BWA congratulates Pope Francis; will attend inauguration

Leaders of the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA), representing  42 million Baptists in 227 member organizations in 121 countries, offered congratulations to Pope Francis who was elected the 266th head of the Catholic Church on March 13.

The election of Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, by the Papal conclave, came after the resignation of Benedict XVI in February. He is the first Latin American and first Jesuit to be elected pope.

BWA President John Upton said, "The BWA celebrates with the Catholic Church the announcement of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis.  The prayerful discernment process of the Catholic Church in selecting the pope has been a comfort to us all," Upton stated. "Pope Francis will have our prayers as he begins his responsibilities."

General Secretary Neville Callam said, "The Baptist World Alliance welcomes the election of Cardinal Bergoglio as Pope Francis. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former cardinal's commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel, his record of solidarity with victims of social injustice, his affirmation of the value of a simple lifestyle and his exemplary humility has provided much encouragement to the community of believers in Christ."

Callam indicated that the new pope "will be accompanied by the prayers of the members of the world Baptist family, who also anticipate the pope's positive contribution to the realization of the vision of the church reflected in the High Priestly prayer of our Lord."

Upton will represent the BWA at the inauguration of Pope Francis on March 19 at the Vatican. Callam, who has a prior engagement in India, is unable to take up the official invitation from the Vatican to attend.

Baptist World Alliance®
© March 14, 2013

American professor to receive international Baptist human rights award

Glen Stassen, an American theologian, ethicist and author, is the recipient of the 2013 Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award.

Stassen's nomination was confirmed at a meeting of the BWA Executive Committee on March 5 at its international offices in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of the United States capital of Washington, DC.

The writings of Stassen, the Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, in the United States, have influenced the international peace movement for more than three decades. He is known for his work on theological ethics, politics, social justice, and developing the Just Peacemaking theory in ethics in dealing with matters of war and conflict.

His books include Journey into Peacemaking, released in 1982; Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace, published in 1992; Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War, which came out in 1998 and for which he served as editor; Peace Action: Past, Present, and Future, which he edited along with Lawrence Wittner, released in 2007; and an edited work, Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War, published in 2008.

His and David Gushee's book, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context was awarded Best Book of the Year in the Theology/Ethics category by Christianity Today magazine in 2004.

Stassen has worked to help found several organizations for peacemaking, operated behind the scenes to negotiate the removal of short and middle range nuclear weapons from Europe, testified at capital punishment cases, developed a strategy for defense attorneys in capital cases, and engaged in human rights advocacy for the mentally disabled.

He has assisted with nonviolent human rights and peace movements in East Germany, Kazakhstan and South Korea and in regions such as Central America, Eastern Europe and Southern Africa. He was present when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.

Secular and theological groups have used Stassen as an advisor on issues of reconciliation and peacemaking. He is currently a member of the BWA Commission on Peace, president of the Council of the Societies for the Study of Religion and is a former president of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion. He has held a number of positions in the American Academy of Religion (AAR), including chair of the Religion and Political Science subsection and the Religious Social Ethics Group. He also co-chaired the Biblical/Contextual Ethics Group and Religion and the Social Sciences Section of the AAR.

Stassen served as the president of the Pacific Coast Section of the Society of Christian Ethics (SCE) and represented the SCE on the Council on the Study of Religion. He co-chaired the Strategy Committee of the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign in the 1980s. For almost 20 years, he co-chaired the Arms Race and International Conflict Committee of the Louisville Area Council on Peacemaking.

Since 1999, Stassen has been a member of the Board of Editorial Advisors for both Sojourners magazine and Creation Care magazine. He is a former board member of Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and the Abbey of Gethsemane Center for Ethics; as well as a member of the Peacemaking Study Group of the National Council of Churches Apostolic Faith Commission.

Stassen was heavily influenced by his father, Harold Stassen, president of the American Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches USA) in the 1960s, governor of the state of Minnesota from 1939-1943 and a contender for the US presidency in the 1940s. Harold Stassen helped draft the charter establishing the United Nations in 1945 and joined the 1963 march on Washington led by Martin Luther King Jr.

Glen Stassen earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in physics from the University of Virginia, a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a PhD from Duke University in North Carolina. He has been a visiting scholar at Harvard University, Duke University, Columbia University, and the University of Heidelberg in Germany. He is a visiting professor at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, Czech Republic, and taught for 20 years at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award will be presented during the BWA Annual Gathering in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, from July 1-6, 2013.

Baptist World Alliance®
© March 5, 2013

BWA leaders laud Pope Benedict XVI

Leaders of the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) expressed their appreciation for Pope Benedict XVI after the announcement of his intention to resign on February 28.

"I have deeply appreciated the inclusion by the pope of other Christian fellowships, such as the BWA, in serious discussions of matters that have confronted the Christian world," said BWA President John Upton.  "The pope has always been gracious in his welcome to the Vatican and respectful of the insights and opinions of other Christian communities."

General Secretary Neville Callam acknowledged "the ministry that Pope Benedict XVI has exercised, in particular his contribution to ecumenical relations." Callam took note of the pope's theological works and his pastoral ministry that have "provided the Christian community with a rich storehouse of spiritual reflections worthy of detailed study."

