For the first time in its 77-year history, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) has named a president of color. Walter Kim, a Korean-American pastor in Virginia, will take the reins from longtime president Leith Anderson, who is retiring at year’s end.
Kim, 51, has served as a board member for the NAE, a network of 45,000 churches representing 40 denominations. He plans to retain his current role as pastor of leadership at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Who Is Walter Kim?
Kim, who was raised in an immigrant family in Appalachia, says his background “will be an asset to the NAE in a time of polarization.” He describes “backing into evangelicalism” and credits God’s creativity for helping the gospel’s seeds bear fruit in his life.
After earning a Ph.D. from Harvard in Near Eastern languages and civilizations, Kim was a chaplain at Yale and taught at Boston College and Harvard. For 15 years, he pastored Park Street Church, a Boston congregation key to NAE’s founding. Kim has served at Trinity, a 1,000-member Charlottesville church, since 2017, the year violence erupted at a white nationalist rally.
Roy Taylor, chair of NAE’s board of directors, says, “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.”
Addressing the theology of race during a 2016 NAE podcast, Kim said, “The harder work of reconciliation is learning how to live together [and] love the other in close proximity. This is what the early church sought to do.” He added, “We should not be satisfied with anything less than the full notion of the gospel calling us to reconciliation, to do the hard work of loving the other.”
NAE board member Johnnie Moore calls Kim “a respected and thoughtful Christian leader who defies evangelical stereotype,” saying he’ll lead “at a time of exponential growth in the global, evangelical movement.”
A Challenging Time for Evangelicalism
Especially since President Trump’s election, evangelicalism has tried to distance itself from political labels. Kim recognizes the challenges ahead. “The sheer number of books and articles on evangelicals and evangelicalism reveals that this movement is confronting an identity crisis,” he says. “Yet in this crisis there is genuine hope. The NAE is uniquely positioned to draw people together, and I am eager to guide this labor.”
As evangelicalism has become more diverse—with growth throughout Asia, Latin America, and Africa—so has NAE leadership. Along with Kim, the association also elected as board chair John Jenkins, an African-American pastor of a Baptist megachurch in Maryland, and as vice chair Jo Anne Lyon, a prominent leader in The Wesleyan Church.
These diverse new leaders, says outgoing president Anderson, are “a reflection of much of evangelicalism in America,” of which “the growing edge…is significantly in minority communities and churches.”
Anderson, NAE president since 2006, has advocated for immigration reform and criminal justice reform, conducted largely through World Relief, the NAE’s humanitarian arm. Kim’s “passion to see the gospel impact lives, transform communities, and change culture is contagious,” says Anderson.