The Baptist Joint Committee convened the third class of BJC Fellows to deepen a group of young professionals’ legal, historical and theological understanding of religious liberty.
The ten selected to be BJC Fellows demonstrated a substantial interest in fighting for religious liberty. Hailing from nine different states and the District of Columbia, they attended the BJC Fellows Seminar in Colonial Williamsburg July 26-30, which prepares them to be religious liberty advocates.
The Seminar included a tour of Colonial Williamsburg with an emphasis on religious history; lectures on Baptist history from the Rev. Dr. Pam Durso, an adjunct professor at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology; a look at the Founders from author and professor Michael Meyerson from the University of Baltimore School of Law; sessions on religious liberty law from BJC Associate General Counsel Jennifer Hawks; and presentations on effective advocacy from BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler. The Fellows also had a chance to interact with historical interpreters portraying Thomas Jefferson and Gowan Pamphlet, the first black ordained Baptist minister in America.
Now entering its fourth year, the BJC Fellows Program has trained 30 young professionals who have shown an aptitude for religious liberty advocacy, and the program provides the tools they need to be effective in their circles of influence and beyond. After completing the BJC Fellows Seminar, each Fellow serves as a liaison between the BJC and their communities.You can hear from the 2017 class of BJC Fellows on the following pages. For more, visit BJConline.org/Fellows.
To celebrate three successful classes of BJC Fellows, we are dedicating this year’s Giving Tuesday to continue the program’s funding. Held on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (November 28), Giving Tuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving. Make sure to watch our social media feeds and look for the hashtag #GivingTuesday to see how you can support the BJC Fellows program into the future.
By Aurelia Davila Pratt
Cedar Park, Texas
For some time, I felt like I was living in two separate worlds: the world of the Baptist pastor and the world of the concerned citizen. I was interested in what I was seeing play out politically on the local, state and national stage, but I wasn’t sure what my role should look like as ordained clergy. My two worlds collided when I learned about John Leland, an American Baptist minister who was fundamental in the struggle for religious liberty in the United States. John Leland taught me that I have a role to play in the political arena, not despite my being a pastor, but because of it.
On the first full day of my BJC Fellows experience, it really sunk in that I had been given a gift by being chosen to attend. Of course I was grateful for the obvious things: a paid trip, room and board, and delicious meals. But the real gift became more apparent with each lecture and the accompanying activities. This was the gift of knowledge, and I felt like a grateful sponge, soaking up information as it changed me from the inside out.
Specifically, I was inspired by the stories of those who advocated tirelessly for religious freedom upon the founding of our country. I especially loved reading direct quotes from people like John Leland. He may be gone now, but his passion for what is right is still very much alive, and it’s contagious! Leland said, “The only way to prevent religion from being an engine of cruelty is to exclude religious opinions from the civil code.”
Because of this program, I am more passionate than ever to take up the mantle and participate in the work of protecting religious liberty in our country, but perhaps more importantly, I am also now more equipped than ever to do so. I think about the people who have gone before me — people like John Leland — and I am reminded of why the preservation of religious liberty is absolutely necessary. This protection is for the good of all people in our society. For me, it is about more than tolerance; it is practicing radical and loving inclusion toward everyone no matter what.
This is the kind of work I believe my faith calls me to every day, and it comes to life when good intentions are combined with well equipped knowledge. Having both is truly a gift worth sharing.
By Corey Mitchell
Raleigh, North Carolina
Simply put, the BJC Fellows Seminar was a life-changing experience. From the moment I stepped foot onto the beautiful campus of Colonial Williamsburg to the time I left the historic city, my mind was stretched and challenged to think in new ways. I was encouraged to step outside of my comfort zone and engage in advocacy work and the promotion of religious liberty for all Americans; not just the black Baptists in my local congregation, but every denomination represented in these great United States, as well as those who do not subscribe to any religious belief.
For starters, I found that the required texts were quite helpful in understanding the historical, theological, political and biblical underpinnings of religious liberty in this country and prepared me for the BJC Fellows Seminar. The best part, however, was the fact that our sessions were led by leading thinkers in the field of religion and religious liberty law.
Even though I’m a lifelong Baptist, I learned more about my heritage and denomination in those four days than I have my whole life! I also learned how to communicate religious liberty and the law to others, as well as how to become an ambassador for religious liberty in my community. As a minister and civic leader, this piece was quite helpful for me as I engage others in my religious and social context.
The BJC Fellows Seminar truly changed the way I think about religion in this country. I realize now that a threat to anyone’s religious freedom is also a threat to my religious freedom. Knowing that, historically, Baptists have led the fight for religious liberty in this country has really changed my views on several issues. I never realized how closed-minded I was about the freedoms we enjoy and how easy it is to infringe on others’ rights based on my religious views.
For more than 80 years, the BJC has been the only faith-based organization fighting to preserve the religious freedom for all Americans, and I’m proud to be a BJC Fellow.