The Face of the New Christendom

March 18, 2007

The face of Christianity is literally changing as Christians in the Southern Hemisphere are rapidly growing in number. This is not a new finding, but I was recently reminded of this and its importance while discussing issues of how Southern Baptists relate to the global community. It started with Marty Duren putting up a fun post at his blog, SBC Outpost. His post dealt with the news that former megachurch pastor Bobby Welch has been selected to represent the SBC as it tries to (re)build relations with other Baptists worldwide. The position is the result of the SBC's withdrawal from the Baptist World Alliance a few years ago.

The news of Welch's appointment was disappointing considering that he spent tons of money during his last position with the SBC (when as its president he went on a 50 state bus tour with a fancy personalized bus). And though I don't think the final baptism numbers are in, it seems to be a good guess that he failed in his plan to encourage more baptisms. But now he will again get to travel around (this time the world and not the U.S.) with expenses paid by missions money. What makes this even more tragic is that the new position is not even really needed. The best representative for Baptist missions, fellowship, and cooperation is the BWA. Sadly, the withdrawal from the BWA was simply about the fact that the SBC wanted control (which could have never happened because the BWA is a global body). Since the SBC could not have complete control they decided to take their marbles and play alone.

As a result, the SBC has chosen Welch to help them build a new network of global relationships. While I applaud his focus on evangelism, I do not think he will be a good representative to the world community. His book (You The Warrior Leader: Applying Military Strategy For Victorious Spiritual Warfare) will likely not go over well with many people around the world. It is a violent and pro-America account that downplays the lives of those from other countries. Hopefully this book has not been translated and sent around the globe. With such an ethnocentric book I do not think Welch is the best ambassador to the world. Also, I wonder how his hard-line approach to alcohol will go over with some of our European Baptist brothers and sisters (see his over-the-top column in SBC Life last year).

All of this becomes particularly interesting because the BWA has nominated Jamaican pastor, theologian, author, media manager, and educator Neville Callam to be its new leader. This is a choice that shows they are planning for the future since the face of Christianity is literally shifting away from being Caucasians. This choice seems much wiser and future-focused than that of Welch. The Baptist General Convention of Missouri became a member of the BWA last year, and so I am glad that my representative in the global community will be Callam and not Welch. I hope that more U.S. Christians will begin to think about the future of Christianity and what we can do to improve global relations. We cannot be isolationists and we must be careful to always put our faith ahead of national pride. So which of these do you think should be the face of global Christian leadership?