Thursday, October 4, 2012

Religious Liberty for Everyone

This week I attended the annual meeting of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.  I have the wonderful privilege of representing our convention on the board of the BJC.  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.

Everyone knows the political season is in full swing.  The heat and passion of the political campaign season sometimes causes people to step over the lines that provide our religious liberty.  In fact, sometimes the actions taken by people of faith under the banner of religious freedom actually compromise this cherished freedom and do little to advance the understanding or support for genuine religious liberty.

Our first amendment freedoms are precious to us: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.  None of us want to live in a country where we do not have these cherished freedoms, but these freedoms are for all of us, not just those who believe like we do.

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 the BJC is primarily supported by Baptists, we fight for religious liberty for people of all faiths and denominations.  Many of these groups 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.”

I encourage you to visit the website of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and take advantage of the information and resources which are available.  It is important for us to remember that this precious freedom is fragile and must be defended for all people.  I am grateful we continue to be advocates for God’s precious gift.