By Amanda Tyler, BJC Executive Director

One of the joys of my job is hearing from donors about why they support the work of the BJC. When I got a note from one of our Jewish supporters recently, I asked his permission to share it with you:

“A week or so ago, I ran across on the web a Jewish group working on religious liberty. I said to myself, ‘Hey, they must be just like the BJC’ – the name kind of sounds the same. Then I did my research on their website. I very quickly discovered that names can be deceiving. I was wrong. Big time. They’re nothing like the BJC. At the end of my research I laughed out loud and I said to my wife: ‘I’ve got more in common with the Baptists than the Jews – how funny is that.’

I originally started my support in 2015 at a modest level, which continued in 2016 and 2017, and then ramped up recently in response to the increasing attacks on everyone’s religious liberty.”

I’m honored to have the loyal support of someone from outside the Baptist tradition, and I am grateful for his message. It tells me that labels can be misleading, words can be confused, and good internet research is important!

It also speaks to the challenge of our continued work. After 82 years of faithful service, the BJC’s enduring mission now lives in a new and fluid environment. “Religious freedom” has been swept into noisy, partisan, polarized debates where the words themselves carry an uncertain meaning. We are left searching for a vocabulary with which to defend what has historically been intended by religious liberty. New groups are springing up claiming to defend religious liberty while often confusing the issues, misrepresenting the facts, and ignoring half of our constitutional protection that ensures that the government will not take sides when it comes to religion and its practice.

It would be easy to be discouraged by the current reality, but we are not. Instead, we are energized by the opportunities that the BJC has to bring needed clarity, understanding, and bridge-building to our civil discourse.

And we have a plan to make it happen. In early 2019, the BJC will be making strategic changes to our messaging and communications to give you – our friends and advocates – resources with which to carry out this work. This will include:

  • Refreshing our Brand and Image: New visuals and messages are being developed to rapidly communicate with various audiences.
  • Introducing a New BJC Website: By mid-year, we will launch an overhauled BJC website that will allow us – and you – to welcome and introduce new supporters to our work. We will keep you informed and engaged on the latest religious liberty news and commentary from Washington and elsewhere.
  • Equipping Advocates: We anticipate offering more explicit opportunities for individuals to engage in religious liberty advocacy beginning in 2019. We will provide advocacy campaigns that identify specific goals to organize around and to recruit other advocates from Baptist as well as other faith backgrounds.

These projects also will allow us to reach beyond labels to welcome colleagues and donors from many traditions to support our urgent mission, while expressing gratitude for our Baptist roots.

Within days of receiving my friend’s note, unimaginable tragedy struck when 11 Jewish people were killed in the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre. I joined many other faith leaders, decrying anti-Semitic hatred that inspired the murderer, standing in solidarity with our Jewish neighbors and calling the violence for what it was – a direct attack on religious liberty. Click here to read Tyler’s op-ed with two other religious leaders about the shooting, and click here to read reflections from BJC’s Ilana Ostrin.

No matter your faith tradition, you can count on the BJC to stand up for you and your religious freedom. We view our calling to advocate for religious liberty as a responsibility and one that we accept joyfully. We also know that we do not do this work alone: we work in coalition with other faith groups, secular organizations and individual advocates committed to equal freedom for our neighbors. Protecting religious liberty for everyone will take all of our collective energy and resolve.

Your gift today will affirm your partnership with the BJC as we join together in this joyful responsibility of defending and extending religious liberty for all.

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