FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA – On Tuesday (Apr. 23), Rev. Dr. Denton Lotz, General Secretary Emeritus of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), died at his home in Forestdale, Mass., at the age of 80.
Born in 1939 in Flushing, N.Y., Lotz was the youngest of four sons raised by Rev. and Mrs. John Lotz. He often credited his heritage for influencing his ministry, stating that he inherited “a German brain from his father and an Italian heart from his mother.”
After graduating from Northpoint High School in 1956, Lotz attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts. He then enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, serving from 1961-1963. During a portion of his service, he was stationed internationally in Okinawa, Japan, ultimately achieving the rank of second lieutenant.
After completing his military service, he attended Harvard Divinity School where he earned his sacred theology degree in 1966 as well as being ordained that same year at Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, N.C. After completing his studies at Harvard, Lotz began his doctoral studies at the University of Hamburg in Germany, earning a Doctor of Theology in 1970.
It was also the year he married Janice Robinson from Ellisville, Miss. For the next decade, they served as missionaries with the International Ministries Division of American Baptist Churches. During their missionary tenure, Lotz traveled extensively – often to countries under communist control – with a focus on lecturing, preaching and serving as a diplomatic representative to government officials on questions of religious freedom and Baptist life.
During this time, Lotz also served as a professor of missions and homiletics at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Rüschlikon, Switzerland, where he founded the Summer Institute of Theological Education (SITE) – a short-term, intensive theological program for Eastern European pastors and leaders.
While ministering in Europe, he often traveled alongside Gerhard Class, who was serving at the time as General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation. When Claas was selected to be the next BWA General Secretary, he invited Lotz to be his deputy. Lotz joined the BWA staff in 1980 in the role of associate secretary, with responsibilities including oversight of the Division of Evangelism and Education as well as Relief and Development. He would later be appointed as Director of the BWA Youth Department as well.
After Claas suddenly passed away in a tragic automobile accident in 1988, Lotz was designated as Interim General Secretary. Shortly thereafter, the BWA Executive Committee voted to permanently appoint him, which was affirmed by the BWA General Council later that year.
During nearly two decades of service as General Secretary, Rev. Lotz served alongside five BWA presidents and 71 Vice Presidents as well as numerous commission chairs and staff members. He led preparations for four Baptist World Congresses with a cumulative attendance of 42,000 people from more than 100 countries. He oversaw 20 General Council meetings as well as 16 annual gatherings.
“He leaves a massive footprint in the history of the BWA,” said Rev. Dr. David Coffey, former Baptist World Alliance President (2005-2010). “He was a missionary theologian, an inspiring preacher and evangelist, a champion for religious liberty, a Baptist ambassador, a Christian statesman and a brother unrivaled in his prodigious remembering of the names of hundreds of people and places.”
Among his many contributions to the BWA, Lotz helped launch the Baptist International Conference on Theological Education (BICTE) in 1991, which was attended by Baptist educators from 52 countries. He was also instrumental in relocating the Baptist World Alliance office to its current facility in Falls Church, Vir., in 2001. In July 2005 at the BWA Centennial Congress in Birmingham, England, Lotz unveiled the Living Water initiative, a strategic plan designed to enlist and equip local Baptists for evangelism and servant leadership. Since its inception, Living Water events have taken place around the world from Cuba to Bangladesh with more than 4,500 registered delegates in attendance who have engaged in prayer, focused Bible study, evangelism, and leadership training.
In addition to his service as BWA General Secretary, Rev. Lotz was twice elected President of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), an organization chartered in 1893 to work with government and educational institutions to disseminate principles of religious liberty and human rights throughout the world. The IRLA tradition of rotating presidents every two years was broken with Lotz, who was reelected an unprecedented four times.
Upon his re-election in 2002, then IRLA Secretary General John Graz said, “We are honored to have someone like Denton whose passion for religious freedom is demonstrated in his daily commitment to defend human rights for people everywhere.” Upon his retirement from the BWA, Graz wrote, “Thank you for your convictions, for your intelligent way of expressing your faith, and the values in which you believe without destroying bridges between yourself and others.”
His commitment to racial reconciliation was the catalyst for the formation of the BWA Special Commission on Baptists Against Racism and Ethnic Conflict, which resulted in the Harare Declaration in 1993 and the Decade for Racial Justice. Because of his tireless advocacy for human rights and religious freedom, the BWA named its annual human rights award in his honor, with ten individuals receiving the Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award since 2006.
“Denton was an incredible ambassador for the global Baptist family,” said Brian Kaylor, Word&Way Editor & President. “I came into BWA life under his leadership and appreciate his work around the world and right here in the Midwest.”
“He advocated tirelessly for Baptists and others facing persecution, and it’s been an honor to serve the past few years on the BWA’s Awards Committee as we honor other courageous Baptists with the Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award,” Kaylor added. “Denton led the BWA through some difficult challenges and did so with inspiring grace. All Baptists around the world are indebted to his service.”
His tireless effort and commitment were matched only by his love for people and unwavering optimism even in the face of great challenge.
“In whatever country he arrived, he was welcomed as someone who brought hope to Baptists wherever they were and in whatever situation they found themselves,” said Wendy Ryan, former BWA Communications Director. “There was never a time I traveled with him as part of a BWA team that I did not see him received with great joy.”
His ministry took him around the world from African villages to the Oval Office. His friendships included globally-recognized faith leaders like Billy Graham as well as leaders of state such as former United States President Jimmy Carter. Upon his retirement from the BWA in 2007, Graham wrote, “Your strong leadership and personal faith has been an inspiration and blessing to me.” Carter shared the following, “As I think of all the BWA has accomplished for Baptists around the world in the past twenty years, I know that your gifted leadership has helped to make it all possible. You have served a great organization with conviction and honor.”
After his “retirement,” Lotz continued to travel and preach in addition to serving as Senior Pastor of Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston, Mass. He also remained active in the life and ministry of the BWA, including providing encouragement to the organization’s newest leader.
“Denton Lotz was one of the most significant Baptist leaders of the second half of the twentieth century. His profound leadership touched countless lives around the world as he championed evangelism, religious freedom, and the ministry of the global Baptist family,” said Rev. Dr. Elijah Brown, BWA General Secretary. “From my first individual meeting with Denton in 2007 until the present, he offered regular and meaningful encouragement and insight. To Janice and all of the Lotz family, I stand with you as does all of the Baptist World Alliance in mourning and in recognition of a life of incredible service. Thank you for sharing Denton with us. While today I feel a keen sense of loss in Denton’s passing, I believe his leadership and legacy will continue to shape and mold the Baptist World Alliance for years to come.”
Rev. Lotz is survived by his wife, Janice, their three children, and many grandchildren. A memorial service has been scheduled for Friday, April 26, at 12 p.m. at Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston, Mass., with a reception following. A live-streamed memorial service celebrating his life and legacy will also be hosted by the Baptist World Alliance at Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, Vir. Details will be forthcoming.
The Baptist World Alliance calls upon all Baptists to remember and honor his legacy and to pray for his family. Those wishing to share a tribute are invited to do so by visiting: http://bit.ly/honoringdenton.