On Monday and Tuesday of this week, I had the honor to travel to Washington, DC as part of my work on the board of directors for the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, or BJC for short. I was there to represent you and other CBF Baptists from North Carolina in this shared work of defending and extending religious liberty for all. Over the course of about 36 hours, we learned of the dynamic work that BJC is doing for all people, the fierce and fair watchdogs for the separation of church and state. In fact, I learned that BJC is the only faith-based organization who works in Washington with this singular focus, enabling them to be a leading voice across all three branches of government on matters outlined in the first 16 words of the First Amendment: “Congress Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Our work on Tuesday took us to Capitol Hill, where, in the midst of the unusual hub of activity, we criss-crossed from House office buildings to Senate ones, meeting in groups with our elected officials throughout the day. The purpose of these visits was twofold: we introduced them to BJC and their work on issues of religious liberty, and we made them aware of House Resolution 512, a bipartisan bill calling for a global repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws. We learned that blasphemy laws seek to punish those who insult, offend, demean or denigrate religion with fines, imprisonment or even the death penalty. Joining with other organizations from all sides, BJC is seeking to encourage our lawmakers to take the lead in championing religious liberty for our brothers and sisters around the world. Such a vital witness!

I was a bit embarrassed to realize that I’d never done this type of work before! I’ve called elected officials before to let them know how I felt about this or that, I’ve engaged in the political process with research, voting, and voter registration, but I had not yet sat with my congressperson or one of their staff to speak on behalf of others to advocate for something I believed to be right and true. Despite my initial nerves that I’d misspeak or mess up, I found the exercise to renew something in me that arose from some of the best traditions I claim. I channeled our earliest Baptist freedom fighters like Roger Williams and John Leland, remembered the fierce women whose advocacy has made it possible for me to do such work, and gave thanks for the courage of those whose limited rights made their fight for them all the harder. And despite all the hubbub, it became a sacred experience. 

Reflecting on the construction of the Capitol building, one lawmaker said to our group: “this building, like our democracy, is always a work in progress.” I couldn’t help but see the symmetry to our faith — individually and communally — “always a work in progress.” Grateful to labor together in love for the cause of freedom, especially the freedom in Christ that sets us free!

Together in the work of Love,
Pastor Emily

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