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Baptists, equality and being radical

8 February 2018

This week has brought the 100th anniversary of the granting of votes for women with the passing of the Representation of the People Act. But a century on campaigns continue to address gender inequality.

Now many Christians are at the forefront of arguing for equality, whilst some hold to male headship and others to more nuanced complementary (equal but different because that’s the way we are) viewpoint. I write as a Baptist, and if I am true to being a Baptist I have to go for equality. Baptists believe that authority is held by Jesus Christ alone and worked out by believers in committed relationships together. As a church is made up of women and men, young and old, different races – we hold that these believers together are competent and responsible to care, discern, hold to account, take on roles and decide.

In one of our most memorable recent meetings at Moortown Baptist 120 people were together talking, listening and discerning God’s will. Children, adults, male, female, black and white all spoke and were heard.
On this centenary, I acknowledge and celebrate that is the way forward – not just as a theoretical point but in decision making, opportunity, protection of the law, taking on roles, and bringing respect.
I read some of the arguments made, put just over 100 years ago, against giving women the vote:

  • Women were creatures of impulse and emotion, incapable of making a sound political decision
  • Women’s participation in politics would extinguish chivalry
  • If women became involved in politics, they would stop marrying, and having children, and the human race would die out
  • A woman’s place was in the home
  • Men and women had different spheres
  • Women were already represented by their husbands
  • Women did not fight in wars to defend their country
  • It would be dangerous to change a system that worked
  • Women did not even want the vote

Read more background here…

These make sobering, bizarre and scary reading for me. It is amazing that some of these sentiments are deployed when thinking about gender today.

There may be different views about, but for me, the way I hold faith and do church as a Baptist is with equality.

Over the past year there has been a debate as to which will be the first statue of a woman erected in Parliament Square. Millicent Fawcett was chosen ahead of Emmeline Pankhurst. Pankhurst was the founder of militant Women’s Social and Political Union and Fawcett the leader of the more moderate National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. People debate which of these two played the greater part in winning the vote for women. Maybe it was both – it needed the dual effect of the militant and the moderate. What they both had in common was being people who dissented from the status quo – informed by values and belief and committed to action.

So the Suffragette motto was “Deeds not words” in response to the then Prime Minister who said he agreed with their argument but “was obliged to do nothing at all about it” and so urged the women to “go on pestering” and to exercise “the virtue of patience”. Women dissented and decided to do more than simply wait!

Now within the family of Christian churches Baptists claim to be people of dissent, I’d like to think that our commitment to Christ meaning being dissenters for Jesus in our lives – in action and not just what we preach. In that we may find a blend of the Fawcett and the Pankhurst; who knows?

Graham Brownlee, February 2018

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