We called, and you answered. Thank you. As you have read in this magazine, the BJC has been leading the effort to organize the religious community in expressing our concerns about changing the tax law in ways that would put pressure on houses of worship to endorse candidates and otherwise involve themselves in partisan election activity. We helped create Faith-Voices.org, a platform for faith leaders, both clergy and laity, to add their names and say in their own words why changing the “Johnson Amendment” would negatively impact their communities.
To date, more than 4,000 pastors, priests, rabbis, imams, ministers, chaplains, lay leaders, deacons and Sunday school teachers have spoken out about how changing the tax law would damage their religious communities. You can hear directly from some of them:
“The pulpit must remain free and not sold to the highest political bidder.” —Dr. Danny Chisholm, Senior Pastor, University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri
“The separation between church and state is good for the church because it prevents further division within the Body of Christ. Pulpits are for preaching the Good News, not campaigning.”
—Rev. Dr. Todd Blake, Pastor, Madison Heights Baptist Church in Madison Heights, Virginia
“Opening wide the church’s doors to partisan politics and politicizing our houses of worship by repealing the Johnson Amendment is bad for religion and bad for our political process.” —Rev. Andrew Daugherty, Senior Pastor, Pine Street Church in Boulder, Colorado
“Pastors can already speak to the issues they care about from a biblical perspective without being joined at the hip with a particular candidate. Truth and justice are not limited to partisan politics and they transcend any political ideology.” —Rev. Dr. Timothy Tee Boddie, General Secretary, Progressive National Baptist Convention
“Maintaining our churches free of this type of political influence is essential to maintaining the religious liberty we enjoy.” —Jesse Rincones, Executive Director, Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas
My pastor, the Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell of First Baptist Church of Washington, D.C., said, “I can’t think of anything more divisive and toxic for houses of worship than to be co-opted or pressured by politicians seeking endorsements during campaign seasons.”
I am grateful for these leaders and the thousands of others who have joined this large and diverse choir in asking Congress to keep the law that protects the nonpartisanship of our houses of worship and other 501(c)(3) nonprofits. I hope you will add your voice to this effort at Faith-Voices.org and then share this opportunity with other faith leaders in your church and in your community. Changes to the “Johnson Amendment” are being considered this fall as Congress debates tax reform and heads toward a December deadline to fund the government for 2018. A strong response from the faith community will be critical to the effort to keep the law intact.
Our experience with Faith-Voices.org demonstrates that we all have a role to play in safeguarding religious freedom for all. We at the BJC will continue to call on you to be an advocate for our First Freedom in your communities on this and other issues in a variety of ways, whether that be contacting your member of Congress, writing a letter to the editor, speaking to your congregation or interfaith coalition, or sharing your experiences of standing up for religious freedom for all.
Our young advocates have led the way. You will read about the outstanding class of BJC Fellows we welcomed this summer and how they have been inspired to engage in our work. You also will read about the Religious Liberty Council’s high school essay contest, which engages students by asking them to research a religious liberty issue, analyze the arguments and express a point of view.
Yusra Ahmed of Quincy, Massachusetts defended religious liberty in her winning essay “Compassion Before Fear.” Yusra, a college freshman at the University of Chicago, is Muslim. She wrote in a personal way about some of her experiences being the target of religious intolerance and how government policy can perpetuate prejudice.
Speaking to the BJC Board of Directors during our annual meeting this fall, Yusra told us what she learned about Baptists as part of the writing process. She said that “actions speak louder than words,” and she talked about the significance of seeing others defend her rights. “I don’t think anything’s going to change unless we all band together, and seeing this solidarity and knowing that you’ve got our back is a great thing.”
I couldn’t agree more. I am grateful for Yusra’s response to our call, for our BJC Fellows and for the many ways you use your voice to provide this Baptist witness of religious freedom for all.