Justice as a Gateway to Passionate Engagement

The life of William Wilberforce is one of the most powerful illustrations of level four passion, demonstrating a commitment to learn more about, engage in and influence others toward an issue, even when it called for personal sacrifice. Beginning in his twenties, Wilberforce continued to press forward for over two decades with his commitment to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. Engaging this great cause was hardly a campaign slogan to get noticed in a crowded political field. Wilberforce could not be accused of being "fassionate" about the slave trade in an effort to leverage favorable winds of political fortune. Yet he was by no means the first person to arrive at this dance with destiny and did not undertake the journey alone. Even a casual review of the story confirms it would not have been successful without a team of partners operating in all four domains of passionate engagement. 

Granville Sharp was a contradiction of talent and eccentricity. He was a renowned musician living on a floating barge with most of his family, who formed a band that played primarily for people of privilege, including royals. He was well connected with a brother who not only played in the family band but also served as the Official Surgeon to the King. In 1765 Granville Sharp encountered a young African slave on a street in London. The young man had been beaten within an inch of his life and discarded. No doubt hundreds of other people saw the severely wounded slave, but passed by on the other side. 

"Granville Sharp was one of those Christian fanatics who took the injunction to love one's neighbor literally--who loved neighbors even when they were inconvenient African neighbors trying to reclaim their freedom."[i] Just like Jesus had commanded, Sharp took the initiative to cross boundaries and overcome barriers to show God's mercy by serving others, even when they were not like him and couldn't repay him. Like the Good Samaritan, Sharp took the young slave, Jonathan Strong, to his brother's clinic on Mincing Lane, where he received emergency care. Once stabilized, they took him to a hospital and paid for his extended stay. Strong's injuries were so severe it took four months in the hospital for him to recover. 

As is often the case, this initial engagement with the slave trade came through the service domain, focused on meeting a need. But two years after Jonathan Strong had been rescued by the merciful initiative of the Sharp brothers, he was spotted by David Lisle, the lawyer and slave owner who had pistol-whipped him and tossed him out on the street like human rubbish. Lisle was amazed to discover his property was still alive and now quite valuable. He had Strong kidnapped and put in jail while he sought for a buyer. Word came to Granville Sharp who again came to the rescue, leveraging his vast network and demonstrating a bulldog-like tenacity that convinced Lisle to release his claim. The incident engaged Sharp's curiosity and catapulted him into a study of English law. His self-taught legal expertise would place him at the center of another high profile case regarding an African man named Somerset, who though a slave in Virginia, had been brought to London and was demanding his freedom. Building on several years of obsessive study Granville pressed the case in the courts and won a narrow victory. The judge ruled that Somerset was free without applying the decision to the fourteen thousand other slaves in England. The celebration surrounding the case resounded throughout the abolitionist movement and beyond, triggering a growing choir of voices who joined Granville Sharp in decrying the evils of slavery. 

When William Wilberforce made his public entrance into the justice domain as an expression of passionate engagement for this cause, he was preceded by Granville Sharp.

If you found this helpful and want to learn more about The 4 Domains of Passionate Engagement, check out the latest episode of Learning @ the Speed of Life here.

[i]Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace (New York: Harper Collins, 2007) 92.

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