Several mornings at the Baptist World Alliance Annual Gathering as I arrived for worship, I picked up a headset to hear the English interpretation of worship that was held primarily in Spanish, but also in other languages. That had never happened to me before at a BWA meeting. I experienced it as a delightful forward movement.
The assumption generally is that English is the sole language to conduct business, worship, and dialogue. Certainly there are some exceptions, but the practice is English.
The assumption also is that western world perspectives are viewed as normative for Baptists. Viewpoints, opinions, and perspectives from previously marginalized and voiceless people are not proactively invited and fully respected in the search for the beloved community. At least that is the history.
How can you be a world organization if the activities are conducted with an assumption that English is a better language venue than any other language, and the western worldview is normative? You cannot.
More plainly, when is the BWA not a world organization? Try these thoughts on for size:
- When any set of individuals, nations, cultures, regions of the world, or denominations dominate the BWA.
- When one people group feels their size and money give them the right to run the BWA.
- When everything is done in English even though dozens of heart languages are represented by the gatherings of the BWA.
- When people are called on to pray, speak, and teach only if they can do so in English.
- When people in countries with substantial religious liberty believe that dialogue with people of other faiths is sufficient, and people in countries where there is little or no religious liberty have their church buildings attacked and their participants beaten or killed.
When is an organization like the BWA beginning to exhibit characteristics of a true world organization?
- When no set of individuals, nations, cultures, regions of the world, or denominations dominate the BWA.
- When English speakers have to use a headset to hear worship in Spanish translated into English, rather than Spanish speakers having to hear the translation of English when we are guests in their country.
- When guidelines are practiced that hear the voice and heart of all individuals, world regions, and denominational bodies.
- When people can fully participate without regard to their language, cultural, nationality, or economic situation.
- When the standard for religious liberty and human rights are not set based from the perspective on countries where religious liberty is seldom in doubt and human rights are never threatened.
- When people are called on to pray, speak, and teach in their own language because the true richness of their wisdom is best communicated in their heart language.
This is an active dialogue among participants in the Baptist World Alliance Annual Gathering in Santiago, Chile. It is headed in the right direction.
During this week aspects of this have arisen in the Intra-Baptist Commission, the Constitution and Bylaws Committee, the Executive Committee, in a gathering of the Vice-Presidents and General Secretaries of the six regions of the world, during the morning worship, through hall or coffee break talk, and probably in many other places and conversations.
It is with great exhilaration I experience the BWA becoming a world organization.