The inevitable Brexit post…

Hello, it’s been a little while…

So, this is it. Theresa May has signed the letter, and the two years of negotiations to take the UK out of the European Union begin.

The UK is leaving the European Union.

The UK is leaving the EU.

I still can’t quite get my head around that sentence. It just seems weird (as well as catastrophically wrong). We’ve been part of the EEC/EU all my life, it’s just been normal to me that that’s how things have been. It’s not been a bad thing, I can’t think of any time when I’ve thought “damn you, EU” and shook an angry fist in the vague direction of Brussels. To think that in two years’ time that won’t be the case just seems strange.

But leave we will, assuming that the negotiations don’t go pear-shaped and we end up not leaving (well, a man can dream, can’t he?). And if Theresa May and the right wing of the Conservative party get their way, it will be a hard, non-Single Market Brexit.

I actually, genuinely don’t understand it.

I don’t understand why David Cameron called the referendum in the first place. Sure, if you asked people if they wanted a referendum, they answered “yes”. But my understanding is that when people ranked how important EU membership was to them, it never ranked as a particularly important issue. Essentially, then, we’ve been railroaded into this by a few people for whom leaving the EU was an obession. Cameron appears to have been frightened by them and so called the referendum.

Which he lost. And then ran away from. And Mrs May took over. And that’s where things get interesting, and more than a little depressing…

The aftermath of the Referendum

Now we get to the part that makes me even more puzzled and, if I’m honest, slightly sad and angry about: what happened between the referendum result and the triggering of Article 50 that happened today.

The result of the referendum was close: 52-48. This was by no means an overwhelming majority in favour of Brexit; this was a close call.

But somehow, this got taken up by those most in favour of Brexit and labelled “the will of the people”, as if this was a unanimous, or near-unanimous, vote in favour of leaving. It wasn’t; nowhere near it.

But the loudest Brexit voices were the ones that prevailed. Only the bald fact that Leave won the referendum mattered. That 48% who voted against – over 16 million people – didn’t count. The people had spoken, the narrative went, with one voice: we want out.

Now, you might think given the closeness of the vote, that a wise and sensible government would tread cautiously. The outcome of the vote, and the sheer divisiveness of the campaign, showed a country that was deeply split, almost down the middle. Surely, in these circumstances, the best thing to do was for Mrs May and the government to seek consensus, to move slowly, to try and work to bring on board those of us who had voted Remain. There would no doubt be some, perhapd many, who would refuse. But that was no reason not try. If Mrs May was serious about the “Unionist” part of the “Conservative and Unionist” party she boasted she belonged to in her speech on taking up office, surely reaching out to Remain-voters, seeking to include them and their wishes and preferences in what came next would’ve gone a long way to healing some of those deep divisions.

In a similar way, Mrs May could’ve respected the fact that Scotland voted Remain and worked closely with Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government to find a way of dealing with Brexit that could have accommodated them. This was surely especially important, given the fact that the SNP would surely be looking to use the Brexit vote as a trigger for a second referendum (which, of course, they did; and while I fervently hope Scotland stays in the UK, I can’t say I blame them).

And in dealing with the EU post-referendum, surely seeking to maintain the best possible relations with the 27 countries with whom we’ll have to negotiate was the best way forward. The message to Brussels and those 27 countries should surely have been, “While we intend to enact the result of the referendum, we recognise it is vital for the UK and the EU to come to the best possible agreement to allow us both to flourish after Brexit. We therefore intend to work closely with our partners and friends in the EU to ensure that what emerges from the Article 50 negotiations will be as mutually beneficial to us all as possible, allowing us to continue to work closely together post-Brexit”. Or even just, “sorry! It’s not you, it’s us”.

But, no.

