suffering, pass a law to do so–were well aligned with the initial campaign objective and strategy, enabling the campaigners to seize the high moral ground and to reframe the issue to their advantage.

    As mentioned, before these messages could be extensively communicated the communication had to be “legitimated” in forums such as Parliament where the subject of slavery was still considered taboo. This legitimizing process was facilitated by keeping the tone of the initial communications “gracious” and flooding the decision-making arena with well-researched, undeniable facts.

    The Role of Prayer

    One communications feature of issue campaigns managed by faith-oriented people, which will not be found in secularly managed campaigns, is the prevalence of prayer. The Wilberforce campaigners, like the Quakers before them, regularly prayed to the God in whom they earnestly believed. They not only petitioned Parliament, they petitioned God to deliver Britain from the evil of slavery and beseeched him for the wisdom and grace to achieve the goals which they believed he had set before them. The Wilberforce campaigners, like the Quakers, took literally and acted upon the instruction of the Apostle Paul to the Christians in the faith-hostile Roman city of Philippi: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”[13]

    In our day, of course, public prayer at public events and gatherings is virtually unknown or so generalized and sanitized in the name of political correctness that it has no impact whatsoever on the hearers (God included). In 18th century England, however, this was not so, and hearing the abolition of slavery called for in public prayers and in the prayers of respected clergymen before their congregations aided the public communication efforts of the campaign.

    Choose the Right Language

    As in all communication campaigns, careful attention had to be paid to the “language” employed by the anti-slavery campaigners. Was the right language being used and, if not, how should it be changed?

    In this case, the initial language of the campaign had been set by the forerunners, especially the Quakers. But the Quakers spoke and wrote differently than most other Englishmen, using “thee” and “thou” and employing other quaint habits of speech. They also refused— both in writing and in personal contact—to address lords, judges, and other government officials by their titles which severely hampered communication with the very people empowered to change the laws. Changes, therefore, needed to be made early on in the language of the campaign. This was initially facilitated by Granville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson, who were not Quakers but respected them and joined with them early on in the anti-slavery effort.[14]

    Dismantle the Myths

    A major portion of the initial communication thrust of the campaign also had to be focused on dismantling the myths that sustained the status quo and public support of the slave trade. One of the most pernicious of these myths was that the slave trade ships provided a useful nursery for the training of British seamen required by the British Navy and Merchant Marine.[15] This myth was systematically destroyed by assembling and presenting evidence collected from the logbooks of slave ships and the testimony of ships’ doctors and crewmen themselves. It showed that the crews of the slave ships, many of them shanghaied by press gangs, suffered many of the same horrors of disease and malnutrition as the slaves, with the death toll among slave ship crews crossing the Atlantic often being as high as 20%.[16]  

    “Out of Whose Mouth”

    And then there is one of the most important communication questions of all to be answered in planning and executing an issue campaign. That is, “Out of whose mouth will our message(s) be most credible?”

    To Clarkson and Granville, who shared many of the same spiritual values as the Quakers if not their quaint habits of speech and dress, the Quakers were credible and influential spokespersons on the slavery issue. But the anti-slavery message coming from Quakers and rooted in a spiritual perspective was far less credible in the ears of a titled and irreligious member of the British House of Lords.

    In Parliament, because of their backgrounds and oratorical skills, Pitt and Wilberforce were still credible spokespersons to their fellow parliamentarians, even though most of the latter vehemently disagreed at first with the messages being delivered. But with the general public, perhaps the most credible spokespersons of all on the horrors and sufferings caused by the slave trade were ex-slaves like Olaudah Equiano—those who spoke from undeniable first-hand experience and to whom the anti-slavery campaign gave a platform and a voice.

    “Out of whose mouth will our message(s) be most credible?” needs to be insistently asked and wisely answered for any issue campaign, especially today in our media dominated age and especially for those campaigns where moral and ethical issues are prominent.

