I’ve said a lot about various activities associated with the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) Executive Committee meeting in Honolulu this week, but little about the meeting itself. So what did they do? Here’s a synopsis of things I found to be particularly significant (or interesting):
New leadership: The March 2-5 meeting was the first one held under the leadership of new General Secretary Neville Callam. Callam streamlined reports from BWA departments to allow more time for open discussion and questions, a change that several representatives said they appreciated. Callam also introduced a system by which committee members were given green, red, and yellow cards to hold up if they approved or disapproved of a motion, or if they had a question.
EC to shrink? The Executive Committee learned about a proposed restructuring that could reduce its size from 69 to 24 in future years, sparking earnest debate among committee members. The proposal, which capped several years of study by a 20-member “Implementation Task Force” commissioned by the BWA General Council, also suggested that the number of vice presidents be reduced from 21 to eight.
Task force co-chair Wanda Lee, executive director of Woman’s Missionary Union, said a number of persons on the current Executive Committee rarely attend meetings. Some of the current positions are honorary, while others are designated by position on a committee or within one of the BWA’s six global regions. The goal is to make the committee more representative globally and with respect to age, gender, and ethnicity, Lee said.
The reshaped committee would meet twice per year in addition to the Annual Gathering (November and March), rather than once.
Task force members said a smaller and more representative committee could function more efficiently in providing governance. Some committee members, however, expressed concern that shrinking the committee might cause a lowered sense of ownership and support from regions or bodies that lose seats on the Executive Committee.
Since the task force was commissioned by the BWA’s larger General Council, Executive Committee members did not vote to approve or disapprove. They were encouraged to study the report and discuss it in their regions prior to the 2008 Annual Gathering in Prague, the Czech Republic, where the General Council will act on the report.
A BWA center in a Muslim country? Members discussed a possible ministry presence in Jordan. As president David Coffey reported on a visit to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan last September, he spoke of a surprising offer. While meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, he said, Jordanian officials offered to provide BWA with a plot of land near Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the traditional place of Jesus’ baptism. BWA would then be expected to build a center where Baptists could come and be baptized.
The committee voted to explore the feasibility of accepting the offer.
Falling dollar hits hard. U.S. economic woes could sink plans to hold the 2009 Annual Gathering in Amsterdam, where BWA hoped to mark the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first Baptist church and piggyback onto the close of the European Baptist Federation meeting. The decline in the value of the dollar has made it prohibitively expensive to hold the meeting in Amsterdam, Callam said.
While negotiations continue in hopes of holding the meeting somewhere in the Netherlands, committee members were asked to approve a backup plan to meet in Kuala-Lumpur, Malaysia, if those efforts fail. Baptists there have offered to host the meeting at a reduced cost.
The U.S. economy could also impact the BWA-sponsored 15th World Youth Congress in Leipzig, Germany, July 30-Aug. 3. Youth Department director Emmett Dunn said the high cost has put a damper on registrations from North America, which had expected to be a major source of funding for the event.
Budget report: Committee members heard relatively good news on the budget front. Income for 2007 was a hair above budgeted expenses of about $2.5 million. The 2008 budget calls for spending of about $2.8 million. Members were encouraged to promote direct giving to BWA so the organization will not have to rely so heavily on investment income, which is subject to stock market fluctuations.
Other matters: Committee members heard encouraging reports from various ministry departments and regional bodies, along with reports of pastors and other Christians who continue to suffer persecution or imprisonment in countries like Azerbaijan and Myanmar. Members also talked about hiring a full-time director to deal with freedom and justice issues, and how to effectively use the BWA’s positive relationship with the United Nations to promote religious liberty throughout the world.
The 2008 Annual Gathering is scheduled for July 20-25 in Prague, the Czech Republic. It will be followed immediately by the seventh Baptist International Conference on Theological Education, to be held July 26-29 on the campus of the International Baptist Theological Seminary.