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The Clapham Sect: A model for Mission Taskforce's

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Do nothing and nothing will change. Do something and...

A thought that may cross the minds of any man wishing to create or join a Mission Taskforce is, 'What is the point? Can we actually make a difference?'

The obvious answer is that you will certainly make more of a difference doing something than if you do nothing at all. But let's aim bigger than that. With the right combination of people and their gifts, you can make a profound difference that alters the course of history. One small group of reformers, known as the Clapham Sect did just that.

A small group overcomes a big evil

"God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners. It is the true duty of every man to promote the happiness of his fellow creatures to the utmost of his power." William Wilberforce

In the late 1700s, English traders raided the African coast on the Gulf of Guinea, captured between 35,000 and 50,000 Africans a year, shipped them across the Atlantic, and sold them into slavery. It was a profitable business that many powerful people had become dependent upon. One publicist for the West Indies trade wrote, "The impossibility of doing without slaves in the West Indies will always prevent this traffic being dropped. The necessity, the absolute necessity, then, of carrying it on, must, since there is no other, be its excuse."

Except God did not want it to continue. To remove men, women and children from their homes and into a life of pain, suffering, indignity and early death was an act so sinful and unbiblical it grieved His very heart.

So he raised up a small group of brave men and women to fight back against it. That Group was known as The Clapham Saints (now fondly known as the Clapham Sect). They were all members of the Anglican church and enjoyed the ministry and counsel of John Venn (1759–1813), who became Rector of Clapham in 1793.

After many decades of work both in British society and in Parliament, the reformers saw their efforts rewarded with the final passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807, banning the trade throughout the British Empire and, after many further years of campaigning, the total emancipation of British slaves with the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

They also campaigned vigorously for Britain to use its influence to work towards abolishing slavery throughout the world.

Still think you and a few others can't make a difference?

Same passion, different gifts

The Clapham Sect were all moved by the same purpose but brought different gifts, skills, resources and influence to the group. It included great orators and politicians like William Wilberforce, who largely became the public face for the abolition of slavery, arguing for it in the House of Commons.

It also included scholars like Granville Sharp, clergymen like Henry Venn and John Venn, economists and bankers such as Henry Thornton, creatives like the great Hannah More and other skilled men and women.

How different skills complementing each other leads to major transformation

William Wilberforce is credited as the person chiefly responsible for abolishing slavery in Britain but as many (including himself) have pointed out, Wilberforce's legislative change would never of happened without the cultural/moral change that preceded it.

As one Wilberforce biographer points out: "The genius of the Clapham Sect and the likely reason for their success is that they understood that their battle was not merely political and went to great lengths to make the cultural case against slavery and the trade as well."

Wilberforce knew that you don't create lasting change using law. First, he had to capture the hearts and minds of his fellow countrymen. To accomplish that Wilberforce knew he, "desperately needed someone in the world of culture". He found that someone in Hannah More, the prolific writer who's works outsold Jane Austen ten to one at the time.

Soon after their first meeting, the Clapham Sect agreed that Wilberforce would fight the battle against slavery with legislation in Parliament, while More would fight with quills and public poems. So, for 45 years, Wilberforce introduced Bill after Bill and More wrote poem after poem - until legislative change came with the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.

You and your Mission Taskforce members are unique. You have personalities, gifts, skills, perspectives and anointing's that nobody else has or ever will have. That blend could bring an entirely new solution to an ever-present problem.

They did more together too

Warning: If your Mission Taskforce begins to take on a great evil, and you make progress against it, you will be curious about what else you can conquer to.

That was certainly the case for the Clapham Sect who spent their lives working hard to deliver greater good. They campaigned and delivered reform for prisoner treatment and better conditions for factory workers and chimney sweeps. They opposed animal cruelty and helped to found the RSPCA. They worked hard to deliver free schools, hospitals and medical dispensaries and they were founders of the Bible Society and the Church Missionary Society. They challenged the whole moral climate of their times.

So, there we have it. When are you going to create or sign up to a Mission Taskforce?

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