Spiritual SHOUTER Baptists faith: The only indigenous religious tradition of Trinidad and Tobago.

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A spiritual struggle

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By Verdel Bishop

Spiritual Shouter Baptists are a unique set of people who, despite challenges of the past have been able to celebrate various milestones in their quest for freedom to practise their religion. As Spiritual Shouter Baptists throughout the country celebrated the 15th anniversary of Shouter Baptist Liberation Day on Sunday, the religious group has a lot to be thankful for. Shouter Baptists will host celebrations throughout the country. Archbishop Barbara Burke said this year’s celebrations will focus on the family. She noted the evident breakdown of the family and the church’s responsibility to intervene and to create positive change.
Burke said she is happy with some accomplishments over the years. Last year’s opening of the St Barbara’s Spiritual Shouter Baptist Primary School she said was a major accomplishment. “Five students sat SEA and they all passed for their first choices. St Barbara’s Early Childhood Care will be opened soon; we have our teachers and so on; we have come a long way. We are about to build our secondary school; we have located the land in Bon Air North,” Burke said.
Burke said youths and family life is a major issue the faith plans to tackle. “We want to focus on family life. This year we want to host a few conferences pertaining to family life. We are seeing what is happening in the country and we have to get involved as a church. We are also placing emphasis on single parent families. So many families are in despair so we are looking very seriously and we are going to also really focus on the youths. We are looking to host these conferences in various communities,” Burke said.
The Spiritual Baptist faith is the only indigenous religious tradition of Trinidad and Tobago. It was born out of the 19th century struggle of the Afro-American adherents of the Baptist faith for freedom of worship, to practise their Christianity with a blend of Africanism; a brand of African survival, reflecting the joys, trials, tribulations and frustrations of a people whose ancestors were uprooted from their Motherland and its rich traditions, and dehumanized, seeking to spiritually go back home. Hence in their worship emphasis is placed to a greater extent on hand-clapping, singing, shouting, and rejoicing than on formal worship.
In the past, Spiritual Baptists were called wayside/wayward Baptists because they held religious meetings at the side of the road. Some were called Candle Baptist, because they preached the ‘gospel’ by the wayside, in tents by candle light with the ringing of bells and blowing of horns. They were also known as Shouters because of the practice of shouting during worship.
It should be noted here that Asram L Stapleton in his book Birth and Growth of the Baptist Church in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean (page 31), states that, “This definition can no longer apply to a Christian Church in the 20th century, due to the grammatical analysis of the word “shout or “shouter”. He further stated that in his opinion “whenever the word is used in the context of the Spiritual Baptist it must be treated as a gross misinterpretation”. Stapleton also went on to give a definition of the term “Spiritual Baptist”.
The doctrine of the Spiritual Baptist is based on the Holy Trinity-Father, Son and Holy Spirit and their conservative supernaturalism includes the inerrancy of the Bible; the virgin birth of Jesus Christ; the supernatural atonement; the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ; the authenticity of the gospel miracles; the second coming of Christ.
The West Indian United Spiritual Baptist Sacred Order Inc was born out of the struggle of the Elders of the Faith at that time to be identified as Christians and part of the world wide Baptist Community because of their beliefs and thus not be debarred from practising their religion by the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance of 1917.
The passing of the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance in 1917 is one of the darkest nights in the history of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. It seemed to be an attempt by the colonial government at the time to appease the powers that be-the police, the landed gentry, and the established church in suppressing the growth and development of a local religious movement, The Shouter Baptists. However, this did not happen, for by 1946 the movement was approximately 30,000 strong and also a political might by virtue of Universal Suffrage giving each Shouter Baptist over 21 years.
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