Baptist World Alliance, as many of you know, represents in excess of 42 million people of faith from 121 countries and territories, representing 231 conventions and unions. Sadly, this tells you that there are far too many Baptist groups in some countries than there probably should be… read six different groups in Canada, matched by the same number in Ethiopia… that’s for another day.
I’ve written on this topic before while I was in Izmir in early July. The BWA meets in a plenary session every five years; next year will be in South Africa and annual for commissions and governing bodies. Last years meeting was in Jamaica; this year’s, as you know, was in Turkey. Every time the BWA meets, it passes resolutions which have input from the gathered assembly. This year was no exception and covered a range of topics, from encouraging the small group of Christians in Turkey to addressing the persecution of Christians and the conflict in Ukraine amongst other things. One of the best statements of the time in Izmir from a Canadian perspective is Sam Chaise’s memo, which I share here:
I am writing this email from Izmir, Turkey, where the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance is taking place. Other Canadian Baptists present include Ken and Joyce Bellous (along with me, they are our official representatives to the BWA General Council), Jeremy Bell, Moreen Sharp (in her role as President of North American Baptist Women), Harry and Gail Gardner (Harry is VP for North America and heads the Ministry Commission) and Terry and Heather Smith. CBM also made it possible for two of our partner heads from Africa to be present here: Gato Munyamosoko from Rwanda and Kakule Molo from DR Congo. This meeting is always a good opportunity for CBM to meet with our mission partners and like-minded organizations from all over the world, and it’s a lot cheaper and more time-efficient than trying to do it some other way!
It is a matter of historic importance that we are in Turkey. Izmir is the modern name for Smyrna; we are within an hour of Ephesus and Pergamum. We flew through Istanbul, which of course used to be Constantinople, which was one of the centres of the global Church and continues to be the primary “centre” for Orthodoxy after the schism of 1054. Today, Turkey is 97% Muslim. It is worth reflecting on the fact that a centre of Christianity is now 97% Muslim . . . but that’s for a later time. Turkey was founded officially as a secular state with religious freedom, but at an on-the-ground level that hasn’t been a felt reality for believers. Turkey is now seeking membership in the European Union and is trying to demonstrate their commitment to religious freedom; part of the way this has been demonstrated is to return for the use of Christians an Anglican church building that had been taken over by the government – this is now where the local Baptist church worships. In this nation of 80 million there are four Baptist churches, approximately 100 evangelical churches, and approximately 3,000-5,000 evangelicals (the majority of Christians are Armenian Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox). Turkey is a country where CBM Field Staff were involved in the very early days of the evangelical church, with people such as Mary Mitchell, the Phillips, the Forresters, and the Albinets. In those early days the number of evangelicals would have been in the tens or at most approximately 100. We launched what is now a key Bible School that trains evangelical leadership.
Terry and I participated in a two-day Baptist World Aid consultation on global development, which brought together Baptist organizations involved in this work. A number of important topics were addressed and CBM personnel had significant involvement; in addition to Rupen Das’ presence, Terry Smith presented a paper on ethics/governance and Judy Webb presented a case study – I’ve attached these for your information. A significant part of the intention was to imagine a framework for BWAid to function as a broker/networker of global efforts in this area. It inspired me to think of bringing together a two-day meeting of Baptist groups with which we have affinity, to share data about our work and to build a framework for increased collaboration. Terry and I talked with a number of these groups and there is strong interest in this happening.
From my perspective the main value of BWA is this: there is no other room in the world where this group of Baptist leaders would be present, learning from each other, challenging each other’s thinking, inspiring each other with stories of courageous mission in troubled situations, and thinking together about major issues facing the global church. It is so easy for national Baptist leaders to be submerged into cultural group-think, and the BWA Annual Gathering is where those assumptions are confronted, enriched, transformed, and deepened. Examples of this include:
· One sub-group is focused on Baptist-Muslim relations. The contexts are so different, whether it’s the intense conflict currently happening in Nigeria, the historical co-existence and struggle of the Middle East, or the relatively new situation of Muslims in North America.
