I've been thinking about politics this week. I watched part of President Bush's "State of the Union" address last night; I was reading about Stephen Harper's reflections on his first year as Prime Minister of Canada today, and I just finished reading about William Wilberforce (shown at right).
I guess I tend to be an idealist. I like to think that there are people who mean what they say and live their lives with integrity. I want to believe that people, ordinary people who care, can make a difference. Yet what I so often see is the politics of compromise and posturing for the photo-op. Is it possible today to rise above partisan politics and actually just do the right thing on a consistent basis?
That's why I included William Wilberforce. He served in the British Parliament in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and made as profound an impact as anyone in his time. He was born to privilege and position and yet risked both by embracing unpopular causes, simply because he believed in them. Along with an, at first, small group of sympathizers, Wilberforce took on the most powerful cartel in the British Empire in defence of the weakest.
A lifetime of labour enabled him to see not only the end of the slave trade in the British Empire, but the advancement of many worthy causes that ultimately changed the course of history. What causes a man to work tirelessly for almost forty years in parliament? It certainly wasn't the money - he already had that. In fact, during difficult times for the country, he gave away, in at least one year, more than he earned in order to help relieve the suffering.
Something had shifted in the psyche of this man who was elected at the ripe old age of 21. An old schoolmaster of Wilberforce's joined him on a trip to the continent and, over the course of time, led him to commit himself to the study of the Bible. Later that year he sought counsel from none other than John Newton, author of "Amazing Grace," and somewhere in those events he committed himself to follow Christ, whatever the cost.
He saw the corruption in politics, which he'd seen first hand, he'd witnessed the vulgarities of British society. (Some estimates claimed that up to 1 in 4 women in London at the time were engaged in prostitution. One-eighth of the deaths in London were blamed on excessive drinking. Animals were tortured for entertainment and frequent executions drew huge crowds.) He wrote in his journal: "Almighty God has set before me two great objectives, the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners."
His story is inspiring and, thankfully, will be told in a movie being released soon called appropriately "Amazing Grace."
Here's the question. What are the causes today which are worthy of a life-long commitment? What is it that can make your eyes shine with passion? Wilberforce, with his Biblical worldview, believed that he could succeed in spite of all of the odds because it was God Himself who had given him this task. The lives of thousands and the destiny of millions was changed for the better because of it.
Perhaps you and I were not born to privilege like Wilberforce. We may not carry the same influence as he did. Yet each of us can affect the lives of those around us in a positive way if we will.
That's what I believe that the church is: it's a community of people who have decided to follow Jesus Christ - wherever He leads. Jesus was a revolutionary who refused to use physical force, but rather, the power of truth. The church is "the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). In spite of its failings - and they have been many and well-documented - God changes the world through the transformed lives of ordinary men and women.
I believe that there is a generation of people who are looking for something or someone to believe in. Are you tired of being let down and disappointed? Take this challenge. Search for the Christ that Wilberforce found and see what that does for your perspective!