About 2,000 British Baptists were expected for last weekend’s Baptist Assembly in Brighton, England, the biggest Baptist event of the year.
This year’s assembly theme, “In Search of Freedom,” marked the 200th anniversary of passage of an act abolishing Britain’s slave trade in 1807, while recognizing modern slavery that continues today.
Friday night’s opening session of the joint meeting of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and BMS World Mission featured reading of a collective “lament” expressing shock and shame that millions were seized, abused and enslaved by others.
“We acknowledge with incredulity that Christians were amongst those who most strenuously defended the slave trade and profited from it,” the statement said.
It also recognized that millions of people are imprisoned in new forms of slavery, including the sex industry, inhumane working conditions, unjust economic systems and the effects of environmental exploitation on the poor.
“Lord, as we thank you for those who courageously spoke out against slavery 200 years ago we confess that we have not always spoken out against the evils of slavery in our own day,” the statement said. “Forgive us Lord for our inability and the inability of our society to embrace one another as those who have been made in your image.”
In a Saturday address, BMS General Secretary Alistair Brown said there are areas of ordinary people’s lives that put people into slavery, such as purchasing bargain-priced clothing.
“Our lives of comfort are off the back of people being put into forced labor,” Brown said. “Children in Dhaka work 80 hours each week for just 5 pence [about 10 cents U.S.] an hour. This is wrong, but it will go on until you and I won’t buy them because it’s not fair or right. That change begins with us.”
The meeting also featured launch of “Transit,” a new campaign against human trafficking, and a partnership between BMS and A Rocha (Portuguese for “The Rock”), an international initiative, which began in Portugal and now has creation care projects in 16 countries.
Mark Craig, BMS director of communications, termed the partnership “very significant.”
“Together, we can make creation care–in terms of caring for both the people and the environment created by God–something which our churches can engage with meaningfully and practically,” Craig said.
“Creation care may well prove to be one of the key issues of our age, and this new partnership will enable us to work together in terms of church resources, mission training and the effective integration of the creation care agenda into projects across the world,” Craig said.
The partnership with A Rocha is the latest part of action by BMS on environmental concern and climate change. Last November BMS staff and supporters joined a crowd of 25,000 campaigners at rally about the threat of climate change.
Creation care will also form a part of next year’s theme for the joint BUGB/BMS Assembly.
Jonathan Edwards attended his first Baptist Assembly this year as Baptist Union of Great Britian general secretary. He was elected to the position last year, succeeding David Coffey, who retired. Coffey continues to serve as president of the Baptist World Alliance.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.