Heroes with feet of clay
The horrific killing in May of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man by a white police officer in
Minneapolis gave rise to protests against racism right across the world. This has caused many of us in the UK to reconsider the role of those once seen as heroes and significant figures in regional or national life.
There have been violent scenes in many of our cities as rival crowds confronted the authorities and each other. Passions have run high and there has been damage to property and risks of allowing new surges of COVID-19. Could there be rational debate rather than reckless damage?
On 7th June, the statue of the early 18th century slave trader and Tory MP Edward Colston was
toppled and thrown into Bristol harbour. Once regarded as "one of the most virtuous and
wise sons" of the city. But for some years, many residents of Bristol have been arguing that he
should no longer be revered because of the way he earned his wealth. His feet of clay had
That same weekend a statue of one of our most respected national heroes – Winston Churchill – was defaced in Parliament Square in London. Churchill had a long and successful career in spite of setbacks, errors of judgment and defeats. Most accept that he was the man
for the hour - stepping up to rescue this country from its darkest days when facing the threat
of Nazi Germany. When he died, at the age of 90 in 1965 his funeral was attended by heads of
state and officials from 112 countries. Yet, he had views on a hierarchy of races that are
unacceptable and racist by today’s standards. As a human being, he was flawed and is
another hero with feet of clay.
Can we bring about changes in society with passion for reform but without violence? Look at a local hero, William Wilberforce, an MP born in and representing Hull. Wilberforce
campaigned against the slave trade for almost 50 years from the 1780s. The Slavery Abolition
Act was passed in 1833 just three days before his death. Wilberforce was a good friend of William Pitt. As a young man he was witty and popular with a lively social life. He did not enjoy great health, but he was a powerful orator. At the age of 25, he became a Christian with a passion to promote his faith and Christian ethics in private and public life. Yet some of his actions and some of the legislation he promoted would be questionable today. More feet of clay?
God showed forgiveness towards us when he sent Jesus. None of us is perfect. We should
show forgiveness to others – even our heroes with feet of clay. Yet, despite the campaigning
of Wilberforce, slavery and inequality still exist in society today. We have a responsibility to
take a stand for the oppressed. Micah, an Old Testament prophet tells us:
“the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."