Justice League 1.0

Justice League 1.0

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  (Hebrews 10:24)

What would happen if a small group of Christians decided to move into the same neighborhood, hold themselves accountable for how they spend their money and time, talk and pray together regularly, with the goal of fleshing out their faith by changing their society? And what if these radicals were movers and shakers, wealthy and educated politicians and business leaders and educators? Finally, what would you think if their communal agenda of national reform was a lifelong commitment?

As it turns out, we don’t have to imagine what would happen, since there was a cohort of Christian activists who did in fact live intentionally as neighbors for over 40 years, in the little village of Clapham just outside London, during the latter 18th century through the early 19th century. The most famous of this “Clapham Sect”, as they were later called, was none other than William Wilberforce, the Parliament lawyer who led the fight to abolish the British slave trade. But Wilberforce himself would tell you that he couldn’t have led the charge without his unique circle of friends, all of whom accepted the calling to inspire each other to transform the world, local and global. Though they were an unlikely group of subversives, they nonetheless simply wanted their inhumane culture to more closely resemble the kind of life God has intended for humankind… a life with fairness, freedom, and dignity.

The Clapham fellowship had only fifteen or so core members, but developed scores of alliances and associates. This can-do community took to heart these opening words of the prophet Isaiah: “Learn to do good… Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:15-17). They were personally involved in so many causes and initiatives it makes your head spin:

1. Abolished the slave trade, and furthered the emancipation of slaves;

2. Established hospitals, health clinics, and paid for small pox vaccinations for the poor;

3. Fought for rights of prisoners, and changed excessive penal laws;

4. Established child welfare reforms, and sponsored orphanages in the slums;

5. Helped build schools for the poor and for the deaf and blind;

6. Established lending libraries and museums in urban areas;

7. Organized soup kitchens and food drives during food shortages;

8. Passed laws for factory reforms, especially for more humane working conditions;

9. Advocated for abused and exploited women and children;

10. Initiated programs for refugees and “foreigners in distress;”

11. Led reforms for mental asylums and debtor’s prisons;

12. Established the Bible Society to distribute Bibles around the world;

13. Paved the way for missionaries in India and Africa;

14. Founded Sierra Leone as a home for refugee slaves;

15. Helped slaves escape from slave ships in British harbors;

16. Released many prisoners by paying their debts;

17. Established a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals;

18. Wrote books, journals, magazines to promote their causes and affect public opinion.

And to top it all off, their justice-work was often characterized by a winsome, adventuresome spirit. For instance, after he finally succeeded in abolishing slavery after 25 long years of determined legal work in Parliament, Wilberforce reportedly turned to his fellow Clapham friend seated next to him and said, “Well, Henry, what should we abolish next?”

How about one final what if… What if a handful of Christians lived together with one goal in mind, to use their education and privilege to get physical with their faith, to… “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4).

These activists could start especially with sanctity of life issues such as abortion, infanticide, assisted suicide, human trafficking, domestic violence, capital punishment, prison reform, and care of the refugee. This contemporary Justice League would need politicians, film-makers, writers, educators, lawyers, and boots-on-the-ground activists. This league could do wonders for our society, just as the Clapham Sect did for theirs. Rise up, show mercy, execute justice, and don’t depend on the government to do that for you.