Baptist leaders from about 40 nations voted to affirm women in ministry and to condemn religious-based intolerance during the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance in Nassau, the Bahamas, last week.
Both resolutions passed on July 11 after being discussed and edited during the week’s meetings.
The resolution on “recognizing and affirming the calling of women in the church” marked the first resolution by the BWA on the topic since 1988, at which time the BWA had also met in the Bahamas.
The 2019 resolution, the strongest affirmation of women in ministry by a BWA resolution, passed overwhelmingly.
The resolution urges “global Baptists to repent from the teachings and practices through which we have prevented women from flourishing as human beings created in the image of God and full members of the body of Christ.”
It thus calls for Baptists to intentionally “create equal space for women in all leadership roles” at churches, conventions and in the BWA.
In addition to asking Baptists to listen to the stories of women and their “God-given call,” the resolution urges Baptists to “learn and then use language that is affirming to both women and men in worship, communications and publications, including Bible translations.”
The resolution’s passage came as the BWA’s annual gathering followed a three-day conference of the Baptist International Conference on Theological Education (BICTE), which only occurs every five or six years.
This round met with the theme, “TOGETHER: Re-Imagining, Re-Reading HERstory in the Church.” Those on the program included individuals who affirm and oppose women as pastors.
The conference was organized by Trisha Miller Manarin, a BWA staffer who also serves as executive coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Speakers during the conference included Baptists from Australia, Croatia, France, India, Jamaica, Lebanon, Mexico, Uganda and elsewhere.
U.S. presenters included Molly Marshall of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas, and Elizabeth Newman, who had been a professor at the recently closed Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond in Virginia.
“Building upon the strong tradition of biblical women advancing the Kingdom of God,” BWA General Secretary Elijah Brown said during the BICTE conference, “the BWA continues to affirm the calling God places on the lives of women.”
The second resolution passed by members of the BWA general council expresses “deep concern over recent instances of religious intolerance and religiously motivated violence around the world” over the past year.
The resolution, which passed without opposition, laments attacks like those against synagogues in Pittsburg and in Poway, California, against mosques in New Zealand and against churches in Sri Lanka.
The rising anti-Semitism in Europe, increasing Islamophobia across the world and persecution of Christians in countries including Cameroon, China, India and Nigeria was also noted in the resolution.
“These events remind us that various forms of religious intolerance, both from individuals and as a result of government action or inaction, continue to pose a significant threat to individuals and to societies across the globe,” the resolution added.
Drawing upon the work of Lee Spitzer, the general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, the resolution recalls the “historic resolution” passed at the 1934 BWA World Congress in Berlin that – in the year after the rise of Adolf Hitler – condemned “all racial animosity and every form of oppression or unfair discrimination toward the Jews” as well as any other ethnicity or race.
Brown announced during the gathering that after Spitzer retires from ABCUSA at the end of the year, Spitzer will serve as the BWA’s first historian on a voluntary basis.
Recalling that the Baptist heritage since Thomas Helwys urged religious freedom for everyone in 1612, the resolution calls on Baptists to continue to advocate for the right of anyone to “worship in freedom.” And it asks Baptists “to offer the hand of sincere friendship to our neighbors of other faiths.”
During the 2019 gathering, the BWA presented its annual Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award to an individual who embodied the calls in both resolutions.
Burchel Taylor of Jamaica received the award for, as the citation read during the presentation explained, his “legacy of commitment to issues of human rights, justice, human dignity and liberation.”
“A stout defender of the inherent God-bestowed dignity of each human person, he has stood at the forefront of supporting religious liberty for all and opposing violence and discrimination – especially that on grounds of religion, ethnicity and gender,” the citation continued.
Denton Lotz, who served as BWA general secretary from his election at the 1988 gathering in the Bahamas until his retirement in 2007, died in April. The 2019 BWA gathering included tributes and reflections on Denton and praise for Janice, who was present to give the award to Taylor.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.