Originally published in the Washington Times on February 24, 2019.
All writers can be guilty of playing a one-string banjo. We all have an ax to grind, a singular message, a stump speech.
Mine is pretty obvious. I have said it over and over again: Ideas matter.
There is no such thing as a neutral idea. Good ideas bear good outcomes. Bad ideas bear bad outcomes. Ideas always have consequences. For good or for ill, our ideas do matter. They always set the context for our behaviors. As Carlyle said: “[That] thing a man does practically believe is in all cases the primary thing for him, and creatively determines all the rest.”
Now, I’m the first to admit that I often tend toward the negative. I frequently default to warning of the bad ideas and the dysfunction they bring. I’ve sounded the alarm of the dehumanizing effects of radical materialism. I’ve bemoaned the selfishness of post-modern amorality. I’ve challenged hedonism’s uncanny gift of self-deception.
Week after week, my goal has been to expose the Balkanization of intersectionality and the implicit racism of critical race theory. Month after month I’ve tried to expose the destructive consequences of what M. Scott Peck called “the diabolical human mind” and of history’s tendency toward insanity and seduction.
Today, however, I’m going to break this pattern of warning and turn instead to celebration. Today I want to highlight a good idea rather than one that is bad; an idea that was born on the streets of London exactly 212 years ago.
The promoter of this idea was a young British Parliamentarian named William Wilberforce.
And what was his idea? It was frankly quite simple.
God is God and you are not.
Wilberforce believed all men and women were created equal. He argued that regardless of age, race, class, intelligence, or mental acumen, we all have unalienable rights granted by our Creator; that we all are made in the image of God; that slavery, which was the backbone of the British economy at the time, was the desecration of such an image; and that when anyone elevates himself or his group over another he is claiming to be God.
Wilberforce’s idea was this: No one has the right to define what is human and what is not. This is the purview of God. It is not our own.
For two decades, Wilberforce fought tirelessly in the British Parliament for his idea. He was beaten back time and again. He was ridiculed. He was accused of economic treason. He was insulted. He was ostracized. His political career was all but lost. His influence waned and his voice was muffled. But he held fast to his idea.
He relentlessly pursued it, defended it, and promoted it. He believed in its power. He boldly declared that he would not be silenced. He confronted the “corruption of human nature” and called “vice and wickedness” by their true names. He refused to accept the politically correct definitions of sin and contrasted the self-justifying talk of politicians, preachers, and media pundits with what he called the “humiliating language of true Christianity.”
Wilberforce believed passionately in a biblical worldview. He was confident in it as the only solution to the corruption of the human heart and mind. He did not, however, advocate imposing his views with force. To the contrary, he believed in the power of persuasion and the example of personal integrity. He wrote that Christians should “boldly assert the cause of Christ in an age when so many who bear the name of Christian are ashamed of Him.” Thus, he made it clear that his idea would only prevail if it were grounded in and proven by the lives of those who espoused it.
Wilberforce was well aware that he could commend belief but not command it. “The national difficulties we face,” he said, “result from the decline of religion and morality among us. I must confess that my own solid hopes for the well-being of my country depend, not so much on her navies and armies as on the persuasion that she still contains many who love and obey the Gospel of Christ. I believe their prayers may yet prevail.”
After arguing for more than 20 years on the floor of the British Parliament, William Wilberforce celebrated victory on Feb. 23, 1807. It was the victory of an idea — not of political or military conquest — but of a good idea over a bad one.
It was a victory of truth over lies, of freedom over slavery, of sanctification over sin.
Ideas do indeed matter. They always have consequences. And in this case, we see that the power of an idea lived out in humility, balanced with integrity, and measured with grace changed the world.
In his example, Wilberforce leaves us with this hope, dare I suggest, this promise: The “prayers of many who love and obey the Gospel of Christ may yet prevail.”
So you’re reading or listening to Pillars for Freedom and you have an opinion. Do you want to add something or share with us? In lieu of a comments section, we now accept Letters to the Editor, where you can share your point of view.