By Cherilyn Crowe
J. Brent Walker will retire at the end of 2016 as executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
“It has been a privilege to serve the cause of religious liberty through an organization as respected as the Baptist Joint Committee,” Walker said. “Just as I discerned an undeniable spiritual calling to perform this ministry, I sense that it is time to turn the reins over to someone else.”
Walker is an ordained minister and a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar. He first joined the BJC staff in 1989 as associate general counsel. In 1993, he was named general counsel and, upon the retirement of executive director James Dunn in 1999, Walker was called to be the agency’s fifth executive director. He is the longest-serving staff member in the almost 80-year history of the BJC – 2016 will mark his 27th year with the organization.
Walker’s legacy at the BJC includes working to pass the landmark Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993 and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000, standing against efforts to amend the First Amendment in the late 1990s, opposing government-sponsored displays of Ten Commandments monuments in the mid-2000s, and speaking out against the targeting of individuals based on religion during heightened Islamophobia in the early 2010s.
His tenure also includes an emphasis on education as well as advocacy in the courts and Congress, the change in the agency’s name from “Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs” to “Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty” in 2005, and the opening of the Center for Religious Liberty on Capitol Hill in 2012.
The board meeting also included the election of new officers, discussion of a new vision statement to guide the BJC and the passing of an increased operating budget. Daniel Glaze, pastor of First Baptist Church of Ahoskie, N.C., and a representative of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina, was elected chair. Tambi Swiney, representing the Religious Liberty Council, was elected vice chair. She is the associate pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Jim Hopkins, a representative of American Baptist Churches USA and pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, California, was elected secretary. The new treasurer is Perry Hopper of the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board who also represents American Baptist Churches USA.
After the election of new officers, the board chose a search committee to recommend a candidate to be the next leader of the BJC. The members are Hal Bass, Arkadelphia, Arkansas; Valoria Cheek, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania; Dan Hamil, Rocklin, California; Jackie Baugh Moore, Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas; Suzii Paynter, Decatur, Georgia; Oliver “Buzz” Thomas, Maryville, Tennessee; Amanda Tyler, Washington, D.C.; and Glaze serving in an ex-officio capacity.
“With a clear mission, strong staff and needed voice in the public square, I am confident the BJC is poised to soar to new heights as it enters its ninth decade,” Walker said.
From the September/October 2015 Report from the Capital. Click here to read the next story.