Staying Power

    Is it time to give up on our battle to stop the legalized murder of unborn children? After all, Roe v. Wade will have been the "law of the land" for three decades this coming January. Americans are used to it. Isn't it time to move on? No. When we get discouraged, it's time to remember the lessons of history -- specifically, the lessons of eighteenth-century England. It was in 1787 that William Wilberforce, a member of Parliament and a Christian, decided he would take on one of the most entrenched moral evils of the day: the British slave trade. Wilberforce knew from the start that this would be no easy task. The British empire depended heavily on the slave trade. Wilberforce knew that in order to succeed, he would have to go about the matter in the right way. First he educated himself thoroughly, learning all about slavery and conditions on slave ships. Then he began working with a small but influential group of friends who were equally committed to abolition, known as the Clapham sect. They supervised government inquiries into the horrors of the slave trade and exposed it. Wilberforce and his allies then began educating the public about these horrors. The first victory was a small one, but it proved that the slave industry was vulnerable. It was a vote in 1788 that restricted the number of slaves that a ship could be allowed to carry based on the ship's tonnage. For the next nineteen years, Wilberforce introduced bills banning the slave trade. And year after year, his opponents found ways to defeat them, often playing dirty. As Kevin Belmonte writes in his great new book, Hero for Humanity, Wilberforce faced "a constant stream of false accusations and vitriol, death threats, [and] a challenge to a duel." But after nearly two decades of hard work, it became clear that the logjam was breaking. The public would no longer tolerate commerce in human misery. This change in attitude, writes Belmonte, grew directly from "the sustained campaign to convince the public of the slave trade's immorality." Finally in 1807 -- twenty years after Wilberforce began his battle -- the House of Commons voted by an overwhelming majority to abolish the slave trade. What is the lesson of Wilberforce's life? Despite repeated losses, he kept working. By God's grace, his cause made incremental gains. He didn't demand all or nothing but eventually carried the day. He then continued his labors, and eventually slavery was outlawed three days before he died in 1833. This is what we have to remember when we become discouraged over abortion: We're making progress. More college students now say they're pro-life than pro-abortion. Ultrasound machines in crisis pregnancy centers are leading more mothers to bear their babies instead of aborting them. Congress recently passed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, and we've come close to passing a ban on partial-birth abortion. Wilberforce understood that while people may ignore the truth, they still recognize it when they see it. So he looked for ways to remind people of what they already knew in their hearts. You and I need to do the same. Gradually, slowly, we're winning the hearts and minds of the next generation. Give up on the abortion fight? Not a chance. For further information: Kevin Belmonte, Hero for Humanity: A Biography of William Wilberforce (NavPress, 2002). William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity (Hendrickson, 1996). Kevin Belmonte, "William Wilberforce," Wilberforce Forum Website. BreakPoint commentary no. 021015, "Whose Choice Is 'Pro-Choice'?" BreakPoint supports the Shake the Nation Back to Life campaign. Click here to find out how you can help support pro-life appointments to the judiciary. Janet Gilmore, "Youths more conservative than their elders on issues involving religion and abortion, new UC Berkeley survey reveals," University of California-Berkeley press release, September 24, 2002.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary