Monday, January 1, 2007

Seventh Day Baptists and the BJC

I am one of several Seventh Day Baptists who have been asked to contribute a paper for or against withdrawal of the General Conference from membership in the Baptist Joint Committee. Those position papers and related information will be mailed to the churches early in 2007. The vote will take place during the General Conference sessions at the end of July and will be a "vote by churches."

What follows is my contribution to the debate. I would be happy to publish other Seventh Day Baptist points of view.
An argument for non-affiliation with the Baptist Joint Committee.

The Seventh Day Baptist General Conference is a member of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. I believe it is time to end the relationship.

The purposes of the BJC are unexceptionable - we all support religious liberty and the separation of church and state. But agreement on those principles doesn’t settle the issue. Does “separation of church and state,” for instance, mean a “wall of separation” or something less absolute which still protects churches from government interference?

Membership in any organization, the purpose of which is to lobby legislators and to bring litigation in the courts, carries certain implications. When the representatives of the BJC introduce themselves at the beginning of their testimony, they indicate that they represent “fourteen Baptist bodies,” of which we are one. Do they, in fact, represent the views of Seventh Day Baptists?

For instance, in its actions and publications, the BJC:
  • opposes most “faith-based” government initiatives.
  • opposes school voucher programs if schools that offer religious instruction are included.
  • opposes display of the Ten Commandments on public property, contending that it represents a government “endorsement” of religion.
  • is critical of governmental acknowledgment of God’s authority – for instance the “under God” phrase in the Pledge – as “civil religion.”
  • expresses constant worry about the [alleged] malign influence of the “religious right.”
  • opposes voluntary prisoner rehabilitation programs that incorporate religion as a motivation.
The BJC also does many good things, frequently in association with groups that would not agree with any of these items. The BJC has no monopoly on concern about religious liberty – more conservative groups also fight for the free exercise of religion. There are, of course, groups that are more radical “wall of separation” advocates than the BJC, for example American United for Separation of Church and State, a group which has benefited from the services of several former and current BJC staff members.

A clear sense of the BJC staff can be found by examining their website,, - especially by reading the columns written by Executive Director Brent Walker and General Counsel K. Hollyn Hollman. The things they choose to comment on in their blog are also instructive.

The Board of Directors of the BJC on which our representative sits, meets only once a year and seldom, if ever, actually votes to determine the position the BJC takes. If the Board doesn’t decide, then, by default, the BJC staff must make those decisions. It is my contention that the BJC staff has adopted a hard-line “wall of separation” doctrine which has led them to take positions most Seventh Day Baptists would consider extreme.

It may be argued that withdrawal from the Baptist Joint Committee will damage our relations with other Baptists, harm our ecumenical efforts, and reduce our visibility in the Christian community. No doubt participation in the meetings of the BJC has been rewarding for those who have had the opportunity to attend and to meet and interact with those who were there. However it is unlikely the impact of our participation has been any greater or gone any further than that. On the other hand, our association with that group does identify us, for those who care, with the positions taken by the BJC and with a position in the religious/theological spectrum no longer [if ever] characteristic of Seventh Day Baptists.

We should withdraw from the Baptist Joint Committee.
Additional posts on the BJC and related issues can be found here.

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