The elites told the Christian reformers that they should keep their religion within their churches.  The powers that be claimed that they had a “right” to do exactly as they were doing, and who were the reformers to take that “right” away?  Political leaders said that the reformers were unrealistic and impractical, even “behind the times.”  Sound familiar?  No, I’m not talking about Connecticut circa 2007, and the attacks people of faith regularly experience when they stand up for the common good. No, I’m speaking of the movement led by William Wilberforce to succesfully halt the slave-trade in England.

In our own day and age, the civil rights mantle has often been claimed by those who reject natural law and the importance of God-given unalienable rights.  But it is well to remember that the great Western civil rights crusaders of the modern period where almost all inspired by an understanding of natural rights firmly embedded within the Christian tradition. Indeed, without some conception of God, where do our rights come from?  Our government?  If the state creates such rights, they are merely products of human whim and fancy as fleeting as the desires of our leaders, and as corruptible as power itself.  No, as our own Declaration of Independence makes clear:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Our fundamental rights come from our Creator.  Throughout America’s history, this has been a proposition enjoying an overwhelming consensus.  Catholics, Protestants, Jews, even Deists and Unitarians, have accepted the notion that our rights come from the same source as our fundamental duties and obligations: our Creator.  Yet in America today, those that point to the Christian roots of our understanding of rights, responsibilities, the common good, and justice are often belittled and dismissed.

Wilberforce experienced the same sort of derision in early 19th century England. Slave traders and their supporters in parliament scoffed at Wilberforce and the rising tide of Christian reformers who rallied behind him.  Supporters of the slave-trade claimed that they had a property “right” to buy and sell human beings. Wilberforce countered by pointing to the immorality of slavery and its opposition to the natural law.  In this competing conception of rights, Wilberforce focused on how civil laws should be in accord with the natural law. 

Supporters of the slave-trade claimed that religious extremism (“fanaticism”) was motivating Wilberforce and his supporters.  Wilberforce responded that religion, natural law, and reason all screamed out against the barbarities of slavery.

We must remember that the slave-trade was relatively new to England.  Only in the early eighteenth century did English law begin to accomodate the African slave trade.  And even then legal precedents were conflicting.  In fact, jurists had to create a new body of law to accomodate the slave trade. The slave-traders and their supporters were the ones introducing something new into English law, and men like Wilberforce were caricatured as “behind the times” in their denunciation of the lucrative trade.

Supporters of the slave-trade mocked his other endeavors as backward, especially his Society for the Suppression of Vice. Wilberforce himself saw his work inculcating personal virtue and his opposition to slavery as inextricably linked. As he wrote himself, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners.”

What would today’s Connecticut elites say about Wilberforce and his work to “reform manners”?  The Society for the Suppression of Vice?  Please.  I can just read the editorials caterwauling about how Wilberforce should just mind his own business and not meddle with his fellow citizen’s “rights” to enjoy vice.  Or read the following extract from Wilberforce’s Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade:

That the Almighty Creator of the universe governs the world which he has made; that the sufferings of nations are to be regarded as the punishment of national crimes; and their decline and fall, as the execution of this sentence; are truths which I trust are still generally believed among us … If these truths be admitted, and if it be also true, that fraud, oppression and cruelty, are crimes of the blackest dye, and that guilt is aggravated in proportion as the criminal acts in defiance of clearer light, and of stronger motives to virtue… have we not abundant cause for serious apprehension?… If… the Slave Trade be a national crime… to which we cling in defiance of the clearest light, not only in opposition to our own acknowledgements of its guilt, but even of our own declared resolutions to abandon it, is not this, then a time at which all who are not perfectly sure that the Providence of God is but a fable, should be strenuous in their endeavours to lighten the vessel of the state, of such a load of guilt and infamy?

(Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade, 1807, pp.4–6)

Do you think that would fly in the editorial pages of the Courant, the Post, or the Day?  I think you know the answer. 

But Wilberforce refused to be cowed by his critics.  In fact, he became even stronger in his convictions with every attack hurled his way.

