(BIRMINGHAM, AL ? July 22, 2022)
Gathering for the first time in person since 2019, over 600 Baptist leaders from more than 65 countries participated in worship, prayer, learning, relationship building, and shared ministry at the 2022 Baptist World Alliance (BWA) Annual Gathering. Offered as a hybrid event, hundreds met on the campus of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, with more than 150 others participating virtually. With a strategic focus on racial justice, the Annual Gathering included two racial justice forums with globally recognized racial justice advocates as well as group reflections presented by the BWA’s 14 commissions.
The thematic focus and content development for the Gathering was largely facilitated by the BWA Racial Justice Action Group launched in October 2020 with unanimous affirmation from the BWA Executive Committee. Co-chaired by BWA General Secretary Elijah M. Brown and BWA First Vice President Karl Johnson from Jamaica, the Action Group embarked on a two-year journey to:
- Focus the 2022 BWA Annual Gathering around the theme of racial justice featuring keynote speakers, the work of all 14 BWA Commissions, pilgrimages, and other points of prayer and action
- Engage in theological reflection related to the call for racial justice today within society and the church with special consideration of the subject of reparations
- Develop tools for ongoing engagement within the BWA, BWA Member Bodies, and Churches so that the pursuit of racial justice will remain an ongoing priority
Alongside the Co-Chairs, the founding Action Group members include Cassandra Jones (Chair of the BWA Commission on Racial, Gender, and Economic Justice, USA), Everton Jackson (BWA Director of Integral Mission, Jamaica), Michael Okwakol (former BWA Vice President and Founder/President of African Church Empowerment Ministries, Uganda), and Silvia Rapisarda (Pastor of Chiesa Battista di Catania, Italy). Marsha Scipio (Trinidad and Tobago/USA) was added in February 2021 upon her appointment as Baptist World Aid Director.
The opening worship celebration on Monday, July 11, included a poignant message from John K. Jenkins Sr., senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Maryland, USA, who quoted from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely form the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Drawing from a long history of Baptist advocacy for racial justice, the BWA seeks to be a strong voice at this critical time, outlining a series of actions throughout the Gathering.
RESTORATIVE RACIAL JUSTICE STATEMENT
In collaboration with relevant BWA Commissions and a wider sets of key stakeholders, experts, and leaders, the Action Group developed a statement entitled “Restorative Racial Justice: A Call to Flourishing Freedom” that was unanimously affirmed by the Executive Committee on July 9, 2022, and presented to the BWA General Council on Tuesday, July 12.
“As we seek to follow justice and justice alone, our prayers of faith in Jesus Christ lead us to pursue intentional actions of repair and restoration, including in reparation,” said Brown.
Arising from this document, the BWA Resolutions Committee developed a resolution on restorative racial justice, acknowledging that the global issue “demands a renewed commitment to the enduring principles of racial justice and human freedom, based on the fundamental theological conviction that all people are created in God?s image and thus deserve to be treated with respect and justice and enjoy flourishing freedom.” The resolution concluded with a recommendation that all Baptists study the newly released Birmingham Statement on Restorative Racial Justice and prayerfully engage in their respective communities. A second resolution focused on slavery reparations was also approved, affirming “the biblical basis for reparations” and acknowledging the continued impact of slavery on “many communities and nations today” ? including many in which there are BWA member bodies.
“I want to say something about this moment,” said Karl Johnson, BWA First Vice President. “I learned from Lee Spitzer [BWA Historian] that this body has passed some 60 resolutions dealing with racism and racial justice in the past, but not one has ever been passed on the subject of reparations. Today is a historic day in the life of the Alliance.”
RECOGNITION OF EMMANUEL McCALL
To honor his decades of faithful service to the global Baptist family and impactful advocacy in the area of racial justice, Emmanuel McCall was inducted into the General Secretary’s Global Leadership Council, whose other members include Billy Kim and David Coffey.
“These are individuals who represent the best of the BWA and whose sacrificial ministry of truly global impact within Baptist life affords them a permanent place of honor within the BWA,” said Brown. “Today I am honored to induct a third individual into the General Secretary’s Global Leadership Council. He will be the first to be inducted who was not previously a President of the BWA but whose ministry in BWA life has been an incredible investment.”
An attendee at 43 BWA Annual Gatherings, McCall is a former BWA Vice President and served as the Chair of the Local Arrangements Committee for the International Summit on Baptists Against Racism and Ethnic Conflict in 1999. McCall has also been honored for his advocacy in the United States by Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and is the first inductee in the Global Leadership Council from North America.
