Open House at the new Baptist Joint Committee on Religious LibertyWritten by Don Byrd

In an interview with Utah’s Deseret News, both the outgoing and incoming Baptist Joint Committee directors, Brent Walker and Amanda Tyler, discussed today’s important religious liberty issues and challenges. The two offered a stirring explanation of the BJC’s core Baptist principles and perspectives on these issues.

Reporter Matthew Brown asked them about their personal journeys to the BJC and church-state concerns, but also their views about controversial initiatives like the proposed First Amendment Defense Act, government funding of churches and other religious organizations, and the tension between religious freedom and nondiscrimination protections.

Here is an excerpt that stuck with me, from the conclusion of the interview. In response to a question about “the top religious liberty issue currently,” BJC executive director Amanda Tyler discussed the issue of religious pluralism, which she frames as a welcome indication that we are “living out” America’s promise of religious liberty for all.

DN: What is the top religious liberty issue currently?

: Defining and defending religious liberty in our age of increasing pluralism is a challenge that manifests itself in many different areas. We Baptists were in the religious minority among the early settlers of this country. So, remembering those roots and what it’s like to be persecuted and misunderstood are important vantage points for us going forward. We are very concerned about intolerance and the marginalizing of people of minority faiths, which is notably happening to American Muslims. There are sadly many other examples, including a resurgence of anti-Semitism. Hate rhetoric has unfortunately gone mainstream, and — among the many concerns that come with that — there are certainly troubling implications for religious freedom. 

Proposals to exclude entire faith groups from the United States or to enact additional barriers for entry or citizenship to people because of their religion violate our “first freedom” and need to be challenged and defeated. We founded this country with religious freedom as our first freedom, and it should be no surprise that that attracted people to our shores. Now we are living out that pluralism and not just in the context of religious liberty but in many other areas of our society. It is a challenge, but we have the constitutional tools to deal with that pluralism.

Whether you are new to the Baptist Joint Committee, or are a longtime supporter, you will be glad you read the whole thing.