A courageous Jamaican Baptist who played a crucial role in initiating the end of the slave trade is set to deepen understanding of black and ethnic minority Baptist Christians, nearly 200 years after his death.
Sam Sharpe was a Baptist deacon who spoke out against the injustice of slavery and instigated a general strike in 1831.
Though it ultimately cost him his life the following year, the rebellion was a key moment: in 1834, slavery would be abolished and a system of “apprenticeship” would be instituted.
In the 1970s, Sam Sharpe was subsequently recognized as a Jamaican National Hero.
Now his legacy is to be given a new lease on life, thanks to a project in his name.
Areas covered by these various strands include Baptists who have been socially marginalized, reflections on black biblical characters such as Simon of Cyrene, mission, race, class, neo-colonialism and other concerns.
One of its aims is to “encourage the growth of mission-centered churches and associations able to engage with contemporary multicultural society,” said Rev. Wale Hudson Roberts, Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) racial justice coordinator and one of the key drivers of the project.
It is hoped the project will also develop the potential of black and ethnic minority leaders and encourage Baptist colleges, associations and churches to engage more seriously with black and Asian history, culture and theology, Hudson Roberts added.
“This initiative, which builds on the work already begun on the history and lessons for today of the Sam Sharpe story, offers the possibility of bringing our current BUGB life into creative dialogue with the legacy of Sam Sharpe and the everyday experiences of our BME Baptist members,” said Hudson Roberts.
“Our prayer is that this innovative set of resources will enable us all to become more innately inclusive. This is no small undertaking, but Sam Sharpe’s legacy offers us a model and a means for critiquing and transforming British Baptist culture, so that it becomes more characterized by inclusivity, equality and justice, and helps us to live more fully by the core values which we espouse.”
The Sam Sharpe Project was launched at the Jamaican High Commission in an event chaired by Rev. Rose Hudson Wilkin, the Speakers’ chaplain in the House of Commons. Member of Parliament David Lammy was one of the speakers.
The project is a partnership between the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture at Regent’s Park College, BUGB, BMS World Mission, the Jamaica Baptist Union, Northern Baptist Learning Community, and the London and Heart of England Baptist Associations.
The project came about as a result of the actions of the Baptist Union Council in November 2007, when it made a formal apology for the transatlantic slave trade.
This was subsequently made in person by representatives of BUGB and BMS World Mission to the Jamaica Baptist Union.
One of the outcomes of the apology was a project developed by the Oxford Centre at Regent’s.
In April 2010, the college hosted the first international conference on Sam Sharpe, after which many delegates expressed a desire for a Sam Sharpe Project to be established as an important contribution to the field of black Baptist studies.