Wilberforce seeks John Newton’s advice, from the movie “Amazing Grace” (also highly recommended).
Salvo‘s own Regis Nicoll has written a very good piece for Touchstone magazine. It’s about how there are no shortcuts on the long road to cultural renewal and he uses the story of William Wilberforce’s England (early 1800s) as an illustration. I’ve pulled out the part about Wilberforce and placed it below, but I recommend the complete article to you as well.
Wilberforce for Good
Regis Nicoll on Marriage, Moral Corruption & the Christian Duty of Witness
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In the eighteenth century, Great Britain was the great world power, as is the United States today. But it was also a country marred by rampant alcoholism, prostitution, political corruption, and the social injustices of hazardous factories, sixteen-hour workdays, and child labor. Crime, vice, and corruption were so bad in London that the city earned the epithet, “the devil’s drawing room.” On top of that, Britain was the world leader in the slave trade, a moral failing that Wilberforce sought to correct.
As a young parliamentarian, Wilberforce realized that while politicians and their policies bore responsibility for the execrable conditions of the day, they were not the cause of those conditions. The cause was the moral decline of society, which was owed, in large part, to the failure of the Church.
At the time, the Church of England was in full retreat from historical Christianity. Pew and pulpit were marked by nominal-to-heterodox beliefs. Lay non-attendance was widespread, as was clerical neglect of congregational care.
Particularly telling is what a pastor of the day, Joseph Milner, had to say about church leadership: “It is an affecting consideration to reflect what a number of clergymen there are whose lives demonstrate them to be wholly devoid of any religious sensibility whatever . . . [and without] any concern for their own salvation or that of the flocks committed to their charge.”
Wilberforce knew that without a “reformation of manners,” or what we might call the restoration of moral norms, ending slavery would be a lost cause. So he and a group of likeminded Christians pursued a dual track: they pushed for abolition while also establishing dozens of volunteer organizations devoted to raising the moral pitch of the culture.
Although it took nearly fifty years, Wilberforce witnessed the end of the British slave trade and the beginning of the Victorian era—a period marked by an uncommon commitment to personal moral formation.
Our current situation holds some remarkable parallels. Yet, to the modern mind, a 50-year struggle is unthinkable. Raised in the media era, where the thorniest problems are solved in a 30-minute program if not a 30-second commercial, we’ve come to expect quick fixes for everything from bad breath to the War on Terror. Any problem older than last week’s news strains our patience. We are a people who trust that there is no challenge a little technology and political will can’t solve.
And yet, we didn’t get here overnight, or over the last six years. The condition of our national soul took decades to degenerate, and it will take decades to restore it—not one, two, or three election cycles, or until the “right” people dominate all three branches of government. Decades.
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