Brexit became “the will of the people”, as noted above. Ardent hard-Brexiteers, such as Boris Johnson and Liam Fox, were appointed to the cabinet in key positions. Theresa May tried to ignore her previous pro-Remain sentiment and made hard Brexit her priority: “Brexit means Brexit”, apparently. She needlessly sidelined and antagonised Scotland and paid little or no attention to Northern Ireland. The Conservative Party conference that autumn at times represented a giant two fingers stuck up at the rest of the EU. No one in the government showed any appreciation of the deep divisions in the country, or the effects that rushing headlong into a hard Brexit would have on Scotland and the rest of the EU.

Labour’s response

Surely Labour could be relied on to stop this? I mean, they campaigned in favour of remaining, didn’t they?

Sigh.

No, they didn’t. Jeremy Corbyn wanted to be nuanced and to show himself as anything but an uncritical supporter of the EU (especially given his previous anti-EU stance). But he just came across as lukewarm and not caring. While arguments still rage about how effectively he campaigned (and the point is well made that Labour voters voted largely in favour of Remain – a point we’ll come on to shortly), it has to be said he helped contribute to a sense that the pro-Remain campaign was half-hearted and more interested in poiting out the dangers of leaving the EU, rather than positively making the case for staying in.

Then Corbyn appeared to call for Article 50 to be triggered now, and praised Gisela Stuart for her role in leading the Leave campaign. Really? What kind of message does that send to Labour MPs and members who campaigned for Remain, as they thought their leader was, and who were left devastated by the result?

Then came the Parliamentary bill to trigger Article 50. And we must pause here and consider the supreme irony of Brexiteers who had campaigned for the UK Parliament to be sovereign once more (which it was anyway), opposing one measure that would ensure that sovereignty was a reality.

But back to Labour. They put up all sorts of amendments designed to protect the rights of EU citizens still living here, ensure that Parliament got a say on the final deal etc. They were all rejected. So, having seen these presuambly crucial amendments voted down, did Labour vote against the bill on the grounds that, while they respected the result of the referendum, to support Brexit in this way would go against what the party believed to be important?

They did not. They were whipped into voting in favour of the bill.

I cannot believe the immense stupidity of this decision. Still. Labour was cowed by that “will of the people” line, forgetting that 48% of the vote was for remaining; forgetting that between 60-70% of their own supporters had voted Remain – and were now effectively unrepresented by their own party. Theresa May now had and has a free hand. Corbyn and Labour have said “the fight starts now” (ha!) and of the tests that the eventual deal must pass in order for them to accept it.

But it’s too late. It’s. Too. Late. They’ve given May and the hard Brexiteers a free hand. How can they oppose it now? In voting in favour of Article 50, even without those amendments, they’ve effectively said “go ahead, Theresa, do what you will”. If they raise a squeak of protest, or try to vote against, they’ll be laughed at: “why didn’t you vote against Article 50 in the first place” is the obvious retort, “it’s too late now”.

Corbyn blew it. Big time.

Wither Remainers?

So, effectively, the 48% – 48%, a huge percentage – who support Remain are unrepresented. The Lib Dems, always a pro-EU party, are making a lot of noise and rightly so; the Greens are pro-EU. But aside from them and the SNP’s MPs, that’s still considerably less than 100 MPs giving any voice to the concerns of those who voted Remain. In a democracy (which doesn’t mean “winner takes all”, despite what many Brexiters seem to think), for 48% of those who voted to be effectively told, “sorry, you lost” is unthinkable.

There are two messages that have been directed at Remainers who dare to speak against what’s happening. One is, “You lost, get over it”: as if the fact we lost one vote means we should shut up forever (because when one party loses a general election, they just nod everything the new government does through… oh wait: they don’t!). The other is something along the lines of, “we need to pull together, put aside our differences, and all work together to make Brexit work.”

Well, sorry, it doesn’t work like that. You can’t spend nine months rubbishing 48% of the electorate, telling us we’re “Remoaners”, traitors, unpatriotic, that our votes don’t count… and then suddenly expect us to forget it all and come on board with something we profoundly disagree with. If you’d wanted us to be on board, you should’ve respected us, listened to us, worked to understand why we voted the way we did (48% =/= a “liberal, metropolitan elite”) and try and include our deep, deep concerns in formulating your Brexit plans.