    For instance, on beginning of life issues such as abortion, who is the more credible spokesperson: a well meaning and well-informed 55 year-old male, or a passionate and articulate woman in her child bearing years? As the genetic testing of the preborn becomes increasingly sophisticated and targeted, enabling prospective parents to know more and more about the fetus, including the probability of its sexual orientation at earlier and earlier stages, who would be the most credible spokesperson for stronger, more ethical regulation of surgical interventions including abortion: a sincere, evangelical, male legislator from a very conservative state, or a lesbian lawmaker from California?

    “Out of whose mouth will our message(s) be most credible?” And when wisdom, as it often does, says to the crusading politician or interest group zealot, “Not yours”, will we reject that advice? Or will we have the wisdom and grace to accept it as the Quakers did, and for the sake of the cause, pass the podium, the microphone, and the internet tools to the most credible source, whoever that may be?

    4. Be Clear and Honest About Your Motives

    In the case of the Wilberforce campaign, the motives of the original campaigners were so transparently altruistic that there was little point, even from the standpoint of their opponents, in questioning or attacking them on that ground. The campaigners had nothing to gain personally by seeking the abolishment of slavery, and their persistent pursuit of that objective in the face of stiff opposition and censure involved much pain and self-sacrifice.

    But in moral crusades of this type there usually comes a time, particularly as the cause becomes more popular politically, when those joining the cause do so from mixed motives. In order to protect the integrity of the campaign, there is, therefore, wisdom in adopting as a strategic guideline right from the outset the importance of at least being clear and honest about one’s own motives for participating in it.

    Jesus, in preparing his disciples for their public work in his name, once told them that they “ought always to pray and not to faint”.[17] But then he immediately warned them against praying and doing good works from wrong motives—in particular out of a conviction that they were morally superior to other people and using their good works to publicize that superiority. Joining and participating in the work of God in order to demonstrate moral superiority to others was to participate from wrong motives, motives that could not be justified or blessed.[18]

    This guideline is particularly relevant in our time where increasing numbers of participants in the political arena are afflicted with what might be the DSARC syndrome—DSARC standing for Desperately Seeking A Righteous Cause. The motives of individuals afflicted with this syndrome, in joining an issue campaign with moral objectives such as justice for the poor or equality for the victims of discrimination, may have little to do with a genuine concern for justice and equality. Instead, the underlying motive is more likely rooted in a desire to demonstrate moral superiority to one’s opponents and to increase one’s own popularity thereby.[19]

    It is of course a dangerous and extremely difficult business to judge the motives of others in joining an issue campaign in support of a righteous cause, and as Christians we are told to “judge not lest you be judged.”[20] Discerning the true but hidden motives of others is best left to him who know the hearts of all, including those of politicians and issue campaigners. But in choosing to join issue campaigns in pursuit of righteous causes, we can, particularly as Christian believers, ask God to examine and purify our own motives. Hence the wisdom of making one of the guidelines for the conduct of the issue campaigns in which we are involved, “Be clear and honest about your motives”.

    5. Avoid Foolishness and Viciousness

    It would of course be erroneous to characterize the Wilberforce campaign to abolish the slave trade and slavery as perfectly executed and free from the foolishness and viciousness that Jesus so clearly warned his followers to avoid in any public work.

    Sometimes, regrettably, foolishness and viciousness go together, and in the case of the anti-slavery campaign this fateful combination almost brought the campaign to ruin. As bill after bill put forward by Wilberforce and his colleagues were defeated, the more impatient members of the campaign team, such as Clarkson, began to believe that stronger and more radical tactics would be necessary to succeed.

    They looked across the English Channel and began to wonder out loud and in public whether the radical approach to change being taken by the French revolutionaries—notwithstanding vicious excesses—offered a better and faster way forward, not only to achieve the emancipation of slaves but also to emancipate the poor and downtrodden of England from the bondage of poverty and exploitation by the ruling classes.

    Clarkson and other abolitionists visited Paris and met with the revolutionaries they admired. Some of the abolitionists even began to speak approvingly of the slave revolts in the West Indies—understandable, but also characterized by vicious excesses—and wondered again out loud and in pubic whether only violent actions could break the chains that bound the oppressed both abroad and at home.

