By Robert Dilday / The Associated Baptist Press
This is an abbreviated version of the story. For the full article, click here.

Charles Watson Jr. is a Baptist-endorsed chaplain. But at 33 he’s found what’s likely to be a lifelong passion — advocating for religious liberty. As education and outreach specialist for the Washingtonbased Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Georgia native aims to expand the base of support for religious liberty and engage the next generation of advocates.

What led to your focus on religious liberty issues?

My interest developed in the past four years from a simple concept to a guiding passion. While I have always had a basic belief and understanding that people should be free to practice their faith as they pleased without influence from the government, my journey to comprehend the depth of the need for religious liberty and the Baptist history of protecting it began during my studies at McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University …

What’s the biggest challenge in getting younger people engaged in advocating for religious liberty — or even understanding it? Is there a particular characteristic of the Millennial generation that offers a launching pad for their greater engagement in religious liberty advocacy?

Honestly, the biggest challenge can be the perception of religion in general. Instead of seeing it as a loving community that accepts, many in the younger generation associate religion with discrimination more than community. It does bring a smile to my face when I encounter someone from a college or university that we visit — or a student visiting our Center for Religious Liberty on Capitol Hill — who is pleasantly surprised to find out that a Baptist organization advocates for the rights of Muslims, Hindus, atheists and others …

Are there factors unique to the African-American experience in this country which both bring specific insights which strengthen religious liberty and also might pose challenges in increasing engagement within that community? 

I could never speak for an entire group of people; I can only speak as an individual in that community. When religion is used to justify discrimination — or take away the rights of a group of people — the issue touches close to home. Religion and the government have been double-edged swords for African Americans in this country. Both have been the source of great victories for the community; however, they have both been used to oppress and demoralize the same community. That history motivates me to stand up for the spiritual beliefs of others so their prophetic voices can be heard. It is never far from my mind that Mahatma Gandhi, a devout Hindu, influenced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s spiritual concept of nonviolence to combat oppression in America. To me, that alone should be great motivation for the African-American community to see the value of protecting religious liberty for all.

Click here to read the entire article on the Associated Baptist Press website.