Yesterday, Wilberforce’s amazing story opened in our theaters.  (Check out the trailer at the top of the page.) Amazing Grace is a must see.  Get out and see it today or tomorrow if you can.  And then when you get home, read some of Wilberforce’s works yourself.  A Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1807) and 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 (1823) are two works highlighting how important Wilberforce’s Christianity was to his convictions.  Read these and realize that each of us who are working to defend the natural law, religious liberty, marriage and the family, in whatever way we can, must fight in the same spirit as William Wilberforce.   In our fight for the common good we must refuse to be cowed, refuse to be intimated, and refuse to be silenced.

21 Responses to “Amazing Grace: The Untold Story of Faith and Politics”

  1. on 24 Feb 2007 at 10:56 amYawn

    Hmm. Homophobic bigots using the story of an anti-racist to justify their campaign of bigotry. Clever!

  2. on 24 Feb 2007 at 11:44 amGenghis Conn

    Wow. …Are you comparing the abolitionist movement to the move to ban gay marriage? That takes an outstanding amount of guts.

    You guys are heroes! I should have seen it.

  3. on 24 Feb 2007 at 11:46 amDoug


    This was one of your best posts! Kudos! Indeed, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Your point was well articulated that unchecked, evil transcends all time, and isn’t at all choosy about who it claims as victims. Martin Niemioller wrote a very sage poem in that reagard, circa WW II.

    Regarding your last commenter, “Yawn,” I find it interesting that in the broad depth of your commenatry, he or she (we don’t know) apparently sadly focussed only on the gay issue, of which you barely even made inference. Those who obsess via tunnel vision on one subject will always miss the bigger picture to their own deficit. I also noticed that you, as the alleged “homophobic bigot” did not resort to name calling, but your presumably “unbigotted” dissenter did. Volumes could be written about those who wantonly snipe at others from behind safe pseudonyms.

    People have to read before they can learn. So far, so good. Keep up the good work.

    Doug Wrenn

  4. on 24 Feb 2007 at 1:13 pmchele

    Brian seems to be completely irony-free.

    Hmm. Let’s see. Christian with vision and humanity rejects the Bible’s justification of slavery and decides to take a stand for the rights of human beings.

    Compare to Christians with no vision and no humanity who cling to a tenuous Biblical reference against homosexuality to deny rights to a group of human beings.

    Some day in the future, after same sex marriage has finally been legalized, we’ll see a film made about those people of faith who stood up against bigots and fear-mongers who cynically use religion to deny God-given civil rights to a segment of our population.

  5. on 24 Feb 2007 at 1:34 pmSteve

    Brilliant Yawn. What would we do without your inclusive, tolerant & thought provoking insights?

    And Genghis – um, I think Brian’s point was one of religious freedom & expression, even in public life. Not sure where you yanked gay marriage from.

    One of the great errors of our day is the belief that religion is soley personal and has no place in public life. Problem is, we’ve been told that for so long that many have started to believe it – but we’re starting to come around.

    Great post Brian. Keep up the good fight!

  6. on 24 Feb 2007 at 5:04 pmmatt

    Natural Law apparently means perversion for me, but not for thee.

    Anyway, I totally agree that you guys are on the right side of the civil rights battle.

  7. on 24 Feb 2007 at 10:43 pmNaCN


    You refer to “God-given civil rights” to same-sex ‘marriage.’ I had no idea you were such a religious zealot.

    Just out of curiosity, where did you read that God gave that right?

  8. on 25 Feb 2007 at 3:23 amTrueBlueCT


    Where to begin?

    If you want to talk about natural law, please account for homosexuality within nature. Honestly, my previous dog, Farley, was gay. He had no interest at all in female dogs, but was very much attracted to boy dogs. Was this somehow a choice? Did I bring by dog up improperly? Or is homosexuality simply a natural occurence? If it isn’t, could you please explain to me why anyone would “choose” to be gay, and why it would be so difficult to “re-program” gays to be straight.

    If a person wanted to be a Christian reformer, they would embrace the move to grant family rights to gays. Homosexuality is natural, not cultural. And according to your logic we shouldn’t heed the demagogues….

  9. on 25 Feb 2007 at 6:49 amSteve


    My word.

    Wanna start a new social movement? Here’s a couple of suggestions:

    I raise dogs. I have one that will kill any other animal that she comes into contact with. I have another that eats her own – well, you get the picture.

