Denton Lotz, who led the Baptist World Alliance through some of its most challenging years, died April 23 at age 80.
A former American Baptist missionary who taught at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Switzerland, Lotz joined the global Baptist umbrella group in 1980 as evangelism director. He was named deputy general secretary in 1985 and took over as general secretary after his predecessor, Gerhard Claas, died in an automobile accident in 1988.
Lotz led the BWA until his retirement in 2007. Afterward he served 11 years as pastor of Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston.
“Denton Lotz was one of the most significant Baptist leaders of the second half of the twentieth century,” current BWA General Secretary Elijah Brown said Tuesday. “His profound leadership touched countless lives around the world as he championed evangelism, religious freedom, and the ministry of the global Baptist family.”
Lotz’s leadership years at BWA saw global events including the breakup of the Soviet Union, the end of South African apartheid, civil war in Liberia, genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia and the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States.
Reflecting on his approaching retirement in 2007, Lotz said his worst day at BWA was when he received a telephone call informing him the Southern Baptist Convention was leaving the organization it helped establish in 1905.
With the SBC withdrawal the BWA lost about a third of its members and 20 percent of its annual budget in 2004. Southern Baptist leaders said at first it was due to a “decided anti-American tone” at BWA gatherings, “continued emphasis on women as pastors,” criticism of Southern Baptist missionaries, refusal to engage controversial social issues like abortion and “questionable enterprises” funded through Baptist World Aid, the BWA’s humanitarian arm.
“We are still suffering the consequences of that unfortunate decision, which I believe was contrary to Jesus’ prayer for unity,” Lotz told Baptist Center for Ethics leader Robert Parham in 2007. “It is absolutely false to accuse the BWA of being left wing, liberal or anti-American.”
Later grievances included disdain for American Baptist Churches/USA, which at the time was grappling with how to accommodate differing views on homosexuality, and the admission of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a BWA member body in 2003.
SBC leaders tried to downplay the impact of CBF inclusion on the decision, but Lotz said immediately after the BWA general council vote to accept CBF, SBC leaders approached him and said clearly, “If they are in, we are out.”
CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley mourned his passing.
“As Cooperative Baptists, we are particularly grateful for the bold support he showed to our Fellowship,” Baxley said. “While accepting our Fellowship into the BWA family was a decision that carried great costs, Dr. Lotz reaffirmed that BWA offers ‘a home for everybody’ and reminded Cooperative Baptists and the global Baptist family that ‘we belong together because we belong to Jesus Christ.’”
During his BWA years Lotz advocated for theological education, religious freedom, human rights and racial reconciliation. In 2006 the organization renamed its annual human rights award the Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award in his honor.
Survivors include his wife, Janice, three children and many grandchildren. A memorial service is scheduled at noon on Friday, April 26, at Tremont Temple Baptist Church. Plans are being developed for a memorial service at Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, Virginia, that will be live-streamed on the Internet. Details are forthcoming.