How to change the world (or a union)

Posted on December 9, 2011

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Neil generated some discussion with his ‘top ten list of influential English Baptists’ here (see also Juliet’s thoughts in response here). Neil was imagining who ought to be round a table if the future of BUGB was up for grabs. It seems to me three things have been conflated, perhaps unhelpfully, in the discussion that has followed.

First, ‘influential’ most naturally means those with influence. There are people in any community or organisation who, if you convince them of the rightness of your case, can make something happen. These might be those who hold senior positions, or those who are key opinion-formers. I’m not going to list names, but it’s not hard…

Second, and what Neil was intending, I think, there are those who have a rich enough awareness of the core values and narratives of the community, and of its present reality, that they can imagine new futures which are both responsible to the community’s own vision, and possible at the present moment. For a denomination like BUGB, this is about theology: what would a more authentically Baptist future look like?

Third, as Juliet and others have pointed out, there needs to be a responsibility to the breadth of the community. What dreams are being dreamed, what irritations felt, in Baptist communities up and down the land? This is might be about consultation, but only if done extremely well (consultations, like radio talk shows and web comment threads, tend to attract unrepresentative and extreme voices, & can easily be influenced by well-organised pressure groups). It is more likely to be about the presence of those who have spent hours and years in a wide variety of Baptist contexts, who know the people and can authentically represent their voices in all their variety, uncertainty, and heartfelt conviction. Not that we need always to follow the majority – there is always a time for prophetic leadership – but we need at least to have people in the conversation who can tell us what the majority, and the minorities, are thinking, and what they variously find simply unthinkable.

Find the best people in each of these areas, get them together, and you have the opportunity to see something new and authentic that will commend itself to the community.

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