UKIP (grrr…)

Of course, the bogey-man (or party) in this are UKIP, who have gained a power and influence on Brexit and the British political scene far beyond their support in the country. Until the weekend, they only had one MP. Their figurehead (even if he’s not their leader any more) has never won a UK parliamentary election. And yet the Tories and Labour act as if UKIP have this vast power to destroy them. Every action the two main parties have taken since the referendum has been with at least one eye on UKIP in general and Nigel Farage in particular. It’s been utterly astonishing to see the two parties work in such utter fear of such a small political party, simply because their former leader is good at pretending to speak for the ordinary people of the UK.

And if I say any more about UKIP, I might say something I’ll regret…

So I’ll leave it at that. This isn’t a systematic analysis of why we’ve come to this point, it’s not an unbiased account: I want us to stay in the EU and I hope beyond hope that something will happen in the next 2 years that will make that inevitable. It’s a part-rant, part-expression of utter disbelief at what has happened and the incredible (in the literal sense of that word) decisions, mis-steps and mistakes that have been taken since the referendum.

Thank you for reading it.

Advertisements

Baptist Assembly 2012

There’s already been quite a bit of blogging about the Baptist Assembly in London, which finished on Sunday.  For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts about it.  If these make no sense whatsoever, then please bear in mind they’ve been dulled by the long drive back from London yesterday, extreme tiredness from all the walking in London I did, and the cold I appear to have picked up from my wife (we have a very sharing marriage!).  So please forgive me if the following is utter rubbish!

I came away from the closing celebration with mixed feelings.  Lots of people came away with smiles on their faces and had obviously found it to be a significant, faith-affirming and celebratory weekend; indeed, Jonathan Edwards said as much in his remarks at the end of the weekend.  And there was much to celebrate: 400 years of Baptist history in the UK – what better reason to celebrate than that?

Yet this didn’t quite work, at least not for me.  Partly this was because we didn’t actually mention our history very much, aside from the (very good) video clip at the start of each evening session.  I know, I know the point was “Beyond 400″, that this was as much about looking ahead to where God might be leading us now than back and where God has led us in the past.  But still it might have been good to have had some efforts, within the “all together” bits in the evenings, to have engaged with this?

And this “Beyond 400” focus raises another point for me.  The future at the moment for BUGB is unclear: not, as Malcolm Broad reassured us in the Sunday afternoon discussion, that the whole thing is about to come collapsing around our ears, but that we do face significant financial difficulties and bigger issues that these raise.  Yet, aside from the Sunday afternoon debate (of which more later) there wasn’t a whole lot of engagement with this.  We had rallying cries from Tony Campolo and Agu Irukwu on Saturday and Sunday respectively.  But where were the voices speaking directly into our situation?  Where were the addresses addressing the problems we face, from people (whether inside or outside the denomination) who were familiar with our situation and could bring a word from God about it?  To have any real talk about the future limited to a 2 1/2 hour debate on Sunday afternoon (when people are tired and many were surely beginning to prepare themselves for the long journey home) felt like a wasted opportunity.

That said, I found that debate one of the best bits of the weekend and was really grateful that time was found to include it.  It was good to hear people’s voices about the process so far, those who were supporting it and those who had concerns or real, painful issues to raise with it.  The debate was well-chaired by Chris Ellis, especially when he decided to allow one person to run over time when she spoke movingly of the pain many black and ethnic-minority Baptists are feeling with the process so far.  Jonathan Edwards said he wanted the process and eventual outcome to be inclusive of all, but little more than that – these words now have to be turned into action.  The debate was worth having but it needed more time!  If people were hearing these things for the first time (and I accept Phil Jump and Rowena Wilding’s points about ministers’ lack of passing on information completely) then they needed time to digest and process it.

