Friday, December 29, 2006

Lesson from Wilberforce

I have been reading some brief booklets on famous people. These are put out by The Trinity Forum. The first one I read was entitled, William Wilberforce: A man who changed his times by John Pollock. In the Foreward, J. Douglas Holladay reflects on Wilberforce's life, and develops a summary of the "seven principles that illuminate what it means to live a life of significance today." He states,
Wilberforce's whole life was animated by a deeply held, personal faith in Jesus Christ...
Wilberforce had a deep sense of calling that grew into the conviction that he was to exercise his spiritual purpose in the realm of his secular responsibilities...
Wilberforce was committed to the strategic importance of a band of like-minded friends devoted to working together in chosen ventures...
Wilberforce believed deeply in the power of ideas and moral beliefs to change culture through a campaign of sustained public persuasion...
Wilberforce was willing to pay a steep cost for his corageous public stands and was remarkably persistent in pursuing his life task...
Wilberforce's labors and faith were grounded in a genuine humanity rather than a blind fanaticism...
Wilberforce forged strategic partnerships for the common good irrespective of differences over methods, ideology or religious beliefs...
Wow, if we could only live a life as significant as Wilberforce. His issue was largely stopping the slave trade. Our issue disability and the church.

The one principle that really jumped out at me, however, was the one which states, "Wilberforce had a deep sense of calling that grew into the conviction that he was to exercise his spiritual purpose in the realm of his secular responsibilities." How does one excercise spiritual purpose in the realm of secular responsibilities? Wilberforce was a politician so he used his political platform to unabashedly champion against the slave trade, informed by his Christian principles. I am a special education teacher, or a rehabilitation counselor, or a parent who works in the business world, or a pastor or Sunday school teacher. Do I see my secular calling as an opportunity to exercise a spiritual purpose? Note, I am not necessarily talking about sharing the "four spiritual laws" every day during lunch. Rather I am talking about expressing the need for people religous or not to care about their brothers and sisters who experience a disability. I am particularly calling on those who have a secular responsibility based upon their training, or experience, or knowledge to express that secular responsibility in the climate of a spiritual purpose.

I have often spoken to secular groups of special education teachers, or caseworkers, and asked, "When was the last time you did something for someone who couldn't do something back for you?" Something, that is, for which you weren't paid to do. You see, I think that like pastors, we confuse the things we are paid to do with the things we are not paid to do. Yes as the Wilberforce statement makes clear we are to work toward a spiritual purpose through our vocation, however, we should not allow our vocation to be the only place where we use the training we express in secular responsibilities to be evidenced. The world is desperate, I believe, for people who care for their neighbor, just because they care for their neighbor. They don't care because they are paid to care.

Churches are desperate for Christian professionals to express their secular responsibilities in both the secular world and the religous world, the public square and the church. In both places, spiritual purposes need to be achieved.

What if we could soften the church and soften the secular world toward individuals experiencing disability?



  1. "The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good." --Samuel Johnson

  2. I appreciate your juxtapositioning of the abolition movement in the 18th and 19th century and the cause of disabled people today.

    Not everyone does.

    I have been told by the church administrator that he did not want me to compare the civil rights movement in the 60's with the church's current need to recognize the esential humanity of people with developemntal disabilities.

    Our administrator is black and I think he felt insulted when I wrote to him of MLK's vision of the kingdom and how this same vision needs to be applied to the exclusion of the disabled today.

  3. Its funny how prejudice clouds so much of our lives.

    Even within the community of people with disabilities, there is a reluctance to associate with people with developmental disabilities. Many act as if the fact that they are only physically disabled allows them to feel superor to some others.

    They often don't want to associate with people with developmental limitations, in case they get lumped in with the lowest of the low.

    Prejudice is a most heinous and vile thing...Jesus came to tear down the walls of partition, the veil that separated the clean from the the unclean, but we go on ressurecting and reinforcing the old walls and making new ones.

    Thank you for showing how in God's eyes the least can actually be the greatest and if we reject them it is at the peril of our souls, for in rejecting them we may be rejecting Him who made us all.