Felix Manz and Hans Landis Memorial plaque. Inscription reads, “Here in the middle of the Limmat River from a fishing platform, Feliz Manz and five other Anabaptists were drowned between 1527 and 1532 during the Reformation. The last Anabaptist executed in Zurich was Hans Landis in 1612.” (Photo credit: Curtis Ramsey-Lucas)

Reformation and resolutions: Baptist gather in Zurich, respond to crisis on the U.S. southern border

By Curtis Ramsey-Lucas

Responding to the U.S. government’s current practice of separating migrant children from their parents, the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) General Council, meeting in Zurich, Switzerland on July 2–6 adopted a resolution urging all governments “to follow international law regarding the proper treatment of immigrants, migrants and refugees, and to uphold the primacy of the family unit.”

Rejecting the claims of some U.S government officials that the Bible justifies a policy of forced separation of families, the resolution “affirms the clear biblical mandate to welcome the stranger and for followers of Jesus to respond with love and justice to the plight of immigrants, migrants, and refugees.” The resolution encourages Baptists “to prophetically challenge immoral policies that seek to undermine the rights and dignity of immigrants, migrants, and refugees.”

The BWA resolution follows recent statements by American Baptist leaders, including Lee Spitzer and Jeffrey Haggray, who challenged the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy and Attorney General Jeff Session’s defense of that policy. Speaking June 14 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Sessions cited the “clear and wise command” of the Apostle Paul in the 13th chapter of Romans “to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”

Lee Spitzer, general secretary, American Baptist Churches USA, called Session’s statement, an “erroneous appropriation of the New Testament.”

“No responsible Christian theologian would assert that Romans 13, or any other passage in the Bible, supports the horrific separation of children from parents that we are witnessing at the present time,” Spitzer said in a letter to Sessions dated June 15. “In fact, both the Old and New Testaments call those who believe in God to welcome refugees and immigrants with open arms and friendship, with loving care and concern, and with the willingness to assist others in enjoying the prospects of a future based on hope and opportunity.”

In a June 19 statement, Jeffrey Haggray, executive director, American Baptist Home Mission Societies, said, “Treating children as prisoners, depriving them of their basic right to be with their families, is not biblical in any way. American Baptist Home Mission Societies decries this absurd interpretation of Scripture. Since Jesus’ time it has been God’s intent to keep families together, despite insensitive governments.”

The BWA General Council also adopted a resolution expressing concern for the precarious situation of religious communities, including Baptists, in eastern Ukraine, and another opposing violence and the abuse of women and girls calling on BWA member bodies to “enhance the appreciation of the worth and dignity of women and girls in all aspects of family, church life, and society.”

Representatives from 46 countries and 51 BWA member bodies attended the meeting in Zurich, a key site in the Swiss Reformation 500 years ago. Zurich is also the city where early Reformation leaders persecuted and killed other, more radical, reformers including Anabaptists. Attendees worshiped in Grossmunster Church, where Swiss Reformation leader Ulrich Zwingli preached, and visited a memorial on the banks of the Limmat River where Anabaptist Felix Manz, was executed by drowning January 5, 1527 for supporting adult, or believer’s, baptism.

Elijah Brown, general secretary, BWA, said, “Here in the city where Zwingli preached, where scriptures were translated anew, the Reformation was shaped, and at times Anabaptists hid, we gathered to join in the ongoing celebration of 500 years of Protestant Reformation.”


Curtis Ramsey-Lucas is editor of The Christian Citizen, a publication of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.