By Aaron Weaver
DECATUR, Ga. — The Baptist World Alliance and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship have formed an expanded partnership around global advocacy efforts including a focus on international religious freedom, with Georgia-based CBF facilitating and coordinating the BWA’s involvement and initiatives at the United Nations headquarters in New York and its other offices around the world.
To maximize these collaborative efforts to defend global religious liberty and human rights, Mark Wiggs has been appointed to serve as BWA UN Liaison Officer. Wiggs, an attorney and active member of Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., a CBF partner congregation, is a respected advocate and noted champion of religious freedom. He has served as chair of the board of directors of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) in Washington, D.C. A graduate of Mississippi College and the University of Virginia School of Law, Wiggs is also a past co-chair of the Religious Liberty Council, an individual membership organization of the BJC.
CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter emphasized that this expanded partnership is a continuation of hundreds of years of Baptist advocacy on behalf of religious liberty.
“Our collaboration with BWA to advocate for international religious liberty is a continuing expression that has been rooted in the work of Baptists and agencies since the 1700s,” Paynter said. “Continuing this long and storied tradition, CBF is proud to partner with BWA on behalf of the greater Baptist family, providing leadership through the appointment of Mark Wiggs to be the liaison among Baptists at the United Nations.”
In February 2014, BWA and CBF announced the formation of a partnership to identify and respond to the needs of people and congregations worldwide through joint participation with the United Nations. This collaborative effort has sought to increase the Baptist presence at the UN, maximizing the potential of the BWA’s extensive UN credentials to increase and strengthen relationships and partnerships in and around the UN.
For the past 110 years, BWA has made issues of human rights and justice an organizational priority. Since 1974, the BWA has held special consultative status with the UN through the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The Council provides a setting in which nongovernmental organizations address the world’s economic, social and environmental challenges and make policy recommendations. The BWA is also accredited as a NGO through the Department of Public Information, which acts as the public voice of the UN, enabling the BWA to participate in briefings and receive critical announcements.
The BWA is also a member of CoNGO, or the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations. This group facilitates NGO participation in UN decision-making and programs, particularly in the fields of economic and social justice and allows the BWA access to 41 influential NGO committees in New York, Geneva and Vienna, including committees on criminal justice, children’s rights, education, HIV/AIDS, migration, sustainable development and human rights.
In addition, the BWA is a member of the Committee of Religious NGOs, has interacted with the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights (OHCHR) and has participated in the Ecumenical Working Group, a forum where representatives of Christian denominations from around the world come together to work on issues of common concern.
The BWA has in recent years been increasingly involved with the work of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHR), presenting alternative human rights reports on particular UN member states. At Rio+20, also known as the UN Conference on Sustainable Development which met in Brazil in 2012, BWA co-sponsored events and submitted documents contributing to the conference’s discussions. At the Sixth Forum on Religious Minority Rights in Geneva, Switzerland, in November 2013, CBF field personnel Shane McNary represented the BWA and participated in the forum’s proceedings.
Stephen Reeves, CBF’s associate coordinator of partnerships and advocacy, shared his excitement for Wiggs to lead the Baptist advocacy efforts at the UN.
“I’m thrilled that an attorney of Mark’s caliber is willing to give his time on behalf of our global advocacy efforts,” Reeves said. “Through his long service with the Baptist Joint Committee, Mark’s passion and commitment to religious liberty is clear. His skills and leadership ability will greatly enhance our joint efforts at the United Nations and help connect Cooperative Baptists and others Baptists to organizations working tirelessly to promote religious liberty around the world.”
Reeves added that the efforts to defend religious freedom around the world will not be limited to protecting just the rights of Christians, but will speak up for minority faith populations wherever they are.
“I am excited that CBF advocacy efforts in partnership with the BWA will work for a positive impact across the globe among the most neglected and marginalized,” Reeves said. “The Baptist voice in support of global religious liberty for all is sorely needed and can be a particularly effective public witness.”
Wiggs expressed his excitement to serve the BWA and CBF and emphasized his desire to advocate on behalf of religious freedom and human rights alongside leaders from the larger Baptist family.
“I am pleased, excited and humbled to undertake the challenge of serving as the BWA UN Liason Officer,” Wiggs said. “CBF has joined with the BWA in a historic and ongoing mission, building upon a foundation established through many decades of work by freedom-loving Baptists from many countries, regions and traditions. We live in an age where each news cycle brings stories of religious oppression. Wherever religious freedom is upheld, these kinds of stories become less frequent. I look forward to working alongside the BWA, CBF staff and field personnel, the European Baptist Federation and others who share these priorities, as together we work to protect and enhance religious liberty around the world.”
As BWA UN Laison Officer, Wiggs will coordinate the contributions of current BWA-appointed representatives at the UN. These volunteers who play a vital role in BWA’s networking and advocacy efforts include: Darrell Armstrong, Joseph Oniyama, Raimundo Barreto and Phyllis Boozer in New York; Shane McNary and Christer Daelander in Geneva, Switzerland; and Dietrich Fischer-Dörl in Vienna, Austria.
CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.