By J. Brent Walker, BJC Executive Director
Our good friends, Buddy and Kay Shurden, invited me to come to Macon to have lunch with them in the fall of 2004. They said they had something they wanted to talk over with me. You cannot possibly imagine how hard my jaw hit the floor when, after a very nice lunch, they handed me a check for $100,000 to endow a lectureship on religious liberty and the separation of church and state. This was an astonishingly generous gift from two teachers on the cusp of retirement after rearing and educating three children and performing many acts of generosity toward their church and other charitable causes.
Their idea was for the Baptist Joint Committee to join with different colleges and seminaries once a year — with the lectures returning to Mercer University every third year — to inform and excite the next generation of students about the importance of these topics to both the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar. They expressed to me an urgent desire to foster accurate and inspiring education about this topic for which they harbored a signal passion.
“We believe that the threat to religious liberty and the separation of church and state is epidemic in America today,” they said. “This threat comes from the courthouse, the White House and church house. No potatoes are hotter in public discourse than issues of church and state: vouchers, prayer in public schools, faith-based charities and the places of the Ten Commandments. The BJC is the kitchen where those potatoes are being baked. We, therefore, believe that the BJC is one of the most crucial religious organizations in this republic.”
Buoyed by their kind words and armed with wherewithal to match, the Walter B. and Kay W. Shurden Lectures on Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State commenced 18 months later in the spring of 2006, with Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, delivering the inaugural lectures at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. As you read elsewhere in this publication, we recently concluded the eighth annual Shurden Lectures at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla. I was privileged to have the opportunity to deliver these at my law school alma mater.
In between Rabbi Saperstein and me, six others have helped advance the Shurdens’ vision, delivering lectures at Carson Newman University (James Dunn), Wake Forest University (Charles Adams), Samford University (Martin Marty), Georgetown College (Melissa Rogers) and Mercer University (Randall Balmer and Frank Lambert). The venues for the next three Shurden Lectures have been set: Baylor University (2014), Mercer University (2015) and Bethel University (2016).
These lectures have provided wonderful opportunities for thousands of students, professors and other campus visitors to imbibe the wisdom the speakers supplied. All lectures delivered after 2008 are posted on the Baptist Joint Committee’s Vimeo website in video form (Vimeo.com/bjcvideos) and more recent ones as podcasts on the BJC’s iTunes channel for an untold number of learners to enjoy.
The Shurdens have always put their money where their hearts lie. After making their generous gift, they expressed their desire “to ignite renewed passion for historic Baptist ideas.” They concluded, “We want our grandchildren and their children to live in an America where those values are not only preserved but also championed. Those values, we believe, make for a more vigorous religion and a healthier state.”
With the opening of the new Center for Religious Liberty last October, the BJC’s opportunities for educating the next generation of religious liberty advocates have never been better.
During the past six months, the BJC staff has deliberately focused on crafting goals and priorities to fully employ the Center and the BJC’s resources for our education efforts. We are eager to reach the audiences the Shurdens had in mind. As part of this, the BJC will hire a new, full-time Education and Outreach Specialist to implement a strategy to accomplish our goals. This is a major investment for the BJC, and we hope to fill the position by mid-summer.
Just as the Shurden Lectures would not be possible without Buddy and Kay’s vision and financial commitment, we cannot fund the Education and Outreach Specialist position and the programs she or he will implement without your support. Your gift of any amount will help us fund these new initiatives. Won’t you join the Shurdens in this effort to help the BJC defend and extend religious liberty by teaching others how to join in this fight? Can you imagine a more worthy legacy to leave?
From the April 2013 Report from the Capital. Click here for the next article.