On March 26-27, the Rev. Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins will deliver the 2019 Walter B. and Kay W. Shurden Lectures on Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State in the greater Kansas City area. Hosted by Central Baptist Theological Seminary, the presentations are free and open to all — click here for more details.

An ordained American Baptist minister with more than 40 years of community and congregational service, Wright-Riggins was recently elected the mayor of Collegeville, Pennsylvania. Before running for office, he served as CEO of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies and Judson Press. Wright-Riggins also served as a pastor in California for almost 20 years and as the Director of Peace with Justice with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

He spoke with Report from the Capital about his passion for justice and his plans for the lectures.

You were elected mayor of Collegeville, Pennsylvania, in 2017. After decades of service in ministry, what made you decide to run for office for the first time?
I didn’t exchange ministry for political office but chose to seek to be elected as a public servant as an extension of my ministry. I was disappointed by the lack of civility and paucity of character I saw in the 2016 presidential campaign, and I wanted to point to a better way of being and acting. Thinking globally and nationally, I thought the best way to make a difference in our world was by becoming more engaged locally. I chose to run for mayor of my small town because the mayor helps set the tone and culture for our community.

What do you see as the biggest threat to religious liberty today?
I am deeply concerned about a growing ethos that the United States is or should be a Christian nation and that only certain faiths are welcomed here. Hate speech and hate crimes against religious minorities are on the rise in large part because of the tone set by President Trump and the complicit silence by both political and faith leaders.

You worked to bridge concerns between groups during your time serving with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. What advice can you give for others working to create stronger communities?
Strong communities are the result of strong relationships. Those relationships can lead to alliances for the betterment of communities if they are built on respect. In groups, that often requires trusting ambiguity and not debating on who is right or wrong but on what policies are right or wrong for the community or the least within those communities.

What drew you to American Baptist life?
I was initially drawn to become an American Baptist because of the racial-ethnic, gender and theological diversity I experienced in that denomination. That diversity was not only evident during denominational gatherings but in the highest levels of leadership.

What interests you about the Shurden Lectures?
I am excited to have been invited to be this year’s Shurden Lecturer. I am anxious to help stir the pot of historic Baptist ideas and ideals that contribute to soulful religion and a sane and steady state. The Shurden Lectures have historically energized us to champion and preserve these commitments, and I want to play my role in making sure that my children and grandchildren enjoy religious liberty and the separation of church and state.

What do you hope the audience takes away from your lectures?
My hope is that we emerge from the lectures with a commitment to “stay woke” or super-vigilant to the growing threats to religious liberty and the separation of church and state. We are at a critical moment in the life of our republic where the courts, the commander-in-chief and clergy themselves pose threats to religious liberty and the separation of church and state. We need to respond to this moment with an ongoing movement where the BJC serves as our drum major.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Report from the Capital. To view the PDF online, click here.