The main innovation towards this goal, the Saturday conferences, were a good idea.  I went to Chris Duffet’s “Pass it on” session about mission, which was interesting and challenging.  It was good to have the time to explore the issue more fully, rather than just a short session that stops just as it’s getting interesting, so more of this, please!  Also, Chris embodied his idea of the “Big-Hearted God” so well in his wonderfully generous and enthusiastic responses to people’s questions and comments and ideas.  The examples of mission we heard about were inspiring and challenging (that word again!)… but, as well as the fantastically innovative projects that we do need to hear about, it would be nice if the “ordinary” churches taking their first steps in mission were given centre stage as well as these exciting new projects.

The worship… well, I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that the “Sing lots of choruses together, and repeated” model isn’t my cup of tea – I’ve known this for a long time and it really hit home this year.  So it’s a shame that, Communion aside, this was the only form of sung worship we had during the whole weekend.  I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been there at all – but is it not possible to have some more variety, especially when there was no “Prism” or similar?  It just felt like there was no variety at all, that many of the songs we sung sounded the same (I’m beginning to sound old now!!) and there were few spaces for silence, reflection, corporate prayer amongst it all.  And in a collective event of Baptists from around the country, the fact that nearly every song was an “I/me” not an “us/we” song was unfortunate. This sort of thing seems to thrive on everyone feeling and expressing a particular emotion, and if that’s not how you “work” (and it isn’t for me) then you can feel left out, or like you’re doing something wrong.

The communion service was different and much the better for it.  Aradhna, who led the music, were excellent.  The theme that connected much of it, hands, was very worked in providing many different ways of praying and worshipping.  Jane Day’s sermon was the best talk of the weekend: much less rabble-rousing, but reflective, working with the Bible passage and connecting with the theme of the Assembly and the situation of BUGB.

Chris Duffet’s presidential address was warm-hearted and generous, hopefully encouraging and challenging us to be more evangelistic as churches and Christians.  It was best when he felt able to stop looking at his cue cards and simply speak what was on his heart and mind and I wished he’d done it more often!  As for the other two address, I’m not sure.  Neither of them, as Andy Goodliff points out, engaged in any way with the texts from Hebrews that were read just before.  There were some good one-liners and some serious points in Tony Campolo’s address, but… it was clear he didn’t have much of a handle on the context for the Assembly (mixing up BUGB and BMS) and so failed to address these points in the most superficial of ways.  This made the decision to allow him to to contribute to Sunday afternoon’s debate baffling: he got some good cheers, especially when he talked about how mission was so much more important than the structure (yes, but that matters too) and how BUGB and BMS should simply merge, as if that was the easiest thing in the world.  But I didn’t think he had much that was of huge value to say, nothing that provided a keen insight into the debate.

Pastor Agu’s closing address was thought-provoking in some ways, but seemed to rely on stereotypes of the “secularisation debate” that has been going on (as far as I’m aware, prayers haven’t been banned in Parliament, and given how often the Coalition government speaks of the importance of Christianity to this country, to accuse them of being anti-Christianity, something that I keep hearing, was just bizarre).  Again, though, I didn’t feel like he said much that was specific to our situation as BUGB, he almost ignored the Bible text (Hebrews 12) and the theme of “Beyond 400”.  An address by Jonathan Edwards might have been much more necessary.

And so it was the strange mix of the superficial (the worship in the evening sessions, two of the addresses) and the much deeper (the Day Conferences and the Futures Debate) that left me with mixed feelings.  I felt much more drawn to the latter, which seemed to explore faithfully and openly the problems ahead of us and which allowed us to contribute, than the former, which seemed to skate over the issues with a “Trust in God – He is faithful”: yes He is and yes we should, but that’s easier said than done and doesn’t do away with the difficult questions that maybe God is asking us as Baptists.  At this important, vital moment for Baptists in BUGB, I think we do need to stop and think and to have space made available for us.  Perhaps combining the AGMs with the Futures Debate and allowing these to take up the bulk of Sunday, finishing with the Communion service, might have been better (though I appreciate the practical problems this would’ve raised with Methodist Central Hall’s regular Sunday service – could we borrow Parliament, it’s only across the road!).  Perhaps we need to sacrifice some of the “feel-good” worship, not to wallow in self-pity or to deny that we need to worship and celebrate God even in the hard times, but that we need to take those times seriously.  There were hints of something different and better within the Assembly – let’s build on those and maybe something good and profound will emerge.