"I applaud the pope's openness to bilateral dialogues that have both strengthened understandings and furthered Christian witness," Upton said.  "The pope has demonstrated his love of the church and he will be remembered fondly for his scholarly and gentle leadership."

Callam recalled the private audience the pope gave to participants in the dialogue involving Baptists and Catholics during their meetings in Rome in 2007. In receiving the delegates, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his hope that the dialogue would result in "increase of understanding and cooperation between Catholics and Baptists."

Baptists and Catholics have participated in theological dialogue since 1984. The first round extended from 1984-1988 and the second from 2006-2010. Callam acknowledged the pope's support of the second round of the dialogue.

The BWA General Secretary said the pope's ecumenical openness was on full display during the 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church where the Baptist community was represented by Timothy George, dean and professor of divinity, history and doctrine at Beeson Divinity School in the state of Alabama in the United States.

"We convey best wishes on a well deserved retirement," Callam stated. "His immense contribution to world Christianity will not be forgotten and we pray for him God's blessings in the coming years."

Baptist World Alliance®
© February 14, 2013

Baptist leaders gather for international meeting

Baptist leaders from around the world are traveling to the United States to attend meetings of the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA).  The meetings bring together members of the Executive Committee, sub-committees of the Executive and BWA advisory committees.

Reports will be presented on the latest developments in three major international meetings that are being planned – the 8th Baptist International Conference on Theological Education to be held in Jamaica in June, the Baptist Youth World Conference planned for Singapore in July, and the 21st Baptist World Congress that is to take place in South Africa in July 2015. Each of these major meetings is held once every five years.

Two important documents are to be presented for consideration. Principles and Guidelines for Intra-Baptist Relationships, prepared by the Special Commission on Intra-Baptist Relations, aims to provide a framework for  BWA's response to the diversity of language, culture, opinions and perspectives in meetings and in the various operations of the international body.

A second document provides a profile of the role of the regional secretaries within the BWA. The Executive's response to this profile will have implications for relations between the BWA and the six regions of Africa, Asia Pacific, Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and North America.

The report on the second round of dialogue between Baptists and Catholics will also be made available to Executive Committee members ahead of its presentation at the Annual Gathering in Jamaica in July.

Reports will be received on the financial health of the BWA.  Indications are that the BWA has successfully weathered the financial storms that have affected world economies in recent years and is seeing improvements in its financial position, even as it continues to meet human needs around the world and to increase its profile in the fight for freedom and justice.

Meetings are to be held March 3-6 at the BWA international offices in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of the US capital of Washington, DC.

Baptist World Alliance®
© February 25, 2013

BWA brings Haitian Baptists together

A Jesus Christ Bread of Life (BOL) conference planned and sponsored by the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) brought seven groups, including two that are already member organizations of the BWA, to focus on holistic development as an expression of authentic Christian witness and evangelism. This is the first time in living memory that such a diverse group of Baptists in Haiti has met to participate in an event.

"It was a very good conference," said BWA General Secretary Neville Callam, who presented a paper on the Haitian Baptist story within the broader context of Baptist history. Callam was impressed by the vision exhibited by Haitian Baptists and is of the view that Christian ministry in the Caribbean country has both a rich heritage and a bright future.

In his paper Callam, who is Jamaican, reminded Haitian Baptists of the strong historical links between Baptists in the Caribbean. He named a number of Jamaican Baptists who served as missioners in the French- and Creole-speaking country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic. "Here in Haiti, we celebrate the way God has blessed the church and we are thankful for the growth of the Baptist community," Callam said.

Callam also updated Haitian Baptists on Baptist witness around the world, particularly in mission, the meeting of human need, and in the fight for freedom and justice.

The BWA general secretary and Fausto Vasconcelos, the BWA director responsible for mission and evangelism, reported that the seven groups represented at the conference decided to form an Alliance of Baptists for Haiti, an umbrella organization where the groups, while maintaining their independence, may share opportunities in fellowship and ministry. This is of significance, Callam declared, as Haiti has more Baptists than all of the rest of the Caribbean combined.

A well known Haitian Baptist was honored during the BOL conference. Emmanuel Feliz, a retired government civil servant and judge, served time in prison for his quest for human rights during the rule of François 'Papa Doc' Duvalier. Feliz now distributes solar radios throughout Haiti, carries out a preaching ministry and focuses on training church leaders in personal evangelism. He is also a presenter on a radio station in Haiti.

The BOL conference, which ran January 30-February 2, was held at the Christian University of North Haiti in Haut Limbe. Presenters included Vasconcelos; Everton Jackson, BWA regional secretary for the Caribbean and executive secretary/treasurer for the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship; and Andre Jean, professor of Old Testament, Old Testament Theology, Hebrew and Pastoral Leadership at the university, among others.

Jesus Christ Bread of Life is an international training program by the BWA aimed at renewing Baptists' understanding of the mission of God and to stimulate the desire to bear witness to that mission in each local context.

Previous BOL conferences have been held in Brazil, Paraguay, Nigeria and Cambodia.

Baptist World Alliance®
© February 6, 2013