Attending the Q Conference in Boston this past week, I was reminded that almost any evangelical who wants to leverage their vocation to change the world takes William Wilberforce’s Clapham group as a sort of knights-of-the-round-table paradigm. But few seem to know much about this remarkable group. So as a public service, here’s my . . .
10 Things You Don’t Know about the Clapham Sect
First the basics: The Clapham Sect was a group of aristocratic evangelical Anglicans, prominent in England from about 1790 to 1830, who campaigned for the abolition of slavery (among many other causes) and promoted missionary work at home and abroad. The group centered on the church of John Venn, rector of Clapham in south London.
Today these activists are frequently held up as an example of Christian social-justice reform to be emulated. It’s always good to know a few things about someone you’re going to emulate, so here are 10 things you probably don’t know about the Clapham Sect:
- Aside from the great parliamentarian William Wilberforce and several other MPs, the group also included a
Wilberforce, from Wikimedia
brewer, a banker, several clergymen, the father of the great English historian Thomas Babington Macaulay (Zachary Macaulay), and the great-grandfather of Virginia Woolf (James Stephen). Two of its prominent members were women: the evangelist Katherine Hankey and the writer and philanthropist Hannah More. . (Read more about More in this wonderful new biography of her by Karen Swallow Prior.)
- The term “Clapham Sect” was a later invention by James Stephen in an article of 1844 which celebrated and romanticized the work of these reformers. In their own time the group used no particular name, but they were lampooned by outsiders as “the saints.”
- Though they were of aristocratic background and many of held positions of power and influence, the Clapham group’s involvement in the abolition cause brought significant social stigma on their heads. The English ruling classes viewed abolitionists as radical and dangerous, similar to French revolutionaries of the day
Continued at the Patheos Faith & Work Channel
Among the books I was privileged to read for the Christianity Today book awards this year was Eric Metaxas‘s excellent new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Metaxas has gotten a lot of well-deserved buzz for this book, including the following interview in Harpers. I’m reproducing here the first two questions and answers out of six included in the interview. For now you can still link here for the whole article.
By Scott Horton
Eric Metaxas, whose best-selling biography of William Wilberforce, Amazing Grace, provided the framework for an important motion picture, is now out with a thick review of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian who played a key role in one of the attempts to kill Adolf Hitler. I put six questions to Metaxas about Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy:
1. You dedicate your book, in German no less, to your grandfather. Tell us the significance of that dedication, and how in the course of your own life you were drawn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
My grandfather was a genuinely reluctant German soldier who was killed in the war in 1944, at the age of 31. My mother was nine. The tragedy of my mother’s losing her father at that age has been a big part of my life. My grandfather didn’t want to fight in Hitler’s war. My grandmother said that he used to listen to the BBC with his ear literally pressed against the radio speaker, because if you were caught listening to the BBC you could be sent to a concentration camp. Continue reading →
Seven years ago this month, war clouds were darkening, and soldiers were destined for Afghanistan and Iraq. Today those conflicts, and others, continue to linger. So the issues raised in this article that I posted back then at www.christianhistory.net still apply. And besides, we should take the time, at regular intervals, to remember such worthy Christian leaders of the past as William Wilberforce:
Some see the GOP’s strong showing in this week’s national election as evidence of public support for a wartime president. Which begs the question: Is this truly wartime?
In some externals it may not seem so. No ground war rages. No biological or nuclear weapons have been unleashed. But a sense of foreboding looms. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the stock market has been unsteady, as uncertainty has palled our long-term plans. Many have struggled personally, facing dark fears, finding it hard to focus on the task at hand.
Focus. Persistence. Perseverance. Even at the best of times, as Oswald Chambers once said, “it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours of every day as a saint.” We need grace daily “to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people.” (My Utmost for His Highest, Oct. 21)
In a time that at least feels like wartime, such persistent holiness seems somehow more difficult. This, not only in daily life, but also in such ordinary charities as helping the poor, being salt in our schools and neighborhoods, and giving to ministries. The “causes” that are always with us seem now to require even more grace than before. Continue reading →