    Wilberforce, a “conservative reformer” if there ever was one, was appalled by these developments but could do little to curtail or counteract them. As Britain went to war with France, Pitt warned Wilberforce and his colleagues that he and his government would regard any consorting of the abolitionists with the French as treason. Pitt was now lost to the abolitionist cause as he became totally focused on the war.

    Needless to say, the opponents of the anti-slavery campaign were delighted with this turn of events. They now seized on every opportunity to paint the abolitionists as extremists and radical revolutionaries who, if they got their way, would destroy the very foundations of British society. So impatience begot foolishness and desperation begot viciousness, and together they begot suspicion and disillusionment with the abolitionist cause. The anti-slavery campaign sunk to its lowest ebb with even its most ardent supporters wondering if it could ever recover.

    6. Endure Setbacks and Persevere Despite Adversity

    The French Revolution brought social reform in Britain, indeed any reform supported by the masses, to a halt. But there were many other setbacks both before and after. When the king became mentally ill, Britain was plunged into a constitutional crisis that virtually paralyzed parliament. Then the war with France diverted the attention of Pitt and the nation away from anything else but the war effort.

    At the same time there was the regular and discouraging defeat of Wilberforce’s parliamentary resolutions and bills. His initial resolution, while warmly received in the Commons was rejected by the House of Lords. In 1792 his bill was gutted by an amendment to pursue abolition, but only “gradually”. In 1796, he came closer to carrying his bill in the Commons than he ever had before, but lost the vote on third reading 74-70 when a dozen of his supporters were induced to attend a comic opera that night instead of staying in the House for the vote.

    Every year from 1797 to 1803 his bills were either defeated or the votes postponed. As mentioned, his friend and ally Thomas Clarkson flirted in despair with the radicalism of the French Revolution; then, suffering from ruined health and financial distress, he retired from the abolitionist cause and didn’t rejoin it for twelve years. Wilberforce himself was physically exhausted, discouraged, and came close to a mental breakdown.

    Clarkson once wrote: “We are taught the consoling lesson, that however small the beginning and slow the progress … we need not be discouraged as to the ultimate result of our labors; for though our cause may appear stationary, it may only become so, in order that it may take a deeper root, and thus be enabled to stand better against the storms which may afterwards beat about it.”[21]

    In the end, both he and Wilberforce took this advice. Both recovered and persevered. As an issue campaigner, therefore, be prepared for reversals and setbacks. But persevere, for reversals and setback are invariably part of any principled campaign to advance a worthy cause, just as dogged perseverance will be essential to its ultimate success.

    7. Wisely and Graciously “Manage the Middle”

    In democratic assemblies or decision-making bodies of any kind, when it comes to deciding the appropriate course on a moral issue there will usually be three major groups of members to be dealt with:[22]

    • Those who are fervently seized by the issue and strongly in favor of some remedial measure.
    • Those who have an opposite view of the issue and are strongly opposed to the remedial measure proposed.
    • Those “in the middle” who are ambivalent or undecided about the issue and simply wish it would go away.

    How these “middle members” are treated and courted—whether or not they are offended or attracted by the tactics and arguments of the competing sides—therefore becomes crucial to deciding the outcome.

    In the case of the campaign to abolish slavery, the graciousness of Wilberforce’s language, entreaties, and initial approach stood him and the cause in good stead with these middle members of the British Parliament. Some were eventually won over and others, by abstaining from crucial votes, were at least constrained from going over to the dark side.

    Clarkson and the more radical members of the abolition campaign were inclined to castigate as moral and political cowards those middle members who were reluctant to openly side with the anti-slavery campaign because they represented port cities and constituencies with factories and businesses benefiting from the slave trade or its products. Wilberforce, on the other hand, as an elected member himself who also had to take constituent interests into account, better understood the political dilemma of these members and tried to provide them with the tools and arguments for resolving it rather than attacking their characters and driving them over to the other side.

    8. Master Shrewd Tactics for Dealing with Opponents

    How an issue campaign, especially one with moral dimensions, deals with “those in the middle” is often crucial to its success or failure. Equally important are the tactics adopted for dealing with the outright opponents of the campaign, particularly those with decision-making power, such as parliamentarians. Just as the graciousness of the dove is required to win over the former, it is usually the shrewdness of the serpent that is required to triumph over the latter.

