HONOLULU — The Baptist World
Alliance (BWA) has elected John Upton, a denominational executive with
experience on the mission field and in the pastorate, as its new president.
Upton will continue as
executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, a post he
has held since 2001. Previously, he was a missionary to Taiwan and a pastor in
The BWA General Council nominated Upton for the presidency
a year ago, when the group held its annual meeting in the Netherlands.
Delegates to the 20th Baptist World Congress confirmed that nomination July 31
in Honolulu. His term will last until the summer of 2015.
“I believe in the Baptist
World Alliance,” Upton told BWA delegates moments after his election.
“I believe in the way we
elevate the name of Christ, serve in the name of Christ, listen to the Spirit
of God, and build up the body of Christ in all its many languages, cultures and
customs. I believe in who we are.”
The best symbol for the BWA
is “the way we praise God together,” Upton said. “It’s what captures who we
That symbol may seem too
ordinary and too benign, but it is powerful, he contended. He cited a litany of
other ministries, activities and projects BWA members undertake together, but
the symbol of praise rises above the rest.
“We spend so much time in
praise when we’re together,” he observed. “Why do we do this? Does God need it?
It’s in our DNA. When we praise God, we touch the heart of God.”
Praise symbolizes the BWA
because it is subversive, he maintained. “It is a cry for radical freedom under
God. To live in praise is to say those (worldly) powers are limited” in their
control over God’s work among God’s people all over the world. That’s why
Baptists stand for justice and redemption — because they believe it will only
come through the power of God.
“Gathering to praise God is
not just a nice thing to do. It’s the only thing to do,” Upton said.
The new president pledged to
the delegates: “I will commit to serve you with dignity, respect, inclusiveness
and, yes, praise these next five years as we are in step with the Spirit.”
Callam praises Upton
In a news conference after
the election, BWA General Secretary Neville Callam endorsed Upton’s election “without
“He’s eminently suited to be
the president of BWA,” Callam said of Upton, noting the staff at BWA
headquarters in Falls Church, Va., is joyful because of the election.
Upton has led Virginia
Baptists to the “cutting edge of mission and witness,” and Upton likewise
succeeded as a missionary and pastor, Callam said. He praised Upton’s
involvement in BWA across many years. Upton has served on the BWA’s Executive
Committee and General Council and Program Committee this year, as well as on
other BWA groups and the Executive Committee of the North American Baptist
Fellowship, BWA’s regional affiliate in Canada and the United States.
Upton is an excellent
cross-cultural communicator, Callam added, noting he will represent the BWA
well before governments and other religious bodies, will provide clear vision
and will help unite the worldwide Baptist organization.
“The search committee found
its ideal candidate” in Upton, he said.
Upton succeeded David Coffey
of the United Kingdom, who served as BWA president since the 19th Baptist World
Congress in Birmingham, England, in 2005.
BWA delegates also elected
Daniel Carro of Argentina as first vice president.
They selected a slate of
vice presidents from across the world — Joel Sierra, Mexico; Regina Claas,
Germany; Nabil Costa, Lebanon; Harry Gardner, Canada; William Epps, United
States; Olu Menjay, Liberia; Paul Msiza, South Africa; Victor Samuel Gonzalez,
Cuba; Burchell Taylor, Jamaica; John Kok, Malaysia; and Ross Clifford,
The newly elected BWA treasurer is Caroline Fossen
of the United States.