British Baptists head to Jamaica with slave trade apology

A delegation representing British Baptists is travelling to Jamaica this Thursday to apologise to Jamaican Baptists for the transatlantic slave trade.

During their stay, the delegation will have the opportunity to meet Jamaican Baptists and worship in their churches as well as seeing some of the locations which are inextricably bound up with their history.

The Rev Jonathan Edwards, Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) General Secretary, said, "The decision to offer an apology for the transatlantic slave trade was an historic moment for the Baptist Union Council.

"In the statement that was agreed at that meeting it was clearly stated that this was just the start of a journey. Taking the apology to Jamaica in person seemed to many people a vital step on the journey and it is my privilege to participate in it.

"I very much look forward to meeting our brothers and sisters in the Jamaican Baptist Union and hope that we will learn a great deal more about one another through the week that we share together."

Plans are in place for the UK team to share in two worship experiences on Sunday, at which time space will be given for the apology to be made and a plaque to be handed over.

The Rev Dr Alistair Brown, General Director of BMS World Mission, is part of the delegation.

"BMS worked in Jamaica among slaves and stood with them against slavery. But Baptists in Britain were slower than we should have been to take a decisive stand, and I'm very sorry about that," he said. "It matters now to stand shoulder to shoulder with Caribbean sisters and brothers, acknowledging failures and rejoicing in Christian fellowship."

The trip follows the commemoration of the bicentenary last year of the passing of the act to abolish the slave trade in the British Parliament in 1807.

Some disappointment was expressed that British Baptists had not offered an apology for the slave trade during the Baptist World Alliance annual gathering in Ghana, which led to a number of letters in the Baptist Times.

A major discussion at the November session of the Baptist Union Council followed. It became a profound experience for Council members and resulted in a unanimously agreed resolution offering an 'apology to God and to our brothers and sisters for all that has created and still perpetuates the hurt which originated from the horror of slavery'.

The Revd Wale Hudson-Roberts, BUGB Racial Justice Coordinator, said, "African and Caribbean Baptists were delighted by the apology that came from Council in November 2007. This was more than just a timely apology, as the UK was commemorating the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade act; it has also been a theologically powerful act.

"The truth has set many Africans and Caribbeans free. Emerging from the apology is now a willingness and enthusiasm to work towards addressing, and strategically challenging the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade with the hope that one day all Baptists will belong to a family that is free from prejudice and racism."

Pat White from Brixton Baptist Church will travel to Jamaica representing the London Baptist Association and Black and Ethnic Minority Ministers' Forum and Churches.

She said that going to Jamaica with the apology would help black and white Baptists "recognise and understand the legacy of slavery today".

"My prayer is, that the visit denotes trust, wisdom, reconciliation and true koinonia between the Baptist Union of Jamaica and the Baptist Union of Great Britain," she said.

Karl Johnson, General Secretary of the Jamaica Baptist Union said he was looking forward to meeting the delegation.

He said that the Jamaica Baptist Union had received the news of the apology made by the Baptist family in the UK "with openness, humility and appreciation".

"For years we have felt that such an action was necessary and have indeed encouraged them to consider same," he said.

"It therefore goes without saying that we are grateful to God that in God's own time and in the lifetime of some who were part of the original request in 1994, it has come to pass.

"We look forward to receiving the team in Christian love and hospitality and pray that the visit will underscore our sense of oneness and common journey."

The visit also has the support of the General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, Neville Callam, who originates from Jamaica.

"We thank God for the apology issued by British Baptists in relation to the slavery and the slave trade," he said.

"As members of the body of Christ, we treasure the solidarity we have in Christ and we know how to respond when fellow Christians admit to wrongdoing, if even by their forebears.

"We know the joy and the blessing of forgiveness. With this, true healing is possible and liberation becomes the common gain of everyone involved."