The Baptist World Alliance's General Council elected Paul Msiza of South Africa as the global body's new president. He will assume the office at the BWA World Congress next July in South Africa. (Photo: Brian Kaylor)
As more than 300 Baptists from 59 countries gathered in Izmir, Turkey, for the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), they raised a collective voice on key issues around the world.
Those gathered also elected new leaders for the global Baptist organization and heard speeches from several Turkish political dignitaries.
On Friday, members of the BWA's General Council passed six resolutions, each of which had been made available earlier in the week and undergone changes and edits after feedback from various Baptists. Each resolution passed unanimously.
A resolution on "encouraging discipleship in Turkey" praised the work of Christians in Turkey, especially the newly formed Alliance of Baptist Churches in Turkey.
The leaders of the Alliance were at the meeting and talked about their work in a predominately Muslim nation. The resolution urged Baptists around the world to pray for Turkish Baptists.
The resolution praised Turkish governmental leaders for promoting religious tolerance and "steps taken to increase religious freedom for people of all faiths."
However, it also urged more work so that "these freedoms" will become "more comprehensive" in accordance with international guiding principles on human rights and political rights.
Earlier in the week, several Turkish politicians spoke to the BWA gathering during a session on July 8.
These included Turkey's Culture and Tourism Director Abdülaziz Ediz; Justice and Development Party (AKP) Izmir Deputy Rifat Sait, who is part of the majority party and represented the Turkish prime minister; Republican People's Party (CHP) Vice President Aytun Ciray, who represented Turkey's main opposition party; and mayor of Izmir, Aziz Kocaoglu.
Each of the Turkish politicians mentioned the importance of religious freedom. Ciray praised Baptist preacher Martin Luther King Jr. for his witness on religious freedom.
BWA leaders hope that holding the annual gathering in Turkey will help the small Baptist community gain greater freedoms and acceptance.
Turkish Baptist pastors led a forum about religious liberty issues in Turkey.
Other resolutions passed during the BWA's annual gathering also dealt with religious liberty concerns.
A resolution on "Christians at risk of persecution" condemned the kidnapping of more than 200 girls in Nigeria and offered concern for the safety and rights of Christians throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
It warned about "violence in the name of religion" and urged "religious liberty for all persons regardless of nationality, religion or status."
A resolution on Myanmar expressed "gravest concerns" about a proposed new law that "places severe restrictions upon the exercise of religious liberty."
It urged the country's president "to abandon this proposal and to adhere to the principles of religious liberty spelled out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
The Myanmar resolution also addressed issues of violence and exploitation in the country.
A resolution on the conflict in Ukraine affirmed Baptists in both Ukraine and Russia, with representatives from both countries at the annual gathering.
A Baptist leader from Ukraine gave a report on the crisis in the eastern European nation earlier in the week.
The BWA resolution offered concern for "increased religious persecution, especially against evangelical Christians" in some areas during the conflict.
The resolution called on religious and political leaders to work toward peace and reconciliation and urged Christians to avoid allowing national boundaries to divide them.
The resolution noted that the council members believe "that our allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord transcends all our national allegiances and aspirations; and that Christ by his death on the Cross has 'broken down the dividing walls of hostility between us' (Ephesians 2:14), now and for all time to come."
Other resolutions passed by the BWA General Council on Friday gave attention to justice and humanitarian issues.
One resolution affirmed a global ecumenical effort to fight corruption among governmental and business leaders.
It called on "Baptists around the world to take action in combating corruption at every level in an effort to follow the biblical commands to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God."
Another resolution on "the humanitarian crisis of the mass migration of unaccompanied minors in the Americas" quoted heavily from a recent statement by the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.
The BWA resolution expressed concern for the minors, urged governments in the region "to seek together a comprehensive approach to the underlying issues across the region that contribute to this social and human tragedy," and called "churches in the region to practice hospitality and charity as they regard each minor as neighbor and child of God."
On Friday, the BWA's General Council elected a new president for the global body, who will assume the office at the BWA World Congress next July in Durban, South Africa.
Paul Msiza of South Africa was unanimously elected for a five-year term. He will replace John Upton of Virginia.
Council members elected 12 vice presidents, with two from each BWA region. Representing North America will be Jerry Carlisle of Texas and Naomi Tyler-Lloyd of New York.
The BWA annual gathering ended on Saturday with a tour of the ruins of the biblical city of Ephesus.
Baptists from around the world walked the streets that John walked and stood where Paul stood and preached.
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com. He serves on the BWA's communications advisory committee. You can follow him on Twitter @BrianKaylor.