Have we lost our dissenting roots?
There were few Baptist voices at Extinction Rebellion. As Baptists, have we lost our non-conformist and dissenting roots, asks Michael Shaw?
One of my favourite bands, Show of Hands, has a song called Roots, which talks of how the English have lost their songs. While the Celts on our islands, the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish still have their songs, and immigrants to our nation have clung on to theirs, the English have lost theirs and in the process have lost their roots.
I think we have Baptist have done the same. I wrote recently on “Where have all the Prophets gone?” The piece ended with this:
The Baptist principle of separation of church and state should give us that role, but too many Baptists have lost or set aside this part of their identity.
Many are now just one of many churches vying for people’s attention, offering feel-good services and a cup of tea in exchange for the weekly tithe.
In many areas, we are competing with other evangelical churches. We are finding ourselves losing out to newer movements, some on the Pentecostal wing-like Vineyard churches, but we are also in that same space with movements within traditional denominations, like HTB church plants or New Wine Churches in the Anglican church.
When I was in Bristol I learnt about the Hanham Martyrs, who died trying to cross from Somerset to Gloucester to escape persecution. Here in Plymouth I know well the story of Abraham Cheare who died in prison while refusing to sign the Act of Uniformity.
Contrast that to now, where we have become conforming non-conformists, assenting dissenters! We have lost our radical edge and in the process, and have lost our identity.
I have recently become part of Christian Climate Action. Sadly I was not able to attend the recent London Extinction Rebellion, but my social media timeline was full of Catholic priests, Anglican vicars (pictured), nuns and even a rabbi being arrested. I saw Bishops leading communion. However, the Baptist voice was virtually non existent (in researching this piece I asked on the Whatsapp group off any Baptist involvement, I did not get a single response).
What has happened to our radical movement? When did the Established church have more dissenters than us?
The problem comes back to our roots. We have lost them in the bland desire for growing bigger churches, and social acceptability. We have lost our heart, and living things die when their heart is lost. We are dying and we don’t even know it!
What do we need to do? We need to start finding the radical nature of our tradition, to be on the front line of radical new movements among young people, Social Justice and Climate Care. We need to be prepared to be arrested like our forefathers, for our society's good.
If we as dissenters can’t do this, then we are no longer dissenters and no longer non-conformists! We need to recover our roots!
Image | A vicar is about to be arrested for blocking Whitehall during the Extinction Rebellion protests, October 2019 / John Cameron | Unsplash
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