Love your neighbour …
In these last weeks, a very special event for me was being invited to participate in ‘Making Freedom: a commemorative service marking the 175th anniversary of Emancipation Day’. I found it a moving and hopeful event.
The more I learn about the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the more I am horrified and deeply ashamed. How could people treat fellow human beings like this? This terrible story must never be forgotten - in the memory of all our communities.
Baptists – with others - were instrumental in bringing an end to the slave trade. William Knibb was sent out to Jamaica by the Baptist Missionary Society in 1823 and started work as a teacher in a Free School in Kingston. On a return visit to England in 1831, Knibb told the Baptists in the country of the horrific suffering of the slaves in Jamaica and, having continued to press for reform, shared the joy of Emancipation Day in Jamaica on 1 August 1838.
And the journey goes on for us.... For me personally...I commenced pastoral ministry in the 1970s in Bradford in Yorkshire where there were many Afro-Caribbean members in the congregation. I learnt so much from them and was shocked at the pain in the stories of many of these sisters and brothers – learning of how they had been treated at times, even so many years after emancipation. I heard stories of discrimination in many forms – including over housing and employment. It was terrible to learn that many of my friends had not been welcomed in some of the churches, too.
I rejoice in being part of multi-cultural Britain. We are enriched by the variety of culture and talent amongst us. The diversity in Britain makes it Great. I am proud of being part of multi-cultural Britain and a multi-cultural church.
Increasingly, however, I recognise that as a white British man, I carry an invisible rucksack of privilege and am increasingly mindful of Nelson Mandela’s words that the ‘oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed’.
In 2007, our Baptist Union Council, which is our national representative body, agreed a resolution – an apology for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Here is an extract from it:
‘We offer an apology to God and to our brothers and sisters for all that has created and still perpetuates the hurt which originated from the horror of slavery.
We repent of the hurt we have caused:
• The divisions we have created
• Our reluctance to face up to the sin of the past
• Our unwillingness to listen to the pain of our black sisters and brothers
• And our silence in the face of injustice and racism today’
And we also committed together to seeking ways we can turn these words into actions.
Wale Hudson-Roberts, our BUGB Racial Justice Coordinator, is working hard to help us do this in a programme called ‘The Journey’. We MUST stand up to racism in all its forms and ensure a genuinely more inclusive society... and church....
I long for a United Kingdom where the foundational Biblical Gospel value of ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’ takes root at all levels:
- Where there really is equal opportunity for all
- Where all young people grow up with mutual respect and achieve their potential
- Where all Christian churches live this out with grace, modelling... celebrating inclusivity
- Where our church structures – at all levels - truly reflect the diversity of cultures within the UK
On 28 August 2013, we marked the 50th anniversary of one of the most powerful speeches I have ever heard. It was delivered by an American Baptist pastor, Martin Luther King: ‘I have a dream....’One of his dreams was that ‘my four little children... will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character...’
I pray that that dream will become a greater reality.
(Ernie has prepared a series of 6 Bible Studies ‘Like Stars in the Universe’ based on our Assembly 2013 theme: ‘Reclaiming Philippians for Today’s Church’. Copies of this are available from the online shop – priced £3. Ernie encourages churches to join a conversation based on the themes of the study – see www.likestars.org.uk throughout this year)