Instead of our normal Thursday night down the Yard this week, Luke and I, together with others from Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, went along to the Copper Box in the Olympic park. We were a small group in a nearly-6000 strong turnout for the London Citizens Mayoral Assembly. The two main runners in the London Mayoral race were there; Zac Goldsmith (Conservative) and Sadiq Khan (Labour). This gathering was the culmination of a 6 month process of listening, discerning, and now finally challenging some of those who hold the power to make a difference in the housing crisis that London is facing right now. Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a social cleansing happening in our capital city. The two candidates responded differently to the requests made by Citizens UK: the Conservative candidate, although agreeing to some of what the delegates were asking, was reluctant to make promises; whereas the Labour candidate argued that the manifesto did not go far enough. However both candidates agreed to meet regularly with London Citizens if they were elected. Even Goldsmith could see the value of talking with those he was opposed to, including and listening to the voice from the margins. Further to this, Khan was not demanding the ceasing of outside investments – only that priority be given rightly to those who already belong to the city, that communities should become economically mixed rather than polarised. It was an exciting and satisfying evening, and felt like a great victory for the London Citizens delegates. Although now is when the hard work starts, to keep those who hold power accountable to their principles and promises.
The reason Luke and I were there? Because these are issues of equality and inclusion, values at the heart of the Soho Gathering. We will choose to stand with those who are marginalised and kept down by those who have power and abuse it. Power is always a dangerous thing to hold, psychologically it can cause the wielder to lose empathy and to disassociate themselves from those they see themselves as holding power over. This is one of the reasons why inequality happens, it is why atrocities take place, and it is why we can see another human being as ‘other’ and treat them as such.
Let’s move on to Friday afternoon, and Luke and I are now meeting at Waterloo station to go to a conversation with Stonewall about the place we find ourselves in, within the Baptist Union. We met with Ruth Hunt, and part of the team that is engaging faith communities around issues of equality and inclusion. Luke and I spoke about our experience as Baptists, what the union means to us, and how our structures worked.
I explained that I fell in love with the principles of the Baptist Union whilst discerning my call to ministry, realising that I was a Baptist by conviction, rather than a Methodist, Anglican, Independent Congregationalist or whatever. I am a Baptist because we trust God to move in people’s lives, because we trust people to respond to Jesus through baptism, because we don’t need to make promises on anyone’s behalf. I am a Baptist because we believe that we are all called to live a Christ-like life, sharing the gospel through the world as we go, and because we trust the local congregation to discern the mind of Christ, that it is as we gather together that Christ is present. Together we are stronger even through our diversity. For me it has always been our diversity that I have believed to be one of our greatest strengths. At one level the idea of living in such tension frightens me, rubbing alongside those who see things differently and being ok with that. But what excites me is that everyone has the right to belong, to pick up their cross daily, and that we don’t have a pope or a bishop or a book of prayer to tell us how to do things, rather we listen to each other and hear God together. This is the union I fell in love with.
Declaration of Principle
The Basis of the Baptist Union is:
1. That our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws.
2. That Christian Baptism is the immersion in water into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, of those who have professed repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ who ‘died for our sins according to the Scriptures; was buried, and rose again the third day’.
3. That it is the duty of every disciple to bear personal witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to take part in the evangelisation of the world.
Of course there is a cost, a cost I have willingly if at times painfully shouldered; journeys to and from college were frequently filled with conversations where I would have to defend my call to ministry to two men who clearly disagreed, because inclusion means inclusion even with those who are diametrically opposed to me. Anyone who knows what it is to have a calling will recognise this, and those of you out there who feel called to positions will know that this is about more than what ‘I do’, it is closer to what ‘I am’. To work alongside who deny the existence of that part of me is painful.
But now my Union doesn’t feel safe. There are those who want to punish and abuse individuals and churches for the ‘liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws’ that the Union gives us in the first place.
We shared with Ruth from Stonewall about the declaration the Union made two years ago, and how it was in-keeping with our Baptist way of being church, and about the councils recent ‘amendment’ to that statement. As we chatted and it became clear that this isn’t really about Same Sex Marriage, that this is about changing our identity as Baptists. What some in our union are trying to do is to fundamentally change the way we as Baptist churches relate and hear God. I reflected back on what had happened Thursday night, with nearly 6000 people standing up to the powers and saying that the way the poor and the foreign and the different have been shoved out to the margins isn’t good enough, because we are all equal and we all have a voice.
I think about those who would like to see me taken off the list and my church kicked out of the Union, and this is what I have to say:
Inviting people to Christ’s table does not mean that I agree with what you say and what you do, but it means I am as broken as you are. I would never want you who disagree with me, even though your views are abhorrent to me, to leave our Union. But I would also never want to force you to follow God the way I do, or to accept me as your minister, or to bless the beautiful loving relationships that to me clearly and manifestly demonstrate the love of Christ. Because unity does not mean uniformity. I can say I’m disappointed with you for trying to force me to conform to the way you think and the way you act, I get to be angry and disturbed and ashamed that I see you hurting and damaging people, and pushing people from Christ’s love. However, even in all of this, I don’t get to say, and I will not say, you aren’t my brothers and sisters in Christ, you aren’t my brothers and sisters in the Baptist Union.
I do not get to say we aren’t family anymore, and according to our Baptists Principles neither do you.