Thank you Michael Shaw for your timely question to Baptists as to whether we have lost our dissenting roots; I rather think we have. The reasons for this are manifold. A society predicated on comfort and self-interest is not fertile ground for disrupting the status quo or 'putting oneself out'. As much as churches are in theory to be distinctive, 'odd', salt and light we have increasingly aped the culture, adopting its messages and media in our search for cultural relevance. Along with this the alienating dualism of 'them and us' is a binary distinction which we rightly side-step as we seek to impose a Gospel framework onto the issues at hand. Ministers also fear raising questions of politics because they will be seen as 'party-political', incurring the ire of some in their congregation. Finally, we have also become confused about the grounds for our dissent. Some see Christian dissent to be about wording on cakes and cross-wearing on the reception desk, whereas it is the justice issues found in the Old Testament which I believe gives us the firmest reasons and basis for our dissent.
Walter Brueggemann puts this rather more eloquently' when he writes '...empire...is always about force... (meaning)... political monologue that eliminates all voices from below, that settles for narrow consensus of opinion to the exclusion of other opinion. This is an exclusion that drifts towards fascism and that erodes, if not eliminates, democratic possibility. In our society that monologue is abetted by 'mainstream' media that collude with and support the consensus of the governing class.' (Reality, Grief, Hope p. 132.)
Last month I attended both the anti-prorogation rally/march in Manchester and the Extinction Rebellion closing of Deansgate. (Its been a while. My last participation was marches against the UK's participation in the Iraq war.) The anti-prorogation protest comprised of middle-aged and older people concerned with an apparent abuse of political power. The latter, (a wonderfully peaceful and friendly affair) was made up of full of teens and 20's - demonstrating their protest at the primary concern which would motivate them to action. My youngest daughter, Grace, then spent four days with XR, returning home each evening having interviewed Greenham Common and XR protesters and with tales of participating in a 'die-in' at Barclays Bank and laying on the tram tracks to prevent them running on time. All of which presents us with an important point about the future of the church. A (Baptist) church which does not hold to its dissenting roots will not be attractive to the coming generation. A recent Facebook comment regarding Christians being baptised in a London street in advance of their participation in the Christian Extinction Rebellion action on climate change read, 'This moved me to tears. I've long fallen out of love with the church, and lost much of my faith. But seeing things like this fills my heart, and makes me think that maybe there's hope. If Christian Climate Action are still around in London at the weekend, I'd love to be baptised like this.'
When I used to travel by train from Leeds to London I often reflected on the words painted along the wall in large script as my train pulled into Kings Cross station. 'I am an angry passionate soul, fighting against this tortuous mediocrity.' - Che Guevara.'
Amen to that!
Ashley Hardingham (Revd), Altrincham Baptist Church
I heartily agree with Michael Shaw's piece, wondering whether Baptists have mis-laid their dissenting tradition and prophetic edge. Yes, I do think there should be more Baptist representation within Extinction Rebellion for example, but I think we forget how small we are in comparison with Anglicans, who, just from a numerical point of view, are likely to be more prominent in this movement.
However, I would also say that if this is true about Baptists losing touch with their Nonconformist identity, it is not really a recent development. Many suffragists, and yes suffragettes, left Baptists churches at the turn of the last century because Baptists were not more vocal and prominent in the women's suffrage movement. Free Church men and women were evident in this movement, but they were sadly a tiny minority of the movement and a tiny representation of Baptists overall. (See my book 'Burning to Get the Vote' for a history of the women's suffrage movement in Buckinghamshire!).
And I note too that Michael Shaw is from Devonport, where numerous nuclear submarines are currently rusting away without a viable and costed plan for safe de-construction. While the BU Council has in the past nailed its colours to the mast regarding nuclear disarmament and not renewing Trident, I continue to have an overwhelmingly apathetic and negative response from my fellow Baptist ministers and church members on this vital issue, which I am glad to see has been taken up by the Extinction Rebellion protests.
Yours in Christ,
Rev Colin Cartwright
Minister, Carey Baptist Church, Hemel Hempstead
Great, provocative stuff from a baptist minister
Simon Jones (via Twitter)
Not wanting to diminish the point of the article, in trying to highlight the phenomenon of political apathy. But I just want to say I feel a little uncomfortable with the technical historical terms 'dissent' and 'non-conformity' being used in this way. The terms were never related to political activity but related to a specific belief in religious freedom. I think it'd be wrong to say that "because you are a Baptist you should be publicly protesting", which seems to be the logical conclusion of the article.
From my reading of church history, the typical non-conformist way has usually been more along the lines of: "society says do this, but without demonstration I'm going to quietly do that." Take for example the Baptists who refused to pay tax after the 1902 education act.
Just because it's not public, doesn't mean it's not protest.
Phil Laver, Lerwick Baptist Church, Shetland
Re: 'You're never too old, there's more to come'
Wow!!! This is an eye opener to us oldies!! I have great admiration and respect for this lady!!! To be called to do such good work, working with care homes is such important and valuable work sharing God’s love with those who are having to cope with dementia.
Friar Lane & Braunstone Baptist Church (via Facebook)
Congratulations Wendy Gleadle!
BRFonline (via Twitter)
Re: Why does God allow bad things to happen?
The subject of this letter is not the title in itself but, why don’t we people ask, “Why does God allow good things to happen?”
My thoughts about is that we don’t question what is good but only what is problematic. Secondly, that God makes good things to happen is absolutely natural, as His nature is good and goodness is in God’s definition.
Asking why is God doing good is also to imply that it would be more natural for Him to do the contrary of Good. Therefore, that is a question that can be obscure and doubtful. God is a good God but allows bad things to happen. His designs are beyond mankind comprehension. Love and Fear of God is not unusual in the heart of a believer.
Maria da Costa