2-8 July 2006, Mexico City, Mexico
Karen Bullock, chair of the Baptist Heritage and Identity Commission, welcomed approximately 20 members and 17 visitors to the first session of the Baptist Heritage and Identity Commission's meeting in Mexico City, July 2006. She introduced the program for the three sessions and distributed session workbooks she had prepared for the meeting, briefly explaining the contents: updated member contact information; member regrets; suggestions sent to her from members regarding use of the BWA centennial history book; and commission projects for the quinquennium (for contents of this workbook, please see Mexico City Program Update, 1 July 2006, at the Baptist Heritage and Identity Commission's website: www.bwa-baptist-heritage.org).
After all members and guests had introduced themselves, Bullock invited Dr. Dinorah Mendez, professor of Theology and History at the Mexican Baptist Theological Seminary, to present her paper, History and Development of Baptists in Mexico. (click here for the paper - PDF) Mendez distributed copies of her paper presented her study using power point to illustrate the story with photos of the persons and places mentioned. Dr. Mendez shared the following results:
James Thompson, a Baptist colporter working with the British Bible Society, brought Bibles to Mexico during the years 1827-30 and 1843-43. There is disagreement as to whether Melinda Rankin, an independent Presbyterian missionary, working with Mexicans near Brownsville, Texas, from 1852, or James Hickey, a Baptist employee of the American Tract Society who began traveling to Mexico in 1860, initiated the evangelical work. Hickey definitely came to Monterey in 1862 and, in the next year, held preaching services. In 1864 Hickey and some others organized "The Christian Church." Rankin came to Monterey in 1865 and led that congregation to build a building.
In 1869 the first pastor of this Monterey
church, Thomas Westrup, became the representative of a mission
society connected to Northern (now called American) Baptists,
and made certain that, from the year 1870, this first church
was Baptist in faith and doctrine. The church, however, declares
itself as the "First Baptist Church organized on January
30, 1864, by Rev. James Hickey."
Today, Mexican Baptists operate schools, hospitals, denominational publication houses, and engage in active mission work. The main issues with which Mexican Baptists are struggling are: (1) the appeal of the charismatic movement; (2) the desire of some pastors to be autocratic, forgetting the priesthood of all believers; (3) the tendency of convention leaders to overlook the autonomy of local churches; and (4) the diminishing participation of churches and people within the convention. Additionally, the relationship between Baptists and the Mexican government is an ever-present concern and challenge. New laws (1992) allow churches to establish schools, social projects, and to have access to the media; however, at the same time, the government requires every church to register and to give detailed information about its members, property, and finances.
Following Dr. Mendezo's paper, and at her invitation, Justice C. Anderson, former missionary in Argentina whose newly published history of Latin American Baptists, An Evangelical Saga: Baptists and their Precursors in Latin America (2005), responded to Mendez' presentation.
He observed that the Mexican Baptists have accomplished a great deal-1,500 churches with more than 120,000 members--despite tremendous challenges: militant Catholicism; anti-Clerical secularism; rival US mission boards; conflicts among missionaries; its role as a buffer state between the two Americas, all in addition to those mentioned by Mendez. The positive contributions of Mexican Baptists include Bible publishing and the development of their own hymnology; popular education; missionary outreach to sub-cultures and cross-cultural missions; faithfulness to church-state separation; and the promotion of theological education through seminaries and Bible institutes.
In the very brief time remaining, those present asked questions of Mendez and Anderson. This session was well-received and was such a productive time of information and fellowship, as the Commission heard about the development and identity of Baptists in the host country of Mexico. The Commission members and guests expressed their deep appreciation for Dr. Mendezo's fine scholarship and presentation.
The Baptist Heritage and Identity Commission and the Freedom and Social Justice Commission held a joint session on Wednesday evening in order to focus on Religious Liberty, particularly as Religious Liberty relates to Catholicism across the globe. The Commissions heard a prepared presentation on the topic from an invited official from the government of Mexico and a panel of Baptist representatives, each from a different geographic area and each expressing the state of religious freedom in his or her region where Roman Catholicism prevails as the largest, or most influential, religion of the country. The session attendees then explored a series of questions as small groups which, in turn, generated observations and further research questions for the Commissions to undertake on this subject.
