2007: Accra, Ghana

The commission met in Accra, Ghana, during the BWA’s Annual Gathering from July 3-7, 2007.

Present for at least one of the three sessions were these members: Eljee Bentley (USA); Cawley Bolt (Jamaica); Karen Bullock (USA); Michael and Eirlys Cleves (UK); Devon Dick (Jamaica); Hector Gonzales (USA); Thorsten Graff (Germany); Peter Morden (UK); Robert Nash (USA); Kojo Osei-Wusuh (Ghana); Tyrone Pitts (USA); Horace Russell (Jamaica & USA); Bill Slack (Scotland); Roy Smith (USA); Bernie Spooner (USA); John Sundquist (USA); Brian Talbot (Scotland); and Ed Wheeler (USA). Several of these were present at all three. Four of those present reported that they had recently moved or were in the process of moving: Michael and Eirlys Cleves; Peter Morden to Spurgeon’s College; and Brian Talbot to Broughty Ferry Baptist Church in Dundee. (Karen Bullock took a new position at B. H. Carroll Theological Institute shortly after going home.)

Approximately 100 visitors attended at least one of the three sessions; some came to more than one. Visitors came from the USA, Jamaica, the UK, the Netherlands, Spain, Nagaland (India), Thailand, Korea, and Australia, but the majority were Africans. They came from Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Benin, Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. More visitors were present than at any previous commission meeting.

Session One

Chair Karen Bullock opened the first session by welcoming all present; and after time for everyone present to introduce him- or herself, Kojo Oseih-Wusuh, who had recently served as president of the Ghana Baptist Convention, presented his paper, “History of Baptists in Ghana.” Read this paper.

The Baptist faith came to Ghana via Nigeria. The earliest work was begun by a Ghanaian who had been baptized and ordained in Nigeria and then returned to his native country to plant churches-churches that did not survive his death in 1935. Nigerian Yoruba traders who were Baptists settled in Ghana, began churches, and formed an association that was part of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. These churches did not attract Ghanaians because they used only the Yoruba language.

In 1947 the Yoruba association asked the Nigerian Baptists and the Southern Baptist missionaries in Nigeria to send missionaries to the Ghanaians. The Nigerian Baptists sent the Littletons, and the first church was organized in 1952 in the Ashanti region of Ghana. Eventually, the Yoruba churches and the Ghanaian churches joined in an independent Ghana Baptist Convention.

In the beginning the Ghana Baptist Convention worked in partnership with the International Mission Board (formerly the Foreign Mission Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention, but the two no longer work closely together. The International Mission Board has cut its support drastically, because that board wishes to focus on people groups (groups that have never heard of Jesus Christ).

In the 1980s many Ghanaian Baptists began to resent the paternalistic attitude of the Southern Baptist missionaries. Whenever there was a difference of opinion as to what should be done, the missionaries’ opinion ruled the day. In 1987 the Ghanaian convention refused to follow the missionaries’ lead. Some churches, however, left the convention and followed the missionaries, for the missionaries-not the convention-had money.

After this split, the convention and its churches began to grow, so in 1992 those churches who had left returned. Since 1992, the convention has continued to and now has about 1000 churches and more than 65,000 members. Only 20 per cent of them have buildings, though, and there are far too few trained ministers. Almost 80 percent of Ghanaian Baptists are young people.

Other Christian denominations have been in Ghana much longer than Baptists, but Baptists have gained respect as a people of faith and faithful living. The government invited Baptist representatives to speak at this week’s meeting of the African Union.

Discussion followed. Questions were asked of Kojo Osei-Wusuh:

Why did the early churches die? Why do churches die?
The church planter left the churches to too soon. They could not survive on their own. The church I pastor has planted 29 churches and all have lived. A church needs money in order to pay a pastor and have a place to meet; the church planter must help until the new church is able to support itself. It is very difficult for a church to attract people if it has no building.

Does the Ghana Baptist Convention have archives?
We have records, minute books, letters.

How were the churches reconciled in 1992?
A man with one of the churches who had followed the Southern Baptist missionaries acted as mediator.

Are there still Yoruba Baptists in the convention?
No, the government of Ghana evicted all Yoruba in 1969 as part of a new immigration policy. It was terrible, but the convention probably benefited.

What are the challenges now facing Ghanaian Baptists?
Since Ghanaian Baptists are respected, they now can easily get an audience. They need to take advantage of this situation, but to do so they need resources. They need buildings. They need leaders who will stay in the rural areas where there are so many churches, but these churches and their members are very poor. There is no money to pay pastors.

