Rev David Shosanya argues that BME Christians must seek opportunities to spread their influence within and outside of the Church
In 2015, the London Baptist Association (LBA) celebrates 150 years of serving and supporting churches in the capital city of our nation.
The Association was founded by three men – Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Charles Brock and William Landels – who had a vision to see Baptist churches across London acting intentionally to work together for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Under their leadership the Association was born, and funds were raised to plant and build churches and resource ministry, both in terms of human and financial capital.
The Association has changed significantly since its inception. It is a far more diverse family of believers than any of its three founders would have ever imagined. The leadership of the Association has two non-White members – myself and my colleague, Rev Kumar Rajagopalan, a high-caste convert from Hinduism, who came to Christ as an atheist studying Chemistry at university. The founders of the Association would not have imagined that the largest Baptist church in the Association/Baptist Union would be led by a Ghanaian migrant, Rev Kingsley Appiagyei, Senior Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in West Norwood, a past President of the Baptist Union.
The contribution of African, Caribbean, Asian, Latin American and Eastern European Christians to the Association (and Union) life is immeasurable, not only in respect of spirituality and fidelity to the integrity of Scripture, tradition and orthodoxy, but also in the areas of strategic thinking, management practice, entrepreneurship, logistics, policy, ministerial formation, mission and leadership.
Recording the significant presence of non-White Baptist Christians is not simply to ensure that the story is told, and that it is told correctly and through their own lenses. Rather, the more substantial point is to highlight the capacity of those communities to buy into a vision, while at the same time redefining it by their presence.
The challenge that emerges from this particular example of reframing a vision is whether or not African and Caribbean individuals and communities have the capacity and courage to replicate this ability to belong to a community, understand its vision, mode(s) of operation and culture, to such an extent that we are able to make the kind of contributions that have the potential to bring to bear a positive change. In other words, are we willing and able to allow our personal vision(s) as individuals and communities to inspire us to rise to the challenge of appropriating these skills beyond the four walls of the Church, and to make a positive contribution in our communities and within wider society?
This is and rightly should be a key concern as we approach 2015, which is an election year. It has been noted that the Black Minority Ethnic (BME) community has the capacity to determine the outcome of over 100 Parliamentary seats through tactical and strategic block votes, based on community interest, justice and representation of marginalised and invisible communities within society. Making that kind of contribution requires those making the contribution to have a developed and refined vision of their own, one that has the capacity and flexibility to retain its unique perspective and internal dynamics, while being able to hold on to and adapt the original vision of political parties and pressure or advocacy groups. Clearly, this requires individuals and communities that have strong convictions, relevant competences, and a consciousness that is able to streamline and amalgamate competing and contrasting ideas.
I want to highlight three areas, where our capacity as African and Caribbean communities to amalgamate our unique cultural insights into a vision that has its historical antecedents elsewhere is a high priority for 2015.
Policing: Disproportionate numbers of stop and search, alongside a continuing and growing lack of confidence in the police, require a new vision that facilitates the historical principle of ‘policing by consent’, and that creates a new platform from and upon which relations with African and Caribbean communities can be built.
Education: This is another area that calls for a radical overhaul in thinking and vision casting. Again, disproportionate numbers of temporary and permanent exclusions, underachievement and disengagement from the educational system require a new paradigm for addressing systemic challenges.
Enterprise: Despite the significant contribution of African and Caribbean communities in many aspects of British society, we have yet to realise our potential in the arena of enterprise. In short, we need to expand our vision for enterprise and entrepreneurship, so that we can create a strong economic base for our communities.
Three challenges for 2015. Each requires a new vision, and we have the ability to deliver it in partnership with others. We must act! Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Blessings.