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I’ve lost hope 

We face a haemorrhage of ministers, and people not coming forward for training, unless we tackle issues of prejudice in our Union, writes Andy Fitchet

Lost hope800
I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had over the last few weeks and months that include the phrase: ‘I don’t know how long I can remain in the Baptist Union.’ These conversations happen primarily with ministers who are younger and ordained within the last 10 years. They are all based on the prejudice they have encountered, or fought on behalf of others, in some of our churches and online.

The vision of our Union is to: Grow healthy churches in relationship for God’s mission.

I would argue that we are ultimately failing on all of those measures. It is a systemic problem which means some of our ministers and members can be homophobic, sexist and racist and hide behind the caveat of it being ‘theological difference.’ I’ve long held the view that if your theology backs up your prejudices, then your theology needs changing.

When I was going through Ministerial Recognition, at no point was I asked about my attitude on social issues. I was asked about what I viewed the role of the church, church structure, church leadership, preaching… but never about my views of the world. 

Now that could be a slippery slope, I understand that. Do we only allow in to training those whose views of the day we find politically acceptable? Who discerns that? But, on the flip side, do we allow in people whose views are abhorrent even without knowing it because we never ask? 

I have been saddened at the level of debate and discussion in Baptist groups regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. This should not be a contentious issue. Often with issues of justice there is nuance. However there is a point where you are either on the right side of history or the wrong side. Indeed, to not act or not speak up is itself acting and speaking.

My theological and spiritual views are on a very different plane to that of our current President, but I was in absolute agreement with him when he shared an image which said: 'If you ever wondered what you'd do during slavery, the Holocaust or other civil rights movements; you're doing it now. Complicit?' 

At this point, you may be thinking this is all about me ‘feeling’ like this is going on. I want to assure you this isn’t a ‘feeling’ but is my, and others, lived experience. Whether it is being told openly homophobic things in church meetings where scripture is weaponised against people, on social media groups where people say hurtful things behind the safety of their screens or whether it’s those who sit lingering on the Settlement list because churches willing to even engage in conversations are so few and far between. 

So often, maybe even always, in the Baptist Union it is the minority who have to be courteous at the expense of the majority not being so. 

Why is it that white people can say racist things and it’s people of colour who are told to gently and nicely tell them why that's hurtful?

Why can straight people say LGBTQ+ people are a deception, or worse, and it’s the LGBTQ+ people who have to be nice and explain why that's painful?

Why are women told they can't lead this church by men because they are women and it's the women who have to accept that nicely and be calm and say thank you?

I am very much at the point of saying sod being courteous all the time, if I ever was. I am bored of it. It's got us virtually nowhere so far.  

Privilege is interesting because many people don’t realise they have it. In Baptist terms, here is a good set of questions to ask yourself:

  • If you’re going though Settlement, do you have to avoid geographical areas because of your sexuality? Or hide your sexuality to be considered for an appointment?
  • Do you have to be careful which churches you apply to because of your gender?
  • Do you have to think about whether going to a certain area because the colour of your skin might be an issue?’

This is why I think we are failing in our mission statement. We aren’t ‘in relationship’ because the relationships are ones in which we aren’t equal and they are ones which are often abusive. We aren’t healthy when significant numbers of younger ministers feel the only option is to leave local church ministry and look for opportunities outside the local church. We aren’t healthy when LGBTQ+ ministers can realistically only serve in maybe a dozen churches out of 2000. We aren’t fulfilling God’s mission when women have to give a defence first of their ability to be a minister because of their gender before getting to what they are like as a minister. We aren’t healthy when people of colour, women and LGBTQ+ people are often at their wits' end having to explain themselves.

We are not unified. But I do not think that is a problem. No denomination is. Unity in name only is not a way of moving forward as a Union. We are not 'together' as Baptists, we are poles apart. So why pretend we are?  Churches aren’t unified if they never talk about difficult issues, they are just pretending to be unified. Unity is being able to have difficult conversations and still love and support one another, not avoiding those conversations for the fear of not splitting up or not rocking the boat.

And in all honestly, I do not think these are actually issues of theology, but of prejudice. Each one different, most certainly, but each one covered in some mystic theology to make it seem acceptable. It's simply not acceptable. 

We face a haemorrhage of ministers, and people not coming forward for training, unless we change and tackle the issues. I left Regent's Park College in 2016. A significant portion of those I trained with, across the three years, are no longer in local church ministry. We cannot hide behind ‘the independence of the local church’ as a reason to allow systemic prejudice to continue.

And the saddest part is, I’ve lost any hope that things will change.

Image | fotografierende | Unsplash

The Revd Andy Fitchet, Minister, Kennet and Test Valley Methodist Circuit (Pastoral Charge of Bridge St and St Andrew's Methodist Churches, Andover); and Pioneer Minister, Picket Twenty Church Plant (Baptist) - an inclusive church for Picket Twenty and Andover


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Baptist Times, 23/09/2020
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