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Response to open letter received by Lynn Green, Yinka Oyekan and Andy Hughes on 22 June 2020

The murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests around the world has generated much discussion and sharing of views in Baptist social media groups. Sadly, those conversations have not always been conducted with the grace and humility that we would anticipate of those called to lead God’s people within Baptists Together, leaving BAME brothers and sisters in Christ feeling that their experience of individual and systematic racism has not been heard. There are many within our movement who have been greatly saddened by these responses and have consequently written asking that we take this opportunity to address these issues of justice. We strongly welcome this initiative which is in line with one of our common values of sharing a hunger for God’s coming Kingdom. We agree with them that ‘the denigration and marginalisation of God’s children purely on the basis of otherness’ should not be tolerated.

"racial identity is created by God to serve humanity in expressing to a limited extent the immeasurable richness of the image of God"
The Revd Yinka Oyekan – President of BUGB

The letter asks that specific action is taken to address racism recognising that those in leadership should be held to the strictest standards.

  1. That the Ministries Team makes equality, diversity and unconscious bias training a compulsory part of both initial Ministerial Formation and Continuing Ministerial Development. Priority should be given to those Ministers who did not receive such training as part of their initial Ministerial Formation.
  2. That the list of examples of Serious Fault in the Ministerial Recognition Rules include discriminatory language, and of Gross Misconduct include discriminatory behaviour. We propose that the exact wording be worked out after consultation with people most likely to be marginalised in our churches and communities.

"The American Baptist prophet preacher and public theologian, Dr Martin Luther King reminds us that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ The death of George Floyd has inspired a global insurrection of solidarity and sympathy in the face of a murder of yet another black man. As one commentator put it: ‘If you are not angry and feel deep sadness in this moment, it may be time for a soul check.’ I am challenged by the North African Doctors of the Church. ‘Hope’ says St Augustine, ‘has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.’ These recommendations which originate from a place of anger signal, I hope, courage to change." 
The Revd Wale Hudson-Roberts - Baptists Together Justice Enabler

Addressing the two requests in turn, our Baptist Colleges have for many years included equality and diversity training as a required component of initial ministerial formation for Baptist Ministers. Over the last couple of decades each College has developed their training around issues of race, gender and disability and they continue to do so. They are committed to challenging theological positions and ideologies that lead to the marginalisation of different groups. They recognise that there will always be more that can be done to address deep issues within our culture but are committed to doing all they can to bring about change and warmly welcome the letter and the focus on ongoing training for all accredited ministers.

During our work on the Historic Safeguarding Case Review, the Ministerial Recognition Committee (MRC) asked Council to require that all accredited ministers engage in ongoing safeguarding training as a condition of accreditation. Council approved this change to help make our churches and the communities we serve safer places for children, young people and those who are at risk. We will now consider how ongoing equality, diversity and unconscious bias training can best be made a requirement both for enrolment for accreditation (for those who have not trained in one of our Colleges) and ongoing accreditation. This will require the support of Council after consideration by the MRC, but we commit to working towards making this change as soon as possible, with that same spirit of wanting to ensure that our churches and the communities we serve become safer spaces for those who face discrimination and subconscious bias.

Regarding the second request, the illustrations in the MR Rules for Gross Misconduct currently include ‘unlawful discrimination or harassment’. We very deliberately have not limited our definition of unlawful discrimination by listing specific forms of discrimination such as racial, gender or disability. All unlawful forms of discrimination are understood by the MRC to be included within that broad category. The illustrations are not intended to provide a comprehensive list of all the things the MRC may conclude to be gross misconduct, as our experience is that becoming too specific results in some ministers arguing that their actions are different from the examples and therefore less serious. We will ask the MRC to consult with the justice groups about these proposals and determine whether additional clarification should be provided within the Gross Misconduct category, and to reference the use of discriminatory language within the examples of Serious Fault. The MRC can make the necessary changes to Appendix 3 when they meet next in October.

Although this issue was not raised in the letter, we want to take this opportunity to share that the national settlement process has been changed with new forms being used for all those in settlement by 1 September 2020. The changes will enable all ministers to share about their faith story, priorities for ministry, theological convictions and how they apply them to ministry and mission, leadership principles, ongoing development, wider interests as well as their involvement with other Baptists and Christian partners, before anything is known about their name or gender. Churches will be encouraged to consider this section of the forms they receive before looking at a separate section which gives more personal details. The hope is that in doing this any initial subconscious bias around ethnicity or gender when looking at a name will be minimised. Along with the new paperwork we are drawing up additional guidance for Moderators and search groups which will wholeheartedly encourage use of the Just Aware resource.

"Baptists Together is a movement which seeks to discern the mind of Christ together and so I welcome this letter sharing a strong sense of God’s call to justice and righteousness.  Being a movement invites the participation of us all and so the practical suggestions of how we can develop our habits and practices to reflect God’s Kingdom more clearly are very helpful and will provide significant input to those we have entrusted to take action in this area."
The Revd Lynn Green - General Secretary

If having read the letter and our proposed response you would like to make a contribution or share your views please get in touch with Andy Hughes  alternatively you can contact the justice groups.

The Revd Andy Hughes - Ministries Team Leader
together with The Revd Lynn Green (General Secretary) and The Revd Yinka Oyekan (BUGB President 2020-21)

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