SEOUL, South Korea--Baptist leaders gathering in South Korea for the annual meeting of the Baptist World Alliance foresee a bright future for the organization, despite the withdrawal of its largest member body, the Southern Baptist Convention--and the resulting loss of approximately 17 percent of the BWA's annual undesignated funding.
Baptist World Alliance president Billy Kim welcomes participants to a BWA General Council opening dinner Tuesday in Seoul, South Korea. (Robert Parham)
"The future is bright for the BWA," said Ademola Ishola, general secretary for the Nigerian Baptist Convention, the largest Baptist body outside the United States with 1.5 million members.
Emmanuel McCall, pastor of Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in the Atlanta-area, gave EthicsDaily.com a similar assessment.
"The BWA's future is bright," said McCall, a long-time BWA leader, who was one of the messengers voting in June at the SBC's annual meeting against the motion recommending that the SBC withdraw from the BWA.
"The BWA has incredible possibilities in the future," said Gary Nelson, general secretary of the Canadian Baptist Ministries, which is the larger of the two BWA-member Canadian Baptist bodies with 100,000 members.
Some 400 global Baptist leaders meet this week in Seoul for the BWA's General Council, which conducts the business of the BWA between the Baptist World Congresses, held every five years.
Aside from the impact of the SBC's withdrawal, Baptist leaders said the meeting would be about shaping the BWA's future direction.
The key to the BWA's future "will be a true acceptance of diversity in what it means to be Baptist around the world and the end of attempts to create one another in our own image," Tony Peck, general secretary-elect of the European Baptist Federation, told EthicsDaily.com.
"There will be a determination to see the BWA move forward in different and more positive ways to unite the worldwide Baptist family in Baptist identity and kingdom mission," he said.
Ishola said, "The most important matter to be considered … is a reawakening of importance of fellowship of Baptist Christians of the world without undue and unfair criticisms of our differences, and how to be supportive of one another."
"It will not be enough to just continue on in the way that we have always done things," said Nelson. "Instead it will take courage to shape ourselves in such a way that affirms our roots and journey in the past, captures the new challenges of the present and is willing to anticipate the future needs."
Australian leader Geoff Pound said, "It is essential that we look forward positively to the future and ensure that we are not thwarted or distracted from fulfilling the mission of Jesus in the world."
Pound chairs the BWA Heritage & Identity Commission, which will devote its final session to an open forum to discuss the BWA's future without the SBC.
"This will be an open forum to which anyone is welcome to attend and contribute," he said. "It will not be a time to wring our hands or rake over every issue concerning the SBC withdrawal but to stand back and ask, 'Who are we, what have we learned about ourselves throughout these recent developments and what is it that Christ wants us to become?'"
Other agenda items include:
--Reports about human rights, women and youth. The council will hear details related to a $600,000 gift for worldwide evangelism and leadership, as well as the challenges Baptist World Aid faces in meeting massive needs with limited resources.
--The council traditionally considers resolutions.
--The officers' search committee will recommend to the council the next BWA president, who will be elected at the Baptist World Congress in 2005 to replace Korean pastor Billy Kim. The nominee will serve from 2005 to 2010.
--The human rights award committee will consider nominations and make a recommendation for an award recipient. The first award recipient, in 1995, was former president Jimmy Carter. The 2000 winner was Pastor Simon, a Burmese teacher noted for his work in a refugee camp in northern Thailand.
--The council will also consider recommendations for a change in the member categories. Current bylaws allow for only unions or conventions. The recommended guidelines allow for groups, churches and individuals to join the BWA.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics and executive editor of EthicsDaily.com.