WASHINGTON —J. Brent Walker will retire at the end of 2016 as executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, a Washington, D.C.-based organization committed to upholding the historic Baptist principle of religious liberty for all people.
Walker announced his plans today at the meeting of the Baptist Joint Committee Board of Directors, comprised of representatives of the BJC’s 15 supporting member bodies. A search committee will be formed to recommend a candidate to be the next leader of the religious liberty agency.
“It has been a privilege to serve the cause of religious liberty through an organization as respected as the Baptist Joint Committee,” Walker said. “Just as I discerned an undeniable spiritual calling to perform this ministry, I sense that it is time to turn the reins over to someone else.”
Walker is an ordained minister and a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar. He first joined the BJC staff in 1989 as associate general counsel. In 1993, he was named general counsel and, upon the retirement of Executive Director James Dunn in 1999, Walker was called to be the agency’s fifth executive director. He is the longest-serving staff member in the almost 80-year history of the BJC – 2016 will mark his 27th year with the organization.
Walker’s legacy at the BJC includes working to pass the landmark Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993 and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000, standing against efforts to amend the First Amendment in the late 1990s, opposing government-sponsored displays of Ten Commandments monuments in the mid-2000s, and speaking out against the targeting of individuals based on religion during heightened Islamophobia in the early 2010s. Walker speaks in churches, educational institutions and denominational gatherings and provides commentary on church-state issues in the national media.
His tenure also includes an emphasis on education as well as advocacy in the courts and Congress, the change in the agency’s name from “Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs” to “Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty” in 2005, and the opening of the Center for Religious Liberty on Capitol Hill in 2012.
Before joining the BJC staff, Walker was a partner in the law firm of Carlton Fields in Tampa, Florida. He left in 1986 to enter Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he earned a Master of Divinity degree in 1989 and was named the most outstanding graduate. Walker pastored the Richland Baptist Church in Falmouth, Kentucky, while in seminary.
“With a clear mission, strong staff and needed voice in the public square, I am confident the BJC is poised to soar to new heights as it enters its ninth decade,” Walker said.
The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty is a 79-year-old, Washington, D.C.-based religious liberty organization that works to defend and extend God-given religious liberty for all, bringing a uniquely Baptist witness to the principle that religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced nor inhibited by government.