MEXICO CITY–Global Baptists need “big ears” to listen to the voice of God, said David Coffey on the opening night of the Baptist World Alliance’s annual gathering in Mexico City.

“We need big ears this week,” said Coffey, the BWA president. “We’re not used to listening.”

The former general secretary for the Baptist Union of Great Britain said, “We need to listen to the voice of God in the voices of one another.”

He urged delegates to listen to the voices of the poor and the prisoner, encouraging them to ask big questions as a mature family.

One of the youngest delegates, a Texas postgraduate student in Scotland’s School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, responded favorably to Coffey’s challenge.

“To listen well means to respect,” said Elijah Brown. “We need to listen without an agenda. We [too often] listen to respond rather than listen to respect.”

Brown said, “I think we have to be willing to see from another perspective.”

This year’s BWA program encouraged respectful listening with less emphasis on business and more emphasis on global Baptists gathering in fellowship for discussions.

The annual meeting of the BWA has been historically a time for global Baptists to hear formal academic papers on a variety of topics and to conduct business.

A central part of the new paradigm were forums—meetings in which participants feel comfortable learning from one another, sharing diverse opinions and dialoguing respectfully about disagreements.

One forum ground rule asked for “sensitivity to listen to others as opposed to assuming a superiority of a particular culture or society above all the rest.”

Another rule encouraged dialogue around controversial topics with the understanding that opinions “in no way represent the stance, position or norms for membership of the BWA.”

A third rule limited press coverage to generic stories, requesting no direct quotes during forum deliberations and no attribution to participants.

Forum topics included the prosperity gospel, interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims, improving short-term missions, HIV/AIDS ministry, church leadership styles and violence against women and children.

Two dozen delegates from eight nations attended the forum on migration.

Presenters told that five of the largest Baptist churches in Canada are Chinese, Germany has four Spanish-speaking churches and the popular name for newborn boys in France is Mohammed.

Another of the four presenters said that war and poverty often cause migration. The presenter noted that churches do not consider the causes of migration: Churches should fight for migrant justice, support fair legislation related to migration and understand the point of view of migrants.

Several participants talked about the brain drain from countries when their citizens moved to wealthier nations, criticizing the deliberate policies of recruitment of nurses and other high-trained professional and lamenting the failure of church members to consider the benefits that their countries receive from immigrants.

Another repeated theme was the need for Baptist churches to learn from Roman Catholics about migration.

One participant said that Baptist World Alliance did not have all the answers but had better find answers quickly without a trace of blaming other nations or racial/ethnic groups for migrant problems.

The forum demonstrated the commitment of participants to pursue Coffey’s challenge to listen and to learn from the diversity that characterizes BWA.

“God is writing a book of history and you are a chapter in that book,” Coffey told participants in the opening session. “This week you will be a page in that chapter.”

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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