Today I finished The Wilberforce Connection by Clifford Hill. In the book Hill examines the contributions of the Clapham Group, a collective of lawyers, bankers, churchmen, researchers, politicians, businessmen, and artisans who brought about great social change in England and the world: the abolishment of the slave trade, to name one achievement.
A key figure in the group was William Wilberforce who purposed to see the end of the slave trade and who wanted to “make goodness fashionable” in England. Hill writes that Wilberforce and the other Clapham saints understood that if people have a love for what is good, then society benefits. Hill also argues that the Church has a mission to equip people to live well and to defend the cause of the poor and helpless; as it is committed to this role, the whole of society is blessed.
Seeking a strategy to address needed social change throughout society, Hill notes that like the Clapham group, the Church needs to live and present a new expression of Christianity to the world, one that understands the culture and with humility engages it if it is to offer hope in the 21st century, a century filled with much despair.
As I read the book, I was attentive to the work of Hannah More who wrote plays, tracts, books, and children stories which helped to pave the way for change in values among the establishment. I also was intrigued that Wilberforce was a lively, much loved, and powerful orator who dug in his heals and rolled up his sleeves, giving his life and strength to slay the giant of the slave trade.
Both More and Wilberforce recognized that they were given different skills and used them intentionally to bring about change. Hill emphasizes that the Clapham group enjoyed each other, had similar hearts and minds, and supported each other in order to right wrongs that existed in their time.
The book is an important read for individuals, especially Christians, interested in social justice issues, who not only want to be connected to the heritage of effective vital faith and social activism, but want both a model of vibrant missional community and a blueprint by which to initiate strategy for effective change.