THE ABSENCE of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was regretted by more
than one speaker at the Baptist World Centenary Congress in Birmingham last
week, but failed to dampen the mood of the 12,000 delegates.
The tornado that struck the city on the Thursday similarly failed to daunt
those who had gathered, though it did force the evacuation of a church hall
where 20 delegates from the Congo were gathered. One child was taken to
hospital with a minor injury, but there were no other casualties among the
The 17-million-strong SBC, which withdrew from the Baptist World Alliance
(BWA), having accused it of theological liberalism (
News, 16 July 2004), was castigated by the former US President Jimmy Carter
in a Bible study he led on Sunday morning. His choice of Galatians as a theme
made for an impassioned attack on authoritarian extremism. It was
characterised, he said, by rigidity, domination, and exclusion. When he
announced: "We ought to hope and pray that in the not too distant future we
will be completely reunited with the SBC," the congregation applauded.
The Congress was attended by a broad range of representatives from the
developed and the developing world. There was a substantial presence from the
latter, particularly from South Korea: a 400-strong delegation had come from
there in support of the retiring BWA president, the Revd Dr Billy Kim.
In a sermon on Saturday, Rick Warren, author of
The Purpose Driven Life, said that the Church in these areas would
increase in prominence, and would increasingly send missionaries to the US and
The Revd David Coffey, the general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great
Britain, after his induction as president of the Alliance in succession to Dr
Kim, referred to the state of religion in Europe. Speaking of the bloodshed of
the 20th and early 21st century, he said: "In spiritual terms, there is a great
need for the re-evangelisation of Europe. The great question is: how do we live
with our deepest differences? Some of them are alive and well in Europe."
Mr Coffey's new role as BWA president, an honorary one that he will hold
alongside his current post, will involve him in representing Baptists
worldwide. His appointment was welcomed in a statement issued by the Archbishop
of Canterbury, who said: "David is an outstanding pastor and theologian, who
has been a deeply valued colleague. The BWA may feel completely confident in
The BWA has 211 member bodies encompassing 34 million church members, and
representing a worshipping congregation of many more. A British Baptist, the
Revd Tony Peck, is general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, one of
the Alliance's member bodies.
The Congress focused on human rights and religious liberty, which are felt
to be particular concerns of Baptists throughout the world.
The experience of persecution, both in the movement's 17th-century
beginnings and in many countries today, is part of Baptist self-understanding.
In line with this, the Congress saw the presentation of the BWA Human Rights
Award. First given in 1995, when the recipient was Jimmy Carter, the award went
this year to the Revd Lauran Bethell, an American Baptist, for her work among
prostitutes in Thailand. Ms Bethell has worked to counter sex slavery and human
trafficking for many years.
One of the features of the Congress was its music programme, "The Festival
of the Nations". On a stage in Centenary Square, outside the International
Convention Centre in Birmingham, acts from many of the nations represented at
the congress were performed each afternoon.
Children and young people were catered for in separate streams by programmes
run by Scripture Union and the Baptist Union of Great Britain. Bible studies in
various languages were held each morning, and groups in the afternoon studied
issues such as poverty, persecution, religious freedom, and the Christian
response to HIV/ AIDS.
A 100th-birthday party was held in Victoria Square in the city centre; it
was intended as an outreach event for passers-by on the closing day. It chimed
with the Baptist emphasis on evangelism, which was much in evidence throughout