    As mentioned earlier, the resolutions and bills introduced by Wilberforce and his colleagues to curtail the slave trade were defeated time and time again in Parliament, notwithstanding all the effort that had been expended on rallying public support for them. So what was to be done?

    Eventually it was the lawyer James Stephens, likely with some assistance from the veteran Parliamentarian Charles Fox, who came up with an answer. Britain was at war with France and most of the ships sailing in opposition to British interests were sailing under American flags of convenience to protect them from attacks by the British navy and privateers. These included the slave ships sailing from Africa to America, many of which were actually manned by British crews and outfitted from Liverpool.. If a bill removing that protection could be framed and introduced as a trade regulation measure to frustrate the French and advance the British war effort, it would be impossible for the anti-slavery members of Parliament to vote against it without appearing to be siding with the French.

    Consequently, such a bill was framed and introduced to the House in as dull and boring a fashion as possible by a member not strongly identified with the anti-slavery caucus so as not to arouse unnecessary suspicion. Before the opponents of slavery realized what was happening, the bill secured sufficient support from the anti-slavery members, the ambivalent middle members, and its conflicted opponents in order for it to pass.[23]

    It would take many more years, and much more campaigning to secure the passage of legislation completely abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire.[24] However, the first major legislative victory in the battle, curtailment of the slave trade, had now been won, in part through the graciousness of the dove but also through the wisdom of the serpent, by campaigners who were now as skilled at navigating the narrow corridors of Parliament as they were at navigating the broad streets of the public square.

    Successful issue campaigns need winsome and diplomatic communicators like Wilberforce. They need zealous and indefatigable activists and organizers like Clarkson. But, invariably, they also need the tactical shrewdness and serpentine wisdom of the Stephens’s and the Fox’s to ultimately succeed.

    9. Support the Campaign with Spiritual Resources

    The key participants in the campaign to abolish slavery needed physical, financial, and political resources to succeed. But because of the moral dimensions of their cause and the spiritual roots of their motivation, they— above all—needed spiritual resources to guide and sustain them through the long nights occasioned by opposition attacks, numerous setbacks, and debilitating defeats. 

    The support that sustained Wilberforce and his colleagues during this long campaign came from four sources, all of which are essential to supporting and sustaining those that engage in moral and ethical campaigns today.

    In the case of Wilberforce personally, there were his own internal spiritual resources, acquired before he ever became engaged in the abolition campaign and, indeed, were instrumental in causing him to choose to engage in that campaign in the first place. He himself described the acquisition and outworking of these resources as “The Great Change”: brought about by contact with a godly uncle and aunt, the influence of a former tutor Isaac Milner, the reading of books on the spiritual life by Philip Doddridge and Blaise Pascal, personal prayer, the attendance of religious services, especially communion, and a constant searching of the Scriptures for comfort and guidance. If a leader is urging others “to change”, it is helpful if that leader has undergone a major change in his or her own life, so as to have a true appreciation of what he or she is now demanding of others.

    Second, there was Wilberforce’s wife, Barbara Spooner, and eventually his family. The life partner and family of a moral crusader are rarely given their due in political commentary on issue campaigns. But their role is usually crucial to success: in providing honest assessments of the crusaders’ strengths and weaknesses and in providing badly needed support and encouragement during the dark days of the campaign.

    Third, there was the counsel of godly pastors—for example, long and insightful letters from John Newton—that provided spiritual counsel but also demonstrated an understanding of the political pressures and circumstance to which Wilberforce was subject.

    Fourth, and perhaps most important to the campaign team as a whole, was the Clapham Circle. It consisted of Wilberforce’s cousin Henry Thornton (also an MP), Edward Eliot (Pitt’s brother in law), Hannah Moore (the most prominent female among the abolitionists), and several other leading evangelicals serving in Parliament and in business, all of whom decided to live together in the pastoral village of Clapham just outside of London.

