Demographic and social trends show that our increasingly diverse world will continue to become more complex.
In the U.S., 70% of the largest cities are more racially and ethnically diverse today than they were 10 years ago.
For example, in Louisville, Kentucky, from 2010 to 2018 the white population grew 1.2% while the Hispanic population grew 30%. During the same period in Indianapolis, the white population grew 0.8% while the Asian population grew 87%.
Whites in the U.S. are well under way to becoming a minority, as non-whites are projected to make up 60% of the U.S. population by 2060 — with non-white Hispanics accounting for a major portion of the group.
A step back to look at larger population dynamics shows a similar picture of increasing diversity. In addition to the growth of racial and ethnic minorities, migration continues to shape contemporary contexts.
The U.N. reported that in 2020 there were 281 million people living outside of their country of origin — 100 million more than 20 years before. In the U.S., there are an estimated 50 million people who were born outside the U.S. — by far the largest migration destination in the world.
It is in this context of growing ethnic, racial, linguistic and cultural differences that we and those with whom we share the world must live. Our diversifying churches, university classrooms, theological schools and neighborhoods are microcosms of a radically changing world.
Yet, the people we prepare for positions of leadership in this very world often lack the formative experiences that would better equip them for service across languages and cultures.
It is to address this need to develop global-minded leadership that an initiative housed at the Baylor University Graduate School exists: The Baptist Scholars International Roundtable (BSIR).
The BSIR is an international, intergenerational and interdisciplinary network of Baptist leaders. It promotes scholarship from diverse Baptist perspectives and showcases scholars at different stages in their journeys and from schools around the world by facilitating a scholarly forum for the exchange of ideas.
This community invites a diversity of Baptist affiliations. At the heart of the roundtable is formation for academic stewardship in which a newer generation is welcomed into an international Baptist academy and formed to preserve, sustain and reimagine academic and faith communities.
For its 16th annual meeting, which convened virtually on August 9-11, 2021, the BSIR conference theme was a continuation of the previous year’s topic, namely, the kingdom of God.
BSIR participants represented six nations and a variety of perspectives on Baptists from disciplines such as theology, biblical studies, history and sociology.
These Scholars and Fellows from a broad array of countries and disciplines invited each other to consider how Baptist perspectives on the kingdom of God inform and shape the life of the academy and the life of the church.
BSIR’s 2020-2021 Distinguished Fellow, Karen Smith, an ordained minister who is currently serving as Honorary Senior Research Fellow of the School of History, Archaeology and Religion, Cardiff University, provided important context for the gathering.
BSIR meetings also produce resources for college and seminary classrooms as well as faith communities. Papers presented during the last two BSIR meetings will be published in a manuscript by Baylor University Press (BUP).
BUP has contracted with BSIR co-directors T. Laine Scales, professor of social work at Baylor, and João B. Chaves, assistant director for programming in the Hispanic Theological Initiative at Princeton Theological Seminary, to publish the edited collection of 16 essays in a book tentatively entitled Baptists and the Kingdom of God: World Perspectives Through Four Interpretive Lenses.
Funding for the BSIR comes from a number of member schools that are committed to training global-minded Baptist leaders.
Brad Creed, president of Campbell University and BSIR Fellow, is one such leader invested in forming the next generation of Baptist leaders for service in a diversifying world.
BSIR “keeps me connected to other scholars and reflecting upon big issues and themes related to Baptists,” he said, noting that it “is also a way to encourage and develop a new generation of scholars and teachers.”
Commenting on this year’s meeting, BSIR Fellow Paul Fiddes, director of research at Regent’s Park College, Oxford, said that “it was a delight to interact with younger scholars as well as to network with all the scholars participating. It’s essential that ‘Baptist theology’ should be global, and it’s easy to narrow down to one’s own cultural area.”
Although the 2021 meeting was held virtually, the BSIR plans to resume its in-person meetings in 2022 at Christ Church in Oxford, where the theme will be Baptists and higher education.
Only seven papers will be selected through a competitive process for the annual meeting. The call will go out this October and BSIR leaders hope for another set of rich, diverse presentations from around the world.
For more information, visit the BSIR website.
Associate Editor for “Perspectivas”—the Journal of the Hispanic Theological Initiative and is the author of the forthcoming book “The Global Mission of the Jim Crow South.” He holds a Ph.D. in religion from Baylor University.