    Natural law is not the law of nature.

  10. on 25 Feb 2007 at 2:49 pmchele


    You’re correct; you have no idea at all what my religious beliefs are. All you know is that I don’t drink your Kool-Aid and therefore must be belittled. Which of course says much more about you than it does about me.

  11. on 25 Feb 2007 at 3:46 pmDave

    Let me start out by saying … while everyone’s been continuing their battle cries that Christians are bigoted and homophobic, and have continued on in their typical selfish and self-righteous way … have any of you stopped to consider that an estimated 27 million people are still in bondage today, in the 21st century? Please examine your own conscience and determine what you have done lately to help the less fortunate of this world.

    You certainly can read much more about William Wilberforce and his legacy at

    To those who incorrectly see the history of slavery as proof of wrong-headed Christian thinking in the use of Biblical teaching (and consequently as proof of faulty reasoning with respect to the question of homosexuality), you really need to consider the full context of the story before drawing such a conclusion. There were in fact Christian arguments on both sides of the slavery question. Yes, quotations from the Bible were misused by some people to justify slavery. But abolitionists also used arguments based on Biblical teaching in their efforts to secure freedom for those in bondage. Indeed, as quoted on the title page of Wilberforce’s pamphlet, “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”, the Bible admonishes against slavery by saying “Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work.” (Jeremiah 22:13)

    So in the end, are we to blame the holy book for this flawed reasoning in support of slavery, or ought we to blame instead the people who misinterpreted verses in support of their own selfish agenda without properly considering the context of the entire Bible message? For even while individual verses might be found within the text to support either one position or another, the entirety of the Bible recounts a story of liberation from bondage. Joseph, after being sold into slavery by his own brothers, is vindicated and rises to a role of prime minister in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. When all the Israelites are kept in captivity, the Lord sends Moses to set His people free. The epic story ultimately culminates in Jesus Christ being sent to liberate us from spiritual enslavement to sin. Slavery is front and center within the Bible, as an element that illustrates the importance of our relationship with God.

    But merely because some people used excerpts from the Bible to support a morally incorrect practice, does this mean we should disregard the teachings of the Bible altogether? In no way! What it should teach us instead is that we must read with understanding, and contemplate the context and spirit of the message rather than trying to bend it to suit our own purposes. In a word, discernment. As written in 1 John 4, “test the spirits”. Or if you prefer a more contemporary phrase, “trust but verify”. There is no substitute for reading the Bible yourself to understand the truth of its teachings, and to identify the falsehood of mistaken interpretations.

    Some would say that what the Bible has to say on the subject of homosexuality is irrelevant, and that those who quote verses about it are likely to be as misguided as those who used the Bible in support of slavery. But I cannot agree with that comparison. There isn’t the same degree of ambiguity within the Bible on the subject of homosexuality as there was on the subject of slavery. Those who claim that its prohibition in Hebraic law is an anachronism seem to conveniently forget that it is placed immediately alongside incest, bestiality and human sacrifice. Are we ready to embrace these practices as well, in the name of personal freedom above all else? Jesus did willingly embrace sinners of all types, including the sexual immoral, but he also told them quite clearly “Go and sin no more”.

    I am certainly willing to listen to counter-arguments (and to test their consistency), but I believe you will have a difficult time bending the teachings of the Bible to support homosexuality. And please don’t make that silly argument about David and Jonathan. After all, we are talking about someone who couldn’t keep his hands off another mans wife. Hello?? Bathsheba, remember? Not to mention the other 7 wives and 10 concubines!

  12. on 25 Feb 2007 at 6:25 pmDave

    I just want to share another thought in passing. Some have argued that the citations in Leviticus do not apply because Jesus’ new covenant completely overturned the older “purity code”. But if you study Matthew 15:10-20 it is clear that only portions of the Mosaic law are to be set aside. Indeed, to be specific, while Jesus overturned the ceremonial laws (OK, you can eat lobster now) he concomitantly reaffirmed that the ethical laws remain intact. Moreover, among the examples that Jesus chose to underscore in reaffirming these portions of the law are: murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander.

