BWA president ‘cannot understand why Baptists can’t work together’

By John Pierce


Executive Editor

Baptists Today


ATLANTA — “I cannot understand why we Baptists can’t work together, love together and help one another,” said Baptist World Alliance President Billy Kim during a mid-week worship service Jan. 28 at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta.


Kim is pastor of the 15,000-member Central Baptist Church near Seoul, Korea, and president of the Far East Broadcasting Co. As BWA’s top elected leader, he urged Southern Baptists not to withdraw from the worldwide fellowship as recommended recently by a study committee comprised of key Southern Baptist Convention leaders.


Kim’s message followed a colorfully choreographed concert by a 60-voice children’s choir he brought to the U.S. to perform in California, Texas and Georgia. BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz joined Kim and the choir on their cross-country tour.


Meeting with reporters prior to the service, the two BWA leaders said the SBC study committee report claiming the BWA advocates “aberrant and dangerous theologies” gives an inaccurate portrayal of the 211 Baptist bodies comprised of 47 million baptized believers connected through BWA.


“The Korean church, by in large, is very conservative,” said Kim. “…When you label an organization as liberal, like our church is much more conservative, fundamental than probably the average Southern Baptist Church in the United States.


“Everybody carries their Bible; everybody carries their own hymnbook … If you don’t go to early morning prayer meeting, five o’clock everyday, then (we) don’t consider you conservative or biblical …You cannot (say) that we are conservative and the U.S. church is liberal. We just practice different.”


Lotz said the charge of liberalism against the BWA is unfair and that the term is relative.


“That’s a generalization,” said Lotz. “Baptists in Russia and Baptists in the Ukraine are much more conservative than Baptists over here. They think Americans are liberals because their women wear lipstick, earrings, jewelry, miniskirts and things like that.”


Kim said theological diversity exists within the BWA, but it does not justify the accusations in the report.


“So when they (SBC leaders) label a group (as) liberal, it don’t set too well with me,” said Kim. “Because the fellows who call me liberal are so far out there in left field than what we practice in Korea.”


“There might be within Baptist World Alliance some liberal-leaning people, and I don’t deny that, people in Europe or somewhere,” Kim confessed, “but we cannot put them all together and say that Baptist World Alliance is liberal.”


Lotz said that is the problem with generalizations. “Because somebody stands up in a Baptist World Alliance meeting and says something that someone doesn’t like, it doesn’t mean that (position represents) the Baptist World Alliance.”


Kim said the SBC leaders’ efforts to pull the convention out of the BWA surprised him, but not Lotz.


“It was coming for a long time, but I didn’t know all the intricate division within Southern Baptists,” said Kim. “I was ignorant because I was so far removed from the situation here in the United States. … I’m still hoping we have reconciliation.”


While the SBC report made no mention of the BWA’s decision last year to admit the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a member, that action is widely seen as the major point of contention. However, the SBC leaders’ attitude toward the CBF is not an issue for the larger fellowship, said Kim. 


“That’s not our (BWA’s) problem, that’s their (SBC’s) problem. (The SBC) brought it into our family,” said Kim. “Now I think the Cooperative Baptists have wonderful people and so do Southern Baptists. I don’t know what their differences are other than maybe personalities and that some of them recognize women leadership in the church and all that. That’s not our problem; that’s their problem. But I have to deal with it because of membership.”


Kim said BWA leadership tabled the CBF membership request for two years.


“On the third year we had to do something,” said Kim noting that Baptists make decisions as a democratic body. “We voted … to bring them in as a member. That made the other group unhappy or perhaps uncomfortable.”


CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal encouraged financial support for BWA during the worship service arranged by Emmanuel McCall, pastor of Atlanta’s Christian Fellowship Baptist Church that co-hosted the event with the Second-Ponce de Leon congregation.


“We have so much to learn from Baptist Christians in other parts of the world—and we have so much to give,” said Vestal. “And the Baptist World Alliance brings us all together.”


Georgia Baptist Convention Executive Director Robert White also brought greetings and lead a prayer asking blessings on the children’s choir and the BWA leaders. Following the service, White would not tell Baptists Today whether or not he supports the recommendation from the SBC study committee but vaguely responded that “Some of us are working behind the scenes.”


When asked if he would personally continue his involvement in BWA if the SBC withdraws, White would only state that he expects many Southern Baptists to stay involved with the organization regardless of the convention’s action.


Messengers attending the SBC annual meeting this June in Indianapolis are expected to receive and approve a recommendation from the SBC executive committee calling for complete withdrawal of membership and funding from the BWA effective October 1.


Southern Baptists played a key role in forming the BWA in London nearly a century ago. Kim said he and other worldwide Baptists “are still hoping they will work together and come together.”


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