By Cherilyn Crowe
The Baptist Joint Committee Board of Directors began the next chapter in the organization’s history at their annual meeting in Washington on Sept. 26-27. Representatives of the BJC’s 15 member bodies passed an increased operating budget, honored Executive Director Brent Walker and named his successor.
Upon the recommendation of the Search and Succession Committee, the board elected Amanda Tyler to be the organization’s sixth executive director in history (see earlier story in this magazine). She will begin her role in January 2017.
Stan Hastey received the J.M. Dawson Religious Liberty Award during the meeting, recognizing his stalwart defense of religious liberty throughout his life. A longtime BJC staff member, Hastey was the first executive director of the Alliance of Baptists and is the author of a history of the BJC.
The board honored Walker’s career with a gathering at the Newseum in Washington. Walker, who has been with the Baptist Joint Committee since 1989 and served as executive director for the past 17 years, retires at the end of December. The event included a charge from Charles Haynes of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute for all to continue to protect religious liberty, remarks from former BJC General Counsel Melissa Rogers (who now serves as the executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships), a video message from Rabbi David Saperstein (who serves as the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom), and memories from BJC General Counsel and Associate Executive Director Holly Hollman.
Calling Walker “one of our nation’s great advocates for the cause of religious liberty,” Haynes said that the BJC is needed now more than any time in history. Noting that denial of religious liberty is one of the leading causes of oppression across the world, Haynes said that, by representing Baptists, Walker has “represented every American – people of all faiths and none” and modeled constitutional principles that sustain freedom of conscience for everyone.
Rogers spoke about working with Walker when they both served at the BJC, including their task of “serving as lawyers for James Dunn.” She said there are many people who would want to thank Walker for his lifetime of work, including “every house of worship that has been protected from overreaching land use powers” and public school students who have not had to choose between their conscience and participation in football games or graduations. “[W]e as a country are so much better off because of Brent’s contributions and leadership,” Rogers said.
Saperstein, who worked closely with the BJC for four decades when he led the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, spoke of the BJC’s relentless dedication to religious liberty. “If ever there were a time that the world needed to take the legacy of a Brent Walker and to ensure that it would be the reality not only of our nation, but other nations across the globe, it is right now,” he said.