BWA speaks on religious liberty, women, immigrant families

By Tony W. Cartledge

ZURICH, Switzerland – Advocating for religious liberty in eastern Ukraine, protecting women and girls, and keeping immigrant families together were the focus of resolutions approved by the Baptist World Alliance General Council in Zurich July 2-6.

Religious Liberty in Eastern Ukraine

The first resolution expressed concern about the curbing of religious freedom in an occupied area of the Lugansk region in eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces have taken control of the area and abetted its reorganization as the “Lugansk People’s Republic” (LPR).  

The “Resolution on the Freedom of Religion in the Lugansk Region in Eastern Ukraine” notes that a new law imposed by the LPR requires that “all religious organizations within the LPR, except the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), must now prove their loyalty to LPR authorities through a re-registration procedure in order to maintain their legal status,” as well as “to report in detail their activities.”

The statement observes that the law “violates universal human rights, restricts religious freedom, and threatens the existence of existing religious groups and organizational networks,” which violates several articles of international law. Enforcement of the law threatens the futures of 43 Baptist churches in the area.

“All people are created in God’s image and endowed with freedom to worship and practice their religion according to the dictates of their own hearts,” the resolution states, urging the Lugansk Peoples Republic “to change the law in order to make it compatible with Freedom of Religion or Belief as stated in the international declarations, conventions and agreements.”

The resolution further calls upon the UN special rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to gather information, visit the region, and pressure LPR authorities to bring the law in line with international standards.  

Protecting Women and Girls

A “Resolution Opposing Violence and Abuse of Women and Girls” responded to issues recently brought to the fore by the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements. It “Affirms that women and girls are created in the image of God and invested with inestimable worth and dignity as gifts from God, and are essential to the health and vitality of families, churches, communities and national life.”

“The church has at times stood silent,” the resolution states, “or has been guilty of perpetuating biblical and theological interpretations regarding women and girls that render them vulnerable to violence and abuse in the home, the church, and society; and hinder their ability to live into the fulness of God.”

The resolution “Notes that the harassment and violence against women and girls worldwide are immoral,” and that “the church has too often been guilty of abusing and demeaning women and girls, and of covering up instances of abuse.”

In response, the resolution calls on BWA member bodies to “enhance the appreciation of the worth and dignity of women and girls in all aspects of family, church life, and in society;” to “provide access to counseling and safe places for women and girls who are victims of abuse;” to “ensure a system of transparent accountability that includes reporting of suspected abuse to appropriate authorities both inside and outside the church;” and to “design and implement culturally contextualized curricula to educate ministerial leadership and congregations about the multi-faceted problem of violence on women and processes to prevent such violence.”

Separating Immigrant Families

The resolution on immigrant families was inspired largely by U.S. actions that have separated many children from their parents at the border, but family separation was recognized as a global problem. The “Resolution on Preserving the Primacy of Family in Immigration” notes that “the human desire to preserve and protect one’s family from violence, disease, economic depravity, and other threatening conditions is universal and drives millions of people to leave their homelands seeking better lives for themselves and their family members.”

The resolution further “affirms the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger” and asserts that God created the family as integral to a healthy society. It, “Calls upon individuals, churches and religious organizations to be involved in immigration issues, supporting the primacy of family solidarity;” and “encourages all Baptists to prophetically challenge immoral policies that seek to undermine the rights and dignity of immigrants, migrants, and refugees.”

Finally, the resolution “urges all governments to follow international law regarding the proper treatment of immigrants, migrants, and refugees, and to uphold the primacy of the family unit.”

Read the complete resolutions here.

BWA president Paul Msiza emphasizes that the church belongs to God

ZURICH, Switzerland -- Paul Msiza, president of the Baptist World Alliance, stressed in his report to the BWA General Council that “a church can never be an institution owned by human beings.” The church “belongs to God.”

Msiza, senior pastor at Peniel Salem Baptist Church in South Africa, noted that “when the church belongs to Christ everyone has a place.”

The president reported that Baptists around the world “are doing well. ... Our focus on mission is exciting,” he said. And, “as Baptists we are committed to a holistic approach that involves both “word and deed.”

“We still preach Christ crucified, we still believe in evangelism, and this is who we are.”

Baptists also recognize that “we live in a hostile world” and need to continue the work of advocacy -- “to stand in the trenches with those who suffer. ... We need to stand for justice” until, like Amos in the Old Testament said, “justice rolls down like waters.”

Msiza noted two things about Baptist churches today. “We are growing and yet there are concerns.” In many countries there is still injustice, and the president noted the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr., in the United States. “We need to cry to God for prophets,” like Amos and King, who will speak the word of God and work on behalf of people.
The president also noted a concern for today’s youth. He asked why youth were not attending churches. He related a need for churches to change to reach youth, but reminded the crowd that “when we own the church, we have no place for change.”
In other matters, Msiza thanked God “with the same spirit” for Neville Callam and Elijah Brown in his report to the General Council. Callam retired as BWA general secretary last year, and Brown assumed that role at the beginning of 2018.

Msiza, thanked God for Callam’s work in “taking us through the years” and making sure there was a smooth transition to the the new general secretary. “Now,” the president said, to Brown, “we are so glad to have you lead us.”