The first speaker was Dr. Alvaro Castro,
Director of the Ministry of Religious Affairs for Mexico,
whose remarks were translated by Hector Gonzales. Dr. Castro
spoke to the present situation of religion and church life in
Mexico. He stated that Religious Liberty is a fundamental right
of all humans and is fully protected in Mexico, that every person
is free to express and practice his religious beliefs, to associate
for religious ends, to open new churches, and to propagate doctrine.
Churches can enjoy autonomy, recognize ministers, and can participate
in ministries, for it is against the law to be hostile to persons
because of their religion or to force anyone to participate in
religious ceremonies, he said.
The first was Jorge Lee, Baptist attorney in Mexico and a champion of Baptist religious liberty causes. Lee shared that Mexican Baptists have some difficulties with the definitions of, and efforts towards, ecumenism, primarily because of their history and the influence of Baptists' past and present spiritual leadership. As church members, Baptists have little connection with people of other denominations; however, in daily life they are often in contact with individuals of other faith traditions, especially with Catholics, who make up 90 per cent of Mexico's population. Lee stated that Baptists could perhaps be more willing to cooperate across denominational lines because Baptists are concerned for human rights, and that concern calls believers to recognize and accord dignity to others. If Baptists could embrace this goal and generate more opportunities to work with other churches and with the government, Baptists could help all of society in unprecedented ways.
Anna Maffei, President of the Baptist Evangelical Christian Union of Italy, shared that Italy is a secular country where the majority of its citizens are Catholic, although many are so only nominally. Until 1848 everyone was required to be Catholic by law; but after 1870, Protestantism and missions were possible, even though accompanied by much opposition. Since 1964, however, Catholics have been open to dialogue. Today, Baptists and Catholics pray together on the grassroots level. They cooperate in working with migrants and join hands to work for peace. There is even an official joint commission formulating a new policy regarding mixed marriage, so that either church may marry a couple and the marriage will be recognized in both Catholic and Protestant circles. Having said this, the Vatican is still dominant. The Italian government grants heavy financial support to the Catholic Church, while its members give very little, and all of the political parties try to please the Catholics. Despite many gains, then, there are still some religious liberty/equality challenges for Baptists in Italy.
Paul Msiza, General Secretary of Baptist
Convention of South Africa, reported
that South Africa is a secular state. Since 1994, South Africa's
constitution and bill of rights guarantee freedom of religion.
The Dutch Reformed Church is the largest denomination, and Methodists
and Lutherans are probably the next numerous in members. Catholics
have never been dominant; however, they focus their efforts in
social ministries, schools, and hospitals. Well-respected Catholic
scholars serve on the faculty of religion at the University of
South Africa, and all South African churches are members of a
consortium of seminaries, where Catholics and Baptists work together.
The last speaker, Dr. Larry Ashlock, of the USA, briefly addressed some practical ways in which Baptists and Catholics might explore areas of common ground. By way of example, he noted that both Baptists and Catholics are interested in reaching young people, as evidenced by the new Pope Benedict XVI's recent speech. Both Baptists and Catholics can influence this generation through college and university ministries and educational systems which integrate learning with biblically-based values. Both groups emphasize the Scriptures, both train their energies in ministering to the helpless, champion the dignity of mankind, protect the unborn, work to alleviate social inequities, and advocate for strong homes. By recognizing and appreciating each others' efforts in areas such as these, Baptists and Catholics may perhaps begin to dialogue in beneficial ways in the geographic regions where conversations have historically been less than positive.
Chair Karen Bullock welcomed the approximately 16 members and 8 visitors who attended the third session, which was slated, by Commission directive, to be a work session. Horace Russell led in prayer, mentioning especially the members of the Commission who had not been able to attend and Southern Baptist friends who no longer participate in the BWA.
Deborah Van Broekhoven, director of the American Baptist Historical Society, announced that the society would be moving its holdings, which include the archives of the BWA, from their present location in Valley Forge, PA. The society's board will meet the last weekend in September to decide where to move.
