Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Baptist Joint Committee I

In its sessions at Houghton College last week, the SDB General Conference decided, in perhaps the only real controversy of the week, to vote next year on whether to withdraw denominational membership from the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

We should do so.

The BJC was founded in 1936 to represent Baptists on matters regarding religious freedom and the separation of church and state. The Seventh Day Baptist General Conference was one of the founding denominations and its representatives have sometimes played an important role in the organization. People who worship on the seventh day do have an interest in religious liberty and the BJC has acted on our behalf, both lobbying and bringing lawsuits, in situations that might have affected our freedom to observe the Sabbath. Nevertheless, Seventh Day Baptists should disaffiliate.

We learned at Conference last week that the Board of Directors of the BJC, on which representatives of its member denominations sit, meets only once a year, and seldom votes to determine the position the BJC takes on issues in Congress or the courts. That means, by default, the BJC staff must make those decisions, either on their own or in accord with their interpretation of the purposes of the organization. Since there seems to be little vocal dissent from the Board one assumes that most of its members agree with the staff. [The BJC Board had 42 members in 2005-2006, 28 represented Baptist denominations or parts of denominations (Kevin Butler was the SDB representative) of which six were from the American Baptists, 13 members represented something called the Religious Liberty Council” which seems to represent individuals who support the BJC, and one represented the Alliance of Baptists, an organization that has achieved some notoriety by traveling to Cuba and opposing the embargo on that country.] Even before the Southern Baptists withdrew their membership from BJC in the early '90s the organization was dominated by its more politically liberal members.

The inclinations of the staff [and perhaps the Board] can be discerned by looking at some of the positions they have taken. They seem to be committed to a doctrinaire concept of a "wall of separation" between church and state that isn't justified by either Constitutional or Baptist history. They lobby against educational vouchers when parents choose to use them for religiously affiliated schools. They have also brought suit to prevent voucher programs. They have initiated lawsuits to eliminate the presence on public property of representations of the Ten Commandments arguing that they are an "establishment of religion." They seem to believe that voluntary prayer at school functions like graduation seriously threatens religious liberty. The BJC opposes the direct involvement of churches in political campaigns - or at least church involvement on behalf of conservative candidates.

I'll have more to say later about other BJC positions on issues and about their staff.

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