The National Association of Evangelicals named its first president of color Thursday when its board of directors elected Korean American Virginia pastor Walter Kim as the next head of the 45,000-church network.
Kim, who serves as pastor for leadership at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, will continue serving in that role even when he takes over as the head of NAE on Jan. 1, 2020.
“As a proven pastor, scholar and thought leader, Walter brings an incredible combination of skills to lead the National Association of Evangelicals into the next decade,” Roy Taylor, the chair of the NAE Board of Directors, said in a statement.
“His ability to think critically and engage charitably has garnered respect and enthusiasm among our leaders as we consider the future of the NAE and evangelicalism in America and throughout the world.”
The NAE is an association of 40 denominations with millions of constituents along with dozens of schools and nonprofits. The association provides resources for ministry leaders and advocates for issues of “justice and righteousness.”
At a time in which many Americans view evangelicals through a political lens thanks to the media’s focus on the strong white conservative evangelical support for President Donald Trump, NAE has been at the forefront of pointing out that “evangelical” is a theological term that encompasses a politically diverse group of people.
The NAE seeks to unite the “many voices of evangelicals together to be more effective for Jesus Christ and his cause.”
Anderson, the former senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, served as NAE president since 2006. He regularly advocated for things like immigration reform and criminal justice reform. He has also been strong in his support for the continued resettlement of refugees in the U.S.
After 13 years at the helm of NAE, Anderson announced in February that he would retire after the conclusion of his term.
Anderson praised Kim’s “passion to see the Gospel impact lives, transform communities and change culture,” adding that it “is contagious.”
Kim’s election drew the approval of Johnnie Moore, an evangelical media relations executive who frequently engages in an informal capacity with the Trump administration.
“Walter Kim is a respected and thoughtful Christian leader who defies evangelical stereotype and I look forward to working alongside him as he leads our great association at a time of exponential growth in the global, evangelical movement,” Moore, an NAE board member, told The Christian Post.
Before moving to Virginia, Kim served for 15 years at Boston’s historic Park Street Church that played an instrumental role in NAE’s conception during the first half of the 20th century.
Ordained by the Presbyterian Church in America and licensed by the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, Kim received an M.Div. from Regent College in Vancouver and received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.
He also served as a chaplain at Yale University.
Kim, a husband and father of two, has served on NAE’s board since 2013. He has also served on NAE working groups focusing on ethics and church life, racial reconciliation and the politics of sexuality.
“I am humbled to serve the National Association of Evangelicals, which is a vital influence for good,” Kim said in a statement. “We have before us the compelling call of Gospel witness and work, and it will be an honor to lead this organization.”
The world has witnessed the growth of evangelicalism in the last several decades since the end of World War II. Most of NAE’s 40 member denominations have more people living outside the U.S. than they have living in the nation.
Evangelicalism is growing in places like Asia, Latin America and Africa. In the U.S., immigrants from all across the world are planting their own churches. To reflect this change, NAE has become more diverse over the years.
“The history of the NAE, if you go back 75 years, was less diverse in terms of ethnicity, race and gender,” Anderson told The Christian Post after announcing his retirement in February. “That has been a high priority to better reflect evangelicalism in America. We have made good progress but we are not there yet.”
Kim’s election comes at a time when many Americans are confused about what it means to be an evangelical, with many of them viewing evangelicals as being almost synonymous to white social conservatives. Some evangelicals themselves have also been forced to wonder whether they are “still evangelical.”
Under Anderson’s leadership, the NAE along with LifeWay Research crafted a four-pronged theological definition explaining exactly what evangelicals believe.
“Evangelicals are defined by our belief in the Bible, Jesus, salvation, outreach,” Anderson told CP. “There are many millions around the world, many of whom wouldn’t even be familiar with U.S. politics. It’s interesting and challenging to be identified by something that is not central to who we are.”
In addition to Kim’s election, NAE elected Maryland megachurch pastor John Jenkins as its new board chair while electing Jo Anne Lyon, general superintendent emerita of the Wesleyan Church, as vice-chair.