For further progress, we need a new narrative

Long-term and regular readers will know that I have commented with some frequency about Evangelicalism – particularly Conservative Evangelicalism – and our deficiencies in reaching the working classes, BAME people, raising either up to leadership or sending people to reach the areas in which they live. I have pointed the finger at my own constituency and I have made suggestions about how these things can and should change. And, make no mistake, none of these things have been fixed. These things remain an issue and it will take a lot more than a few blog posts and a bit of good will to change it.

In my recent review of the FIEC conference, I noted how encouraged I was at the progress that was being made. That is, and remains, true. But I suspect those who have begun doing something are not conceited enough to think that the problem is now gone forever. I don’t think all the problems related to reaching either the urban deprived or BAME people have now disappeared because we have seen some progress on them. We are nowhere near totally resolving the issues. I haven’t specifically asked them, but I struggle to believe any of the people I have been grateful for beginning to take this issue seriously would say otherwise. But let’s acknowledge there has been some progress where previously there was little to none.

My essential desire in raising these issues was and is very simple. I want to see churches in deprived communities where there are currently none. I want to see BAME people reached with the gospel with the same zeal and desire as white British people. I want to see a diversity of cultures in church leadership across class, ethnic and regional borders. The reason I raise the things I do is because we have a glaring omission in these areas. It is not a point that I make for fun, or because I have a special interest, it is just a point of fact for anybody who cares to look. And given so few of us do care to look, I feel it’s important to do my utmost to make us do so.

But my point here isn’t to say all that again. Many of the people who either didn’t know (or didn’t want to know) now do. Nor is my point that we’ve arrived and have resolved all of this. Nobody, to my knowledge, thinks that. My point is that we need to acknowledge progress where it has been made and the people trying to help when there has been genuine effort to do so.

Let me come back to the FIEC conference. None of us think the work in deprived communities has been fixed now. But we can acknowledge that there has been progress. Bursaries allowing people from our communities to attend, genuine support being offered to struggling churches in these areas, a desire to see plants sent into deprived places and a discussion about how we can train up our people. Is it fixed? No. Is there progress? Yes. Are there people trying? Absolutely.

On the BAME stuff we are starting much further back. Clearly the majority of delegates at the FIEC conference were white (and, let’s be honest, middle class). Were 10-15% of people in the room BAME? No. Were any of them on the main stage? No. So, we’re a long way from being good here.

But, again, let’s acknowledge progress. At the conference, there were some BAME delegates, which spoke to more in our constituency. There was a seminar led by a BAME church leader. Next year, there will be somebody from an Ethiopian church leading. Do any of these things resolve all the problems we have spoken about? No. But are they something? Yes. And we can’t keep saying nothing is happening when something is. That something might not be enough, but it is a something nonetheless.

The point I am slowly reeling round to is this: our narrative needs to change. It is right to say that nothing is happening when that is true. It is right to say certain areas and peoples are being entirely left behind by Evangelicalism when nothing is being done about it. But we can’t keep banging that drum when some things are being done. That is neither honest nor fair on those who are really trying.

Worse, it will prove detrimental to our cause when those who are trying will feel (irrespective of whether we think it is good enough or not) that they are putting in a lot of effort to effect change and get nothing but grief for doing so. If that carries on, they won’t see the point of bothering to try anything at all. If you get stick for doing nowt, and grief when you think you’re trying hard to do something helpful, if it’s hassle all the way down, what would you choose to do?

I am not suggesting that we don’t speak up. I think as long as there is gospel inequality and cultural blindspots in the church, we should say so. I don’t intend to stop saying what needs to be said. But if we really are committed to the truth – which is certainly the claim we make when we are pointing fingers and afflicting the comfortable – we need to be equally committed to telling the truth when things are happening too. We don’t have to pretend insignificant things are big or that progress means that the problem is resolved. But if we are committed to truth, that means pointing out the work that is left to do while acknowledging what work has been done.

Even if we think people could be doing more than they are (which might well be the case), let’s acknowledge what they have done thus far. If we don’t, we might have an inner-sense of sticking it to those we consider to be influential, but we won’t be any closer to resolving the problems that we are pointing out. All we’ll see is those who could resolve it backing away from us as we pillory them every time they try to help.