Slavery Today and Setting the Captives Free
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. And they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations…instead of your shame you shall have double honour, and instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double; everlasting joy shall be theirs. For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery…I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of Salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, …so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” Isaiah 60:1-11
On the 1st December 1833, all slaves in the British Empire were set free by parliamentary decree. This was a victory which Evangelical Member of Parliament William Wilberforce had devoted 45 years of his life to campaigning for. A major film on William Wilberforce and his campaign to abolish slavery was released in 2007: Amazing Grace.
"Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” 2 Corinthians 3:17
Freedom is a Fruit of Christianity
The abolition of slavery was a fruit of Christianity. However, those who believe that the days of slavery are over are mistaken. As Christians have retreated from social and political arenas, and as nations, which had once been considered Christian, now move into what they term: “The post-Christian era,” we are seeing a resurgence of all those evils.
A Return to Paganism
Those who reject Christianity will in time embrace all of the vices outlawed by Christianity. So we are seeing in this apostate age a resurgence of legalised child killing through abortion, the killing of the aged and infirmed through euthanasia, the legalisation of adultery and polygamy, the legalisation of perversion and prostitution, and a massive resurgence in slavery.
A recent major film, Taken, shockingly exposes the kidnapping, human trafficking and slavery that is going on at this very time.
At a recent Christians For Truth Conference, Doctors For Life presented a major paper exposing Human Slavery and Prostitution Today. They reported that human trafficking has become the third largest international criminal activity after drug trafficking and arms smuggling. According to the American State Department, approximately 800,000 people are trafficked internationally each year. This excludes the trafficking within countries. 80% of these victims are women and girls, and as many as 50% are children. The majority of female victims are trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation. There is a strong link between prostitution and human trafficking.
The DFL report included the testimony of one girl from Eastern Europe who had been lured across the border in response to a job offer for a modeling career. She was kidnapped, gang raped, made addicted to drugs and enslaved to a life of prostitution. This prematurely aged her so much that, within 4 years her life was over. She died of a drug overdose.
Incredibly, in 2007 the then National Police Commissioner (and Head of Interpol), Jackie Selebi, recommended to Parliament that prostitution be legalised for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. In 2008 ANC parliamentarian George Lekgheto recommended that prostitution be legalised for 2010. At about the same time the Durban Municipality announced that they wanted to create “Red Light Districts” for the “sex industry” for 2010. Later Head of Interpol and National Police Commissioner, Jackie Selebi, was removed from office as his extensive links with organised crime was exposed.
Organised Crime Syndicates
Doctors for Life International sent out press statements declaring that DFL “is appalled by the fact that South Africa would consider rolling out the welcome mat for organised crime syndicates who trade in human lives, exploiting the poor and desperate, and forcing them into the sex trade.”
The World Cup
DFL reported that approximately 40,000 women and children were trafficked into Germany for prostitution during the last World Cup Soccer. The same could be expected for South Africa as women and children were to be used as merchandise to cash in on the event. Pimps, syndicates and drug dealers would line their pockets during the event and would not go away at the end of games.
A Cry for Help
Prostitution is an act of violence, which is intrinsically harmful and traumatizing to people in prostitution.
Improving the circumstances in which the prostitute works does not reduce the harm done. In South Africa, the cry for help in this regard was echoed in a survey carried out among 475 sex workers. When asked, “What do you need?” 89% replied: “To leave prostitution!”
Member of Parliament, Cheryllyn Dudley is to be commended for having the courage to call trafficking for what it is: Slavery. In a statement before Parliament, Cheryllyn Dudley called human trafficking and prostitution what it so obviously is: Slavery.
ACDP MP Cheryllyn Dudley said: “The report funded by the United States Agency for International Development claims crime syndicates of human traffickers (slave traders) are increasing operations in South Africa…organisations involved in investigating cases and providing therapy for victims say that human trafficking for sex and slavery is rife in the Eastern Cape. Human rights activists this week said they feared that things could escalate as the 2010 World Cup being hosted in this country draws near…We urge the government to beef up dedicated police units to close down human traffic operators…more must be done to educate South Africans of the dangers of being lured by promises of work only to find themselves abducted and captive to modern day slave traders.”
Brothel Protests and Outreaches
Over the years, I have led a number of Africa Christian Action and Christians For Truth outreaches outside escort agencies. As we began to sing Hymns, pray and hand out evangelistic literature to passers-by, we came under vicious attack by pimps who accused us of undermining their “business.”
