Baptist Joint Committee

August 07, 2013

Yesterday, I visited the offices of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC). I have appreciated the work of the BJC for many years as they are the leading voice for religious liberty matters in Washington, D.C., and I am glad that Churchnet is a BJC supporting body. Although Baptists played an important role in the creation of religious liberty as a guiding American value enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and elsewhere, many Baptists today instead work to establish their faith through government policies. This shift led historian and Episcopalian priest Randall Balmer to ask, "Where have all the Baptists gone?" We have seen this problematic shift just last week as the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court urging support of official prayers during government meetings. Fortunately, a partial answer to Balmer's question is that some Baptists have not gone anywhere as seen by the BJC's continued dedication to historic religious liberty ideals. As a believer in religious liberty, I appreciate teaching at a university named for one of the strongest political voices for religious liberty during the time of the U.S.'s founding: James Madison (the other voice being Thomas Jefferson). While Jefferson and Madison played key roles, Baptist leaders like John Leland and Issac Backus (and, before them, Roger Williams) were influential voices for religious liberty for all. These Baptists often pushed politicians like Madison and Jefferson to take up the cause. The BJC continues that prophetic work in their beautiful offices (that recently underwent a massive renovation) overlooking the U.S. Supreme Court building (the photo is one I took of the sign greeting people entering the floor from the elevator). I enjoyed engaging conversations with BJC leaders yesterday as we discussed issues of religion and politics, as well as ways to work together on religious liberty matters. I hope the BJC will continue for many years in advancing its important mission "to defend and extend God-given religious liberty for all, furthering the Baptist heritage that champions the principle that religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced nor inhibited by government."