Southern Baptist Convention leaders accuse the Baptist World Alliance of being anti-American because of views of Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz charged in a letter to members of the BWA general council, committees and commissions members dated Monday.
Bob Casey, a retired physician from Florida who staged a fast to protest last week's vote calling for Southern Baptists to leave the Baptist World Alliance, talks to journalists following vote.
In a lengthy letter countering what he called "misunderstanding," "generalization" and "actually false accusations" in a report approved last week calling for the Southern Baptist Convention to sever ties with the global Baptist fellowship, Lotz gave details not previously reported of what Southern Baptist leaders have described as "a decided anti-American tone" emerging in the BWA in recent years.
Lotz said the BWA is accused of anti-Americanism because of statements by Tutu, made not at any BWA meeting, but elsewhere. He said the Anglican bishop of South Africa, who won the Nobel Prize in 1984, was invited to address the BWA General Council only because of his work with Nelson Mandela against apartheid.
The BWA also was accused of liberalism for hearing Tutu, Lotz said. But Tutu's views on human sexuality came after the meeting and were not part of any BWA discussion. "It is a stretch to accuse the BWA of liberalism because we hear an outstanding world figure report on reconciliation and the end of racism," Lotz said in the letter.
Lotz told BWA leaders that an open forum on allegations in the SBC study of its relationship with the BWA will be held when the BWA executive committee meets in March. In his letter, he offered "brief comments" about reasons cited for the SBC's proposed withdrawal from the BWA, as reported in an article in Baptist Press, which the BWA study group commended.
In addition to the invitation to Tutu, Lotz said, another example of so-called anti-Americanism was a sermon by an African-American pastor from Washington at the 2000 BWA Congress in Australia. The preacher, H. Beecher Hicks, discussed the tragedy of poor people working in sweat shops in the Pacific Rim, and then commented on materialism and greed in American capitalism.
"Are we to muzzle our preachers and the Spirit of the Lord?" Lotz asked. "Are we to take one sentence out of a sermon and condemn the whole BWA? This was a prophetic pastor's sermon and not a BWA statement or resolution."
Lotz said he personally was also accused of "being cozy with Castro," but insisted that his visits to Cuba were to affirm Cuban Baptists, who have increased in number from 40,000 to 200,000 in the last 10 years.
Theological concerns in the SBC report questioning the BWA's belief in salvation through Christ alone, Lotz said, stem from "a false accusation that arose out of an incident at the General Council meeting in Rio."
Lotz was leading a panel discussion on mission methodology in the 21st century when a "young pastor from North Carolina" interrupted with a question whether the panel believed Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation.
"I responded very clearly, 'Of course we affirm that Jesus is the only way to salvation. Why else would we have a "Summit on Mission in the 21st Century" if we did not believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation?'" Lotz said in his letter.
The pastor persisted, questioning the orthodoxy of Lotz and other panel members. Many general council members objected in "an audible gasp of frustration," Lotz said, but did not "jeer" the questioner, as Baptist Press quoted Durham, N.C., pastor J.D. Greear, who described the incident in a story published July 11.
"I was really shocked that some other participants jeered when I asked the question, but was even more alarmed that Denton Lotz dismissed it as a 'theological issue' that we weren't going to discuss further," Greear said in the BP story. "I can't think of anything more basic or more baptistic than proclaiming you have to consciously receive Christ to be saved."
Lotz said the original press release relating the story was written by someone who was not in the room at the time and was told later by a former SBC executive that the report was wrong and should not be published. "But this slanderous report became the basis of unsubstantiated accusations," Lotz said.
Another example of perceived "liberalism," Lotz said, came when the president of Bangladesh Baptist Fellowship expressed concerns about mission methodology of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
Lotz said BWA president Billy Kim called on Samson Chowdhury in an open forum without knowing what he was going to say. "We do not control people's statements," Lotz said. "But we are Baptists and do believe in freedom of speech. We do not encourage, but rather discourage, anyone to speak ill of another member body. There are occasions, however, when frustration from the two-thirds world is expressed about many Western missionary policies."
While the SBC study report minimized the impact of admission of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a BWA member body, Lotz said that was contrary to the Baptist Press article endorsed by the committee that described it as a central reason.
After last July's General Council vote to accept the CBF, Lotz said, SBC leaders immediately approached him and said clearly, "If they are in, we are out."
Lotz denied charges by SBC leaders that the membership vote violated BWA bylaws, and said there is precedent for accepting members that were formerly part of another convention in South Africa, the Ukraine, Cuba and the United States.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
See previous related stories:
Lotz Says BWA Misrepresented in BWA Study Report
SBC Executive Committee Votes to Withdraw From BWA
Is CBF the Center of SBC Complaint Against BWA, Or Scapegoat?
SBC Vote on BWA Withdrawal Scheduled Tuesday
Floridian Marching to Protest Proposed BWA Pullout by SBC
Former BWA Leader Labels SBC Fundamentalism 'Heresy'
SBC Leader Says BWA is Obsolete
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Editorials Critical of SBC/BWA Schism
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