The president welcomed two new regional secretaries to the BWA leadership -- Vee Tetseo of Asia-Pacific Baptist Federation and Jeremy Bell of the North American Baptist Fellowship.

Msiza also noted that David Kerrigan had retired as general director of BMS World Mission and that Kang-San Tan had been selected for that leadership position.

Nigerian youth leader dies

The All Africa Baptist Youth Fellowship marked three days of mourning June 5-7 after the death of Francis Iliya Bakut, the national president of the Nigeria Baptist Convention Youth Conference.

Bakut died June 4 after bringing fraternal greetings at the opening of the 2018 youth week anniversary at First Baptist Church in Garki Abuja.

AABYF, in its weekly prayer guide, called for the day of mourning with the "highest level of sorrow, sadness and unstoppable streams of tears."

BWA leader recalls the past, challenges for the future in opening remarks

ZURICH, Switzerland -- Elijah Brown stressed the power of Scripture to transform lives and the importance of building bridges as he welcomed the global Baptist community to the historic city of Zurich Tuesday, July 3, in his opening remarks to the Baptist World Alliance General Council.

As we gather here in this city, of all cities, we are reminded of the transformative power of God’s Holy Word,” said Brown, who is general secretary of BWA, the largest international Baptist fellowship.

The Christian Reformation began in Germany and Switzerland 500 years ago, with Zurich being the key site in the Swiss Reformation. Zurich also is the city where early Reformation leaders persecuted and killed other, more radical, Reformers like the Anabaptists.

The global body is being co-hosted by the Swiss Baptist Union and Evangelical Reformed Church of Zurich. Brown thanked them for their “gracious hospitality and for all you have done to help bring us together for this important milestone.

“Here in the city where Huldrych Zwingli preached, where Scriptures were translated anew, the Reformation was shaped, and at times the Anabaptists hid, we are gathered to join in the ongoing celebration of 500 years of Protestant Reformation.”

Brown spoke from 2 Timothy 2:8-9, which ends with the phrase, “God’s word is not chained.”

God’s messengers can be put in chains, practices can become outdated, and cultures and turn, but “the Word of God cannot be chained. God’s holy, perfect, inspired Word cannot be chained,” Brown said.

He listed the five key principles of the Reformation in Latin and English -- sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), and soli Deo gloria (to the glory of God alone).

“This is who we are,” Brown said. “And this is who we at the BWA strive to be. Would you sit in this room for just a moment? Would you feel hundreds of years coursing through this city, echoing through our foremothers and forefathers, and calling us ever more. ...

“As we gather, would you join me in praying that God’s Word would be powerful and alive in our lives this week? For one of the themes woven throughout this week is the transformative power of the Scriptures. It is what we will be celebrating tonight in the Grossmünster Church,” the church where Zwingli was pastor.

In the midst of this celebration of God’s transformative work through the centuries, the BWA leader said many people around the world, including Baptists, are suffering persecution. Many are “even now feeling the weight of God’s Word and those who would seek to chain it down. As we begin we also remember them. They may not be able to join us, but we will join them.”

Brown recently returned from a trip to South Korea, and he asked Baptists to be “especially mindful of our brothers and sisters in North Korea.” After sharing details of his trip to Korea, Brown asked participants to gather in small groups of prayer for North Korea and its people.

“I pray that throughout this Annual Gathering we will be a community who builds bridges,” Brown said. “We are recalling our bridges to our past. ... We will be building bridges to one another in Jesus Christ. ... We will be building bridges to our shared future in ministry. ... For we still believe in the transformative power of God’s Word.


Henry completes service as BWA communications associate

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- Eron Henry, associate director of communications for the Baptist World Alliance, has completed his time with the umbrella organization for Baptists after 12 years of faithful service. Henry is originally from Jamaica.

“Countless lives were impacted for Jesus Christ because of his service,” said BWA General Secretary Elijah Brown. “His contribution to the life of the BWA was far reaching.”

BWA “wishes to thank Henry for the theological grounding he provided and the joyful spirit he exuded,” Brown said, expressing his “deep appreciation for the global impact given for the glory of Jesus Christ.”

During Henry’s time with BWA, he led in building, maintaining and growing the BWA’s social media footprint through Facebook (groups/bwanet), Twitter (@TheBWA), and Instagram (@the_BWA). He led in twice redesigning the BWA website (, revamping Baptist World magazine, and winning two DeRose-Hinkhouse Awards from the Religion Communicators Council.

Henry produced 45 Baptist World magazines, about 662 news releases and 134 BWA Connects digital newsletters while at the BWA. He also edited 35 BWA books. Henry made more than 50 ministry visits around the world, sharing the love of Jesus Christ and the work of BWA. He led numerous press conferences, press rooms, seminars, and training events. He also wrote and edited speeches, reports, and messages.

Prior to his time with BWA, Henry worked in several communications and media posts in Jamaica. This included leading the Jamaica Baptist Union Media Commission, with responsibility for two weekly radio programs, a newspaper and book publishing. Henry also served as a weekly news columnist for the Daily Gleaner newspaper and as news analyst with Radio Jamaica. He also authored a novel, Reverend Mother.

Henry runs his own blog, Ole Time Sumting: A lighthearted peak into Jamaica’s past (, which was recognized with an Award of Merit by the Religion Communicators Council in April 2018.