ABP in the US are running a series of essays about
Baptists asking hard questions (here), thinking particularly about the challenges
facing Baptists today. Understandably they have a US focus which got me thinking what are the
top challenges facing UK Baptists? So here are some thoughts…..
1. Change. Leaving
aside questions about the nature of late (post) modernity we live in a time of cultural
change. This is a huge opportunity for us to rethink what we believe, what is
core to our faith and how to articulate this to others. For a denomination
which has sought to keep Scripture central to its life and to wear tradition
lightly we should welcome the chance to re-imagine church. The challenge is two
fold. First there is the need to be able to explain our faith and show how it
impacts on life today. Second is to rework how we gather as the body of Christ.
2. Diversity. Being
a denomination that seeks to be welcoming and inclusive has a number of
challenges. In particular, church congregations whose cultural origins lie
outside the UK (eg: some Black led churches) brings a
welcome richness to our life but also the need to work through different
assumptions (eg: the role of denominational figures). At what point does
diversity become a gulf that cannot easily be bridged or the relational strain
intolerable? I hope it doesn’t happen but I can imagine scenarios in which
groups of churches might seek to form their own grouping despite the fact that
issues such as ‘downgrade’ suggest that this is in no ones long term interest.
3. Sexuality. As a
denomination the BUGB has so far avoided this debate becoming acrimonious and a
source of division; long may this continue. However, if you consider issues
where a bust up is possible this must be high on the list.
4. Finance. It is
not really money but relationships; particularly in a post-denominational
context. Nevertheless most denominational activity costs money and is therefore
limited by what churches give. Behind the numbers lie questions of the way that
local churches relate to each other and the wider union and what place giving
has in that. Do we, for example, give to the wider Baptist community out of our
surpluses or is it a core element of the local churches budgeting. And what are
churches seeking to support through their giving? Do they see the support of a
denominational resource centre, or a local association as vitally important or
would they rather give money directly to support other local churches? Clearly
as a denomination if giving drops some hard questions will need to be answered
and even if giving continues to grow the next few years are likely to be
Random thoughts on random thought No. 3.
1. Yes, but only by avoiding the debate entirely. Wisdom or cowardice?
2. What does it say about us if this is one of the issues over which we are most likely to have a bust up? … If we ever get round to talking about it that is.
3. One of the reasons that such a discussion is likely to become acrimonious is that we have failed to pay sufficient attention to HOW we can discuss contentious issues. Neglect of the process of arriving at a congregational mind is undermining our identity.
We have discussed issues of sexuality both at BU Council and, once, at Assembly though we need to do more. The Mainstream North theology day I attended some months ago was another example of the fact that we do talk and discuss it; such places for discussion seem to be more fruitful that big denominational ones. However, I think Glen is right that our problem is the skills to have a corporate ethical debalte.
I think the denominational debates of the 90’s need to be moved on. I don’t believe we need another denominational consultation, though a continuing conversation is appropriate. However, it seems to me that there is a disconnect between reports and the life of churches.
As I listened to the most recent discussion of sexuality in the BUGB Council this week I was left wondering whether we need to be considering different questions.
Instead of wondering: what is the right thing to do? we need to ask: what is the good thing to do?
Instead of wondering: if we say such and such how will we appear? we should wonder if we say such and such how will God appear?
Discuss Vernon A Rosario’s (1997) suggestion that the labeling of any
sexual identity as immoral or criminal is a matter of religious,
cultural and legal convention, not transcendental ‘naturalness’.
Answer has to be around 1/2-1 page, not too long though