    They dined together, worshipped together, prayed together, and shared each others burdens during all the dark years when the cause of abolition seemed hopelessly lost. Like some of the Christian prayer fellowships that exist among the Christian members of our legislatures, including the Parliament of Canada, they met regularly to provide spiritual support to the personal and family lives of those in attendance. But unlike our fellowships of this kind, they were also free and able to fully discuss and debate from a faith perspective, without becoming dangerously divided, the political and public issues of the day and, as a result, better equip and fortify each other for their public lives.

    Implications for Us

    There is a need for advocacy campaigns today—campaigns to raise important issues and remedies so high and insistently in the public consciousness and political arena that they cannot be ignored by politicians and lawmakers and so that they will be forced by the weight of public opinion to act. Some of the most important of those campaigns will involve moral issues engaging faith-oriented citizens at the faith-political interface, for example:

    • Campaigns to combat the terrible resurgence of human slavery in our time, in particular the global sex trade with internet-based pornography as its communication and marketing arm.
    • Campaigns to establish and communicate what “death with dignity” means for faith-oriented people and to create safe and spiritually sensitive hospice and palliative care environments where state sanctioned euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are neither promoted nor practiced.
    • Campaigns to establish ethically based laws and regulatory regimes to deal with beginning of life issues from assisted human reproduction and abortion to the genetic modification of human beings.
    • Campaigns to awaken and mobilize faith-oriented citizens to the challenges of creation care, environmental stewardship, and the voluntary constraint of consumerism as spiritual responsibilities.
    • Campaigns to reorganize and strengthen the charitable sector of civil society as a partner and/or alternative to the welfare state in providing care and services to the poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, and the elderly.

    In the Wilberforce campaign just examined we have a great example of a faith-oriented campaign to eradicate a great social evil and achieve a great social good conducted by people operating with the wisdom of serpents and the graciousness of doves at the interface of faith and politics. Those of us who want to conduct such campaigns today to eradicate the social evils of our time and advance worthy social causes should study this campaign backward and forward and apply the lessons it teaches.

    If one is planning to engage in a contemporary issue or advocacy campaign, especially on an issue with prominent moral or ethical dimensions that will require faith motivated campaigners to act at the interface of faith and politics, this should involve adhering to the Great Guideline given by Jesus to his early followers when he first sent them out to do public work and learning from the lessons and principles provided by the Wilberforce campaign.

    In particular, if we profess to be Christians guided by Christ’s life and example in any public work in which we engage, let us ask and answer the question “Is it wise and is it gracious?” as the two-fold acid test to be applied to any strategy, tactic, or communication of any faith-oriented campaign with which we are associated.

    More specifically, learning from Wilberforce and his associates, let us:

    • Choose the initial campaign objective and strategy wisely.
    • Seize the high moral ground by first strongly identifying with the suffering to be alleviated.
    • Reframe the issue to place it within the conceptual framework best suited to advancing the campaign objective and strategy.
    • Move the debate, if possible, into the decision-making arena most conducive to success.
    • Build a principled coalition to advance the cause.
    • Legitimate the discussion, graciously.
    • Do the necessary research thoroughly and well.
    • Make maximum use of the existing law.
    • Make maximum use of the tools of democracy.
    • Communicate wisely and graciously.
    • Be clear and honest about our motives.
    • Avoid foolishness and viciousness.
    • Endure setbacks and persevere in adversity.
    • Wisely and graciously “manage the middle”.
    • Master shrewd tactics for dealing with opponents.
    • Support the campaign with spiritual resources.

    In drawing to a close our examination of the campaign to abolish slavery, it is appropriate to emphasize again the key role that spiritual resources played in guiding and sustaining key members of that campaign. And if in fact spiritual resources are an essential element of any campaign on behalf of great moral causes, it is appropriate for us who may be involved in such campaigns today to ask and answer the following questions:

    • What personal spiritual resources and experience can we bring to or draw upon in undertaking such campaigns at the faith-political interface?
    • Have we ever personally experienced the Great Change that Wilberforce experienced and that strengthened his capacity to become a change agent among his generation?
    • Who and where are the pastors, spiritual directors, and counsellors in our time who can be to us what John Newton was to Wilberforce?
    • Who and where will be our Clapham Circle, providing spiritual and social support to our campaign endeavours, especially when the road gets hard and difficult? 