I was assaulted on a number of occasions. On one occasion some very large pimp picked me off my feet and lifted me high over his head, flinging me over a parked car into West Street. Tyres were screeching and cars were swerving to break and avoid running over me as I rolled into this main road.
On another occasion I had a bucket of beer, wine and viler liquids poured over me - drenching me from head to toe. Pimps and prostitutes threw all kinds of things at us, including condoms filled with liquids, shouting that they were sharing their AIDS with us. One of our people had his nose broken by some violent pimp.
At one “escort agency” brothel in West Street, Durban, the pimps organised for some corrupt policemen to arrest a group of Christians praying and singing outside. This matter went to court and the police were forced to pay out compensation for wrongful arrest. However, it all demonstrated the deeply entrenched corruption in this form of human slavery.
We have also documented in Faith Under Fire in Sudan, and in the Sudan: The Hidden Holocaust film the ongoing Islamic slavery in Sudan. Anti-slavery organisations have documented the prevalence of slavery in Mauritania, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.
Mende Nazer published her autobiography: “Slave: My True Story” documenting her enslavement. Mende was captured in the Nuba Mountains in 1992. She was first a slave to a rich Arab family in Khartoum. Then in 2002 she was sold to a Sudanese diplomat in London. She managed to escape and sought political asylum in England, publishing this expose.
Numerous communist countries, such as Red China, also make use of huge slave labour camps to produce cheap items for export.
From these and many other examples it should be clear to us that the war against slavery is not yet over. Christianity has always been the greatest movement for liberty. So, it should not surprise us that, as Christianity is rejected and excluded from the public sphere, we are seeing an increasing resurgence of paganism, including infanticide, polygamy, perversion, prostitution and slavery.
“While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.” 2 Peter 2:19
As we resolve to continue to campaign for the complete eradication of all forms of slavery in the 21 st Century, we will receive much instruction and inspiration from the example of William Wilberforce.
The Conversion of William Wilberforce
There was nothing in Wilberforce’s early parliamentary career that indicated what a dramatic impact he would have on world history. Raised in privilege amongst the social elite, educated at Cambridge,
William was described as a late night, party loving, upper class unbeliever when he was first elected to parliament at age 21. Through reading the book “The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul” he came to a dramatic conversion to Christ. He was appalled by his “shapeless idleness” and tormented over “the most valuable years of life wasted and opportunities lost, which can never be recovered.” He resigned from five clubs in one day, he stopped going to questionable shows in theaters, and he gave up gambling. With a new intellectual rigour he set himself to redeem his idle years devoting an average of nine hours a day to study.
He approached John Newton, the former slave ship captain, who had been converted (and later wrote “Amazing Grace”) for counsel. Should he leave politics and enter the ministry? John Newton admonished him that to leave his post in parliament would be desertion from the duty to which God had called him: “It is hoped and believed that the Lord has raised you up for the good of His Church and for the good of the nation.”
At the time of his conversion there were only two other Evangelical members of parliament. However, by the time of his death there were over 100 Evangelical members in the House of Commons and the House of Lords!
William wrote a powerful book: “Practical Christianity” which was an instant best seller. It went through five editions in the first six months, and was a best seller in both England and America, also being translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and German. David Livingstone testified that “Practical Christianity” was one of the most important and influential books he ever read.
Emancipation and Reformation
On Sunday 28 October 1787 Wilberforce wrote in his diary: “God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the Reformation of society.”
Wilberforce’s War Against Slavery
Realizing that he was going to war against an extremely profitable business, with deeply entrenched financial interests and political support, William prepared his campaign carefully. He gathered around himself a group of researchers and assistants dedicated to eradicating slavery. On 12 May 1789 he introduced a bill for the abolition of the slave trade with a stirring three-and-a-half hour speech moving twelve resolutions against the trade. Reports describe it as the most gripping and moving speech ever delivered in parliament. Wilberforce’s friend, the Prime Minister, William Pitt, declared that Wilberforce had “the greatest natural eloquence of all the men I ever knew.”
The French Revolution
Most of the members of parliament were convinced of the righteousness of Wilberforce’s arguments, but they were fearful that abolition would result in an economic disaster. Time was granted to the traders and plantation owners to produce evidence in response. Tragically, before the next session when this was to be voted on, the French Revolution erupted! The tide of public opinion hardened against abolition – in reaction to the anarchy and mass murder across the channel. The deteriorating situation in France, a bloody revolt by slaves in San Dominique and later massacres by slaves in Haiti lead to further public reticence and panic, which swayed the debate against abolition. Wilberforce’s bill was defeated.
