“You’ve got some shoes to fill, friend!” John Reid challenged as he shared his first Wilberforce post with me. Whether John was referring to his own beautifully crafted writing, or to Wilberforce himself, I will take on both of those challenges. First, I’m honored to be a guest on this “Faithful Ambassadors” series, & hope my contribution is insightful to readers. Second, I have a passion for abolition & I hope to have the slightest fraction of Wilberforce’s impact. The life of Wilberforce, as John Reid has depicted in this series, is no doubt a powerful and beautiful piece of history. However, I hope this series will do more than awe the reader with inspirational stories. It is meant to move the reader to action; to transform the reader from an observer into a participant.
Learning From History
History speaks to us of monumental times, radical tensions, and miraculous triumphs. It tells of great men, such as Wilberforce, whose purpose and perfect timing changed the world. Many observers of history long for the opportunity to live in a time where one could participate in one of these turning points. An averted glance and a heart of longing, however, allows for the opportunity of today to flash by. An enormous issue is present, resistance is necessary, and history is pointing the way towards victory in its defeat.
Before discussing the present, consider the past. Slavery has existed in a diverse amount of cultures and throughout human history. The transatlantic slave trade was the continuance of a long-enduring evil. However, abolitionists such as William Wilberforce faced this evil with courage, leading Great Britain in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. His life reveals strategies for abolitionist efforts which are still necessary in our time.
Yes… in our time. A monster has reemerged in the United States, disguising itself in new skin. Only three months after the abolishment of slavery in the United States, Frederick Douglass (leader of US abolitionist movement who escaped from slavery) warned the nation that slavery would remerge. As if prophesying what was come, he claims, “They would not call it slavery, but some other name. Slavery has been fruitful in giving herself names . . . and it will call itself by yet another name; and you and I and all of us had better wait and see what new form this old monster will assume, in what new skin this old snake will come forth.” Douglass’ eerie prophecy has come to fruition. This old monster has come forth in new skin: in the form of human trafficking.
Modern day slavery, or human trafficking, is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. There are currently twenty-seven million slaves worldwide; more slaves today than any point in history. This doubles the estimated total number of slaves transported to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade, which is an estimated twelve million. Douglass’ prediction at the dusk of the transatlantic trade has overwhelmingly come to pass, as the dawn of modern day has revealed more slaves than over four hundred years of transatlantic slavery combined. Discussing modern abolition along with historical analysis profoundly informs effective approaches to modern abolition. Consider Wilberforce.
Two-Fold Change: Societal and Governmental
Wilberforce appealed not only to government, but also to society to enact change. As a member of Parliament, his focus was on policy reform. However, he also acknowledged the need for change within society’s acceptance of slavery. Wilberforce wrote An Appeal to the Religion, Justice, and Humanity of the Inhabitants of the British Empire, in Behalf of the Negro Slaves in the West Indies to persuade society of the need for cultural and political change. This includes societal ignorance and apathy, as well as the need for government to respond with policy. Wilberforce explained how “the long continuance of this system… can only be accounted for by the generally prevailing ignorance of its real nature, and of its ‘great‘ and numerous evils.” Wilberforce raised an awareness of these evils, and pleaded with society to rid itself of apathy. He also demonstrates the danger of “incurable vices which will invariably exist wherever the power of man over man is unlimited.”
Comprehensive change, on behalf of both society & government, is is necessary for the removal of these vices. Society has a duty to abandon apathy concerning human rights, and government has a duty to protect these rights. Wilberforce warned that these vices would continue to exist so long as government does not remove this unlimited “power of man over man”. Upon the Slave Trade Act of 1807, the British government heeded this warning and set forth the systematic change Wilberforce prescribed. While he acknowledged the importance of social change in abolitionist efforts, he argued that social change must also be reflected and affirmed through public policy.
Politics? Uh oh…
I understand that what I’ve discussed can be reaching into a sensitive discussion on political involvement, church/state relations, and the fear of all things political. How can one righteously serve in politics, a “dirty” realm, and not get “dirty”? Upon changing my major to Political Science in college, I received many disgusted and skeptical reactions. Many people warned I would easily “forget the people”… that I would loose my focus of fighting injustice while climbing a ladder of political corruption. By entering into politics, I had switched from the realm of “sacred” to “secular”, an assumption that all work outside the non-profit & church ministry realm is not “sacred” work. I discovered that a common fear among my generation & in the church community towards political involvement. In some cases, this fear is rooted in an attitude of self-righteousness… of being “above” politics. I hope more for our generation. I hope that we, like Wilberforce, will be willing to roll up our sleeves, get our hands “dirty”, and get the job done. As Wilberforce’s life showed, political action is not to be feared or avoided. Yet politics is not the only answer: abolition requires a collaborative approach across many sectors in society. We all have a role in fighting for justice.
