Why theological dialogues are challenging
Washington, DC (BWA)--Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) General Secretary Neville Callam said that the BWA faces four major challenges in its participation in international dialogues with other Christian traditions: different attitudes to ecumenism within the BWA family, the difficulty of having proper international representation on BWA dialogue teams, an indifferent attitude to the dialogues by some Baptists, and the lack of funding.
Callam, who was speaking at the 8th Baptist International Conference on Theological Education (BICTE), said there are three basic attitudes toward ecumenism among member organizations within the BWA. Some Baptist groups are indifferent or even hostile to the very notion of ecumenism, including holding dialogues with other Christian traditions. Others, while they are generally uninterested in ecumenism, may nevertheless be open to dialogue with groups they approve of. And there are Baptists who believe that the ecumenical enterprise is imperative and an obligation.
The lack of interest, commitment, or even hostility to ecumenism is one cause of the second problem - inadequate international representation. "The non-existence of a firm ecumenical commitment in some sections of the BWA community has impacted negatively BWA's capacity to identify truly representative international teams for the bilateral dialogues in which the organization participates," Callam said.
The fourth problem, the lack of funding, also contributes to lopsided representation on BWA dialogue teams, with the overwhelming majority coming from the Global West and relatively few from the Global South. "Unless Baptist participation in theological dialogues is properly funded, we will not be able to secure credible representative international participation that is needed."
Callam told the international gathering of Baptist leaders, theologians, teachers and pastors in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, that "to date, an average of 10.7 percent of BWA teams participating in international dialogue have come from the South." Most participants come mainly from Europe, North America and Australia.
The problem of poor representation from the Global South is not unique to the BWA. Callam reported that "at the most recent Forum [on Bilateral Dialogues] held in Dar es Salaam in 2012, the view was expressed that the representation from the Global South in international dialogues teams was still inadequate."
The BWA leader said "traditional sources of funding, where these once existed, are drying up. New sources need to be found." For that to happen, "those who endow bilateral theological dialogue will need to be motivated by a concern for the unity of the church reflected in the prayer of Jesus in John 17."
Callam stated that Baptists have not been as receptive of the dialogues as they could have been. Those that do are often involved in dialogues on the local level, such as Baptists in the United States, Norway, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Sweden, Germany and Australia. "More BWA member organizations need to take seriously the findings of international bilateral theological commissions - especially those in which BWA participates."
He declared that reception does not necessarily involve full agreement. "Reception does not require unanimous consent to the agreements," he said. "What it entails is taking seriously what has been agreed and appropriating, in the life of a church group, those insights that are found to be enriching."
The BWA has so far participated in dialogues with five other Christian traditions: the World Alliance (now Communion) of Reformed Churches I1973-77); the Catholic Church (1984-88 and 2006-2010); the Lutheran World Federation (1986-1990); the Mennonite World Conference (1989-92); and the Anglican Communion (2000-2005).