Bullock had hoped to honor all of those who
worked to produce Baptists Together in Christ 1905-2005,
but only one writer (Horace Russell), one editor (Eljee Bentley),
and Tom Corts who, as president of Samford University, supervised
the publication process for the book, were present. These three
spoke briefly of the book-writing experience, emphasizing that
the book had truly been a project of the commission. The centennial
history could not have been written and published without the
Commission's work in determining the type of book desired, in
outlining its content, and in exhorting the BWA leadership to
move ahead on the project.
Other suggestions were (1) to produce a "Readers' Digest" version; (2) to produce from the book workbook-style Leader's and Student's study guides for small group or classroom use (perhaps even along thematic or topical issues); (3) to translate the book into other languages; and (4) to produce a second book that would include many things that, for lack of room, were omitted from the centennial book, such as collecting stories of women, exploring the joy of singing among Baptists; collecting the stories of missions (both the national missionaries and international missionaries of each region), tracing the development of education of other types, such as agriculture and medicine; and identifying the problems of race and class, the ever-constant struggle of enabling more people to attend, and gathering anecdotes from the long-time members (perhaps even a volume of funny stories).
Bullock then asked for the members to identify the most important work that the commission should accomplish together in this quinquennium. She pointed out that ideas suggested by members who had been unable to come were already in the booklets distributed at the first session. She divided the members and guests into small groups to discuss their ideas for the work of the commission. After a brief time, she asked for reports from the small groups and the members discussed their ideas all together.
Large Group Interaction, Suggestions, and Discussion points:
1) Responding to the first suggestion, Bentley said that a future issue of Review and Expositor (see website www.rande.org) would contain a condensed version of the history by Richard Pierard, the book's chief editor. Lloyd Allen of the McAfee School of Theology (Atlanta, GA), and a Commission member, is also a board member for that quarterly, which is now independent of the Southern Baptist Seminary. The Commission asked for permission to post the article, when it was published, on its website.
2) The Commission was keen that the regional secretaries should be encouraged to have the book translated into several languages (German, Russian, French, Spanish), and that perhaps each region could publish versions for use in its areas.
3) The members also expressed great concern that the book should be reprinted, and several avenues were suggested for disseminating the book through digital and other formats.
3) A new book was proposed - "Reflections on 100 Years," which would follow the National Story-Book Project model. A BWA Story-Booth could be set up at the annual gatherings and at the next quinquinnium, and personal anecdotes could be recorded by audio and video equipment. The booth could be manned by members of the Commission, individuals could make appointments (15 minutes each) to come into the booth and sit to tell their stories. These could then be processed and combined into a book or video, and would be a collection of the "stories never told" of the Baptist family around the world.
4) Several members were concerned that there
was a need for educational materials to help Baptists learn about
5) The Commission's Identity Statement needs to be revised, widened, updated, with input from Africa, Asia, South America, and other groups. The statement needs to be sent around the world to get feedback from all parts of the Baptist family, including women, youth, and laity.
6) One suggestion asked for a history of Latino Baptists in America, since this group of Baptists is large and so diverse, and yet not exactly corresponding to the South American Baptists.
7) Finally, a multiple-pronged suggestion called for (1) a resource list or directory of Baptists, complete with areas of expertise, so that better interaction could take place for teamwork and project assimilation; (2) a comprehensive online Baptist archive directory; (3) a worldwide Baptist Bibliography that is kept current (including master's theses and dissertations); (4) and a listing of open positions for Baptist life.
Please note that any person(s) wishing to tackle any of the above projects either individually, or as a team, are warmly invited by the Commission to do so. Please contact Eljee, Tom, or Karen, or get together with other Commission members, and let us know what interests you!
After the reports were heard, the members present came up with the following tentative plans:
ANNUAL MEETINGS AND FOCUS:
2007 - Accra, Ghana - "Slavery"
2008 - Middle East - "Baptist Identity/Distinctives"
2009 - Amsterdam, Netherlands - "Baptist
2010 - Honolulu, Hawaii - "Pan Pacific"
Collect anecdotal material about BWA by initiating the BWA Story Booth Project--maybe at annual gatherings as well as at Congress. Have recording equipment and invite people to stop by and tell their stories. Collect material for second book suggested in first part of session or make DVD. Fred Anderson of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society and Lloyd Allen were suggested to investigate the feasibility of this project and report back next summer.
