Animal Advocacy: The Example of William Wilberforce

Championing the Cause

Advocating on behalf of animal welfare in today’s society can be a tough challenge.

The widespread, anthropocentric tradition of indifference towards animals has led to many Christians becoming strangers to the idea of actively showing compassion to other species.

Thankfully, there are exceptions to this rule, most notably that of William Wilberforce.

William-Wilberforce-2William Wilberforce

The well-known Evangelical, politician and founding member of (what was to become known as) the RSPCA William Wilberforce (1759 –1833) was no stranger to ridicule.

Although famously known for his courageous fight to ban slavery, he also extended his Biblical principles of nonviolence and the moral priority of the most vulnerable to the non-human as well.

Wilberforce was a dedicated and skilled politician who served as Member of Parliament for Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire and Bramber from 1780 to 1825.

During his political career, he championed the rights of animals, supported efforts to outlaw bullbaiting and was present for and involved with every Parliamentary debate on cruelty issues, from the first failed proposal by Sir William Pultney in 1800 to the watershed breakthrough of Martin’s Act in 1822.

Tackling animal injustice in today’s society can doubtless be challenging but it was nothing compared to 18th century England where is was frequently derided, with many fellow members of parliament arguing that the subject of cruelty to animals was not suited to the dignity of a legislature.

Despite his opposition, Wilberforce remained a vocal and outspoken confronter of animal violence. Indeed there are several stories of Wilberforce challenging abusers of animals. One such case in question, upon witnessing a horse suffering a beating by the roadside, he stopped his own horse and proceeded to publically take to task the cruel owner.

Mountain-climbingToday’s Battles

Wilberforce is a prime example of how remaining faithful to God and the plight of the weak and abused can pay great dividends.

The key to Wilberforce’s success was a passion to tackle injustice combined with steadfast determination and resolve.

  • What battles might you face in today’s society?
  • What can become a source of doubt, fear and temptation in your life?
  • Where or who might you go to in order to draw strength?

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ThinkingFurther Food for Thought

“The thinking man must oppose all cruel customs no matter how deeply rooted in tradition and surrounded by a halo.” (Albert Schweitzer)

“We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

“God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.” (Teresa of Calcutta)

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phillipians 4:13)


  • Charles C. Camosy. For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action. Anthony Messenger Press. 2013
  • The Humane Society of the United States
  • Andrew Linzey. Animal Theology. University of Illinois Press. 1995