For the BJC and others who work in Washington, 2017 was a year of rapid change and an ever-shortening news cycle. It was also a year full of challenges to religious liberty mounted on multiple fronts.
As we begin the new year and continue to meet those challenges, the BJC staff is focused on two main goals: expanding our network of partners and increasing engagement among our supporters.
Our team will be looking for new partners in our work, both inside and outside the Baptist world. As it has always been at the Baptist Joint Committee, our “Baptist” tent is large and diverse, now with 15 different Baptist bodies represented on our Board. We know that within our supporting organizations, there are more churches, leaders and individuals with whom we will want to connect.
While our mission is inextricably linked to our Baptist roots, our message of religious freedom for all resonates with people regardless of their faith identity. We are asking ourselves this question: What intentional outreach can we do now to those who consider religious freedom for all to be a bedrock value but who do not label themselves as Baptist or even Christian? More than ever, we need to involve people from all backgrounds in our work.
The BJC remains unique: we are the only national faith-based group in Washington that is focused solely on religious liberty. Our singular focus and expertise earned through decades of work give us the credibility to lead on the most complicated — and often divisive — issues impacting religious liberty that come to Congress, the Supreme Court and the court of public opinion.
For those who already know and trust the work of the BJC, we will seek new ways to engage with you. Our vision calls us to be mobilizers, equipping you with the tools you need to be advocates and ambassadors for religious liberty in your community.
In 2017, we learned that engaging and partnering with you are crucial to our success. We had opportunities to do that last year as we fought to protect the Johnson Amendment, working with people from a variety of religious and non-religious perspectives on a common goal. You also answered our calls to add your support to Faith-Voices.org, to contact your representatives and senators, and to make your voice heard that you don’t want to change the law to encourage partisan campaign endorsements with tax-deductible dollars in churches. Your advocacy made a difference, and we were able to keep this harmful change out of the tax law that passed just before Christmas.
The threat continues, as do opportunities to respond. We expect similar efforts to weaken the Johnson Amendment added to “must-pass” legislation, like spending packages and bills to raise the debt ceiling. We will be calling on you to continue to raise your voice for religious liberty for all, in this context and others that appear throughout the year.
We have brought on two new team members to help us achieve our goals. In January, Katie Murray joined us as associate director for mobilization and Jaziah Masters as education and mobilization assistant. These new positions will allow us to expand our public speaking and educational offerings, led by Charles Watson Jr. The BJC team will continue to speak regularly in the Center for Religious Liberty in our Capitol Hill offices and at churches, colleges, universities, seminaries and other venues across the country.
As I traveled the country in my first year, people would ask how they could support our mission of defending and extending religious liberty for all. My answer to this: We need your involvement as we expand our activities and seek out new partnerships. Who do you know in your house of worship, your school or workplace or your neighborhood who needs to know about the work of the BJC? And will you commit to taking an even more active role in our work by being an ambassador for religious freedom in your community?
With your help, I know we can achieve remarkable things together for religious liberty in 2018.