Produce educational materials for laypersons on Baptist principles/identity including interdependence. Review pamphlets/brochures already available; adapt for worldwide audience; translate; distribute. We need a volunteer or a team to assume responsibility for this task.
Put educational material on website with translations-be brief. Peter Morden of Baptist Missionary Society (UK) spoke to this and agreed to distill the essence into 400 words or less for use in church hymnals, brochures, or newsletters.
Collect information and put on website:
Other suggestions were made:
The Baptist Heritage and Identity Commission adjourned its 2006 session in Mexico City with prayer.
Minutes submitted by Eljee
Bentley, secretary to the Commission, and Karen Bullock, chair.
The following letter was sent to Members
by Dr. Deborah Van Broekhoven following her return home from
the 2006 Annual Gathering:
Dear Members of the Heritage and Identity Commission of the BWA,
You may be aware that the American Baptist Historical Society is the guardian of the BWA archives and that this large collection is housed in our Valley Forge (PA) Archives Center. At our library in Rochester (NY), we also hold a great deal of material related to Baptist conventions, associations and other institutions from around the world, including early records from 2nd Baptist Church in Mexico City-our host city for the recent meeting of the Heritage Commission.
These BWA archives will be moving in 2007,
to the new location of the consolidated American Baptist Historical
Society. Our staff and board members are focused now on planning
how to consolidate our large collections in one location perhaps
in Rochester, NY, perhaps in Rhode Island, or perhaps on the
Atlanta campus of Mercer University [please note: since this letter was written the ABHS
Board decided on Sept 22-24 that the new location would be at
Mercer University in Atlanta, Georgia].
Completed proposals will be in our hands next month and the ABHS
board will be studying them and making their site selection at
a meeting in late September. We covet your prayerful support
of the staff and board members as we manage this transition-the
most important one in regard to Baptist historical collections
that will be made in our lifetime.
Our regular work continues, however, including the publication of the American Baptist Quarterly, to which we welcome you to submit proposals and articles for publication in this journal, including papers written for BWA meetings and commissions. Two special issues last year focused on the BWA centennial, and I'm sure that those of you enjoying the collection of essays put together by Dr. Richard Pierard and Dr. Eljee Bentley will also want to read these issues.
Commission member Dr. Horace Russell is assisting the Philadelphia Baptist Association in plans for its 300th anniversary, to be celebrated at First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, September 7-9, 2007. Included will be a symposium on "Baptist Associations, Then & Now," to which you are invited. Proposals for presentations or panels are also invited and you may contact either Dr. Russell (email@example.com) or myself (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested in participating.
At the Commission meetings, there was discussion about the desirability of compiling a new bibliography of publications on Baptist history as well as a listing of archives and libraries that hold collections of Baptist materials and a listing of scholars who work in the area of Baptist history. Please know that there is some of this information already available at www.baptistheritage.com. You will find at this site the entire 25 volumes of the Baptist Bibliography compiled by our librarian, Ed Starr, between 1950 and 1976, as well as a listing of Baptist archives and special holdings in the United States and Canada. Both of these resources need updating, but they are a helpful beginning for many researchers.
The meetings in Mexico City also included a forum how Baptists today are dealing with the challenge of migration. We agreed that education materials might help congregations understand the broader context of migration patterns today and I would welcome to Valley Forge anyone pursuing this topic of Baptists and immigration/migration, as there are voluminous examples from the BWA archives, as well as other Baptist collections, that document our pasting ministries with immigrants.
Finally, I would like to ask each of you to
sign up for our regular free mailings, including our quarterly
newsletter, Primary Source. If you do this by August 15-simply
by emailing me your best mailing address--we will mail you two
free publications from the following list:
Your minister of memory,
Dr. Deborah Bingham Van Broekhoven
P.S. For all who respond, we will also send the back copy of our newsletter, Primary Source, in which we featured a letter describing an informal meeting of leaders planning the first BWA convention.
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© Copyright BWA Heritage and Identity Commission Nov 2006