Nelson Mandela poses with Baptist Pastor Ronald Bobo Sr. and another BWA worker on a plane over Africa in the early 1990s. (Provided by Ronald Bobo Sr.)
Nelson Mandela poses with Baptist Pastor Ronald Bobo Sr. and another BWA worker on a plane over Africa in the early 1990s. (Provided by Ronald Bobo Sr.)

Baptists admire, mourn Mandela

Pastors say Nelson Mandela modeled a form of radical forgiveness that can help individuals conquer anger and resentment just like Mandela conquered apartheid.

By Jeff Brumley

Huge voices, including past and present world leaders, are flooding the web with praise for Nelson Mandela, saying he showed the world how love can overcome hate. Other voices are speaking up, too, turning to social media to express grief and admiration for Mandela, who died Thursday night in South Africa at age 95.

“Praise God for the life and legacy of Mr. Nelson Mandela,” Ronald Bobo Sr., senior pastor at West Side Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, posted on Facebook late Thursday. “The world is richer because of his grace and humility in the face of tyranny, hatred and oppression.”

Bobo and other Baptist preachers told ABPnews today that Mandela’s influence went far beyond African and international politics. That by “living peace,” he reminded every-day Christians that forgiveness is the door to harmony in interpersonal relationships, too. 

Bobo said he got that message from Mandela directly in the early 1990s, when he encountered the African leader on a plane from Malawi to Zimbabwe. A photo of the meeting accompanies Bobo’s Facebook comment.

“He was very kind, very non-impressed with himself,” said Bobo, who was traveling on Baptist World Alliance business at the time. “I was impressed with how he talked to us and handled us with grace and dignity.”

Bobo said he’s met well-known evangelists who don’t do that. The encounter was so striking, Bobo said, that it has influenced his own ministry ever since.

“I use him as a great example of humility and grace," Bobo said. "With all of this power he still had great humility. I thank God for that example and have used it.”

Baptists with global influence were also speaking out today. BWA General Secretary Neville Callam said the world cannot afford to forget the example set by Mandela, whom he called “a remarkable emancipator.”

“Mandela blazed a trail of respect for human dignity and human rights,” Callam said in a statement released by BWA Friday. “Let us be prepared, whatever the cost, to devote our lives to loving our neighbors, forgiving our enemies, and pursuing all that makes for justice and peace in our communities.”

Baptist and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter also issued a statement about Mandela on Friday.

“His passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide, and because of him, South Africa is today one of the world's leading democracies,” Carter said.

American Baptist minister Alan Rudnick said such high-octane praise for Mandela must be translated into terms the average Christian can understand and apply to his or her life.

ALAN RUDNICK“It’s figures like Mandela and Mother Teresa that seem inaccessible because of the magnitude of the work they have done,” said Rudnick, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa, N.Y.

Rudnick wrote a commentary for ABPnews today which seeks to show how Mandela’s idea of “waging peace” can be used by Christians to practice radical forgiveness. Rudnick said he will preach about Mandela on Sunday and the role of forgiveness in a Christ-like life.

“As a pastor, teaching reconciliation is one thing and leading them to it is another,” he said. “Looking to people like Nelson Mandela ... you can say hey, this is doable.”