In my previous post, I considered the horror of today’s inhuman trafficking in comparison with the nineteenth-century slavery which took place in the United States. In this post, I will consider the lessons we could learn from history as they apply to our current situation.
Returning to this era of inhuman slavery, we note that in England the slave trade was quite rampant as well. And there was a man, indeed a group of men and women, known as the Clapham Sect, who worked very long and very hard to put an end to the slave trade and outlaw slavery altogether. For forty years William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament, led this group to put an end to slavery. This group was gripped by the truth and power of the gospel, and the firm conviction that every human person is made in the image of God, and is not property.
Among their group were Henry Thorton (a banker), Hannah More (a playwright and educator), and Charles Grant (a business administrator). They and several notable others would meet frequently at a mansion in Clapham, London, to dream, discuss, pray, and act for the end of inhuman slavery. And after forty years, they had done it.
One of their (what we today would call) marketing tactics they employed involved the use of this emblem which appeared on everything from dinner plates and women’s broches to pocket watches and pamphlets, manufactured by Josiah Wedgwood:
“Am I not a man and a brother?”
There are two important lessons to be learned from the work of the Clapham Sect when it comes to combating social injustice.
First, networks work. Social critic and author Os Guinness talks about this idea often in connection with two others: namely, that social change generally occurs through:
(1) Leaders, not followers;
(2) centers, not peripheries; and
(3) networks, not institutions
Guinness takes these ideas from (a secularist sociologist) Randall Collins’ massive tome, The Sociology of Philosophies, and supplements them with three of his own ideas which offer a Christian perspective on social change:
(1) While change takes place most often through leaders and not followers, it is the Spirit who leads.
(2) While change takes place most often through centers and the not peripheries of society, as Christians we serve in an upside-down Kingdom where “the first shall be last” and in which there are “not many wise.”
(3) While social change takes place more often through networks than institutions, change is crucially an organic byproduct of simply being faithful to the Lord of the gospel—Kingdom change is not social engineering.
The lesson here is that we as Christians can and ought to learn from secular social theory as well as seeing things from a biblical perspective—and all of this in order to effect gospel-oriented change for the good of this world and the glory of God.
The second point we could draw from the lesson of inhuman slavery in the UK and the US can be illustrated from the lines which come from, 12 Years a Slave, a recent Oscar-award winning film. At one point, a slave owner says to one of his slaves: “Man does what he pleases with his property.” And precisely this view of human slaves as property is what kept many slave owners intellectually satisfied with their immoral practice. What we can learn from is that our doctrines drive our deeds. If we believe the humans are property, we will live accordingly; if we believe, instead, that every human person is made in the image of God with an inherent and arguably infinite dignity, then we will live and labor very differently. As CS Lewis reminds, humans are no mere mortals (“Weight of Glory”).
Our doctrines drive our deeds. To be sure, it is not enough just to have the right theology; but it nevertheless necessary. One person who did have the right theology about the imago Dei in others, articulated since antiquity, is the early Christian thinker and Archbishop of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom—a consideration of which we will look at next time.