    In the end, the extent to which these resources exist and are drawn upon will likely be the greatest factor in determining whether or not we are able to conduct ourselves with the wisdom of the serpent and the graciousness of the dove at the interface of faith and politics.



    [1] Faith and Politics: Leadership Lessons from the Public Life of Jesus: Lesson 4, The Great Guideline: Wise as Serpents and Gracious as Doves, http://marketplace.regent-college.edu/ideas-media/society-politics/leadership-lessons-from-the-public-life-of-jesus---lesson-4

    [2] Faith and Politics: Leadership Lessons from the Public Life of Jesus: Lesson 5,Christ-like Wisdom and Grace in Action: The Wilberforce Campaign to Abolish Slavery; Part 1., http://marketplace.regent-college.edu/ideas-media/society-politics/leadership-lessons-from-the-public-life-of-jesus---lesson-5-part-1

    [3] In analyzing this campaign we have drawn heavily on three relatively recent commentaries, to whose authors we are much indebted for their observations and insights, namely:

    • Kevin Belmonte, William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002)
    • Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005)
    • Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, by (New York: Harper Collins, 2007)

    [4] “If we, our chief justice, our officials, or any of our servants offend in any respect against any man, or transgress any of the articles of the peace or of this security, and the offence is made known to four of the said twenty-five barons, they shall come to us - or in our absence from the kingdom to the chief justice - to declare it and claim immediate redress” Magna Carta 1215, S. (61)

    [5] English Bill of Rights [1688], CHAPTER 2 1 Will and Mar Sess 2. The relevant section declared “That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal;”

    [6] Mansfield’s decision in the Somerset case: “The power of a master over his slave has been different in different countries. The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasion, and time itself from which it was created, is erased from memory. It is so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from a decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the laws of England, and therefore the black must be discharged.” (Though the Heavens May Fall, by Stephen M. Weis, DaCapo Press, 2005, p.182.)

    [7] Hochschild, 50.

    [8]The Constitution Act, 1982, Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11. PART 1, s.2

    [9] Hochschild, 108.

    [10] By the late 1780’s petitions opposing slavery signed by up to 100,000 people were reaching parliament. By 1792 parliamentarians were confronted with over 500 such petitions signed by 390,000 individuals. Ibid., 103,107.

    [11] Hochschild, 129.

    [12] Ibid.,193-195.

    [13] Philippians 4:5-7

    [14] Hochschild, 107.

    [15] Ibid., 117.

    [16] Ibid., 94

    [17] Luke 18:1

    [18]  “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 (KJV)

    [19] For an excellent commentary on the issue of doing right things from wrong motives see T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. T.S. Eliot, The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909-1950 (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1980) . It portrays the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.  Beckett is tempted to seek his own martyrdom in order to enhance his own reputation as a righteous champion of the church, but resists it with the oft quoted lines, “Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain: Temptation shall not come in this kind again. The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

    [20] Matthew 7:1

    [21] Thomas Clarkson, The history of the rise, progress, and accomplishment of the abolition of the African slave-trade by the British Parliament, 1st ed., Cass library of African studies, Slavery series, No. 8., (London: Cass, 1968).

    [22]For an excellent commentary on this subject see, “Lincoln”, the 2012 American epic historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as United States President Abraham Lincoln, and loosely based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. The primary focus of the film is on the efforts of Lincoln and his associates to win the support of “those in the middle”, between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery elements of the 1865 House of Representatives, for the thirteenth amendment to the United States Constitution abolishing slavery throughout the union. A major portion of this effort had to be directed toward constraining the most fervent abolitionists in the House from “going over the top” and driving “those in the middle” into the opposite camp.

    [23] Hochschild, 301-394

    [24] The Emancipation Bill which completely abolished slavery throughout the British Empire passed both houses of Parliament in 1833.

    Source: Marketplace Institute



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