(Oh and finally, finally, thanks to everyone who organised it and made it happen!)

Lenten Blogging – day 2

(In case you’re wondering how day 1 and day 2 can appear on the same day, I’ve not gone mad (or at least not for that reason), nor have I fallen into a TARDIS.  Day 1 should’ve appeared yesterday but, er, didn’t.  So hopefully after this we’ll be back up to date and on track and everybody will be happy.  Or something like that…).

Today’s passage is Mark 1:21-45, with a specific focus on vv21-28.  I’ve recently been preaching on these passages as they’ve been the Lectionary passages, so much of this has probably been blatantly cribbed from those sermons.

(SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT: You can read more about these on my Greenfield Minister’s blog – please go and have a look!)

Anyway, the passage that Tom Wright suggests we particularly focus on is Jesus’ awesome demonstrations of His authority, both in His written teaching and His driving out of the evil spirit in the Temple in Capernaum.  By the end of all that, the crowds’ jaws are on the ground: “What is this?  It’s like nothing we’ve seen before!!  Incredible!”  And it’s Jesus authority that has them eyes wide open, mouths agog, babbling like our one year old.

Which can seem odd to us.  Authority can be a bit of a dirty word.  We don’t like being told what to do.  “The Authorities” are, in many people’s eyes, not to be trusted, sticking their nose in where it’s not wanted at the best of times.  At the worst of times, “the Authorities” are the governments of countries like Syria, using sheer brute, murderous, blood-shedding force to try and impose their will.  Authority down the barrel of a gun, with no regards for the people they’re supposed to be protecting.

Authority sucks, apparently.  And it’s not just teenagers who think that.

But here, authority doesn’t suck.  I doubt the people of Capernaum liked being bossed around any more than anyone else does.  Yet they’re amazed at Jesus’ authority!  It seems to put Him much higher in their estimations than the religious teachers who’ve gone before.

Huh?  What gives?

Firstly, of course, there’s something unique about Jesus’ authority in His teaching.  It’s authentic, it’s real.  It surely comes from His unique relationship with His Father.  And perhaps it touched the people in ways they’d not known before, in ways that even the wisest, most learned, most pastorally-hearted teacher could not touch them.

But not just that.  Jesus’ authority here brings freedom.  Jesus most dramatically displays His authority over the evil spirit that’s possessing the man who interrupts so violently Jesus’ teaching.  Jesus is “stern” the NIV says, in His dealings with the spirit.  He silences it, then orders it to come out.  You can imagine how dramatic that coming out must have been, how frightening for the people watching it.

Yet it worked.  The spirit did come out.  The man was free – free at last!  Jesus spoke and set this man free from what had been possessing and controlling Him for all that time!  You can imagine the slow dawn of realisation on his face, then the look of speechless gratitude to Jesus, before he dashes out in excitement and wonder, almost not knowing what to do with himself now that he can do something with himself and for himself.

Jesus’ authority here doesn’t put down the man, doesn’t seek to control him.  In fact, those are the very things Jesus frees him from.  Jesus’ authority is exercised over all those things that control this man, that over-ride his own hopes and dreams and desires.  Jesus’ authority sets him free.

Too often, religion is seen as controlling,  Us religious leaders are seen as people who want to tell others what to do, how to live and so on.  We’re seen as people on a power trip, insecurely working out our need to control and manipulate others.  Jesus shows a different way: authority that liberates, that sets free, that allows people to become all they want to be.  Authority that is as far as it’s possible to get from the dictators and authoritarian leaders of our world, secular or sacred.

