Monday, February 19, 2007

A Force To Be Reckoned With

Yesterday, while visiting a web page hosted by Christianity Today, I saw a link to the official web site for a new movie entitled "Amazing Grace".

At the time, I was writing a blog post which was related to the topic of God's grace. So I briefly mentioned the movie in that blog post.

Subsequently, I explored the official web site for the movie some more. I watched the dramatic movie trailer (which, surprisingly, did not bog down on my computer, despite the fact that I only have a dialup ISP account). I read a substantial amount of the information available at that web site.

The more I read, the more excited I got. This is going to be one awesome movie!

Initially, I thought that the movie would be about John Newton, the former slave trader who wrote the beloved song "Amazing Grace". That would certainly have been a story worth telling! (The scene in which he accepted Christ during a tumultuous storm at sea would have made for great drama.)

John Newton is depicted in the movie. But he is not the central character. The central character is William Wilberforce, the British politician who, motivated by his intense Christian convictions, played a decisive role in terms of ending the legal slave trade in Britain. He was inspired to do so, in part, by his friendship with John Newton. Therefore, the movie title is very appropriate.

(The image shown here is a portrait of William Wilberforce. That public domain image was obtained from Wikipedia. To read the full article about William Wilberforce, click here.)

William Wilberforce has been highly praised by leading figures in the American abolitionist movement (including Harriet Beecher Stowe and Abraham Lincoln) and also by Nelson Mandela, who led the antiapartheid movement with the help and support of the clergyman Desmond Tutu.

Charles Colson, the former Watergate "hatchet man" who founded the Prison Fellowship ministry after becoming a Christian, is an ardent admirer of William Wilberforce, and for good reason. William Wilberforce is a sterling example of how a committed and compassionate Christian who really understands the good news of Jesus Christ can change the world for the betterment of humankind by means of the political process.

The life of William Wilberforce serves as a sharp rebuttal to the arguments of liberal secularists who think that Christians have a civic obligation to stand on the sidelines and allow social and political policies to be shaped solely by people who deny the validity of the Christian faith.

If the arguments put forth by William Wilberforce had been dismissed on the grounds that his passion for abolition was a reflection of his intense Christian beliefs, the result would have been needless suffering for the millions of slaves and potential slaves who were rescued or spared as a result of his activism on their behalf.

In my opinion, this has huge implications for us today.

Liberals often argue that the pro-life cause is invalid because substantial numbers of those who actively campaign against legal abortion are motivated by their religious beliefs. The fact that the most common arguments against legal abortion are not intrinsically religious does not seem to phase such people. Such people seem to be intent on making it appear that social conservatives want to turn the United States into one big theocracy.

There may indeed be a few people who deserve to be characterized in that manner, but they are a fringe element at best. Notwithstanding certain highly biased film "documentaries" (or as I like to call them, mockumentaries) which have chosen to depict Christians at their absolute worst, the fact is that most Christian social conservatives understand how important it is to preserve freedom of religion in this nation.

In reality, it would be more accurate to say that many of the liberals who regularly slander Christian social conservatives would love to create a two-tiered caste system in the United States, in which people of faith would be forever relegated to the role of second-class citizens and forbidden to vote according to their consciences.

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One of the most interesting revelations on the web site for the movie "Amazing Grace" comes from a brief article entitled "The Amazing Change Campaign". It states:

William Wilberforce's work is far from finished. There are still an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today. Modern day slavery can come in many different forms. Entire families may work long days in rice-mills, brick kilns or on plantations. Children may be abducted and forced to fight in a rebel's army. All of the people in these examples are slaves—they cannot come and go as they please and are often beaten or threatened with violence. They have no autonomy in their day-to-day lives and deserve the right to be free.

I knew that slavery hadn't been completely abolished, but that's a pretty astonishing figure. The filmmakers are to be admired for bringing this fact to light.

Some people seem to think that the Emancipation Proclamation completely ended slavery forever. Sadly, that is not true. The fact that it is not true furnishes us with ample incentive to continue to work tirelessly in order to reduce slavery throughout the world, with the ultimate objective of eliminating it altogether.

A reflection on the facts regarding slavery should also cause us to seriously question the premise behind one of the most commonly used arguments against outlawing abortion. The argument goes something like this: "People will always get abortions, whether it's legal to do so or not. If you illegalize abortion, you won't succeed in eliminating it. You'll just drive the abortionists underground."

They say this as if they're actually telling pro-life people something we don't already know! They say this as if we're so stupid that we think that illegalizing evil is tantamount to guaranteeing the elimination of evil.

If efficacy is the sole measure of the legitimacy of a law, then by definition, no law is legitimate. Show me a law, and I will show you a person who has demonstrated total disregard for that law. If that were not the case, we would not have police, we would not have courtrooms and we would not have prisons. Whether the law is an attempt to curb larceny or murder or prostitution or rape or corporate fraud or slavery, there will always be people in this fallen world who choose to ignore the law.

So should we just throw up our hands in despair, eliminate all of our laws and the various institutions designed to enforce those laws, and declare open season on all of our most vulnerable citizens? God forbid! No law is perfect, but many people have benefited from our imperfect attempts to take a stand against those who would deprive their fellow human beings of their God-given rights.

It's been said that all that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.

In the long term, I think that's false, because God is a holy and righteous judge. God will not tolerate evil forever. God will ultimately triumph over evil, with or without our help. In fact, God already triumphed over evil when Jesus died on the cross and then rose from the dead. For people of faith, the utter defeat of evil is a foregone conclusion.

However, in the short term, I think that the statement is very accurate. We have a moral responsibility to take a stand against evil, wherever it exists. The fact that we cannot perfectly eliminate evil is an incredibly lame excuse for not doing our best to reduce evil as much as possible, regardless of whether one is talking about the evil of slavery, the evil of terrorism, the evil of disease, the evil of addiction, the evil of legal abortion or the evil of homelessness and hunger.

The responsibility to combat evil is a burden in some respects, but it is also an awesome privilege. God could defeat evil without our help, but instead, he has chosen to partner with us and to allow us to participate in his great work of redemption. We may not all be able to change the world in a manner comparable to the way in which William Wilberforce changed the world, but we can all do our part.

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