By BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler
Like many of you, we at the BJC are reflecting on 2017 and noting it’s a year like we have never seen before. Religious liberty cases and issues made front-page news throughout the year. Legislative threats to the independence of houses of worship and their ability to stay separate from partisan elections have escalated as changes to the “Johnson Amendment” were included in tax bills. The U.S. Supreme Court said — for the first time — that there are instances when the government must fund churches. And we have seen several versions of immigration policies that have been challenged for targeting people for unfair treatment based on their religion.
You have come to count on the BJC to be a watchdog on all of government to ensure that the state neither impedes nor promotes religion and its practice. Our focus is rightly on holding government — specifically Congress and the courts — accountable. Our work would not be possible without the generous contributions of individuals, churches and our denominational supporters. We are grateful to have these partners committed to our shared work.
The past year has demonstrated how religious freedom also can be jeopardized by acts of individuals. We have all seen the news stories — about the desecration of graves in Jewish cemeteries, harassment and bullying of Muslim neighbors, and vandalism of churches, synagogues and mosques. For some of our neighbors, more than their freedom of worship is at stake. Their very existence is being challenged and threatened.
The dramatic surge in hate rhetoric and violence directed at religious minorities over the past year is as much a threat to religious liberty as any law passed by Congress or Executive Order signed by the president. And these individual acts require both a response from our officials but also from we the people.
At this summer’s gathering of the Religious Liberty Council in Atlanta, we made a “Call to Action” to encourage you to participate in the “Know Your Neighbor” campaign and to tell us how you are raising your voice for religious liberty for all. Whether it be hosting an interfaith dialogue at your church, partnering with a house of worship in your community on a service project, or just endeavoring to learn more about the experiences of others, we all have a part in defending religious liberty.
For more than four centuries, Baptists have been standing up for religious liberty for all, and we at the BJC are honored to be carrying that torch in the 21st century to raise our voice for our neighbors. This year has shown us that new threats to religious liberty require new responses to meet the need. We at the BJC are prepared to meet that need, but your partnership is necessary.
The BJC’s vision for the future calls us to mobilize supporters — like you — to be advocates for religious liberty. We want to engage you to take a more active role in our mission of defending religious liberty for all and provide you with the information and tools you need to be an ambassador in your community.
Now is the time for us to expand our capacity to make this work possible. We plan to hire two new staff members in 2018 to direct and support this endeavor of mobilizing new ambassadors for religious liberty. Bringing on additional team members to meet new challenges will require an added investment of $125,000 in 2018. We cannot do this without your help.
Whether you have supported the BJC for years or you have never contributed before, I invite you to invest in our future at this critical juncture. Please prayerfully consider a gift to the BJC and partner with us on this bold move into the future.
Buddy Shurden, who has written so much about what it means to be a Baptist, has said, “It is easy to holler freedom when you are the one who does not have it. It is a more principled position, however, to cry for freedom when you are in the majority but now lift your voice on behalf of new minorities.” Your gift today will allow us to empower and equip new voices to cry for religious freedom for all.