More than 500 global Baptists are expected to gather this week in Mexico City for the general council meeting of the Baptist World Alliance, the premier worldwide Baptist organization, which the Southern Baptist Convention abandoned in 2004.
“We are flourishing. Unity is a wonderful thing to experience,” said Denton Lotz, BWA’s general secretary.
He told EthicsDaily.com that he was grateful that “Baptist churches worldwide have made up of the difference” to cover the lost financial support when the SBC defunded the BWA.
“We are forgetting the past and looking ahead,” Lotz said. “We’re not angry at them.”
Lotz said he hoped the new SBC president, Frank Page, “can bring about the reform that young Southern Baptists appear to want.” He also said he appreciated comments by Joyce Rogers, widow of former SBC president Adrian Rogers, voicing concern that the denomination needs to be more inclusive.
Lotz said when SBC leaders decided to withdraw from the BWA, both groups agreed to meet annually to exchange “fraternal greetings,” but there hasn’t been a single meeting.
Earlier this year, Lotz announced his retirement after 26 years on the BWA staff. He began with responsibilities for evangelism, youth and Baptist relief aid. He became general secretary in 1988.
“There’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm for BWA,” Lotz said about the timing of his retirement decision. “We feel we’re in a stable financial situation.”
Lotz said the “future belongs to the next generation,” predicting that organizations must adapt to the 21st century or die.
He said that the general council meeting has been streamlined, making it “more participatory” with less time for business sessions.
“Baptists from all over the world can express their concerns about being Christians in 21st century,” he said about the new meeting’s paradigm.
One topic that will receive the attention of delegates will be migration. The immigration issue is a contentious one between the United States and Mexico.
“We will have a forum discussing the Christian attitude about migration,” Lotz said. “Migration is more of a problem for Europe than America. France has had riots.”
“I think Christ calls us to love everyone, to help the poor, the destitute,” he said. “I agree with Apostle Paul that things ought to be done decently and in order.”
The BWA is divided into six commissions. These include Baptist heritage, Christian ethics, church leadership, doctrine and interchurch, freedom and justice and worship and spirituality. Other meeting topics relate to Baptist World Aid, youth work, evangelism and missions and academic and theological education.
The Freedom and Justice Commission, for example, will hear reports about and discuss the Micah Challenge, human trafficking and Christian-Muslim controversies.
BWA is also composed of six regional clusters—All-African Baptist Fellowship, Asian Baptist Federation, Caribbean Baptist Fellowship, European Baptist Federation, North American Baptist Fellowship and Union of Baptists in Latin America.
The National Baptist Convention of Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking convention with an estimated 500,000 members, of whom 150,000 are baptized. The convention has 1,500 churches.
The general council is meeting for the first time in Mexico, a nation almost three times larger than Texas. An estimated 31 percent of the Mexican population is under 14 years of age. Eighty-nine percent of the citizens are Roman Catholic, while only 6 percent are Protestants.
The meeting begins the day after the hard-fought Mexican presidential election between the two leading candidates—Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Felipe Calderon. Another candidate, Roberto Madrazo, trails in third place according to polls.
Calderon, who belongs to the same party as the outgoing president, Vicente Fox, pledged to steer in the same direction and favors a corporate free-market approach to economic issues. Calderon has served as Mexico’s energy secretary.
Obrador served from 2000 to 2005 as the mayor of Mexico City, the largest city in North America with a population of 20 million. His campaign slogan, “For the good of all, first the poor,” reflects his commitment to alleviating poverty through anti-poverty programs.
While official election results are not in, Calderon declared victory on Monday, saying his 400,000-vote lead after 96 percent of polling places had reported, was “irreversible.”
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.