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On Not Writing to the BT

It is a matter of principle - not joining in the occasional letter exchanges that arise in the Baptist Times.  The editors have a tough enough job making something that is worth reading without the 'angry of Manchester' type of letters that turn up from time to time.  Or maybe they like them because it shows someone is reading?  Anyway, writing a snotty letter to the BT remains on my list of things not to do.  Even though some of this week's letters could readily prompt me to abandon this commitment.

The basic tenor seems to be: 'how dare BUGB Council tell us to affirm women in leadership and suggest that this is part of being in a covenant relationship with a union of churches that ordains women' and has done for nearly a century, long before any of the letter writers was a twinkle in his father's eye.  The line expressed is about the fact that we are a union of independent churches (agree) that no one has the monopoly on discernment (agree) and that differences should be respected and discussions gracious (agree).  However, one is left wondering if the issue were something else whether people would even bother to think about it.

One of the writers observes that other issues are more important.  They are certainly as important, they are indubitably more urgent and more prophetic so far as the outside world is concerned; I whole-heartedly agree that we ought to sit up, take notice and act - but how many of us, if we are honest, even care about issues of trafficking, detention of children at Yarl's Wood and so on?  At Assembly we all raise our voting cards to agree with a motion saying 'this is bad' then go home feeling good about it.  Saying this issue is more important than that is, I suspect, to confuse urgency with principle.

Other writers stress the 'unbaptistness' of BUGB Council passing resolutions.  An easy criticism but one that, from my reading of Baptist history and my understanding of how Council works is not entirely justified.  As I read it (others such as Sean and Ruth can comment if this is wrong), the earliest Baptist Assemblies consisted of representatives from each church who would meet to discuss all sorts of matters (for interest the new Connexion Generals sometimes held theirs is Dibley) including letters from individual churches seeking advice on various practical, theological and pastoral matters.  These churches expected the Assembly to advise them - and for the most part accepted the advice received (which is why it took quite so long for most Baptist churches to start singing hymns!).  A few centuries on and this kind of Assembly is totally impractical, society has changed, churches have changed and it is telling how poorly attended any of the 'thinking and discerning' sessions at BUGB Assembly are.  Most Baptists are happy consumers not thinking Christians; they are happy to have a big organisation that takes care of legal and administrative duties, but woe betide it if it dares to pronounce.  Baptist Union Council is a practical halfway house, it seems to me.  Some members are appointed by dint of their role - Regional Ministers, College Principals - but most are members of local churches, nominated and elected within their Associations (I recall this vote regularly at Association days in EMBA).  In effect, BUGB Council is a bit like a Diaconate grown large, charged with doing the thinking and making recommendations.  Council then brings to Assembly, as to a church meeting, those things that require approval of the whole union.  It does not act or dictate, to say so is to miss the point (at least so far as I can tell).

So here's the rub then: somewhere down the line the Assembly approved the ordination of women, and now people are getting uptight that the Union wants to help enforce that which Assembly discerned as Godly.

As for me, I am quite content being the only female minister in pastoral charge of a BUS church at this time, with the joys, challenges, responsibility and occasional sharp intakes of breath that brings.  When I arrived here people assumed BUGB had it sorted.  Alas, not, as recent letters ot the BT demonstrate.

Oh, and a PS.  People's letters accuse Graham Sparkes of aggression... he is one of the kindest, most gentle and thoughtful people I know; if assertion is confused with aggression, heaven help us.

PPS Sorry, this is extremely long and it is a rant.  Normal service will be resumed when I've eaten chocolate and drunk a few SFLs


  • Amen and may the Lord give us grace to keep going!

  • Rant as much as you like. I'm with you. Our church had a "deaconess in charge" as early as 1935, which I am quite chuffed about. But I simply don't understand why nearly 100 years later people still don't get it. I'd leave a Union that didn't assert its beliefs about equality.

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