The book Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas is fantastic. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. Metaxas is a creative and entertaining author, and William Wilberforce is definitely one of the most influential and important Christians ever. After finishing this biography, I was struck by the creative ways the abolitionists employed media to distribute their message. When only about half the population could read, they used every means available to reach the average person, from the written word, to music and poetry, to art. Metaxas even claims that the abolitionists created the very first “logo” for a human rights campaign:

Am I Not A Man

“This image was reproduced on snuffboxes and made into cameos that women wore pinned to their dresses and in their hair. It was also made into a letter-sealing fob, like a signet ring, so that even the wax seals on letters would draw attention to the cause.” [1]Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery (New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), Kindle Location, 2329.

Another interesting thing they did was utilizing the slave trade’s own images against them, by publicizing a schematic image which shows how to stow slaves on a slave ship. Metaxas describes this well:

The image came from “the plate of a ship’s interior, depicting how slaves should be positioned to maximize their numbers…It was a kind of silent, static nightmare of understatement…This arresting image horrified the entire nation; it was reproduced endlessly and posted everywhere… [this ship] was allowed to legally carry 482 slaves, and that was the number precisely pictured. To anyone unfamiliar with the slave trade, it would have been inconceivable that so many human beings could be crammed together as the illustration depicted…Before these recent regulations, the same ship had carried as many as 740 slaves. This image was abolition’s trump card: 482 human beings.” [2]Ibid., Kindle Location, 2331.

Slave ShipIt is almost impossible for most of us to grasp the depths of hell pictured in this image, which is why it helped make the public turn against the idea of the slave trade. Yet, it wasn’t just creative marketing that changed people’s minds. To make a change of this magnitude requires something far greater: several decades of faithful consistency from William Wilberforce (and several other key players, but he was probably the most important abolitionist for keeping the movement alive). Wilberforce’s creativity and constant enthusiasm over several decades and throughout constant political defeats, threats against his life, and ill-health is breathtaking. He had to be driven by something greater than himself. It reminded me of this quote from Kierkegaard: “What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know…What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.” That’s how movements go viral.

[Tweet “To change people’s minds, you need more than marketing, you need something to live and die for.”]

I wish that more Christians had a firm purpose for their lives. It would help us look past the hard days to the great victory ahead, and inspire us to creatively use every means available for good. When the day of abolition finally happened, Metaxas described it this way: “a Saturday of joy as Wilberforce lived that day can only come after a thousand Saturdays of battle. But it had come. It was a dream come true.” [3]Ibid., Kindle Location, 4551

[Tweet “What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know. #Kierkegaard”]

Recommended Book:

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How Abolition Went Viral: William Wilberforce

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