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PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC — The General Council of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) acted July 24-25 to restructure its Executive Committee, approved a 2009 budget of nearly $3 million, and adopted a variety of resolutions.

About 440 Baptists from 63 countries and 48 member bodies gathered in Prague to worship together and participate in a variety of study commissions, committees and workgroups preliminary to the General Council meeting.

The long-anticipated restructuring plan was part of a larger report from an Implementation Task Force appointed in 2005 to flesh out recommendations from a “21st century” vision adopted that year during the Baptist World Congress in Birmingham, England. Co-chairs Keith Jones and Wanda Lee presented the plan, which reduces the number of Executive Committee members from 69 to 25 and assigns the committee more decision-making responsibilities, while also creating a 17-member nominating committee to ensure that the Executive Committee and other key groups have a balance of representation on the basis of region, gender, and age.

The plan was discussed in open forums twice during the week, generated considerable debate, and was amended in several ways before its final presentation. Other amendments were offered from the floor, but none successfully.

The task force had intended to make an additional proposal that formal covenants be drawn up between the BWA and each of its six global regions. The covenants, individually developed, would have outlined mutual responsibilities between each region and the BWA. Discussion in the forums and hallways reflected a significant lack of consensus, however, so the task force chose not to go forward with the proposal.

The annual Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award was presented to Dennis Datta of Bangladesh. Datta is a long-time leader among Baptists in Bangladesh who was exiled in 1969 for his outspoken advocacy of human rights and religious freedom. Since returning, he has served as a spokesman for the churches in conversations with the government. Datta, who has also been active in supporting economic, environmental, agricultural, and women’s rights causes, called for all BWA members to “raise your voices for freedom and justice” along with being more committed to helping the poor.

In a forum July 24, interested persons discussed the best way of responding to a lengthy letter received in October 2007 from a group of moderate Muslim scholars who seek understanding and reconciliation between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Participants appointed a small group to draft a response that will be circulated to among the BWA regions for approval. Paul Fiddes, a theology professor at Oxford and one of those who will be working on the project, said he hopes an official response can be ready within three months.

The General Council approved nine resolutions, presented by chair Elaine Smith of the U.S. (right) and vice-chair Regina Claas of Germany. They expressed appreciation to Czech Baptists and the European Baptist Federation for acting as hosts, promised prayer for the more than 7,000 youth expected to attend a Baptist World Youth Conference next week in Leipzig, Germany, and noted the upcoming 400th anniversary of the formation of the first Baptist church. BWA’s 2009 Annual Gathering will be held in Ede, the Netherlands, July 26-30.

Two general resolutions promoted evangelism and reconciliation, while more specific ones lamented the current situation in Zimbabwe while promising support for suffering Zimbabwean Christians, and decried the compulsory fingerprinting of Roma people by the Italian government.

A resolution on the issue of refugees and immigration called for nations to deal compassionately and equitably with immigrants and refugees, for churches to act as advocates for them, and for Christians to show generous hospitality to refugees and immigrants.

A final resolution dealt with climate change, calling on leaders within the BWA to support specific “initiatives to address the human-induced causes of climate change.” Initiatives named in the resolution included greater use of renewable energy, caps on greenhouse gas emissions, carbon trading, “green” practices in building and transportation, and the conservation, reuse, or recycling of goods.

Both BWA president David Coffey, of England, and General Secretary Neville Callam, of Jamaica, based their reports on progress being made in five “clusters of commitment” that were adopted in 2007. The five organizing areas are worship and fellowship, mission and evangelism, religious liberty and human rights, relief and community development, and relevant theological reflection.

Coffey celebrated the BWA’s wide diversity and called for members to focus on unity, rather than allowing differences to become a driving force. He also reported on an agreement with the government of Jordan for a Baptist center near the Jordan River site of Jesus’ baptism at “Bethany Beyond the Jordan.” Jordan’s Baptism Site Commission will build and operate the center, which will bear a large plaque offering a special welcome to pilgrims from churches affiliated with the BWA.

During the general
BWA report, General Secretary Neville Callam also pleaded for unity among Baptists and a renewed commitment to evangelism as he recited a long list of projects and ministries undertaken by the BWA in 2007. Callam called for special prayer for Baptists and others who are suffering oppression in places like Azerbaijan, Sudan, and Myanmar. He also reported good progress in the establishment of a designated BWA office to deal with freedom and justice issues. The personnel committee is now interviewing a short list of candidates for that position.

“Financially, 2007 was a challenging year for the BWA,” Callam said, but the organization still managed to finish the year in the black, due in part to a $150,000 increase in giving from member bodies.

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