By Brian Kaylor // Word & Way
This is an excerpt. Visit the Word & Way website for the full interview.
Amanda Tyler has served as executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty since January. An 80-year-old organization, the BJC represents 15 Baptist bodies, including American Baptist Churches USA, Churchnet, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, National Baptist Convention of America and National Baptist Convention USA. While in mid-Missouri to talk about religious liberty issues, she sat down for an interview with Word&Way Editor Brian Kaylor.
You’ve been on the job at the BJC for nearly a year. So, what’s been the biggest challenge or surprise?
Well, one of the biggest surprises happened before I even came on board and that was a big surprise for the country — the election of President Trump. That really changed, in some ways, what issues we were going to be emphasizing or responding to this year. In particular, President Trump has made repealing the “Johnson Amendment” a centerpiece of his legislative agenda. That’s a huge surprise. I didn’t expect that that would be the single piece of legislative issue that we would be so focused on this year.
That is a challenge, but it has provided a great opportunity for people to get engaged with us, whether it be on the denominational level or also on the individual level. It’s an incredible outpouring of support and interest in this issue from people in the churches. That has provided a really nice way to connect and for people to be involved in a very important public policy issue this year.
You’ve been involved with the BJC for a long time before beginning in this role this year. Why did you decide to work at the Baptist Joint Committee?
The issue of religious freedom for all is a core issue for me, personally. I’ve had a interest in this topic since I was a child because it is a great combination of my three great passions: the law, public policy and religion.
I’ve long admired the work of the Baptist Joint Committee. I worked with the Baptist Joint Committee when I was in college — as an intern and then as my first job out of college. When I left, I really thought, “That is the best job that I will ever have.” And I was wrong because this is the best job I have ever had!
I never expected the opportunity to come back and lead the organization. When that opportunity arose with the retirement of Brent Walker, I felt a strong calling that this was the next step for me in my vocation — and I have not felt wrong about that decision.
The BJC’s name includes the word “joint” to recognize the work as a joint effort of various Baptist conventions. Is there something about working with 15 Baptist bodies that seems like a unique Baptist model of cooperation today when we often seem so divided in Baptist life?
I see great power in the jointness of our organization, particularly the fact that we have been a collaboration from our beginning. Different groups of Baptists came together in the 1930s to say religious freedom for all is such an important principle and distinctive for us that we want an organization to concentrate only on this.
We’ve continued that legacy over the last 80 years as Baptist life, in some ways, has grown even more fractured. But these diverse groups continue to come together to concentrate on this issue. It also shows that we are larger than just one denominational body or just one way of being Baptist.