In a new charge, a Southern Baptist leader has accused the Baptist World Alliance of being unresponsive to Baptists in the Third World.
Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said last week that SBC leaders plan to meet this summer with Baptists in Eastern Europe and other countries “that are more in sync with us than those in North America or Europe.”
“Baptists in the second and third world are more conservative theologically, and I suspect that those are whom we will be most in dialogue with,” Land said, according to media reports.
The motion adopted at last summer’s Southern Baptist Convention to withdraw from membership in the Baptist World Alliance called for continued study on “how the Southern Baptist Convention may establish an even closer bond of fellowship with conservative evangelical Christians around the world.”
After media reports suggesting Southern Baptist leaders are starting a new organization to rival the BWA, Land issued a clarification to a conservative Web site.
“It’s not so much so an alternative organization or structure, but it is an alternative way for international Baptists to relate to one another,” Land told “The Christian Post.”
“We’re only going to be working with and ministering with those who want to work with us,” said Land. “This is a purely voluntary and cooperative mutual king of thing, and I don’t see how this could be threatening to anyone.”
Land’s irenic tone stood in contrast to discussion a year ago, when Southern Baptist leaders ignored pleas from Baptists around the world to reconsider a recommendation unveiled in late 2003 to sever ties with the global alliance.
Baptists from Asia, Europe, Latin America, Australia and Canada pleaded with Southern Baptist leaders to reconsider or delay their departure.
BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz termed the SBC schism “a sin against love.”
Theo Angelov, former general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, said he was “amazed and saddened” by the SBC withdrawal.
The head of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship said the move sent a message that Southern Baptists don’t want to have anything to do with the rest of the world’s Baptists.
“The SBC has basically said they don’t want to have anything to do with the rest of the Baptists in the world,” CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal said last January. “They separated themselves not only from some Baptists in the United States but from Baptists all around the world.”
In a question-and-answer session at a Jan. 18 panel discussion in Washington, Land said, “We have had discussions and heard complaints and criticisms about the BWA from the world’s conservatives,” according to news reports.
Associated Baptist Press quoted Land as describing the feeling among Southern Baptists as “that the Baptist World Alliance was moving in a liberal theological direction by and large, and it was not serving a lot of the needs of a lot of the Second- and Third-World countries.
“We have the same phenomenon in Baptist life that you have, for instance, in Anglican life, where Anglicans in the Second and Third World are somewhat appalled by the liberalism of Anglicans in Northern Europe and North America.”
That didn’t square with comments by leaders of other BWA member bodies interviewed recently by EthicsDaily.com, who described Southern Baptist missionaries in their countries as aloof and unresponsive to national Baptist unions and conventions.
Yanis Smits, bishop of the Baptist Union of Latvia, said Southern Baptist missionaries in his country are “sometimes not honest and have a hidden agenda.”
Teodor Oprenov, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Bulgaria, said SBC missionaries there developed a new mission strategy but have not shared it with Bulgarian Baptists.
“They have their own meetings,” he said. “We feel ignored. Only one time in my life have I felt this way, and that was [when] the Communist Party [ruled Bulgaria].”
The pastor of the largest Baptist church in Spain said the IMB has 20 couples in his country, but the national Baptists do not know the nature of their assignments.
We “don’t know who they are,” said Jorge Pastor, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Denia, adding there were “no communications” between the IMB and the Baptist Union of Spain about placing the missionaries.
“For 50 years we worked strongly together in a very good way,” he said. “The new philosophy is working alone without the nationals, doing their own work, their own strategy.”
Ademola Ishola, general secretary of Nigerian Baptist Convention, said Southern Baptist missionaries provide logistical support to Nigerian Baptists in some areas but that that the agency’s cluster of missionary fields runs a “parallel organization apart from the national conventions—at least in Nigeria.”
Latvian leader Smits said he would prefer that foreign missionaries “interested in church planting should work with our own indigenous church planter as a team. In that case, that would be a good tandem.”
“Our view is that missionaries should come according to our invitation when and where help is needed, not to do their church planting when their fruit will be no result,” the Latvian Baptist leader said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.