Are there plans for equipping leaders?
Yes, but the best qualified want training outside the country. And if they go, too many of them do not come back to Ghana.

Would Ghanaian Baptists like partnership with outside conventions now?
Yes, they welcome partnership projects and are currently working with American Baptist Convention. Perhaps a list of priority projects could be put on the website. Another problem for Ghanaian Baptists is that the Southern Baptists own many of the buildings that were once used by the convention and/or its churches. Now, no one is using them.

The session ended with prayer. Suggested objects of prayer were the end of all slavery, the training of ministers, aid to young churches, and the rebuilding of the Ghanaian Baptists’ camp for women (left by the Southern Baptists).


Session Two

Chair Karen Bullock welcomed all present for session two and after prayer, Cawley Bolt of Jamaica presented his paper “Slave Trade and the Unholy Triangle.” Read this paper.

The slave trade that took place in the unholy triangle is a blot on history and cannot be excused. (The word translated as “unholy” is used only five times in the Bible, only two times in the New Testament; and both of those times is in the book of 1st Timothy and in lists of vices. In one of these lists slave traders are also mentioned. The word “triangle” refers to the trade route: Europe to Africa to America to Europe.) The European slave traders cannot be excused, for their treatment not only of the slaves but of the African slave traders was immoral. The Europeans took advantage of the African traders, who did not realize that this new slavery would be different than that to which they were accustomed.

Origins. This slave trade was the largest forced human migration in recorded history. No one knows the number of people involved. The Portuguese began the trade, first bringing slaves to Europe and then, later to the Americas.

The Africans had practiced slavery before, but slaves were part of a feudal system and had rights. They could marry, maintain family connections, worship, own property, and rise to a higher class in society. Many Africans who sold slaves to Europeans did not understand that these slaves would have no rights, that they would have no independent existence but would be considered only as property. Later, however, ex-slaves from Brazil came back to Africa to become slave traders. Why? How could they have done such a thing? Greed?

Middle Passage. There were six stages in the trade: Capture and Enslavement; Journey to Coast; Storage and Package; Trans-Atlantic Passage; Sale in America; Adjustment in America. Each stage had fatalities and brought additional trauma. Many slaves committed suicide. Doctors killed those who were ill. Owners were not overly concerned with keeping slaves alive, because they could always get replacements. Males were emasculated, left with no self-pride, no sense of responsibility – a tragedy, whose effects still exist.

Slaves Fight Back. Most slaves fought to be free from the moment of capture. There were slave wars of liberation (These should not be called “rebellions,” for “rebellion” presupposes fighting against legitimate authority.). Other slaves committed suicide and infanticide –acts that are surely forgivable under the circumstances.

Sharing Benefits. Today some are making apologies, the Southern Baptist Convention has done so and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The US Congress should apologize to African Americans. Some are talking about reparations. Do descendants have the right to be compensated? And how should they be compensated? The slave trade and the resulting slavery are a cause of the poverty, crime, and racism that exist today.

Church and Slave Trade. Christians came to the Caribbean with the colonizers. The Anglicans were tied to the government, which was controlled by the slaveholders, so they could not cater to the slaves. In 1732 Moravians came and later other Non-Conformist missionaries. The Baptist William Knibb worked for the abolition of slavery. In the UK in 1788 Baptist Robert Robinson said, “Slavery is inconsistent with Christianity.”

Peter Morden of the United Kingdom then presented his paper on the “British Baptists and Slavery.” Read this paper.

Some British Baptists opposed slavery/slave trade, but not all did. At the end of the 18th century the General (Arminian) Baptists declared that the slave trade was wrong, some Particular (Calvinist) Baptists opposed it. The Evangelical Calvinists around Fuller and Carey called the slave trade “infamous” and encouraged the boycott of sugar (raised on the Caribbean plantations). Other Baptists excused slavery, because the Bible did not explicitly prohibit it. And even those who thought slavery wrong believed in gradual emancipation.

What Baptists thought about the trade depended to some extent on where they lived. London, Bristol, and Liverpool were the British ports most prominent in the slave trade. No Baptist pastors in Liverpool spoke against the trade. In Bristol Robert Hall, Jr., preached against it. The pastor of the Broadmede church avoided the subject but supported a Member of Parliament who opposed abolition of the trade. In several Bristol churches the deacons were men of business who were involved in the trade and/or profited from it. Some Baptists encouraged their pastors to talk about the value of economic profit.

The Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) asked its missionaries to avoid politics. The missionaries were sent to work with the white colonists, not with the slaves. The Society dismissed some missionaries who spoke out against the slave trade and slavery. Knibb said nothing in public until after the 1832 repression of the slave uprising in Jamaica. The BMS told him to be silent, but he did not listen.

Anne de Vries of the Netherlands spoke of the slave trade from a Dutch perspective:

I was unaware that my country had anything to do with the slave trade until I was preparing to come to Ghana. Then I learned, to my surprise, that the Dutch had owned what is now Ghana and had been responsible for the trade for 150 years. The Dutch took Ghana from the Portuguese. They–my entire country–profited from the trade. The Dutch are traders.

What can we do now? All of us are part of a society that profited from and still profits from the slave trade. I am taking part in the reconciliation service tomorrow at Coast Castle; I will read to the congregation. But two girls from the Netherlands are coming to serve the people in Ghana. What they are doing is far more important than anything anyone can say.

Discussion followed (below are samples of the comments made):

Ed Wheeler (African American): In the US, throughout its history into today, even those who think slavery is wrong, did not and do not accept blacks. Everyone is sorry about the Holocaust. It gets attention, but slavery/the slave trade gets no attention.

Cawley Bolt (Jamaica): Blacks must keep agitating. They need to affirm their blackness. History needs to be taught/remembered.

Bill Sharp (Scotland): Reparations for slavery/slave trade should be linked to the campaign to eliminate poverty.

African visitors: Slave traders took the strong/beautiful; left the weak. We in Africa are the descendants of those not thought good enough to be slaves. Families were divided. Some taken/some left. This caused suspicion and distrust that lasts until today. We need trust to be restored through Christ. Circumstances of life disadvantage people. What can Baptists do to help develop the potential that has not been developed?

Wheeler: I have been to Coast Castle before. It was gut wrenching. Tomorrow I am taking my family. We will be walking on the blood of our ancestors as they walked to the “gate of no return.” I do not know if I want to be there with my white brothers and sisters, for I do not know how angry I will feel. I do not want to hear any syrupy “I’m sorry” from people who cannot understand.

Judith Montacute (US and UK): I dread tomorrow because I feel guilty. I feel pain. How do we deal with this together?

Anne de Vries (Netherlands): We need to see the truth.

African visitor: We need conversation. We need apologies. White society today is still benefiting from our tragic past. All of us need to change attitudes. We need to help each other. We need to change structures that exclude blacks.

Kojo Osei-Wusuh (Ghana): I have never been to a slave castle nor wanted to go to one. My ancestor sold slaves, and I feel guilt. My ancestor said, “He did not know.”
Results of the slave trade include the devastation of Africa, the division of society by color. Europeans need to invest in Africa, bring back Africa. Whites did not believe blacks were human, and this attitude still exists. This attitude prevents many blacks from accepting Christ, for they see Christianity as a white man’s religion. But the only solution is the love of Christ.

Visitor from Kenya: How can we bring about global reconciliation? We need practical steps.

Other African visitors: Another result of the slave trade is division between indigenous and missionary. Books in theology and Christian education show paternalism. The ability of Africans is not accepted. The global media is all from the white perspective. No one will publish what blacks say, think, write.

African American visitor: There are some books by blacks, but they are not known, not made available. Pastors need to know they exist. We should demand information.


Session Three

Chair Karen Bullock welcomed everyone to the last session of the commission. After prayer led by Cawley Bolt, Horace Russell, a Jamaican who lives in the US, presented his paper on slavery from the perspective of US Baptists who lived in the northern part of that country.

Horace first apologized for his absence at Session 2, when he was to have presented his paper. He had been delayed while traveling to Ghana from Cameroon. Then he cited some sources he had used in preparing the paper.

Baptists in the northern United States had two attitudes toward slavery in 19th century. In the beginning many of them thought slavery was wrong but few of them supported campaigns to abolish slavery by passing laws against it. They thought slavery would gradually disappear. For example, the prominent Baptist leader, Francis Wayland of Brown University, spoke of freedom for slaves but thought abolition all right only if it took place outside the United States. He did not want to “rock the boat.”

The Philadelphia Baptist Association was ambivalent. Members of some churches in the association favored abolition in the US, but the leaders of the association urged them to be silent. They did not wish to upset Baptists in the southern states with whom they were cooperating in sending missionaries. Nor did they wish to upset northern Baptists who were benefiting from doing business with slaveholders.

