I was raised, baptized, and ordained in the American Baptist church, and people are sometimes startled to find me involved in interfaith work. The public face of Baptists, unfortunately, has become one of narrow intolerance, with a judgmental attitude and the goal of compelling this nation to identify with their particular form of Christianity.
That”s not our heritage, though. Baptists were at the forefront of the struggle for religious liberty in this country, and instrumental in securing those liberties in the Bill of Rights. I have always believed that my own involvement in interfaith relations is rooted deeply in my Baptist conviction that no one has a corner on the truth, that faith cannot be compelled, and that each individual is ultimately responsible for their own relationship to God, the divine, or the world.
So I was pleased to run across this comment by Walter Shurden, the Executive Editor of The Baptist Studies Bulletin, published by the Center for Baptist Studies at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia:
Christmas may be the best of opportunities for Christians to act Christianly toward persons of minority religions or no religion in the United States. Give yourself a very expensive Christmas gift during this season. Paste the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States to your computer and read it daily: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Those are forty-five very expensive words.
Shurden”s editorial is written in response to those who object to newly-elected Congressman Keith Ellison”s intention to swear the oath of office on a copy of the Qur’an; I encourage you to read it. But whether you do or not, I invite you to join me in giving thanks for the hard-won gift of religious freedom. Forty-five expensive words, that still demand our commitment, our vigilance, and our willingness to defend the rights of all to exercise their religious commitments freely.
- Baptist Studies Bulletin (December 2006)