Baptists of the Year

David Coffey is congratulated soon after his election as BWA president.
Time Magazine has selected a man or woman as the person of the year since 1927. President Bush is the 2004 recipient. Past recipients have included Mohandas Gandhi in 1930, Adolf Hitler in 1938, Joseph Stalin in 1939, Lyndon Johnson in 1967 and Pope John Paul II in 1994.

Three Baptists have been recipients: Martin Luther King in 1963, Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992. 


While Time recognizes those of influence "for better or worse," closes the year with a list of proactive Baptists who have exercised constructive influence for the common good and/or deserve to be watched in the year ahead.


At the head of the list are three British Baptists. One is Doug Balfour, former general secretary for Tearfund and the new general director of Integral. Balfour is a driving force behind the Micah Challenge, an evangelical Christian campaign to cut global poverty in half by 2015. His energy, entrepreneurial spirit and holistic vision are compelling.


Another Brit is David Coffey, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and president-elect of the Baptist World Alliance. Much of the BWA's direction in its second century rests on his shoulders, especially with the Southern Baptist Convention's withdrawal from the global Baptist community.


The third Brit is Tony Peck, the newly elected general secretary of the European Baptist Federation. Having already moved EBF's offices to the center of Europe, Peck wants next to shift the Baptist witness to the center of public life in secular Europe.


Few Baptists are as courageous as Nabil Costa, director of the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development. Bright, self-assured, diplomatic and connected, Costa navigates as the Baptist leader of a minority religious body in a nation which recognizes 19 different religious groups and seeks to shed its reputation as a place of religious warfare.


On the American scene, John Upton, executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, is reshaping an old denominational structure into a 21st century organization with an idea called "glocal missions" and partnerships with entrepreneurial entities. BGAV was the only Baptist state convention that voted to apply for membership in the BWA and adopted a 2005 budget which made Virginia Baptists the BWA's single largest funding entity.


Two Americans offer a prophetic word with each of their columns. James Evans, pastor of First Baptist Church, Auburn, Ala., and Miguel De La Torre, professor at Hope College, read from the big Bible, refusing to accept the puny faith found in the small Bible which the religious right reads.


David Hinson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Frankfort, Ky., offers a dynamic example of what a local church can do, having increased its mission budget allocation from $30,000 in 1998 to $150,000 in 2004. The church started a dental clinic in 2002 that served 250 patients the first year and purchased an 11-unit motel in 2004 in the 7th poorest county in the U.S. to use for food and clothing distribution.


Another pastor is Charles Foster Johnson, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, which is changing its culture to meet the changing culture of San Antonio. Over the past three years, 25 percent of the church's new members are Hispanic. The church is converting a 55,000-square-foot grocery store into a smoke-and-alcohol-free entertainment center with an Internet café, coffee shop, movie theater and two gyms, designed for all the youth and young adults of the city.


A member of Trinity, Albert Reyes is president of Baptist University of the Americas and president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Reyes has the patience, persistence and platform presence to lead BUA, formerly the Hispanic Baptist Theological School, to become the most influential Baptist institution in a generation, especially if BGCT will step up with much needed funding.  


Baptist women in leadership are too few and far between. But one is Suzii Paynter. She is the chief public policy agent in Austin for Texas Baptists. Perhaps one of the best organizational thinkers and networkers, Paynter has a keen sense of where Baptists are, where they need to go and how to make it happen.


Another woman is Mary Blye Howe, a member of Dallas' Wilshire Baptist Church, who writes extensively on interfaith matters, including relationship between Baptists and Jews. Her new book on Sufis is due out in 2005. 


A third woman is Lauran Bethell, an American Baptist missionary who works globally on the issue of human sex trafficking.


As the newly elected president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Molly Marshall steps onto a much larger, albeit more tenuous, platform than a classroom affords. She becomes the first woman president of a Baptist-affiliated seminary and has significant fund-raising de  mands.  


Birmingham houses two different organizations where a new generation of younger Baptist women is emerging. One is the Christian Women's Leadership Center, directed by Carol Ann Vaughn. The other is Global Women, headed by Suzanah Raffield.


A very young woman to watch is Angie Weston, a student at Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, where half of the students are women who are graduating unemployed. Weston preached a blistering sermon at a joint luncheon during the annual BGAV meeting. She said that ministry should never be about gender but God and challenged moderate churches to open their doors to women ministers. recognizes that these folk and many other notable leaders will play a significant role in the year ahead knitting together the global Baptist family for a new century of work and witness.


Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.



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