What controls us?  What stops us from being all that God wants us to be?  What comes disguised as freedom, but is in fact killing us as it takes control of our lives?  Doesn’t have to be “dramatic” – almost anything can have that power over us.  Whatever it is, Jesus longs to free us from it, longs to show His power and authority to bring true freedom and true life.

Lenten Blogging – day 1

As you no doubt know, we’re into Lent now (day 2) in fact. Now, I’m normally rubbish at Lent, I have some vague idea that I’m going to do “something”, but it never amounts to anything more than that. I’m also (you can’t fail to have noticed!) that I’m not so hot at blogging regularly, either.

So, my plan is to try and blog at least once a day throughout the Lent period (I have no idea whether this includes the Sundays or not – I’m just going to go for it and see where we end up by Easter).

But I also figured that just seeking to to blog about “anything” won’t do me much good. So, instead I’m going to combine this with my Bible readings for Lent, which are based on the Big Read 2012, using Tom Wright’s divisions of the book of Mark.  These posts based on the readings aren’t supposed to be deep, profound thoughts, nor will they come laden with huge scholarly insights (I wish I had the learning to do that!).  They will just be my reflections on the reading in question for you to take or leave as you wish.

So, here we go!

The first reading is Mark 1:1-20, focussing especially on vv.1-9.  Here we have the opening of Mark’s Gospel, his account of how this all began.  And already we’re in full-on mode here, Mark wasting no time in getting going and getting us into the thick of the story as soon as possible.  In the first 20 verses, we’ve covered John the Baptist, Jesus’ arrival on the scene, His baptism & temptation, the beginning of His ministry and His calling the first disciples.  Phew!

But what grabbed me about this was more than just the speed with which Mark moves us around the story.  He seems quite happy to play with our expectations and, rather than confirming our preconceptions of Jesus, he almost seems to want us to be left scratching our heads and saying “Oh… right… hang on… so he’s going to… nope, no he’s not… oh…”.

Jesus, apparently, is vastly superior to John the baptiser – He has the power to baptise with the Holy Spirit.  Yet here He comes, asking John to baptise Him with a baptism of repentance.  Huh?

When He comes up out of the water, Jesus’ unique status as God’s own Son is confirmed (and conferred?) in the most public way possible.  We’re all set for a glorious beginning to Jesus’ ministry.  Then suddenly, we’re in the desert – at the Spirit’s insistence – facing temptation and wild animals!  Sorry, Mark, did you get this right?

Yet this, it seems, is the way it has to be.  Whatever the specific reasons why these things had to take place, Mark seems to want to throw us on to the wrong foot straight away.  Whatever else this good news is, he seems to be saying, it’s not going to make everything straight-forward and easy.  Jesus is coming with His and His Father’s way of doing things and these are not our ways.  The Kingdom of Heaven has come profoundly near in Jesus.  But if we want to enter it, then it’s going to mean reconsidering all our preconceptions of what life’s about, about what’s important.  We’re going to have to allow God to turn everything upside-down in order that, just maybe, we can begin to see things the right way up again.

The leaning tower of… London?

According to the BBC News website, MPs are meeting to discuss how to stop Big Ben leaning.

Now look at this photo I took of the Clock Tower (one of my favourite buildings in London).  Is it evidence of the lean of Big Ben?  Or just a rubbish photo?  (According to the article, the Tower leans to the left when seen from Parliament Square which (I think) would be the way it appears to be leaning in this photo.  So who knows?)

I’ve been working on the railroad…

…railway, actually.  And it’s only a model one.

Anyways, about this time last year, I began working on a model railway.  Why?

It’s all that James May’s fault.  His “Toy Stories” series, especially the one about Hornby train sets, was a bit sort of inspiring.  Years ago, my father in law (a model railway enthusiast) gave us some OO gauge (the standard Hornby gauge) track and rolling stock and, following the James May programme, I got a bit out and rediscovered the joy of sticking a model loco on some track, adding a controller and making it go.  (Yes I know it’s a bit childish, but hey! it was surprisingly fun.

