Moving faith freedom forward: Our next chapter

by | Jul 16, 2021

This summer, we at BJC celebrated Fierce Freedom with a virtual program broadcast live on June 18. We didn’t read from the same script or speak from the same location. We bore witness to how there is no “one” way to talk about religious freedom. Instead, what it means to be free is intensely personal to our experience. We reveled in our diverse experiences and perspectives, and we were inspired by how fiercely all of us live out our freedom.

And as we celebrate and reflect on Baptist Joint Committee’s 85 years of advocating for faith freedom for all, we confess and acknowledge that our table has not always been an inclusive place where everyone has been welcomed or made to feel at home. Nor do we claim that one program or a year’s intentional focus can include every perspective. The call for inclusion is a continuous process and orientation — it’s not a destination that we have reached.

Fierce Freedom is a part of a larger effort that we at BJC have undertaken to tell this bold truth: religious freedom has been white too long. We are exploring how our American conceptions of religious freedom have been limited by an understanding that centers the white experience to the exclusion of others. For much more on this topic from four scholars, I highly recommend this year’s Walter B. and Kay W. Shurden Lectures on Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State (see pages 14-17 of our summer 2021 Report from the Capital).

BJC is marking our 85th anniversary by moving faith freedom forward. We sense that 2021 is a pivotal moment in our world and in our work. The past 15 months of global health pandemic and global activism to address racism and structural inequalities have changed us all. We cannot — we will not — return to a former way of doing things.

How important it is — right now, in this fragile and fleeting time — to protect freedom and to do it fiercely. Our advocacy — in Congress, in the courts, in the streets, on social media, in our houses of worship and community gathering places — must change with our times.

What changes do we want to bring about? How can we expand our understanding of faith freedom, decentering the white experience and making space for all perspectives so we can strengthen our understanding of and advocacy for faith freedom? How do we reimagine our mission at the intersection of religious freedom and racial justice? How do we expand our circle of supporters and of influence as we dismantle the myth of the United States as a so-called “Christian nation” and in its place cultivate a faith freedom nation?

These are the questions that are animating our work and our vision as we celebrate our 85th anniversary and anticipate what BJC will be when we celebrate our centennial in 2036. My dream is that our organization will be more inclusive, our understanding of faith freedom will be more expansive, and our circle will be wider than it is today. And we want you to be a part of our BJC community as we explore these topics and learn from one another to even more fiercely advocate for freedom in the years to come.

Will you join us on this exploration? This year, we are moving faith freedom forward as we have launched BJC’s Project on Race and Religious Freedom, with a goal of raising $85,000 to seed this work. You can celebrate our 85th year with a special gift of $85 this summer. Your donation allows us to engage with and learn from experts from diverse backgrounds. Your gift will help us create and produce materials and training for churches, educators and student groups. Your support will go to developing digital resources that you can share with people in your networks to discuss the intersection of race and religious freedom.

Moving faith freedom forward over these next 15 years will take all of us working together, drawing on our personal experiences, sharing our unique perspectives, and listening to and learning from each other as equals. I hope you will join us for this next phase of our shared life as BJC.

Amanda Tyler is executive director of BJC. Follow her on Twitter: @AmandaTylerBJC.

This column first appeared in the summer 2021 edition of Report from the Capital. You can read the entire magazine as a PDF or as a digital flip-through edition.