Saturday, August 04, 2007

Amazing Grace: now I see

On Thursday night, I went with a group from church to see Amazing Grace, the new-ish film about William Wilberforce and the abolition of the British slave trade around the turn of the 19th century. I'd read a number of lukewarm reviews and so my expectations were suitably dimmed. But it was good. Twenty years of parliamentary debate may not be everyone's idea of a thrilling plot, but the figure of Wilberforce holds it together. At age 21, he was the youngest ever MP and until his retirement 45 years later he never lost an election. During that time, he was involved in penal reform, helped secure better working better conditions for child labourers in England’s mills and factories, was active in setting up orphanages and worked for the welfare of single mothers, sailors, and soldiers. He helped found (what later became) the RSPCA, the Bible Society, National Gallery, Royal Institution for the Pursuit of Science and the Church Missionary Society. He helped abolish the religious test keeping Roman Catholics, nonconformists and Jews out of parliament and universities. He intervened to ensure there was a chaplain, Richard Johnson, on the First Fleet to Australia in 1788 (see Meredith's blog for much more discussion of Richard Johnson). And he regularly gave away an estimated one quarter of his considerable annual income to around 69 philanthropic causes.

But he is best remembered for his long campaign against British transatlantic slavery, a struggle in which he fought against the economic prosperity and military security of the empire, and which pioneered many tactics now familiar to contemporary political campaigners for swaying public opinion. During it all, and facing powerful opponents, death threats, chronic ill-health and accusations of sedition (advocating for the downtrodden was dangerous when revolution was in the air in France and elsewhere), he was inspired and sustained by his faith in Christ.

Wilberforce was an evangelical, a term much used and abused today. But traditional doctrines such as the corruption of humanity, the atoning work of Jesus and the transforming power of the Spirit were crucial in his motivation and goals.

I suspect that were he around today he would be told to keep his faith out of politics.
For those who want a good lecture on Wilberforce, try Sandy Grant's recent talk.
Points hint: this is the same Sydney suburb as this picture. I'm sure that will be very helpful.


Martin Kemp said...


Anonymous said...

suitably dimmed

Ell and I find that this is a pre-requisite for enjoying a movie.

They were momentous times, seen from this distance. I wonder what it seemed like then?

byron smith said...

I was particularly struck by the two main arguments against slavery: the economy and national security. During the Napoleonic wars (esp in the early years), there was a real sense of imminent national disaster in Britain. Revolution or invasion were grave fears. I think Wilberforce and co. had at least some idea of the enormity of the situation.

Marty - no, but close. NB the points are offered on the other post, so please vote there, because then the guesses are kept together. Remember, one guess per person per day.

Matthew Moffitt said...


Matthew Moffitt said...

Wrong again!

Anonymous said...

Is it Pyrmont?

byron smith said...

James - Correct. However, the points were offered on the other post and this was just meant to be a hint. It seems to have done the trick, since the correct answer had already been guessed over there. I'll assume you hadn't checked there (or you would have put the answer there) and so will give you eight points too.

Jonathan said...

Any comments on the depiction of Newton?