War With France
The fact that Britain had just lost their American colonies, that King George III was going insane, and that war with France was looming did not help matters at all. Wilberforce became one of the most hated men in England as he persisted in raising the case against slavery. Wilberforce became the target of scurrilous smear campaigns in the media. He was physically assaulted and even the target of attempted murder. Yet, he persevered, and after a lifetime crusade his steadfastness was rewarded with the liberation of all slaves in the British Empire.
The extraordinary tenacity, which William displayed throughout forty-six years of legislative warfare, is an epic of parliamentary perseverance. Abolishing the slave trade became for William “the grand object of my parliamentary existence…” to be “the instrument of stopping such a course of wickedness and cruelty as…disgraced a Christian country.”
Against All Odds
For the first twenty years of this campaign he was rejected by most of his friends, vilified by his enemies, and forsaken even by most churchmen. Every year he would reintroduce bills against slavery and each year faced defeat. His marathon resilience was all the more remarkable when one understands that William was short, frail, frequently sick and afflicted with poor eyesight. He suffered from lung problems and developed a curvature of the spine which forced him, for the last eighteen years of his life, to wear a steal and leather girdle as a brace beneath his clothes. Yet, he more than made up for his weak body with his vigorous mind and boundless energy. He was not only an eloquent speaker, but a generous friend and compassionate to strangers.
His adversaries complained that Wilberforce jumped up whenever they knocked him down. He was a man who simply would not give up. Neither physical handicaps, public opinion, character assassination campaigns, political pressure, nor physical threats could deter of deflect him from persevering on his mission to set the captives free.
The example of Christ inspired him: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners.” Isaiah 61:1
His friend, the Prime Minister, Pitt, warned Wilberforce that his Evangelical “enthusiasm” and unpopular campaign for the abolition of slavery, endangered his political career. Wilberforce’s position as Member of Parliament for Yorkshire, the largest county in England at that time, and won by a landslide, had earned him an unassailable position in politics and society, and he could be en route to being the next Prime Minister of England. Now, his obstinance and “enthusiasm” jeopardised his political future.
Putting God First
However, Wilberforce was no political pragmatist. He was a radically God-centered Christian whose primary concern was not to pass laws that would bring benefits to society, but to pass laws to eradicate those activities of society that were offensive to God. William declared that the supremacy of God’s glory in all things was “the grand governing maxim” for all of life. To dishonor God would defeat the good of society. For the good of society, the good of society must not be the primary good. God’s Word, God’s Law, God’s honour must be our first concern.
William declared that the central Christian doctrines of the depravity of man, eternal judgment, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, justification by faith alone, regeneration by the Holy Spirit and the practical necessity of a fruitful life of service for Christ break the power of pride and greed and fear and lead to transformed morals.
Saved to Serve
“No man has a right to be idle,” wrote Wilberforce. He challenged his contemporaries to use their “health, leisure and affluence” to “find some ignorance to instruct, some wrong to redress, some need to supply, some misery to alleviate.” Wilberforce passionately believed that we are saved to serve.
Simplicity and generosity marked his life. He resolved to give at least one quarter of his income to the poor (above and beyond his tithes to church and other missionary concerns). In 1803 Wilberforce helped form the British and Foreign Bible Society. He supported Hannah More’s pioneering of Sunday schools for the underprivileged, he helped launch the Church Missionary Society, The Society for the Better Observance of Sunday, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). William was a great animal lover and the story is told of when Wilberforce witnessed a carthorse being cruelly whipped as it struggled to pull a load of stone up a hill. Wilberforce intervened and so berated the driver, who had initially sworn at him, that at the end the driver solemnly declared: “Mr. Wilberforce…I will never beat my horse again!”
William sponsored missions to Tahiti and regularly supported William Carey’s Baptist mission in India.
The Remedy is Christianity
Wilberforce enthralled the House with reports from William Carey’s (illegal) mission to India and the terrible poverty, degradation, disdain for relieving human suffering and human rights abuses of suttee (widow burning) and the horrendous cast system in India. “The remedy, sir, is Christianity…Christianity assumes her true character…when she takes under her protection those degraded beings on whom philosophy looks down with disdain or perhaps with contemptuous condescension…Christianity delights to instruct the ignorant, to succour the needy, to comfort the sorrowful, to visit the forsaken.”
The Law of Liberty
When challenged, that he was “forcing his views” on the Indians, he responded “Compulsion and Christianity! Why the very terms are at variance – the ideas are incompatible…Christianity is the law of liberty!” He was not asking parliament to organise evangelism, but merely to permit it. Since the East India Company had been granted a monopoly by parliament, it was up to parliament to ensure that they practice religious freedom in India.
