David Coffey Elected President of the World's 34 Million Baptists
B i r m i n g h a m - The Englishman David Coffey (64) is the new president of the 34-million-member Baptist World Alliance (BWA). On 30 July, the roughly 12.000 delegates at the five-day BWA-conference in Birmingham, England confirmed the General Secretary of Great Britain's Baptist Union for a five-year term, succeeding the South Korean Billy Kim (Suwon). The conference, held unter the motto "Jesus Christ - Living Water", also celebrated the Baptist World Alliance's 100th birthday.
In his initial address Coffey affirmed the Biblical call to mission and to Baptist tradition, which labels every Baptist a missionary. This former president of the European Baptist Federation (EBF) also mentioned certain needs: "Too often the world knows sooner what we Christians are against, than what we are for." We are called to orient ourselves to Christ, who was known as the friend of sinners. Baptists should come to the aid of the suffering world. Coffey stressed the necessity of unity among Christians. Its lack is the greatest obstacle to the spread of Christian mission. Since the founding of the Baptist World Alliance a century ago, roughly 100 million people have been killed in wars. An additional 100 million have died as a result of political repression. It is therefore no secret why the most pressing question in all contemporary cultures is: "How can we deal with our deep differences?" God's offer to an estranged world is unity in Jesus Christ. Coffey stressed the necessity of worship services relating to the "real world". In them worshipers do not resign themselves to the world's present state of affairs - they see it rather "with God's eyes". The World Alliance has the task of giving a voice to those who are without one. Presently approximately 250 million Christians are being persecuted for their faith.
Rowam Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican church, sent written best wishes. It is of increasing importance in a world of differing religious traditions that "the cultural and theological breadth of our lives and faith enrich us all". Coffey has been chairperson of Great Britain's council of free churches since 2003.
Former US-President Jimmy Carter (Plains, Georgia) advised Coffey in a press conference not to set his sights for the work of the Baptist World Alliance too low. Carter believes the World Alliance could play a key role in the struggle for human rights and religious freedom as well as in the crushing of terrorism.
In a festive worship service BWA-General Secretary Denton Lotz (Falls Church near Washington) called for a Baptist theology suited to the 21st century. "We do not want others to dictate us who we as Baptists are." All Baptists believe in the Bible and do not desire to be criticised for doing so. Lotz alluded thereby to the US-Southern Baptist exit from the Baptist World Alliance in Autumn 2004. A reason given for the step had beem the World Alliance's supposedly liberal Biblical understanding. Yet a Bible-oriented and sanctified lifestyle is a part of Baptist self-identity. Lotz distanced himself in this context from pornography and practiced homosexuality as well as pre- and extramarital sex. In Birmingham the world's Baptists impressively demonstrated their unity and accord: "We are a Christ-centred people."
A spontanous choir of world Baptists directed by EBF-General Secretary Tony Peck (Prague) brought the conference to its close. 450 members of all different choirs sang Handel's Halleujah Chorus. Peck had been responsible for the congress' impressive interntional music programme.