A Column written by Archbishop Peter Jensen for publication in the Sun-Herald 18/01/04
Last weekend the UN launched the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery. The launch ceremony was held at Cape Coast, Ghana, an area that was once one of the most active centres for the international slave trade.
The trafficking in human beings, ripped from their families and homelands and transported far away to work at the mercy of those who bought and thenceforth owned them, is one of the greatest blots on recorded human history. That some from the so-called civilised world would, without compunction or conscience, buy and sell others, who were equally bearers of the dignity of the image of the Creator, beggars belief and brings shame upon the whole human race.
This trade cannot be named as anything other than sin and wickedness, and the testimony of early but repentant participants such as John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace”, leaves us with no other conclusion.
So in 2004 we are to remember the achievements of those people of conscience, many of them impelled by their strong evangelical Christian commitment, who worked for the abolition of the slave trade and the ensuing emancipation of slaves.
In English history, two names associated with the slavery abolitionist movement were William Wilberforce and his younger colleague, Thomas Fowell Buxton. Both were evangelical Christians aware of their obligation to preach the gospel of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet their Christian commitment and biblical understanding drove them also, as it does evangelical Christians today, to seek the good of their fellow humans, to work for justice and the relief of human misery. They would have been aware of the NT injunction against the buying and selling of slaves. (see 1Tim 1:10 NIV).
Wilberforce introduced his first legislation to abolish the slave trade to the British Parliament in 1791. It was easily defeated in both Houses. He was not deterred. His law attempting to make it unlawful for British subjects to transport slaves was passed by the House of Commons and defeated in the House of Lords in 1805. In 1807 the Abolition of the Slave Trade bill was passed in both Houses.
But there was more to do, the slave trade might be outlawed for British subjects, but the world’s slaves were not emancipated, that is, given their freedom.
An ailing Wilberforce retired from Parliament in 1825. He handed on his work to Buxton, writing to him that he was handing to him, “this holy cause”. Wilberforce died in July 1833. In August 1833 the Slavery Abolition Act was passed giving all slaves in the British Empire their freedom. Thirty years later President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the United States.
Yet 2004 is not simply a year of commemoration for noble acts done two centuries ago. There is overwhelming evidence that the same shameful, sinful trafficking in human flesh is widely prevalent today.
In this century we know the term ‘child slaves’. The horror of it! That children are slaves used for sexual exploitation, as armed soldiers and as household and agricultural labourers is this century’s shame. There are children tied to looms so they can’t escape for the carpet industry in South Asia and some Middle Eastern countries.
What can be done about it? There is an international group called the Anti-Slavery Society. Visit its web site at www.anti-slaverysociety.org and become informed of this global problem.
Remember this well. No-one owns anyone else, either as a chattel or a slave. But we all belong to God, our Creator and Saviour, who will one day call us to account for our sins, both of commission and omission. Work as you can, especially for enslaved children.