Sometimes, late night cable can be interesting. As I made a list, and checked it twice, the film Amazing Grace came on. I had never seen it, but wanted to. I own it digitally but not in HD. Well, here it was in 60" HD glory, so why not. It was either that, or wait for the Senate to pass a bill that is so wrong, so useless it could ruin Christmas.
Now, it's a biopic, and as such complimentary, of course. But it's based in fact, and centers around the British act to stop the slave trade and the person behind it, for 26 years. His name was William Wilberforce. He's proof an evangelical Christian conservative can be a good person. He abolished the slave trade in England, and he founded the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). I'm sure he would have frowned on my lifestyle, but I'm also sure in the true spirit of Obama he and I could have agreed on enough to make us allies.
Year after year, for 26 years, he introduced his bill to abolish the slave trade. He was the Ted Kennedy of slavery. Kennedy fought his whole life for health care reform; never giving up. Often, it was thankless, a true Davey and Goliath scenario. The same for Wilberforce. Each year for 26 years Wilberforce went to the Parliament as the member from Yorkshire (1784-1812). In 1785 he had a come to Jesus moment, literally, and became an evangelical Christian. But he didn't lose all his mind. It was shortly thereafter, as he was deciding to do "the lord's work or man's in parliament" that he was convinced by his soon-to-be Prime Minister friend (?) William Pitt, who became the youngest Prime Minister at the age of 24, that the Lord's work could be done in Parliament. The question mark is because the movie, and everything I've read, has Wilberforce and Pitt in a very close friendship, right down to being buried next to each other, not their wives. Draw your own conclusions.
After the movie, I read an entire evening's worth on Wilberforce. And yes, he was accused of ignoring atrocities and injustices at home while championing the rights of those from abroad, the slaves. He was a conservative by all accounts, and behaved as such. Yet, he found time to love animals, and founded the Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty to Animals, the oldest animal protection agency in the world. His two passions, freeing those enslaved by other men and abused beyond humanity, and helping animals live with the cruelty of some humans. He was a good man, at least in those areas.
And I thought of our politicians, our Christians, our conservatives in America. As they openly pray to defeat a bill that might help save some of the 40,000 people a year that die from lack of health care access, as they lobby and campaign to deny other Americans rights, rights denied based solely on religious and conservative ideology, as they pray to interfere in a woman and her medical choices, as all they do is stand for division, hatred, power, I am reminded that some Christians, some conservatives, historically have gotten many things right. Wilberforce was one.
I am happy to have encountered the story of William Wilberforce. After 26 years he got his bill, he snuck it in, got crafty with the legislation and soon slavery was abolished. He corresponded with Thomas Jefferson. He spoke truth to power when power didn't want to hear. And he believed his god wanted to help the most needy, the most helpless of us all; at the time, it was real slaves and animals, now, it would be economic slaves (and still animals, unfortunately). And if you believe in a God how can you not believe that he or she would want to help the economic slaves in this country denied our bounty because of lack of money.
Wilberforce, Kennedy, crusaders. Two hundred years later in America we still haven't got the race thing right, but we're working on it. And in the future, we'll see if we are getting the health care thing right. In the mean time, American conservatives could take a lesson from Wilberforce. Caring, helping, fighting for people, not against them, is a Christian, conservative value. Or at least it was.