J took the initiative to take kids to the local Baptist church, when they were young. So this is where they have grown up, and I have inevitably tagged along. As an agnostic Irish Catholic, I hate much of the evangelical flavour there, and the oh-so-reasonable bigotry. (At least the Catholics make no bones about their homophobia and opposition to women’s reproductive freedoms.)
Yet over the years I’ve come to admire one aspect of the Baptist church – namely the way in which black and white people seem to mix quite naturally and equally. You don’t see quite the same cultural inclusion in the Catholic Church, which is too ghettoised into Irish, Polish etc. Nor do you see it so much in the Church of England, which in my experience is dominated by posh English types, even in the Inner City where many of the congregation are black.
Perhaps the non-conformist tradition of the Baptist church has something to do with its more open and egalitarian atmosphere, as well as the historical contribution of black Baptist leaders like Martin Luther King. For sure, the Baptist Church is not a beacon of equality, and black people have had to fight for recognition there as much as anywhere else – or have had to go it alone. But, for a fairly pure contemporary expression of cultural diversity, Church is not a bad place to look.