Brokenness and Boldness
Where do we begin? Wilberforce described his reaction upon being broken for the cause of slavery:
“As soon as ever I had arrived thus far in my investigation of the slave trade, I confess to you sir, so enormous so dreadful, so irremediable did its wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for the abolition. A trade founded in iniquity, and carried on as this was, must be abolished, let the policy be what it might, let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest till I had effected its abolition.”
Wilberforce began with brokenness followed by boldness. As I mentioned in a previous blog post by John Reid, “Stop Wining, Be a Wilberforce!”, many people in our generation genuinely care about the injustice of modern day slavery. Unfortunately, however, they rarely take action on these convictions. Wilberforce’s brokenness about injustice led him to boldness in his battle against it.
Yet Wilberforce was not void of fear. He knew the immensity of the evil and the task before him. In a speech before Parliament, Wilberforce admitted,
“When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House—a subject, in which the interests, not of this country, nor of Europe alone, but of the whole world, and of posterity, are involved: and when I think, at the same time, on the weakness of the advocate who has undertaken this great cause—when these reflections press upon my mind, it is impossible for me not to feel both terrified and concerned at my own inadequacy to such a task.”
Rather than inadequacy, Wilberforce’s speech persuades with power. After hearing Wilberforce speak, James Boswell recounts, “I saw what seemed a mere shrimp mount upon the table; but as I listened, he grew, and grew, until the shrimp became a whale.” This shrimp became the “primary human agent for one of the turning events in the history of the world.” His fear did not stop him; he obeyed God’s commandment in Joshua 1:9 to “be strong and courageous”, knowing the Lord was with him.
From Observer to Participant
Wilberforce’s abolitionist efforts reveal that both society & government have an important role to play. Grassroots efforts and political action are both necessary for the defeat of modern day slavery. We all have an opportunity to participate in turning the tides of history. Whether it’s in the realm of business, medical care, church ministry, social work, law, psychology, education, parenthood, the arts, blogging, or politics (yes, even politics), we play a crucial role in exposing & resisting injustice. We are not merely observers. We are either inactive or active participants.
As John Reid mentioned previously, news arrived just three days before Wilberforce’s death that the Act of 1833 was confirmed to be passed in Parliament. We may not see slavery end in our lifetime, but must move forward without the hope of personal glory or reward. Our labor is a kingdom investment. We must consider what eternal purpose will our lives will contribute to. What will our capstone read? Wilberforce’s goal within his lifetime was change within the British parliament, a large task & undertaking. However, the outreaches of his impact exceeded beyond his imagination – it paved the way for the rest of the world.
The plaque in Westminster Abbey, where Wilberforce is buried, reads that Wilberforce “removed from England The guilt of the African slave trade, and prepared the way for the Abolition of Slavery in every colony of the Empire.” May our lives exceed beyond our imagination for eternal purpose.
Amanda and her husband, Matthew, at the OC Register Metro Magazine awards ceremony, where she was named to the “40 under 40″ list.
Bio: Amanda Tortorello is an alumni of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University where she graduated Summa Cum Laude as a political science major. While in attendance she served as the Director of the Biola Social Justice Ministry. In this capacity she supervised the ministry’s two objectives: human trafficking and prison fellowship. She is active in modern abolitionist efforts at the local and international level. At the state level, she rallied Biola students for California’s Proposition 35 through ballot signatures and advocacy. Proposition 35 (Californians Against Sex Exploitation or C.A.S.E. Act) was passed in November 2012 which serves to increase the prison time and fines of pimps who are found guilty of abduction and the increased revenue from their penalties is distributed to help counsel those enslaved. She worked for Humanity United in Washington DC, and was involved with federal policy advocacy through the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking. At the international level, she traveled with a team to Cameroon to conduct an anti-human trafficking legislative workshop on behalf of the US Department of State. Amanda has appeared on talk radio stations to discuss the importance of political awareness among young adults today as well as advocating for social justice. In 2013, she was named to the “40-under-40” list by OC Register Metro Magazine. May of 2013 she married fellow Biola Alumni, and finance guru, Matthew Tortorello. Matthew and Amanda have since relocated and are serving the Lord in their respective areas of work.