Baptist churches across America will observe this Sunday as Baptist World Alliance Day, the first annual observance to occur since the Southern Baptist Convention voted to sever ties with the group last June.
BWA spokesperson Wendy Ryan said the organization won’t know until after special offerings are collected this weekend whether the rift will affect interest in the observance.
Orders for promotional materials are behind last year, she said, but that might be because they are now available on the Internet, allowing churches to celebrate the day without first notifying the BWA office.
This year’s BWA Day offering will provide funds for national leaders to attend the BWA’s upcoming centennial celebration in Birmingham, England.
“Many of these national leaders live in impoverished countries and do not have the resources to attend the Congress,” according to a BWA announcement. “Your generous gift will make a difference in their lives.”
This year’s meeting marks the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the BWA, today a fellowship of 211 Baptist unions and conventions representing about 80 million Baptists around the world. The group exists to unite Baptists worldwide, lead in evangelism, respond to people in need and defend human rights.
After several years of complaints that the BWA was being influenced by European groups the SBC leaders regard as too liberal, the denomination this summer decided to sever ties with the group it helped to start. Along with leaving the BWA’s membership, the SBC eliminated $300,000 in annual funding for the BWA.
Southern Baptist leader Richard Land revealed recently that SBC leaders planned to meet in Europe this summer with conservatives “who want to work with us” to explore alterative ways of cooperating with Baptists overseas.
Most other BWA member bodies, however, viewed Southern Baptists as the group that didn’t want to cooperate. Baptists from Asia, Europe, Latin America, Australia and Canada pleaded unsuccessfully for Southern Baptist leaders to reconsider or delay their departure.
While SBC leaders cited several excuses for leaving the BWA fold, many observers feel the real reason was a decision to grant membership to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate group that separated from the Southern Baptist Convention in the early ’90s, which SBC leaders view as a competitor for mission funds.
Gifts to the BWA Day effort should be mailed to:
Baptist World Alliance
405 North Washington Street
Falls Church, VA 22046
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.