BANGKOK, Thailand—The Baptist World Alliance General Council unanimously elected human rights advocate Elijah Brown as BWA general secretary. At age 36, he is the youngest person and the first Texas Baptist to serve as the global organization’s chief executive officer.
The BWA General Council vote July 7 followed a vote of affirmation by the alliance’s executive committee three days earlier. Brown was recommended unanimously by the search committee appointed to find a successor to Neville Callam, who retires as general secretary in December after 10 years of service.
Callam characterized Brown as a leader who “has been gifted by God” and who has “a passion for social justice, including religious liberty.” Expressing full confidence in his successor, Callam said he expects Brown’s service with the BWA “to be marked by robust advocacy in the cause of social justice and enthusiastic engagement witnessing to the transformative power of the gospel.”
Brown, who said he is “deeply honored and humbled and filled with ongoing surprise at the Lord’s plan,” described his personal calling and mission.
“I understand my own calling to be one of global, collaborative engagement that believes in the local church, takes seriously the word of God, listens to the Holy Spirit and seeks to build networks that act together in areas of mission, justice and deepening theological education as Christ-centered witnesses within the public square, especially in areas of conflict, persecution, refugee marginalization and injustice,” he said.
‘A global voice giving witness to Jesus Christ’
BWA is “uniquely positioned to be a global voice giving witness to Jesus Christ,” he said. After the BWA General Council received three organizations into its membership—the Baptist Evangelical Church of Chad, the Turkish Baptist Alliance and the Zomi Baptist Churches of America—the alliance now includes 238 member bodies in 124 countries, representing more than 165,000 churches and 45 million Christians.
“In an age of both globalization and a global church, the BWA has an incredible legacy of over 100 years and a promising future in continuing to address the challenges and opportunities unfolding in the 21st century,” Brown said.
“To address the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century will require all of us. My prayer is through the upcoming weeks and months ahead that the Lord will bring ongoing unity, growing excitement and increased opportunity for all of us to worship and work together in our mutually shared global calling and in service through a global BWA family.”
Draw attention to human rights and religious liberty
Brown is executive vice president of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, a religious liberty and human rights organization based in Falls Church, Va. Previously, he was associate professor of missions at East Texas Baptist University, where he was founding director of the Freedom Center.
In his role with the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, Brown has conducted human rights advocacy work and research in Nigeria, South Sudan, Eritrea, Iraq and Nepal. He has submitted reports to the United Nations, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
As BWA general secretary, Brown hopes to continue to draw attention to human rights abuses and restrictions on religious freedom.
“For example, more people face famine today than at any other point since World War II, and more people live as refugees today than at any point since World War II,” he said. “Perhaps most pressingly is the urgent need to continue to advance religious freedom and to stand with those suffering in the shadows of persecution.
“For over 400 years, Baptists have actively championed freedom of religion for people of all faiths. However, today, 78 percent of all Baptists worldwide, around 35 million people, daily face high to very high government restrictions or social hostilities because of their deeply held religious convictions in Jesus Christ.
“For Baptists in Nigeria facing two of the top five most lethal terrorist organizations in the world, Baptists in Syria living through the onslaught of genocide, and a new generation of Baptists from Myanmar being born into refugee camps in Thailand, there is an important role for every convention, every church, every Baptist to join together in prayer, action and in mutual learning.”
BWA offers “an unparalleled Baptist platform for calling all of us forward in a Christ-centered vision of justice and mission within the plural public squares of the 21st century,” he said.
Hope for religious revival
At the same time, Brown voiced hope for a bright future of global religious revival, with Baptists playing a key role—especially in the developing world.
“Over the last 25 years, the BWA family has grown by 27 percent, with the numerical growth in Africa, Asia and Latin America particularly noteworthy,” he said. “Since 1990, there has been a 190 percent increase among Baptists in Central and Latin America.”
Pew Research projects by 2020, 70 percent of all Christians globally will be under age 45, producing “a church that is rich in giftedness but young in age,” he noted.
“I am excited to continue to journey with the BWA in developing resources, including strengthening formal theological education, to help these emerging Baptists serve as transformational leaders,” he said.
‘Will make a historic impact’
Ten years ago, BWA identified Brown as one of 35 global emerging leaders. In the past decade, he has served as a member of the BWA General Council and several committees.
He is vice chair of the BWA Commission on Religious Liberty and a member of the Commission on Theological Education.
Brown also is BWA regional secretary for North America and general secretary of the North American Baptist Fellowship.
Brown “will make a historic impact” as general secretary of the worldwide Baptist alliance, said Chris Liebrum, director of the office of Cooperative Program ministry with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, who served on the search committee.
“I have known Elijah since 2007, when he was part of an international emerging leaders group I had the privilege to lead. I saw in him maturity, intelligence and a passion for a lost world,” Liebrum said. “Through the years, I have seen all of those qualities broaden and deepen in him.
“I truly believe his youthful maturity and his in-depth international experience will be a unique gift to the work of the Baptist World Alliance.”
Brown expressed appreciation for the role Texas Baptists played in his life and call to Christian service.
“I am deeply grateful for the work of Texas Baptists and how my own ministry calling has been formatively shaped by many Texas Baptists,” he said, particularly singling out the opportunity to work with Randel Everett, the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative’s founding president and former BGCT executive director.
Brown earned his undergraduate degree in religion and history from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and a doctor of philosophy degree with a focus on world Christianity from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
He and his wife, Amy, have three children—Hudson, Sahara and Keziah.