“Next to the slave trade, I have long thought our making no effort to introduce the blessings of religion and moral improvement among our subjects in the East, the greatest of our national crimes…we have too many…who seem to think our dominions safer under Brahma and Vishnu, than under that of the Almighty.” Wilberforce successfully fought for a new charter that would permit the activities of all missionaries. This campaign was supported by petitions with over half-a-million signatures!
William Wilberforce pioneered new ways of arousing public opinion to outflank the entrenched and corrupt interests of slavers and plantation owners in parliament. Wilberforce developed the pamphlet wars, petitions, graphic prints, local societies and voter’s guides.
While fighting against slavery abroad, Wilberforce was also intensely involved in reform at home, he opposed flogging in the army, sought to improve prison conditions, improved working conditions in the coal mines, and was the first to campaign against the abuse of child labour in the cotton mills. He also pioneered popular education and campaigned against the game laws.
Victory Over Slavery
In 1807, twenty years after he first began his crusade, and in the middle of Britain’s war with France, Wilberforce, and his faithful team’s labours were rewarded with victory. The moral vision and political momentum for abolition had become irreversible. Finally, in the early hours of the morning, 23 February 1807, the Abolition Bill passed the second reading in the House of Commons. A new generation of statesmen, inspired by Wilberforce’s tenacious example, rose up to speak in favour of the bill. The motion to abolish the slave trade was carried by an overwhelming 283 votes to 16 against! The House rose, almost to a man, with great cheers and gave Wilberforce the greatest ovation ever seen in British history. William bent forward in his seat, his head in his hands, tears of gratitude streaming down his face. His long crusade of twenty years have been crowned with success by Almighty God.
This was only the first victory in the ongoing campaign to set the captives free. In 1809 British ships were authorised to search suspected slave ships, even foreign vessels, on the high seas. In 1810 parliament made slave trading a felony punishable by fourteen years hard labour. In 1815 the British government insisted on the abolition of the slave trade being included in the international treaty – the Congress of Vienna which ended the Napoleonic Wars. In 1824 Britain passed a bill equating slave trading with piracy and making it punishable by death. Finally, in 1833, while Wilberforce lay dying, a runner was sent to his house to inform him that his lifetime campaign of 45 years was now fully successful. By an act of parliament, all 700,000 slaves in British overseas territories were set free.
“Thank God that I’ve lived to witness the day in which England is willing to give twenty million pounds sterling for the abolition of slavery!” He rejoiced.
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17
A Victorious Christian Life
William was a most cheerful Christian. He enjoyed singing hymns, both in family prayers and when alone. He would often say: “A Christian should have joy…it is his duty to abound in praise.” He taught that “if a man can rob you of your joy, he can rob you of your usefulness.” Joy was both a means of survival and perseverance for Wilberforce, and an act of submission, obedience and worship on the other. “A cold…unfeeling heart is…highly criminal…” To Wilberforce, joy was not an option. It was a clear command of Almighty God.
“Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Changing the Course of History
Wilberforce is proof that a man may change his times, though he cannot do it alone. Wilberforce became the national conscience. He pioneered a new political integrity in an age of corruption and transformed the House of Commons from a self-serving club to an assembly concerned for the common good of people worldwide. He ensured that British foreign policy would have its roots in the Biblical principle of love for one’s neighbour. He transformed his fellow countrymen’s attitudes towards Africa and India. He planted in the public conscience, not merely a sensitivity against injustice, but a positive sense of obligation towards all people. He inspired the ideal of trusteeship that was to influence British conduct overseas for at least another century.
A Great Turning Point
The abolition of slavery was one of the great turning points of history. Wilberforce’s joyful and dynamic practical Christianity had persevered against all opposition and was most graciously used by Almighty God to bring freedom and life to millions.
May God raise up a new generation of Reformers and statesmen who, in the tradition of William Wilberforce, will maintain personal integrity, while combining evangelistic zeal with concern for social justice.
“Proclaim liberty throughout the land…” Leviticus 25:10
May each of us know, as William Wilberforce did, the joy of the Lord as our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
“And you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free.” John 8:32
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1
“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use your liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13
By God’s grace may we preach Good News to the poor, bind up the broken hearted, proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners. May we comfort those who mourn and provide for those who grieve, working for beauty, gladness, praise and righteousness, rebuilding, restoring and renewing with everlasting joy, before all nations.
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” 2 Corinthians 3:17