    The reference to “sexual immorality” in this verse was originally expressed as “porneia” (Greek), which is a term that encompasses a wide range of illicit sexual activity including: adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bestiality, incest, etc. – in other words, by implication, the sexual taboo code of Mosaic law as it would have been commonly understood to contemporary Jews in the days when Jesus walked among them. And since Jesus wasn’t shy about speaking out and demonstrating against other Mosaic rules that ought no longer to apply (much to the frustration of the Pharisees), if he meant to say something about homosexuality it seems he would have done so at this time. Consequently, his silence on the subject actually speaks quite loudly.

  13. on 25 Feb 2007 at 9:47 pmGabe

    TB – Your dog made a conscious choice to like other male dogs.


    Steve – Remind me not to ever get a dog from you. Seriously.

  14. on 26 Feb 2007 at 11:29 amSteve

    Ut oh. Sorry TB. There’s one vote against your new “natural” movement.

    Could we classify Gabe as a naturalphobic bigot?

  15. on 26 Feb 2007 at 1:50 pmGabe

    Steve, /snark means that the piece just above is in fact snark. So you would have to classify me only as someone who is terrified of your dogs…

  16. on 26 Feb 2007 at 4:35 pmNick

    Great job on this and by all means continue to hammer away as Wilberforce himself did.

    If anything, the complaint has been that the movie really soft-pedals Wilberforce’s Christian faith.

    While I’m at it, it’s laughable to see people decrying the Bible as the source of such ills while they are too cowardly to criticize the one major world religion which does actually encourage (enjoin?) its followers to go out and commit mayhem and make people slaves. It must be because Wilberforce and his modern heirs don’t hunt people down and decapitate them. Oh well.

  17. on 26 Feb 2007 at 5:23 pmSteve


    Hence the word “phobic.”

    Seriously, I was obviously employing an absurdity to demonstrate another absurdity. Demonstratably, the “logic” behind the “if animals do it then it’s only natural for humans” reasoning is obscenely absurd.

  18. on 26 Feb 2007 at 11:18 pmNaCN


    Sorry. I have to admit that I derive a perverse pleasure from irritating you, sort of like poking an irate chihuahua. I shouldn’t, but I do. I’ll try to curb the urge. But I also have to admit that, when it comes to belittling, you’re the queen. I mean, no contest.

    While I’m at it, I notice that you never, but never, answer my questions, or anyone else’s. You might give your posts more legitimacy if you made the occasional attempt. Some deserve an answer. For example, how’s that hospital financial statement dissection going?

  19. on 27 Feb 2007 at 6:05 amchele


    I feel no obligation to answer your questions as you have no real desire for an answer, nor for a dialogue; you only seek to goad and belittle. Even your “apology” is belittling and nasty. Perhaps that’s just your nature and your nick is indicative, but suffice to say I’m not much interested in indulging your perverse pleasures.

    As for looking at state financing of private hospitals, I’ve gotten documents from Hartford and have not as yet even looked at them. I DO have a life beyond this. As I am interested in it for my own knowledge, and not to jump through YOUR hoop, I will study it when I have the opportunity.

  20. on 27 Feb 2007 at 8:58 amNaCN


    You said “you have no real desire for an answer, nor for a dialogue; you only seek to goad and belittle.” That is exactly how I feel about your typical post. It does you little good to complain about receiving precisely what you give.

    Whether or not you are interested in “indulging” me, you do. Honestly, you are the most humorless person on this blog. So much so that it comes across as comical. It wouldn’t hurt you to smile once in a while.

    Earlier you said, in effect, that I knew nothing about you. Now you tell me that I am not really interested in an answer. You see the irony in that, right? Just to set things straight, yes I generally am interested in an answer. Regarding the hospital financial statements, I remind you that you chose to jump through that hoop of your own volition. You put it forth as a challenge. It is not asking too much that you report what you find.

  21. on 27 Feb 2007 at 5:45 pmchele

    Cyanide, I issued no “challenge” to you re: hospital finance.

    As you have indicated a certain familiarity with hospital financial statements, you would seem to have no need for me to report to you; in any event, I won’t be doing that. My research into the subject is for my own knowlege and perhaps for political purposes.

    And so you know, I’m hardly humorless ABOUT this blog.

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