David Coffey is EthicsDaily.com’s pick as Baptist of the Year for 2008. The president of the Baptist World Alliance has pushed for constructive engagement between Baptists and Muslims, sought to advance religious liberty in predominantly Muslim countries and spoken up in Israel for Palestinian pastors. Through his tireless initiatives and frequent conversations, he has kept the eye of global Baptists on the Middle East and the role of people of faith as peacemakers.
When 138 Muslim religious scholars released in October 2007 a proactive peacemaking letter, A Common Word Between Us and You, to Christian leaders, Coffey was one of the first to respond.
“I welcome the letter from the Muslim scholars and leaders and commend it as a groundbreaking initiative which could make a major contribution to a better understanding in Christian-Muslim relations, the cause of religious liberty and global peace,” he wrote, noting clearly that he did not speak for Baptists, a clarification that represented the best of the Baptist tradition, which honors the priesthood of believers.
Coffey related A Common Word to The Amman Message, which said that “the true message of Islam is built on the principles of tolerance, moderation, coexistence, openness, dialogue. It renounces violence and terrorism and stands up to the extremists’ false allegations and precepts.”
While he expressed the need to affirm the statement from Muslim scholars, Coffey also expressed concern for the full religious liberty of all Christians.
“Religious liberty includes the right for all persons to freely worship and live their faith without fear and prejudice,” he wrote.
In a later editorial in the Baptist World, titled “Talking with Muslims,” Coffey said that Baptist Christians needed “a bold humility” in sharing their faith and should “be unafraid to confess our sins. Christian history includes bloody crusades and inquisitions, social intolerance and intellectual bigotry.”
“We need to be truthful about the woeful lack of religious liberty in Muslim states. It is morally wrong for Islamic regimes to subscribe to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and to prohibit freedom of religious worship and conversion among their citizens. And it is doubly hypocritical for their citizens to enjoy those rights when living in a foreign country whilst denying the same liberty to foreigners living in their home country,” he said.
In a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, Coffey endorsed the king’s earlier views offered to the U.S. Congress about a solution to the Arab-Israel conflict.
On that same trip, Coffey met with Israeli President Shimon Perez and expressed his concern for Palestinian pastors living in the West Bank.
Coffey played an instrumental role in facilitating a two-hour forum discussion at the BWA’s general gathering this summer in Prague about if and how global Baptists should respond to the open letter from Muslims.
During his presidency, Coffey has pledged support for the Micah Challenge, a global initiative to halve poverty by 2015, and to profile HIV/AIDS through his travels by visiting with those living with HIV.
Coffey’s leadership in the faith community has been honored in England. The BWA announced early this year that he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. In the middle of the year, the BWA announced that Coffey was named to the Advisory Council of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which seeks to foster respect and peace between different faith traditions.
Coffey was nominated to be the BWA president in Seoul, Korea, at the BWA’s annual gathering, with the five-year term beginning in 2005. He served for 15 years as the general secretary for the Baptist Union of Great Britain.
In 2007, EthicsDaily.com named Al Gore as Baptist of the Year, primarily for his leadership on climate change. EthicsDaily.com presented him with a plaque at a luncheon held at the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant, where Gore presented his slides upon which the film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” is based. Gore became the first individual North American Baptist to receive this recognition.
Lebanese Baptists were EthicsDaily.com’s pick as the Baptists of the Year in 2006, after they weathered a withering war. They showed physical courage and spiritual grace under unspeakable pressure. They used the best of technology to share their story. They shared their limited resources to house and care for a flood of Shiite refugees. They spoke with a compelling theological clarity about the Middle East that was long overdue, challenging the misreading of the Bible that mingles bad theology with bad politics.
Brit Paul Montacute was EthicsDaily.com’s Baptist of the Year in 2005 for being a global Good Samaritan, who directed Baptist aid initiatives in response to two major natural disasters: the tsunami and the earthquake in Pakistan.
In 2004, EthicsDaily.com closed the year with a list of proactive Baptists who had exercised constructive influence for the common good and/or deserved to be watched in the year ahead.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.