Our Story is Faithfully Free
By Lauren McDuffie
Nine months ago, the inaugural class of Baptist Joint Committee Fellows gathered in Williamsburg, Va., to embark on a brand new journey in the long and storied history of this organization.
The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty has existed for many years for the purpose of defending and extending religious liberty for all, and the Fellows program is the most recent extension of that purpose. We spent a week learning about the history of religious liberty as a Baptist principle and as a constitutional freedom, while walking the streets where much of that history took place.
For me, the BJC Fellows program has provided a new connection to the Baptist tradition in which I was raised, a tradition built on several fundamental freedoms, including religious liberty for all. While a commitment to protecting religious freedom developed among Baptists at a time when they were in need of that protection for themselves, it is perhaps even more important to know these stories and share them today, when being a Protestant Christian in the United States is simultaneously comfortable and incredibly complicated.
While it is certainly true that identifying ourselves as Christians in general or as Baptists in particular places us among a widespread, broadly respected majority, it is also true that the language of our faith is frequently tied into political conversations in complex ways. The concept of “religious liberty” is among the most prominent examples of this at the moment, with political candidates on both sides of the aisle claiming a commitment to this principle, while seeming to mean very different things by the reference.
In light of this, it seems even more important that we as Baptists cling to an understanding of religious liberty rooted not in a political party, but in faithful attention to the work of the Holy, who asks us to see the image of God in all people and to love as God has loved us.
Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, has coined a golden rule of church and state separation which states: “I cannot ask government to promote my religion if I don’t want government to promote somebody else’s religion; and I cannot permit government to hinder somebody else’s religion if I don’t want government to hinder my religion.”
In being true to our heritage, we uphold the need for religious freedom for all because we were once in need of that protection for ourselves, and we believe that this protection is necessitated when we recognize the image of God in our neighbors. Defending this freedom, for ourselves and for others, is a responsibility deeply rooted in our story as free and faithful Baptists.
Lauren McDuffie serves as a hospital chaplain in Memphis, Tenn and is a member of the Baptist Joint Committee Fellows Class of 2015.
- The Baptist Joint Committee offers resources to help churches learn about and advocate for religious liberty.
- Registration for the National Church Leadership Institute is now open. NCLI will help you develop skills to be the most effective church leader you can be. Whether you are a clergy or lay leader these tracks will provide a top-notch level of instruction, coaching, and take-aways for your leadership growth. Learn more and register here!
- Take a Hike is a free resource from Passport Inc., which calls students to examine their role as Christians in creation care.
- Registration for Faith in 3D is open! Faith in 3D invites youth from different Christian backgrounds to explore their common faith in Jesus Christ through worship, education, and community building.
 Walker, J. Brent, What a Touchy Subject! Religious Liberty and Church-State Separation, Macon, GA: Nurturing Faith, Inc., 2014, 25.