But as the century progressed northern Baptists became more aggressive in opposing slavery. What made them change their minds?

1) Pressure from British Baptists especially after 1833. the year the British Parliament abolished slavery in the British Empire. US Baptists were in touch with British Baptists, most of whom had supported the Americans in their revolution against the British government.

2) The frontier area that is now the state of Illinois wanting to join the United States as a “slave state,” a state that allowed slavery within its borders. Baptists and many Americans had believed slavery would gradually disappear and not spread to frontier areas. But what was happening in Illinois showed that slavery was growing not disappearing. One of the Baptists who changed his mind to become an abolitionist (person who wanted to end slavery immediately) was the Baptist missionary on the frontier John Mason Peck. (Illinois joined the union as a “free state” in 1818)

3) To be true to themselves, to “soul freedom,” Baptists realized that they must be for the abolition of slavery.

Debriefing from visit to the slave castle (sample of comments)

Hector Gonzales: The visit touched my heart. I could relate it to the experience of the native peoples who lived in what is now Latin America when the Spaniards arrived.

Visitor from Southern US: I had read about the slave trade but seeing the castle, especially after hearing what was said in session two, made it existential. I came face to face with reality and now cannot turn away.

Visitor from Zimbabwe: Cruelty still exists. We need to look around us and see what needs doing today.

Kojo Osei-Wusuh: Consequence of slave trade is still visible: Racism. The design of the castle shows that the white people who built it did not consider slaves human because they were black.
The white people who lived in the castle, guarding the slaves, considered themselves Christian. They had a chapel. And the adjoining room was where the “chosen” slave women were raped. A woman who became pregnant stayed to give birth. The children-the beginning of a mixed race–were taught in a schoolroom in the castle.

Visitor from Zambia: In the US slaveholders were paid for slaves set free, but the slaves were not paid. In Zimbabwe Mugabe has taken back lands from white landholders but he has not given them back to those who lost them. In Namibia and Zambia tribes have been moved from fertile to infertile lands. Reparations are due.

Visitor from Zimbabwe: Often it is black mistreating black.

Cawley Bolt: We are all sinful humans. I did not participate in the service yesterday, because I was so angry. I need time to process the experience.

Woman visitor from Jamaica: I could not participate in the service. Reconciliation takes time.

Horace Russell: We should read Bonhoeffer again. All of us need repentance in order to be free.

Liberian visitor: In my country we have had civil war-brother against brother; people killing each other for personal gain. Now the president, who was one of the war leaders, is asking refugees to come home. They will not come because they do not trust him. There is no love, no unconditional reconciliation such as happened in South Africa. West Africa needs love.

Hector Gonzales: We all need to go home to work for peace and justice, to tell God’s love.

Commission Projects

After a break, members and some visitors returned to discuss the work of the commission. Chair Bullock reminded those present that at Mexico City the commission had talked about undertaking some projects. Among them were short biographies of significant Baptists, a color book on Baptist history, an updated version of Albert Wardin’s “Baptists Around the World”, and a companion book to “Baptists Together in Christ 1905-2005” (stories and reflections of people involved in the work of the BWA through the years). The chair said she would get reports from members working on these projects and would post them on the website.

Leaflet on Baptist Principles

Peter Morden presented his work on the projected leaflet on Baptist Principles. He distributed copies of the tentative text, saying he needed historical examples from around the world to illustrate the principles. He would also welcome comments, suggestions, ideas.

Some made suggestions: short version of leaflet should be on the web; apply principles to present reality. As time was short, it was decided to work on editing the text by email.

Plans for Amsterdam

The Chair read a letter from Denton Lotz asking our commission to propose plans for the BWA celebration at the annual gathering in Amsterdam in 2009 of Baptist beginnings in that city in 1609. (Commission member Ian Randall is writing a book.) Lotz asked that Karen report our commission’s proposals at the BWA Executive Committee meeting in March 2008. In the few minutes remaining some suggestions were made:

Biographies of individuals in early congregation(s)
Mennonite connection
Women’s role
Tour of Baptist sites in Amsterdam
Plaque at site of church

Anne de Vries said that the Dutch Baptists had no idea where the church had been, but if someone would tell them where it was, they would try to get permission for a plaque. Bullock said she knew of a photograph of the site. Someone else added that a branch of the Bank of Scotland was on the site. Bill Slack offered to talk to Bank of Scotland officials.