SEOUL, South Korea–Baptist leaders from around the world gather this week in Seoul for the first time since the Southern Baptist Convention voted in June to withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance, the largest international body of Baptists with some 211 member unions and conventions totaling approximately 110 million people.
Despite the SBC’s disengagement, Southern Baptists are expected to have a significant presence at the meeting of the BWA’s General Council, which meets annually to conduct the business of the BWA between the Baptist World Congresses, which are held every five years.
Pre-registration included a number of people belonging to Southern Baptist churches and a sizable number of employees of Baptist state conventions, which are affiliated with the SBC through traditional, financial and educational arrangements.
Among the ranks of pre-registered state convention leaders were Charles Wade, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas; John Upton, executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia; and David Waltz, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania-South Jersey. Staff members of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and Kentucky Baptist Convention were also pre-registered.
Other Southern Baptist registrants included Wanda Lee, executive director of the SBC’s auxiliary, Woman’s Missionary Union.
The impact of losing a founding member body is sure to be a major item of discussion among BWA leaders this week.
Gary Nelson, general secretary for Canadian Baptist Ministries, told EthicsDaily.com that “deep grief” exists for many because of the SBC departure, and those feelings should not be ignored at the council meeting.
“There will be … a collective expression of our pain,” said Geoff Pound, principal of Australia’s Whitley College. “It is a deep sadness when a member of the body of Christ says, ‘I don’t need you.'”
The newly elected general secretary for the European Baptist Federation, Tony Peck, said he expects “a genuine sadness at the fracturing of the Baptist world family.”
In addition, Peck said, “There will be anger at some of the tactics employed by the SBC in the run-up to the decision, which for many of us were not worthy of a denomination which calls itself ‘Christian’ in its relationships with others.”
Peck, a faculty member at Bristol Baptist College in England, acknowledged, however, that “There will be some relief that the SBC is no longer dominating the agenda of the BWA.”
Keith Jones, reactor of the International Baptist Theological Seminary, in Prague, Czech Republic, said the SBC’s absence should serve as a reminder to the rest of the Baptist world about “how much we value each other and desire to actively encourage and work with one another.”
Ademola Ishola, general secretary of the Nigeria Baptist Convention, predicted the SBC departure “is going to have a positive impact” by ending recent strife.
“The BWA went extra miles to make peace with the SBC leadership, but to no avail,” Ishola said.
Leader of one of the world’s largest Baptist bodies, Ishola said the SBC withdrawal is “going to be a wake-up call for other Baptist unions, fellowships or conventions to take their rightful position and play their part.”
Ishola said the large number of pre-registered Southern Baptists “points to the fact that the accusation that BWA is liberal and anti-America cannot be true and is not accepted by thoughtful members of the SBC.”
Emmanuel McCall, pastor of Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in the Atlanta area, noted that Southern Baptist participants have had long-term commitments to the BWA.
“They know the truth about BWA and were not a part of the politicizing,” McCall said.
Wade, who leads the 2 million-member Texas convention, said Southern Baptists at the council meeting “do not agree with the decision made by convention leaders and ratified by convention messengers.”
Instead of a political answer to why many Southern Baptists were attending the council, seminary leader Jones gave a theological explanation.
“Baptist ecclesiology starts with the supreme place being given to the local gathering community of baptized believers. It is they who are called to be interdependent with other such groups,” he said. “The nature of our ecclesiology gives freedom to local churches, as the prime expression of ecclesia, to associate with whom they will and many will continue to associate with BWA whatever their convention [SBC] says.”
The General Council meeting runs July 25-July 31.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics and executive editor of EthicsDaily.com.