New BWA leader looks for SBC return

On Oct. 1, exactly one month after starting his new job, General Secretary Neville Callam of the Baptist World Alliance and I sat down for a conversation. He was in Atlanta as part of an 18-city tour throughout the U.S. and Canada.
A bright, articulate and gifted man, it is easy to see why Callam was chosen to lead the worldwide fellowship of more than 200 diverse Baptist groups around the globe. A Jamaican, he holds the distinction of being the first non-white to serve as BWA general secretary.
Of his many open and interesting responses to my questions, I was intrigued by one in particular. Callum expects the Southern Baptists to return to the century-old fellowship they helped found.
“I entertain the view that in due time members of the Southern Baptist Convention, the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, are going to recognize the lack they have brought upon themselves by having withdrawn from the Baptist World Alliance,” Callam told me. “I am convinced that in due time, God’s time, the Southern Baptist Convention is going to want to return to … the Baptist World Alliance.”
Those familiar with the story know that the now-fundamentalist-controlled SBC withdrew from involvement in and support for BWA after the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was admitted into the BWA in 2003.
Speaking to SBC messengers, convention kingpin Paige Patterson urged the withdrawal with claims of “a continual leftward drift in the BWA.” It was a similar charge he once made of fellow Southern Baptists.
Leaders of the worldwide fellowship countered that the small, medium and large Baptist groupings around the world possess a wide variety of theological perspectives.
Callam said Southern Baptists are responsible for introducing Jamaican Baptists, and others in the Caribbean, to the Baptist World Alliance. They are grateful, he said, and don’t plan on turning back.
An effort by current Southern Baptist leaders to build international relationships apart from, and possibly in competition with the BWA, is “a transient effort, a fleeting moment that’s going to come and going to pass,” said Callam.
“God must want Baptists of the world to be together, not to be segregated in various entities sometimes giving the impression of being at war or in competition with each other,” Callam added.
Is the new general secretary hopeful? Naïve? Realistic? Patient? Who knows.
To me, it does not seem likely that current SBC leaders, who mistakenly equate any form of cooperation with condoning the full beliefs of others, would ever consider such a return. They have demonstrated a strong commitment to only involving themselves in those things they can control.
Even within their own denominational structure, there is a continuing effort to draw the circle smaller.
Certainly, it would take a kinder, gentler kind of SBC leadership such as current President Frank Page and those working to stop the stranglehold of fundamentalism on the convention. But such persons emerging within the SBC to any degree of lasting influence does not seem likely.
While the BWA could benefit from the restored funding of its once largest and most generous partner, many Baptists around the world have expressed relief at not having the large and loud theological watchdogs of the SBC exporting their divisiveness abroad.
It is interesting that Callam believes the mission of the BWA is so compelling that the SBC will eventually return. His faith is greater than mine.
(The full interview will appear in the November issue of Baptists Today. For print or online subscriptions, visit or call 1-877-752-5658.)


  1. JP:
    I don’t know. Seems to me the conversation would start with Bama Baps Bob Terry and his good friend, Bush Judicial nominee and SBC Peace Committee member Charles Pickering.
    Bring Charles Marsh into that conversation. If that conversation is fertile at all, go to Wade Burleson and Ben Cole and try to convince them.
    Have them sit down with young ones like Kaylor, Marus and BDiddy Weaver in the presence of John Lewis.
    Have a prayer meeting with Gary Burton and his Bush 41 and 43 adored parishioner Ray Scott, the Bass fisherman.
    Couch all that in the central theme of testimony as central to the evangelical faith, as recently analyzed in the Christian Century, as a hope for continued ecumenical work in Africa.
    Get Anne Graham Lotz in on the act for sure, as you ice some of the more radically right wings of the Graham family, maybe the Tchvidjians.
    And I feel like the spirit is working in our friend John Killian. Check his endorsement for Mayor of Bham. If you can get the subject of your blog today to read Paul Hemphill’s Leaving Birmingham about the witness of John Rutledge to his parishioner Bull Connor; then I have to believe Our Lord is strong enough to work a mighty reconsideration even in the heart of such an otherwise unreconstructed Southerner and lieutenant in the SBC takeover as our friend John Killian.
    I’m not speaking out of school on the substance of Hemphill’s LeeBham. None other than the authoritative Mark Baggett confirms my assessment of the weightiest tome on his City.
    Wouldn’t that be sweet if part of the healing with the BWA started with John Killian on the outskirts of Bham.
    The Century article, like Scripture, says in faith and the common ground of testimony, what my Grandfather WD Fox described as public witness of “What the Lord has Done for Me”; it can happen.
    Even then it will be torturous doings.
    Good blog and timely.
    Also check today Dan Nejfelt’s post at Faith in Public Life, my comment there and my good thoughts on the pilgrimage of Melissa Rogers and Rob Marus at my blog.
    Hope I’m not riding your wave; but I’ve had a good and honorable thinking day.

  2. In the meantime, while waiting for the spirit to work in the hearts of the recalcitrant leadership of the SBC, major move could be made on the likes of churches like Dawson Memorial in Bham, who blindly continue to send almost sinful percentages of their money to the Cooperative Program; churches like that who have been Know Nothings throughout the course of the SBC Takeover; lay it on their heart to at a minimum line item veto Karl Rove and Richard Land’s ERLC from their COOP Program Budget.
    Introduce Callam to Hemphill and Charles Marsh. There is where Healing with Substance can avail.

  3. ummm that is very interesting. As one who has interviewed folk closely associated to the BWA may I ask “Will the BWA make clear its beliefs about
    a. the virgin birth of Christ.
    b. the resurrection of Christ.
    c. and universalism.”

    Several dignitaries (associated to the Rushlikon crew and the Barthian movement within the BWA) have great difficulty with these issues.
    As I said at one interview, they may be good baptists (for polity) but so far as Christian beliefs go, they don’t really qualify.
    Question: Is the Baptist World Alliance Christian in terms of traditional evangelical belief?
    It may be Baptist, but it certainly may not be Christian.

  4. I guess my question was ignored.
    This is the typical BWA method of handling direct questions on important issues.

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