Thursday, July 22, 2010

Religious Liberty—God’s Gift!

I wrote this article for our "Message" page in Word&Way. This is the time of the year (the celebration of our Independence Day) when Americans celebrate the freedoms our country provides. Obviously, we are grateful for all our freedoms, but I am particularly grateful for the religious freedom we enjoy. You do not need to be a great student of history to know that religious oppression and persecution have been a part of our world for most of our recorded history. Our religious liberty is not something we should take for granted.

I have the wonderful privilege of representing our convention on the board of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. We are one of 15 national, state and regional bodies which are members of the BJC. The BJC's mission is 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.

The Baptist Joint Committee is primarily an educational and advocacy organization. It is a leading voice in Washington, D.C., fighting to uphold the historic Baptist principle of religious freedom. It stands guard at the intersection of church and state, defending the first freedom of the First Amendment. The BJC is the only religious agency devoted solely to religious liberty and the institutional separation of church and state. While primarily supported by Baptists, the BJC fights for religious liberty for all, including Jewish, Muslim and a host of Christian groups, who count on the BJC for leadership.

One of the newer brochures available from the BJC web site (www.bjconline.org) is entitled Religious Liberty is a Gift from God. The brochure states, “Religious liberty is a gift from God, not the result of any act of toleration or concession on the part of the state. It has to do with what we Baptists call “soul freedom” — the liberty of conscience that we all receive simply by virtue of how God created us and chose to relate to us.”

The brochure goes on to say, “God has made all of us free — free to say yes, free to say no, and free to make up our own minds about our spiritual destiny. Religious freedom has theological import. It goes to the heart of who God is and who we are. So, the fight for religious liberty for all is to ensure against government doing what even God will not do: to violate consciences or to coerce faith. Baptists became champions of religious liberty and church-state separation in large measure because we are a people of the Book.”

Many people in the world do not enjoy the freedom to worship God as they choose. It is important for us to remember that this precious freedom is fragile and must be defended for all people. Historically, Baptists have been at the forefront of the efforts to ensure religious liberty for all people. I am grateful we continue to be advocates for God’s precious gift.

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