Shaftesbury

April 11, 2013

I’m writing an essay at the moment on the significance of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury in church history, and I am- deeply impressed by this man. I have so much respect for him. The reason I picked him out of the others listed in the first place was because he was a social reformer who dealt with issues of the poor and ignored, and those are things that I care about, but reading up on him is- fascinating.

The thing I’m struck most by is his faithfulness. The good news of ‘you have been saved by Christ’ and all its implications (controversial and not, see: premillenialism) was something that motivated him beyond everything, and influenced everything he thought, which influenced everything he did. Because he believed he was steward of what he had, and that he had been placed by God in his particular social and political area to bring others into this understanding and freedom of the good news, he used every advantage of his political and social status to do that, which included responding to poverty and injustice and Everything That Was Wrong With The World In Nineteenth Century Britain (he had a thoroughly developed understanding of how social welfare and spiritual welfare worked together, unlike many others of his time). And he did this in both political and private NGO arenas, and do you know how tricky that is, and how perfectly placed he was?

I went to dinner last night at Annaliese’s. She’s interning at the moment with the Salvation Army in their Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit, and we had a good discussion about social justice and public policy and the church/state separation and the beneficiary system, and what the government is responsible for versus what places like the Sallies and the Red Cross are responsible for, and what we should be doing- whether as the church we should be focusing more on working to get things passed in Parliament or assisting with NGOs, whether we should work inside or outside the system (both. we agreed on both. pincer movement. divide and conquer. we need people working to change laws and we need people working at grassroots level to change individual lives).

And it made me think of Shaftesbury. He’s perhaps most well-known for his tireless political work; reform laws and bills on things like working hours for children, the banning of chimney sweeps and children in mines, sanitation, lunacy laws and so on- but the thing is, he also volunteered enormous amounts of time to evangelical societies that addressed things like education for the poorest of the poor and physical as well as eternal (i.e. gospel-focused) relief within slums and the totally awful housing and hygiene issues the Victorian poor faced. the man did both, and did both well, and did both well for sixty years without stopping.

reading through his biographies, the feeling you get most of all is his unflinching, unwavering determination, his commitment through decades of hard, unrewarding work and political setbacks and constant financial difficulties and personal griefs and lucrative, fame-sparkling political positions he passed over because they would’ve gotten in the way of his welfare work and he almost certainly had some form of depression as well. and every time I read something he did I’m struck by his faithfulness to do what he was called to do, made to do, put there to do. in my essay brainstorming notes, I wrote ‘he’s like the epitome of “well done, good and faithful servant”.’ I cannot respect this man more.

he’s not, of course, Jesus. there’s a lot of stuff he did that I don’t necessarily agree with, but- like Chesterton- he was faithful to what he knew and what he believed and the context of who and where he was and I cannot but admire that. his integrity, and by integrity I mean commitment to live consistently with his values, was rock solid.

and now that I’ve worked myself up and sorted my thoughts out a bit, I’m going to go back to wrestle my essay into submission and hopefully convey some of how Totally Impressed I am.

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