Freeing the Slaves, Renewing the Culture

Since 1987, Prison Fellowship has given the annual William Wilberforce Award to someone who has made a difference in the face of formidable societal problems and injustices. The award is given in honor of William Wilberforce, the eighteenth-century British parliamentarian who stood against the prevailing culture and economic interests in his campaign to abolish the slave trade. Past winners have included: the Philippine martyr Benigno S. Aquino, the human rights activist Baroness Cox of Queensberry, and Max Gassis, a bishop in war-torn Sudan. The winner of this year's Wilberforce Award, being announced today, is the indefatigable human rights fighter Senator Sam Brownback from Kansas. Like William Wilberforce, who is one of his heroes, Sam Brownback has worked hard for both human dignity and cultural renewal. Where Wilberforce fought the degradation of human beings in the slave trade, Senator Brownback has led efforts to abolish partial-birth abortion, to ban human cloning, and to combat human rights violations in Sudan, North Korea, and elsewhere. Where Wilberforce worked for the "reformation of manners," as he called it, Brownback has worked toward cultural renewal by calling for corporate responsibility in the entertainment industry, especially in the marketing of violence to children. Like William Wilberforce, he stands courageously against the prevailing culture and economic interests. William Wilberforce was an up-and-coming politician and socialite when he came to faith in Christ. The change his faith made in his life was so dramatic that Wilberforce soon began to think about leaving his position as a member of Parliament to pursue the ministry. But his friend and mentor, John Newton, the former slave trader who penned the wonderful hymn, "Amazing Grace," urged him to stay where he was. In fact, Wilberforce concluded, "It would merit no better name than desertion if I were thus to fly from the post where Providence has placed me." Wilberforce continued on as a member of Parliament, and God used him to end the slave trade, to abolish slavery in Great Britain, and to bring about dramatic changes in the culture of England. His concern for those in need -- slaves and others -- came from his Christian worldview. It was a matter of love for neighbors, all of whom bear the image of God. Speaking at this year's March for Life, Senator Brownback compared abortion and human cloning to chattel slavery. "The basic question," he said, "is whether the young human is a person or property . . . livestock, to be treated as its master chooses." Then he went on to say, "Every person at every stage of life, regardless of status, color, or creed, must be treated as unique, special, and sacred." These comments spring from a deep-seated Christian worldview. They follow a biblical understanding of what it means to be human and of how humans are to be treated. Not all of us are called to elected office like Wilberforce or Sam Brownback, but each of us has been providentially placed at his or her post. It is there that our duty lies, there that we are called to live out our Christian worldview, and there that we love our neighbors. The timing of this award could not be better: Last week, Senator Brownback introduced the bill to ban all human cloning. A good way to honor the senator -- and honor Christ -- is to contact your senators and tell them, "Bring Senator Brownback's bill to a vote." Take action: Call your two U.S. senators and urge them to support the Brownback-Landrieu bill to ban all human cloning. The Capitol switchboard is 202-224-3121. Or visit for mailing and e-mail addresses. For further reading and information: "U.S. Senator Sam Brownback to Receive Prestigious Humanitarian Award," Wilberforce Forum press release, 23 January 2003. Learn more about Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS). Read about Sen. Brownback's work on media violencebioethics, and human rights/foreign policy. Read the list of past recipients of the William Wilberforce Award. "Charles W. Colson Endorses Brownback-Landrieu Bill to Place a Comprehensive Ban on Human Cloning," Council for Biotechnology Policy press release, 29 January 2003. "A Compassionate Law: Signing the Sudan Peace Act," Wilberforce Forum, 22 October 2002. BreakPoint Commentary No. 021114, "'Our Peculiar Situations': Hearing God's Call." Kevin Belmonte, Hero for Humanity: A Biography of William Wilberforce (NavPress, 2002). The last day to take advantage of the early bird rate -- a savings of 20 percent -- for the BreakPoint worldview conference, "Christians in the Marketplace" (April 4-6, Colorado Springs), is February 7!


Chuck Colson


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