So, there was only one option: make my own.

The trouble is, OO gauge is actually quite big when you haven’t got tons of room.  However, N gauge, which is very roughly half OO, would be just the right size.  So, I got a starter track pack from Peco, a train (a class 91) and away we go!

Sort of.  Because, this is going to be a proper model railway, not just a train set.  So, first you have to build baseboards to fix the track onto.  So I got some wood and MDF from Wickes and B&Q and started to build them.  Trouble is, woodwork isn’t my strong point and while all the beginner’s books say “this shouldn’t be beyond anyone…” it is beyond me.  The baseboards are not well made, not square and a bit tatty.  Which apparently will make the running of the trains not so good… but it’s the best I could do.

Then, after leaving it for a few months, I actually did a bit more today and (fanfare please!) got some track laid… well, 2 points and a short straight.  Hurrah!  “Bodge Junction” (so called because pretty much everything will be a bodge job) is finally, properly underway.

Soon I’m going to have to start doing some wiring and (gulp!) soldering… here’s hoping!

Different is good…

On my blog for Greenfield Church, I’ve linked to the new site that’s been set up to discuss how the future may look for the Baptist denomination in Britain, Being 400.  This was originally going to be a comment for the second of the contributions to that site, but it became a wee bit unwieldy.  So here it is on here instead, in the vain hope somebody’s reading this blog…

For some reason, I’ve been looking back over an essay I had to do as part of my ministerial training on the Declaration of Principle (OK, it wasn’t the greatest piece of theology ever written, but maybe that was something there…) and at the Declaration itself.  Thinking about that and about Juliet’s question about what from our roots makes us distinctive, I’m wondering whether it’s somewhere in the tension expressed in the Declaration between the local church and the Union.

One of the parts of the “Basis of the Union” is the “liberty” granted to each church to “interpret and administer His [Christ’s] Laws”.  This comes after the authority Christ and Scripture have, but is still there.  The Union is built, in a large part, not on its own authority but on the authority it recognises amongst its constituent churches (if that makes any sense).  It recognises, accepts (and welcomes?) the differences that this liberty will inevitably bring – in fact, it makes it a key part of its structure.

This acceptance of difference can make life difficult.  But it can, if we continue to learn to live with it, show one of the key distinctive features of our way of being and doing church.

The UK seems to be a place which, although perhaps more diverse than ever before, seems to struggle with that diversity.  There are huge tensions around areas such as immigration and whether living in a multicultural society is a good thing (for the record, I 100% do).  Political parties and the media that commentate on them seem unable to handle dissent to any great degree: if anyone disagrees with the leaders, it’s portrayed as a damaging split, or a threat to the leader’s authority, rather than healthy, mature debate.  Our high streets are becoming more and more the same in appearance, with the same shops lining up next to each other.  (This next one may be a bit naff): regional television has been done away with in favour of corporate brands.  Although we live with difference perhaps more than ever, we struggle with it.

I wonder if one of our distinctive features is that we welcome and embrace that difference.  I said in my essay that one of the most significant things about the Declaration of Principle was that it deliberately maintained a loose theological framework, refusing to be creedal in nature so as to allow for the unity of churches and organisations with quite different theological outlooks.  This continues today.  For us, difference isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a problem: it is the basis of how we live together, recognising that God can be at work in as many different ways as there are different churches that call themselves “Baptist”.

Where’s all this going?  How does all this work out?  I’m not entirely sure; perhaps it’s something we do really well already.  One possibility is that our emphasis as a denomination (family/movement/whatever) shouldn’t necessarily be on a professional, media-savvy central Union (nice though that is) but on helping each of the local churches to perform that function in their own situations (I’m trying so hard to avoid jargon here!).  To boast that what we are, primarily, is not the central structures in Didcot, but the churches and regional associations throughout the country that seek to live out the Laws of Christ in their own context.

To show, as one of the CBeebies songs that sticks in my head from time to time, that “different is good“.