painting of William Wilberforce
William Wilberforce | PC: National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

I recently reread one of my favorite books, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas. In telling the story of Wilberforce, Metaxas tells of one of the most remarkable reformers this planet has often forgotten. 

This time around, I noticed a key point made by Metaxas that I had previously missed, one that is weighty and significant. 

People look to what Wilberforce and his friends accomplished in abolishing the transatlantic slave trade, and then look at our modern human trafficking situation and remark, “But there’s still a slave trade that occurs today – Wilberforce didn’t actually put an end to slavery.” They are right – slavery is still rampant.

However, as Metaxas pointed out, the slave trade is illegal, underground, covert. More importantly, since the days of Wilberforce, people don’t look at slavery and view it as a good thing. It’s viewed as a wicked abuse of human rights and dignity. 

While Wilberforce did not successfully rid the earth of slavery, God used him as the turning point in the hearts and minds of that day. He certainly was a reformer when it came to the slave trade, and saw much success for abolition. But it was in the attitude of the day that his efforts for reform were most seen. 

This attitude of reformation is critical for social and political activists to understand today. While work may be done to change systems and laws, it is equally important (if not more important) to work on the reformation of public opinion – hearts and minds. 

One issue to illustrate this in modern American society is the pro-life movement. Even if we see the glorious day where abortion is illegal in this country, it is still likely that illegal abortions will be committed. Thus, it is important to not only change the law, but to also win hearts and minds so that public opinion views abortions as not just illegal, but as morally bankrupt and worth fighting against. 

The pro-life movement is just one example – you could apply Wilberforce’s tactics of reform to countless issues. Wilberforce did not just fight for the reformation of the law, but of the hearts of the people. We should do the same.

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