Interview: David Coffey, President of Baptist World Alliance

The Baptist World Alliance celebrated its first centennial last year under the shadow of the Southern Baptist Convention’s sudden funding and membership withdrawal. But while the Alliance had to dig deep in its reserves to cover the costs, the Congress opened new opportunities for vision planning, networking and capacity building for the 100-year organization.

On Saturday, the BWA held its first Window on the World celebratory gathering, in McClean, Va., 10 miles West of Washington, marking the first such international meeting since last year’s Congress. At the gathering, newly inaugurated president David Coffey shared his visions for the future and encouraged Baptists to live out their Christian identity through unity, persistent faith, and respect.

The following are excerpts from an interview with Coffey on the Baptist World Alliance, its current situation and future hopes for growth.

There have been concerns about the financial situation of the Alliance since the SBC pull-out. How are things going now?

I’m delighted to say that we are ending the year remarkably well. We are balancing our books despite being de-funded and holding a major world Congress where we had to assist people from all over the world who didn’t have enough money to come. So you can imagine this has been a hugely challenging year, but it has been wonderfully encouraging.

What are some of the larger visions you foresee for the remainder of your term?

It is important to guide unity. Unity is not once given. I am just celebrating 40 years of marriage this year. I have to preserve the love for my wife and she for me. It is the same for the Baptist World Alliance – you must never ever take unity for granted. Another focus is mission – we have the Living Water program, in which we are investing very heavily. That means we are doing training conference in all continents.

What about unity with other Christian communions?

In a fortnight’s time there will be a delegation going from the BWA to meet with representatives from the Vatican. Every five years we hold significant conversations with one of the major faith traditions. We’ve had Lutheran, Mennonite, Anglican conversations. We are now resuming conversation with the Catholics.

What is a wise way for Christians to address the Muslim world?

Respect other faith traditions. Learn about those other faith traditions and live out with deep conviction your own faith conviction. Be not ashamed of following Jesus Christ. Be not ashamed of loving your sacred Scriptures, the Holy Word, the Bible.

I think that there are some in every faith tradition that can give that faith tradition a bad name. But it is possible for people of faith traditions to live peaceably alongside one another.

We want religious liberty for Christians in Muslim countries, and we want religious liberty for Muslims in Christian countries. That I think is the way of peace, and we then have a better platform to build community relations. It all starts by respect, knowledge and by living out your own faith with humility and conviction.

Any other general comments for Baptists in North America?

I would be concerned for my own heart and my prior loyalty. If I am a servant of Jesus Christ, then that loyalty exceeds every other loyalty. It exceeds any loyalty to a political party, to a political ideology, or to a national alliance. First of all I am a citizen of Heaven. That makes me a good citizen of the country I belong to. But if those two become reversed, then we’ve lost something in terms of that prior loyalty and commitment. Be a good citizen of the Heavenly Kingdom, lived out by being a good citizen in the early kingdom, wherever that may be.