· A meeting of denominational leaders discussed how they are engaging with same-gender attracted people – I presented the Canadian Baptist situation and the Baptist Union of Great Britain presented theirs. It is of note that Canada was one of the first Western nations to re-define marriage, so we have lived with this reality for a longer time than others. It was good to have leaders from Africa in this meeting, some of whom are wondering whether this is an issue at all in their context or whether it is present but hidden.
· We were inspired to hear the story of the recipient of the BWA Human Rights award, a Moldovan pastor who has tirelessly worked against human trafficking, sometimes at risk to his own safety. I am well aware that when a movie star takes on a global issue they receive massive amounts of publicity, while everyday heroes who don’t employ a publicist but who work faithfully for the transformation of our world are rarely heard about. This award seeks to give some profile to these less-well-known but still extraordinary heroes. Here’s the story: http://bit.ly/1sAOt7h .
There is a vast amount of work that happens at the Annual Gathering in a short five days. This is the equivalent of a church’s AGM and also a year’s worth of committee meetings, all compressed into one intense week. I get tired just thinking about the number of groups and meetings, but here we go: the Mission, Evangelism & Theological Reflection Commission includes sub-groups on Christian Ethics, Evangelism, Ministry, Baptist Heritage & Identity, Baptist Worship & Spirituality, Doctrine & Christian Unity, and Theological Education. The Freedom & Justice Commission includes sub-groups on Baptist-Muslim relations, Human Rights Advocacy, Peace, Social & Environmental Justice, and Religious Freedom. In addition there are Committee meetings of Baptist World Aid, Membership, Resolution, Youth, Nominations, and Men (women have their own global network which meets separate from BWA). Got all that? These meetings produce a significant amount of good thinking. The challenge is that good content doesn’t cascade down to regional and local levels, and admittedly while the BWA could do a better job at communication/marketing, we also have a responsibility as national member bodies to work on this.
A key issue that keeps surfacing is “religious freedom” – whether it’s Eastern Orthodoxy or Islam or radical secularism that is the challenge, almost everywhere in the world there are challenges to the freedom of religious people to believe and act according to their beliefs. As Canadian Baptists I think we can and should increase our voice on this matter – even though the Baptist movement was birthed on this principle (and some of our forefathers were persecuted as a result) it seems to me that we have lost this as an animating energy. I wrote a short blog post on this for Canada Day (http://cbminorg.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/oh-canada/ ); I’ve also been reading a superb book by Os Guinness on the matter, entitled “The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity”, which I would highly recommend (http://amzn.to/1w4uDBv )
As I close, I want to thank Canadian Baptists who have been serving in key BWA leadership roles for the 2010-2015 period: Harry Gardner as VP of North America, Gary Nelson as Chair of the BWAid Committee, and Dale Stairs on BWA Youth. I should also note that Jeff Carter (CBM Field Staff with the European Baptist Federation) technically represents Europe to BWA Youth but is of course Canadian. There are numbers of other Canadian Baptists who serve on various Commissions/Committees – below is the full listing. I should note that not everyone is able to be fully active on their Commission/Committee because not everyone is able to come to the meetings.
For 2015-2020, Jeremy Bell will serve on the BWA Executive as a representative of the North American Baptist Fellowship, and I will serve on the Nominations Committee. Other Canadian Baptist appointments will be made over the next 12 months. I was talking with Gary Nelson this morning and he remembered than when he first started coming to BWA in 2001, there were a handful of Canadians here who just came out of interest but were not in leadership positions in the Canadian Baptist context. Canadians, frankly, were not major players. Today, we have significant representation and significant influence and have a key role to play in the global Baptist movement.
Sam also asked that we check out his blog: http://cbminorg.wordpress.com. I am thankful for him allowing us to share his well thought out piece.