This Sunday in the United States and parts of Canada – and on March 25 in the United Kingdom – thousands of churches will include the popular hymn "Amazing Grace" in their worship services, along with prayers devoted to ending slavery around the world.
John Newton, the author of the hymn, would be pleased that it has become a rallying cry against enslavement. A slave trader himself, Newton was commanding a ship headed home when a violent storm arose. Afraid for his life, Newton cried out to God to save him. He and his crew survived, and Newton experienced a change of heart that eventually led him to forsake the slave trade and become a pastor.
Once he became an opponent of slavery, Newton supported abolitionist William Wilberforce, who, in 1807, after decades of effort, persuaded Parliament to end the British slave trade. The Amazing Grace Sundays this month and next celebrate the 200th anniversary of this accomplishment.
Though slavery is now universally illegal, it continues, often under the euphemism "bonded labor" and often involving children. Recent counts number 27 million enslaved people, more than during the heyday of the transatlantic slave trade.
But Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves, says modern-day abolitionists have several factors working in their favor. He notes: "We don't have to win the legal battle; there's a law against it in every country. We don't have to win the economic argument; no economy is dependent on slavery.... And we don't have to win the moral argument; no one is trying to justify it any more.
"The fact that it's still thriving," he explains, "comes down principally to ignorance about the institution and lack of resources directed at eradicating it" (The Christian Science Monitor, Sept. 1, 2004).
What resource can each of us lend to this battle?