I became a Baptist Minister because I believed the Church could make a real difference to the lives of people. I have believed that the mission of the Church was to be inspired by God to serve those in our community who are the most vulnerable in our society unconditionally.
The sad truth for me is that in the UK the Church has often failed that test. There are a number of evangelical churches that have risen from the ashes of church attendance. They have had social missions, but I have been very uncomfortable with them because the driver is not in providing support, but in converting them to their particular version of Christianity.
The role of religion in society is extremely difficult because for some fundamentalists from the Judaic-Christian tradition, they believe in a theocracy where their version of God is enforced on the whole community. God is not an option, and nor are his rules.
I have never believed in church and state. This is why I was attracted to the Baptist Church and its spirit of dissention. The Baptist tradition has been about persuasion rather than enforcing, so even a child born into a Baptist family is not christened but asked to make their own minds up when they are adults.
The Baptist Church in Kingston gave birth to Kaleidoscope, and one of my inspirations is Rev. Martin Luther King. So there are some real positives about social action which has been inspired by ordinary people coming together and being inspired by the stories they have read in Scripture.
The problem is that these stories are not commonplace. The problem with the Baptist tradition is for every good thing it has been involved there are at least equally bad things. The involvement of Southern Baptist in the Ku Klux Klan is well documented, as are some of its member churches with Apartheid. Primarily my concern is the irrelevance of most of its churches in our Country.
The Baptist rarely have a common voice and the services cater for an increasingly elderly population who see the primacy of mission keeping the bricks and mortar of their church going. The church in its community has a confused understanding of worship and its services are either led by poor musicianship with sing a long choruses with banal meanings such as
Can a nation be changed?
Can a nation be saved?
Can a nation be turned back to you?
We’re on our knees, we’re on our knees again.
Matt Redman – “Can a Nation Be Changed?”
What nonsense is sung, what was this golden time when everyone had this relationship with God? Was it as in ‘All things Bright and Beautiful’?
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.
The Baptists believe in the Priesthood of all believers. The idea is great but what actually happens is that people are rarely inspired by God, but by their own prejudice or interest. The Baptist rarely have anything interesting to say because they are too far away from a cohesive voice. The need to balance the books often leads to churches adopting ministries that chase the money, rather than being inspired by an interpretation of Gods mission for them.
My parent’s solution to the problems with the Baptist Church was to become Roman Catholics. They value the absence of theologically inept but long sermons, encased in a hymn sandwich liturgy and now enjoy a richer worship pattern. They have also found a real sense of belonging in their own church but also in being part of a global family. The Catholic Church is a more united Church which understands the beauty involved in worship, but follows a liturgical year which values the seasons of worship. One of the great theological movements was born out of the Roman Catholic Church, with Liberation Theology, which advocated an understanding that the Gospel was about siding with the poor and promoting social welfare. So why would I not follow this path?
I find the rigidity of the hierarchy too difficult, and their position on Women’s priesthood, its attitude to contraception and homosexuality intolerable and that in its history it has generally sided with the powerful rather than the vulnerable.
So where does it leave me?
I get my support from my family, my workplace and even my running club. I see the value of politics and try and keep active there promoting the values I hold to. I do not find time for the Church but I do miss it. I guess what I need is a revolution in terms of worship for me to return. I love the ideas of the Quakers where there is time to reflect, I like the concept of dissention I have learnt form the Baptist and the sense of mystery but wonder celebrated in Catholicism. I also am not an exclusivist which many church ask you to be and although I remain a religionist, I have a belief for want of a better phrase in a higher power (God) I do not think Jesus is the exclusive way to that reality. I love the teachings of Jesus but I also find great strength from Sufism and some of the great words found in Hindu teaching. So, my spiritual search will go on, but from today I am free from the constraints of the Baptist family or the Christian tradition.