Like many of you, my wife and I ran out this weekend to watch Amazing Grace. While the film was quite moving and artistically superb, I must (sadly) agree with Charlotte Allen’s critique: Amazing Grace masks the theologically-driven nature of Wilberforce’s mission. As Allen notes:
“It is rare that a Hollywood film takes up a subject like William Wilberforce (1759-1833), the British parliamentarian who devoted nearly his entire 45-year political career to banning the British slave trade. Alas, a lot of people watching “Amazing Grace,” Michael Apted’s just-released film, may get the impression–perhaps deliberately fostered by Mr. Apted–that Wilberforce was a mostly secular humanitarian whose main passion was not Christian faith but politics and social justice. Along the way, they may also get the impression that the hymn “Amazing Grace” is no more than an uplifting piece of music that sounds especially rousing on the bagpipes.”
I would have liked to have seen more discussion on the connection between slavery and sin, and between a Christian worldview and the dignity of God’s image-bearers. Allen explains:
This idea of slaving as sin is key. As sociologist Rodney Stark noted in “For the Glory of God” (2003), the abolition of slavery in the West during the 19th century was a uniquely Christian endeavor. When chattel slavery, long absent from Europe, reappeared in imperial form in the 16th and 17th centuries–mostly in response to the need for cheap labor in the New World–the first calls to end the practice came from pious Christians, notably the Quakers. Evangelicals, not least Methodists, quickly joined the cause, and a movement was born.
The heart of Allen’s conclusion:
“Nowadays it is all too common–and not only in Hollywood–to assume that conservative Christian belief and a commitment to social justice are incompatible. Wilberforce’s embrace of both suggests that this divide is a creation of our own time and, so to speak, sinfully wrong-headed.”