By Rev. Brent Bowden
God of Liberty and Justice for all,
We have set this day as a day of celebration for a gift you have given us through the hard-won wisdom of those who have gone before in this land, indeed for a founding idea within this land.
We celebrate our freedom to stand before you on our own footing uncompelled and uncoerced, freely chosen, freely choosing the mode, content and object of our worship.
We give you thanks for religious liberty.
Our prayers this day are for those who know not this most basic form of human dignity — to be their own arbiter of belief and practice.
We know there are powers still which have not discovered the beauty of diversity and — out of fear — compel those under their influence by threat or by overbearing culture to a single, static religious experience.
We pray for a change of heart and for a change of policy among those.
While the slow arch of redemption is still in work, though, we pray for those suffering such oppression to be able to find a sort of reformation within, a recognition of your magnitude and presence beyond the structures they’ve been given, which will light the inner places of their hearts and thereby the world around them.
We pray, too, for those parts of the world that have established religious liberty, which finds threat of one kind or another.
For those who would try to force unanimity of spirit or consistency of expression, we pray you would alleviate the fear that drives them and replace it with the peace that comes from tolerant and cooperative diversity.
For those whose consideration isn’t for faithfulness at all, but find in religious liberty a convenient, powerful tool with which to manipulate and gain more power, we pray you remind them of the ground we’ve already covered — the mistakes of human history — and may the weight of those days gone by inspire in them a vision of a better world before us and the will to lead in that direction.
In gratitude and with great joy we raise our voices on this day of celebration.
The Rev. Brent Bowden is pastor of First Baptist Church of Rochester, New York. He gave this prayer on a Sunday his church designated to celebrate and focus on religious liberty.
Special thanks to First Baptist Church of Rochester for financially supporting the BJC and for inviting Executive Director Amanda Tyler to speak in April as part of their religious liberty celebration. If your church would like to start supporting the BJC, please contact Taryn Deaton, senior director of development and strategy, at tdeaton@BJConline.org. To request a speaker from the BJC, contact Charles Watson Jr., associate director of education, at cwatson@BJConline.org.