Billy Graham Commends Retiring BWA Officer; New Nominee Announced

Correction appended

A Jamaican pastor was nominated to become the next general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance.

After an exhaustive international search, Neville Callam, former BWA vice president and a Christian Ethics specialist, was selected as the top pick to succeed current General Secretary Denton Lotz, who retires in December 2007. If elected, Callam would become the first non-white chief executive of the group and the first general secretary from somewhere other than the United States or Europe.

"In reviewing the documents and references and after the interviews, it is clear that Neville Callam is the kind of ecclesiastical and Christian statesman that we can have pride in," said search committee chairman John Sundquist in a released statement.

"It is wonderful to meet someone whose biblical and theological grounding is not only deep, but whose life is such that his relationship with Christ and commitment to the church is so obvious," Sundquist added.

The vote for general secretary will take place during the BWA General Council meeting in Accra, Ghana, in July.

The nominee choice was announced as Baptists celebrated the nearly 20-year service of Lotz as general secretary. The Baptist leader had announced his retirement in March 2006, explaining that his decision to retire was to spend more time with his wife, with whom he had often been separated from because of his travels as a BWA officer.

At an event honoring Lotz on Saturday in Mclean, Va., the Rev. Billy Graham sent a letter commending the general secretary.

"Your strong leadership and personal faith has been an inspiration and blessing to me," read Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Billy Graham and sister-in-law of Denton Lotz, at the banquet. The retired evangelist, who is currently suffering from Parkinson's disease and prostate cancer, was unable to attend.

"The fact that you are related through marriage, that you are a member of our board of directors, and because of our long-time association with the Baptist World Alliance, all give me a special reason to honor you on the occasion of your retirement," stated Billy Graham in his letter. "Not only will the Baptist World Alliance miss you, but your ecumenical leadership will be missed throughout the world church."

Lotz was recognized for his commitment to evangelism, social justice and Baptist principles since becoming BWA's chief officer in 1988.

Following the presentation of his life and ministry, Lotz urged for unity.

"One of the great doctrines of the Christian faith is unity," he said.

"Therefore, I would pray with you and plead with you to work for the unity of Baptists. Jesus prayed that we might be one and this was an evangelistic prayer. Why should we be one? That the world might believe! Our lack of unity means that the world cannot believe."

Lotz's call comes several weeks after former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton revealed a push towards creating a new Baptist voice in North America, sparking disputes between and among moderate and conservative Baptists – including the Southern Baptist Convention, which had withdrawn its membership from the BWA after noting a "leftward drift" in the global group. Baptists joining the Carter initiative – "The Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant" – include representatives of groups connected to the North American Baptist Fellowship, a regional affiliate of the BWA, who are critical of the conservative Baptist voice dominating the media.

Correction: Wednesday, March 14, 2007

An article on Wednesday, March 7, 2007, about the nomination of Neville Callam to succeed Denton Lotz as general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance incorrectly reported that the "New Baptist Covenant" revealed by former president Jimmy Carter is an effort of the BWA. The Christian Post confirmed with Dr. Lotz that the initiative is a movement involving members of the North American Baptist Fellowship, a regional affiliate of the BWA, and not the global alliance.