“Dr. Emmanuel McCall has given his life to the pursuit of racial justice and authentic reconciliation between people. His leadership in this area within, before, and beyond his involvement in our fellowship is the reason we have named our initiative for racial justice and leadership The Emmanuel McCall Initiative. The entire Cooperative Baptist family joins me in gratitude for his courageous faithfulness and in celebration of this recognition today by the Baptist World Alliance,” said Paul Baxley, Executive Coordinator of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Baptist World Aid and the BWA Forum for Aid and Development hosted a special luncheon focused on “Decolonizing Aid: A Matter of Justice.” Unequal power dynamics in the international aid sector have led local activists to become increasingly vocal about how power and resources are manipulated by those in the Global North.
“Decolonizing aid calls us to address and dismantle racist and discriminatory structures and practices that are hidden in plain sight. It challenges the humanitarian aid sector to transform itself by shifting power and resources to local agencies,” said BWAid Director Marsha Scipio.
The event featured guest speaker Mueni Mutinda (Kenya/Canada) who has served extensively in Africa in the areas of conservation farming, gender-based development, and climate change. A response panel featuring activist and nonprofit leader Asha Sanchu (India), Executive Secretary-Treasurer of Lott Carey Mission Convention Emmett Dunn (Liberia/USA), and Executive Director of Baptist Mission Australia Scott Pilgrim (Australia) offered reflections and fielded questions from the audience.
RACIAL JUSTICE FORUMS
The Racial Justice in the Public Square Forum convened on Tuesday, July 11, with a one-hour panel designed to help churches and followers of Christ learn how to partner with community and national leaders to meaningfully pursue racial justice in the public sphere. The forum focused on:
- Education, led by Andy Westmoreland, immediate past President of Samford University
- Community and civic engagement, led by Randall Woodfin, Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama
- National political engagement, led by Allan Boesak, a prominent South African leader in the struggle against apartheid
“When we say justice, we say Jesus,” said Boesak. “The more we say Jesus, the more we have to say justice. And the more we have to say justice, we have to say Jesus. Because without Jesus ? without his love, his strength, his mercy, and his power and his grace, we’ll never be able to continue the fight for justice.”
The forum concluded with small group breakout sessions to further listen and learn alongside those working for racial justice in their contexts. Boesak spoke again on Thursday, July 14, on the topic of Racial Justice and Christian Witness before several hundred attendees embarked on a pilgrimage to Montgomery, Alabama, to visit The Legacy Museum and Lynching Memorial.
SERVICE OF RECOMMITMENT
Gathering at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, attendees participated in a powerful service of recommitment. Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and a leader in the establishment of the memorial, served as the keynote speaker relating stories from his own experiences with racial injustice.
“I am convinced that the opposite of poverty is justice,” said Stevenson.
A combination of General Secretaries and Officers from the six BWA regional fellowships voiced a commitment to stand for racial justice, and President Tomás Mackey led a litany uniting the global family in a declaration of purposeful engagement. Each placed a stone with an inscribed word of commitment into a bowl which was then poured over with water by General Secretary Brown as BWAid Director Scipio read the words of Amos 5:24: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
“Gathering as God?s people from the East and West, North and South, representing the global Baptist family, we make this solemn vow in the presence of the Triune God to recommit to upholding justice generally but more specifically racial justice as a visible sign of the presence of the Kingdom of God,” said Mackey as he lead the litany.
Attendees were given the opportunity to earn a racial justice leadership certificate during the event by participating in both racial justice forums as well as a minimum of five BWA commission presentations. Twenty-one individuals completed the necessary requirements and were awarded the certificate during the final General Council session.
As part of the longstanding pledge to pursue racial justice, the BWA has committed an immediate $100,000 USD to empower restorative racial justice engagement within and by our BWA family. This will include:
- $30,000 USD in grants available to the six BWA regions to help research, establish, and highlight racial justice champions within the region.
- $30,000 USD in grants available to BWA member bodies that would help at least one member body in each region empower restorative racial and ethnic justice initiatives, training, education, or advocacy.
- $10,000 USD to help foster listening, learning, relationship building, and global engagement among grant recipients and to help sponsor at least two grant recipients or beneficiaries to an upcoming BWA Annual Gathering or Congress.
- $30,000 USD in pursuit of advocacy work at the United Nations, other multilateral institutions, or in national capitals on behalf of restorative racial justice and reparations.
To find out more about BWA’s racial justice initiatives, visit BaptistWorld.org/racial-justice.