Friday, April 17, 2015

The Erosion of Religious Liberty

One of the most significant days in American history came and went a few weeks ago and hardly anyone noticed, including me.  

On January 16, 1786 Virginia adopted Thomas Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom, a document some say was as profound in its own way as the Declaration of Independence.  Yet, there's no national holiday to commemorate that event.  There are no parades down Main Street.  Religious liberty is something we've come to take for granted. 

Yet today religious liberty is in jeopardy. More than one out of every three people in the world lives in a place where religious freedom is fundamentally violated according to the Freedom in the World 2014 Report.  

The erosion of religious liberty so troubled Dr. Randel Everett that he resigned as pastor of First Baptist Church, Midland, Texas to become the co-founder and President of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. The purpose of the Wilberforce Initiative is to promote and protect religious liberty.  Since founding the Wilberforce Initiative Dr. Everett has traveled around the world speaking with governmental and religious leaders. The rise of ISIS, the declining freedom of speech and communication globally, and the sheer number of religious prisoners around the world pose a critical threat to all of us, Randel said.

I have asked Dr. Everett to come to Houston and to talk with UBA pastors about the erosion of religious liberty at home and abroad, to share with us what we need to know and know what we can do to protect this vital freedom.  Dr. Everett will be here Tuesday, May 5, from 10-11:30 am for the next in our Join the Conversation series.  I’ll interview Randel and there will be an opportunity for dialogue.

"The American tradition of religious liberty is one of our greatest strengths, one that will only grow in significance as the demographics and customs of our nation continue to shift,“ writes Jon Meacham.  We must work to protect it.

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In preparation for our conversation, you might find it helpful to visit the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative website.  There you can find materials like Dr. Jim Denison's article "The Islamic State: What You Need To Know."  Dr. Denison is a Senior Fellow with the Wilberforce Initiative.

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To stay informed and up to date on religious liberty and other issues important to the church, I'd also encourage you to visit the BGCT Christian Life Commission website, the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission website, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty website.  Today, for example, if you visit the BGCT CLC website you'll find an important and helpful article on preparing your church for same-sex marriage ruling.  All three websites deal with moral and ethical issues from a Christian perspective though they may not all approach the issues the same way.  I find it helpful to peruse all three websites precisely because they do not all always say the same thing.  Doing so broadens my own understanding and perspective of the issues.

Register now and make your plans to join us Tuesday, May 5, from 10-11:30 am at the UBA office.

PS:  Enjoy our website on your smart phone.  We've redesigned it to be responsive and easy to navigate whether you are using a computer, a tablet or a smart phone.

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