The Power of Moral Backbone

Today the church remembers a 19th Century saint who found his holy quest utilizing bills more than belfries: Saint William Wilberforce, Renewer of Society and Abolitionist.

Saint Wilberforce was born into wealth and privilege, and to his credit he leveraged these two rolls of the dice for the betterment of humanity. He was extremely devout, and desired to be a priest, but was convinced that Parliament held more sway than the pulpit.

He entered politics, and for forty-five years he fought within the House of Commons for the abolition of the slave trade. In 1798 he began speaking, campaigning, creating flyers and petitions and bills, tirelessly annoying Parliament with his insistence that moral humans and an ethical society could not coexist with slavery.

In 1806 Wilberforce managed to get a bill passed that prohibited slavery in all the British colonies, but his efforts were not done because while slavery was prohibited in the colonies, it still existed elsewhere throughout the British Empire.

Arguing, calling people to gain their moral backbone, backroom dealing, and appealing to their better angels, Wilberforce and his allies finally, in July of 1833, passed a bill that freed all slaves throughout the empire.

He died three days later.

In the early days of his movement Wilberforce was noted to say, “Let the consequences be what they would…I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected (slavery’s) abolition!”

Saint Wilberforce is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes one person with moral backbone can move an empire.

It’s happened before.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations as well as Claiborne and Wilson-Hartgrove’s Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

-icon written by Sir Thomas Lawrence and hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, London, United Kingdom

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