We are in the midst of an unsettling election process. Daily headlines can provoke and upset us. The wisest of us may be those who simply keep working quietly and faithfully (1 Tim 2:2). Yet we also have a responsibility that we dare not abandon: we are called to participate in our government through informed voting. I pray that our votes and speech are guided by scripture, and not by the fluctuating wind of endless polls.
At times like these, it is a refreshing practice to step outside of the stuffy confines of contemporary thought and read a bit of history. Currently I am enjoying a religious book written by—gasp!—a politician. William Wilberforce worked tirelessly in England in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s: first to abolish the slave trade, and then slavery itself.
In retrospect, we tend to consider such social changes as inevitable, but that diminishes the significance of Wilberforce’s unlikely victory. There were enormous financial interests arrayed against him. The opposition was extremely good at twisting his words and making him to appear as the real villain in the conflict. The other side knew how to manipulate the political system to their benefit.
For twenty years, Wilberforce was defeated again and again in the House of Lords. Yet he did not grow weary or give up in the middle of the battle. After 1807, when the slave trade was abolished, he labored another 22 years to abolish slavery in Britain. He worked to the end of his strength, despite debilitating, chronic physical limitations. How did he do it? What drove his confidence and incredible persistence? This quotation from his book is telling:
I must confess equally boldly that my own solid hopes for the well-being of my country depend, not so much on her navies and armies, not on the wisdom of her rulers, nor on the spirit of her people, as on the persuasion that she still contains many who love and obey the Gospel of Christ. I believe their prayers may yet prevail.’
Wilberforce was not one to simply try to pass laws—he knew laws were a reflection of the moral and spiritual condition of the people. His book, A Practical View of Christianity, made the argument that the reason many professing Christians of his day were not having noticeable impact was because they had adopted a socially respectable, comfortable religion. That was not true Christianity. Real faith has feet. Real faith impacts how we live. It is the same argument that the biblical writer James makes: ‘You believe there is one God? Good. Even the demons believe. And shudder.’ (James 2:19)
As we approach this election season, let us remember that King Jesus has all authority in heaven and in earth. (Matthew 28:19-20) Let us pray and trust God, and then work with all our might to honor Jesus with gracious and loving speech that lifts up truth and opposes error. Whoever wins the elections, our King has already won the decisive battle over sin, death and the devil. Let’s stand—and work—on that unshakable ground.