CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI, Canada (BP)–In this coastal birthplace of Canada, leaders of the Baptist World Alliance approved actions on religious liberty, the forgiveness of the national debts, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, welcomed five new members and elected new staff at the annual general council meetings, July 2-7.
More than 570 delegates from 48 countries representing all continents attended the meeting.
At the conclusion the Baptist leaders agreed, in the light of so many religiously motivated conflicts around the world, to call on Baptists to be vigilant in defending and promoting religious liberty for all people, work for reconciliation and pray for those who suffer religious persecution.
As part of the concern for the religious persecution as well as obedience to Christ’s plea for unity, the Council encourages continuing conversations between the Christian communions as a way to support Baptists in a minority situation in their countries and to enhance each other’s understanding of faith.
Many Baptists from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean are among the millions of people around the world who suffer because their countries cannot pay their national debts. The BWA has supported the Jubilee 2000 and in 1999 congratulated the G8 nations for adopting a U.S. $100 billion debt forgiveness package. It now wants to see the process speeded up for more immediate economic and social relief for the world’s poorest nations.
Through Baptist World Aid [BWAid], the relief and development arm of the BWA, and in their countries, Baptists are already involved in the fight against the HIV/AIDs pandemic. Baptists are asked to serve HIV/AIDS victims with the greatest of compassion, pray for them and support ministers, health care workers and governments in combating this disease.
The resolution on HIV/AIDS emphasizes, however that “a Christian lifestyle and sexual values including the biblical model of chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage is a significant means of limiting the spread of HIV/AIDS.
At the start of the meeting the BWA numbered 196 member bodies. With the acceptance of five new member bodies from Asia and Africa it now comprises 201 member bodies with approximately 500,000 new members.
Four of the new member bodies are from Africa. The largest is the Sudan Interior Church that has congregations in the South of Sudan. Due to the war in Sudanese numbers are not available for the church there.
The Baptist Association of South Africa formerly the Natal Baptist Indian Association has 26 churches with 3,500 members and the Baptist Union of Gambia comprises five churches and 479 members. The Bible Baptist Churches of Madagascar has 55 churches and 3,000 members.
From Asia the new member body is the Orissa Baptist Evangelistic Crusade with 1,117 churches and 350,000 members.
Four applications will be addressed at a future date for reasons that range from lack of information to need of a longer history. For example one group was only started in 1999. Among the groups not accepted at this time was the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship [CBF].
Ian Hawley, general director of the Australian Baptist Missionary Society and chair of the BWA Membership Committee, explained that the Committee “felt the CBF did not meet certain criteria and especially in the area of their identity. We felt that the line was not clear,” Hawley said, “we felt they are still defining their identity and are closer to a well-run missionary society at this stage than a convention.”
In other actions two new directors were elected and a new division was mandated.
Alan Duke Stanford, pastor of Leesburg Baptist Church, Virginia, was elected director Promotion and Development. Stanford comes with a record having raised more than $7 million for building renovation and growing members from an average of 250 to 1,200. Stanford will also begin work to raise funds for and coordinate a new Division of Freedom and Justice and will serve as well as Regional Director of the North American Baptist Fellowship, one of the six BWA.
Alberto Prokopchuk, Buenos Aires, Argentina, who was elected Executive Secretary of the Union of Baptists in Latin America, was affirmed in that position and as BWA regional Secretary for Latin America.
On the recommendation of the BWA Personnel Committee a new Division of Administration and Finance was created after a change of bylaws and Ellen Teague, who currently serves as director was elected to the position.
In other actions the Council endorsed a Centennial Endowment Fund of $10 million and approved funding goals of $2.5 million for Baptist World Aid. More than one million each have been allocated to disaster relief and for development the bulk of which will go to India and Africa. The support of theological seminaries Bibles and Christian literature, church construction and aid for pastors are all included in funds for fellowship assistance.