Baptist World Alliance, BWA News Release

South African Baptists denounce Westboro

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The Baptist Convention of South Africa (BCSA) denounced Westboro Baptist Church of the United States for its incendiary attacks against the country’s recently deceased former president, Nelson Mandela.

Westboro, a small, fringe congregation with no affiliation with any recognizable Baptist organization, whether in the US or internationally, asserted that Mandela is in hell and made public statements to that regard. The group indicated plans to travel to South Africa to protest at Mandela’s funeral.

“We the Baptist Convention of South Africa, as represented by its leadership, have noted with utmost disdain the insensitive, unbaptistic and unchristian statements issued by the Westboro Baptist Church in USA, about out former President, Dr Nelson Mandela.”

BCSA, which has roughly 24,000 members in more than 150 churches, said the church’s “statement and assertions are not at all representative nor are they indicative of the attitude and spirit of our brothers and sisters in the Baptist Convention of South Africa and indeed many other Baptists both here and elsewhere in the whole world.”

The spirit and attitude of Westboro “has no resonance in the spirit and letter of the Holy Scriptures and our Baptist heritage and polity.”

BCSA “distances itself from such statements and condemns them with the contempt they deserve; apologize to the Mandela family and indeed the nation and world that have been affected by these careless and insensitive statements; assure the nation of our unwavering and unhesitating commitment to holding the legacy and name of Dr Nelson Mandela in high regard; continue to protect the integrity and dignity of the Dr. Nelson Mandela and value the work he has done through the enabling of the Almighty God; continue to pray for Dr. Nelson Mandela’s family and wish them God’s comfort and peace during this period of grief and beyond.”

Leaders of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), the international umbrella organization for Baptists representing 42 million believers in 121 countries and territories, including Baptists in South Africa, had earlier paid tribute to Mandela.

BWA President John Upton said “Nelson Mandela stood out as a giant among us in his humble way because …he modeled understanding when retaliation was expected.” Mandela “demonstrated peace when many wanted war.  He extended a hand to his former enemies when distain would have been easier.” Upton said all persons should “hear the call of his life for peace, unity, and dignity and commit ourselves to those very values.” The BWA president said this would be a different world “if those commitments were common practices in human relationships.”

BWA General Secretary Neville Callam indicated that “with the passing of this great man, the world has lost a remarkable emancipator. Mandela blazed a trail of respect for human dignity and human rights.”  Callam said “we cannot afford to forget the unbounded passion for freedom, the relentless striving for justice and the unshakeable commitment to peaceful human coexistence that Mandela exhibited.”

Chris Dikana, general secretary of the BCSA declared that “Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was truly an icon and a symbol of reconciliation.” He said “the church of God has benefited immensely from his struggle for freedom. Had it not been for his leadership and Christian beliefs that influenced him in that process, this nation could have been easily plunged into deep conflict and possible civil war.”

Ronnie Reddy, general secretary of the Baptist Association of South Africa, said Mandela “made the world a better place for all South Africans. He taught us to hold on to our biggest dreams and to stand firm in defense of our principles. He renewed our faith in the power of good men and women to triumph over evil. He showed us, in the way he lived his life, that the human spirit can rise above seemingly impossible odds to offer forgiveness instead of enacting revenge; to embrace peace rather than violence. He reminded us that if we stand together, united in action, we can achieve anything.”

Angelo Scheepers, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Southern Africa asserted that “throughout his life Mr. Mandela strove for justice for everyone in South Africa. His willingness to forgive those who had wronged him almost certainly saved South Africa from a bloodbath of catastrophic proportions. Our beloved Madiba consistently pursued the goals of fairness, reconciliation and unity. Mr. Mandela was a leader of principle. He was also a man of deep humanity, humility and compassion. Everybody loved and respected him – and we shall all deeply miss him.”

Baptist World Alliance®
© December 13, 2013

The Baptist World Alliance, founded in 1905, is a fellowship of 266 conventions and unions in 134 countries and territories comprising 51 million baptized believers in 178,000 churches. For more than 100 years, the Baptist World Alliance has networked the Baptist family to impact the world for Christ with a commitment to strengthen worship, fellowship and unity; lead in mission and evangelism; respond to people in need through aid, relief, and community development; defend religious freedom, human rights, and justice; and advance theological reflection and leadership development.