By J. Brent Walker, BJC Executive Director
I eagerly anticipate the Baptist Joint Committee’s board meeting each October. In fact, the whole staff does because we draw such energy and encouragement through our interaction with this talented and involved group representing the BJC’s 15 member bodies. Our board reflects the jointly held commitment of these bodies, and provides a crucial connection to churches and individuals for whom religious liberty is among the most cherished values in need of protection. At the meeting, we review the activities of the past year and prepare for the challenges of the next year.
This year, however, the board meeting also marked a renewal of the BJC in many ways as we celebrated the opening of the Center for Religious Liberty.
Emphasizing the need for a more visible presence on Capitol Hill and expanded and improved work facilities, the journey to establish this Center began in earnest in the fall of 2005 at the board meeting. The board celebrated the Center’s completion and opening at its meeting on Oct. 1. Thanks to all — the BJC’s staff, campaign steering committee, architect, contractors and donors — who worked so hard during the past seven years to bring this vision into fruition.
The BJC’s mission to defend and extend religious liberty for all — through litigation, legislation and education — will be advanced by this great leap forward. With a 50 percent expansion in office space and a beautiful conference suite overlooking the U.S. Supreme Court building and the U.S. Capitol, we will be able to accommodate larger and more frequent groups from churches, colleges and seminaries, and, with our new state-of-the-art communications technology, we can educate many more. With an enhanced focus on education, we will continue to provide new and improved resources and literature — in printed form and online.
For me, two features of the Center are worthy of particular notice. Arriving at the Center, you will notice a four-foot wide soffit protruding from the ceiling bisecting the Center diagonally from northeast to southwest. The Center’s design and capacious vistas through open space and glass allow the eye to follow the soffit out from the southwest corner of the building in the direction of the Supreme Court and the Capitol dome. I think of this imaginative design feature as a visible reminder of our mission — as if it were a prophetic arrow perennially directed at the target of the Court and the Congress and beyond to Baptist life and the culture at large.
The other feature is the donors’ wall constructed of 202 tiles of various widths and thicknesses in six different shades of blue and five panels. The tiles and panels bear the names of our more than 670 friends who financially supported the vision for the Center, and the wall is a monument to the staff’s gratitude to you for making the Center a reality. I hope and pray someday you will be able to visit us. The Center, as significant a development at the BJC as it is, though, cannot be permitted to become an icon. It is instrumental — simply a means to the end of holding up the jewel of religious liberty for all and fighting to uphold the separation of church and state as its constitutional corollary.
Let me urge those of you who did not give to the Center (and, of course, those who did) to continue to give regularly to the BJC so we can fund the staffing and programming needed to fully implement the promise of the Center. We are on the cusp of a new era in the 76th year of the BJC. Indeed, it is an exciting time for all of us.