During the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance in Birmingham, Alabama, members of the body’s general council on Friday (July 15) passed resolutions on the war in Ukraine, last year’s coup in Myanmar, racial justice, and slavery reparations. The first in-person meeting since 2019 for the organization that brings together more than 240 conventions representing 49 million Baptists in 126 nations, it also marked the first general council resolutions considered in three years.
The resolution on slavery reparations notes biblical teachings on reparations and related passages on the sabbath year and year of jubilee. In addition to noting the violence of chattel slavery and its “enduring generational impacts,” the resolution recalls that “many Baptist clergy, laypersons, churches, and institutions supported chattel slavery with spurious theological claims and/or enriched themselves from the transatlantic slave trade and/or the enslavement of their fellow humans.” The resolution also mentions historical examples of reparations for other injustices as well as the fact that in several places enslavers — but not the enslaved — received reparations when slavery ended.
The BWA thus called for action toward reparations. It urged Baptists to “participate in reparations conversations in their own communities and national governments.” And the resolution encourages Baptists to voluntarily lead the way. The resolution explains the BWA “calls on older Baptist churches, colleges, unions, and other institutions to thoroughly study their own history and publicly acknowledge institutional and leadership ties to chattel slavery, and then explore ways to repair the damage from previous support for and profiting from slavery.”
The resolution sparked dialogue ahead of the vote, but then passed with close to 90% voting in support. Its passage sparked applause and comments of praise.
“I want to say something about this moment,” said Karl Johnson, BWA first vice president. “I learned from Lee Spitzer [BWA historian] that this body has passed some 60 resolutions dealing with racism and racial justice in the past, but not one has ever been passed on the subject of reparations. Today is a historic day in the life of the Alliance.”
The other three resolutions each passed unanimously and were also applauded after the votes.
The resolution on Ukraine “condemns the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine by Russia” and “the nationalist ideology” that led to it. The resolution highlights the loss of life (including military members for both countries and civilians in Ukraine) and the destruction of infrastructure (including “the wanton destruction of undefended houses of worship”).
Urging intergovernmental entities to support Ukraine, the resolution notes the BWA “supports all initiatives for a peaceful resolution to this war but believes that it must be a peace with justice and that this must include the restoration of all pre-2014 Ukrainian territory and reparations made for war damage.”
In the resolution, the BWA praised religious leaders and others in Russia “who have condemned their country’s war in Ukraine as contrary to the values of the gospel.” And the BWA pledged “continuing solidarity, support in prayer, practical help, and giving” for Ukrainian Baptists.
Since this year’s annual gathering marked the first opportunity for the general council to pass resolutions since the February 2021 military coup in Myanmar, the body passed a resolution condemning the coup and calling “for the establishment of a true democracy that respects the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.” The resolution notes violence since the coup, including the military “destroying churches, and detaining pastors and religious leaders.”
The BWA also passed a resolution on “restorative racial justice and flourishing freedom.” Just prior to the annual gathering, the executive committee of the BWA’s general council adopted a statement on racial justice that committed the BWA to new initiatives. The related resolution highlights key themes from the statement and recommends Baptists study The Birmingham Statement on Restorative Racial Justice: A Call to Live in Flourishing Freedom.
Next year’s annual gathering will occur in Stavanger, Norway.
NOTE: Word&Way Editor-in-Chief Brian Kaylor is the chair of the BWA Resolutions Committee and was involved in the drafting of these resolutions.