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The Sexual Politics of the “New Abolitionism” by Elizabeth Bernstein

On Sunday, February 18, 2007, 5,800 Protestant churches throughout the United States sang the song “Amazing Grace” during their services, commemorating the two-hundredth anniversary of the abolition of slavery in England. As the congregants sang the lyrics of John Newton, the British ship captain turned abolitionist, they were simultaneously contributing to a growing political movement and to the promotion of a justreleasedfilm. The film, Amazing Grace, which focuses on the role played by British parliamentarian William Wilberforce’s evangelical Christian faith in his dedication to the nineteenth-century abolitionist cause, was produced in explicit coordination with a campaign to combat “modern day” forms of slavery, of which the organized Sunday sing-along was a part (Virgil). “Slavery still exists,” notes the movie’s Amazing Change campaign Web site, which directs Web-browsers to “become modern-day abolitionists” through prayer, donations to sponsored faith-based organizations, and the purchase of Amazing Change t-shirts, buttons, and caps. As Gary Haugen, founder of the International Justice Mission (one of the campaign’s four sponsored humanitarian organizations) has sought to emphasize, “[T]here are approximately twenty-seven million slaves in ourworld today—not metaphorical slaves, but actual slaves. That’s more slaves in our world today than were extracted from Africa during four hundred years of the transatlantic slave trade” (Terrify 21).

The Sexual Politics of the ‘New Abolitionism’ 

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