By Bob Allen
Brent Walker announced plans Oct. 5 to retire at the end of 2016 as executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based organization founded in 1936 serving 15 Baptist bodies in the United States.
Walker, 65, was elected as the agency’s fifth chief executive in 1999. He succeeded James Dunn, who held the post 18 years.
Walker joined the BJC staff in 1989 as associate general counsel and was named general counsel 1993. Next year marks his 27th year with the organization, making him the longest-serving staff member in the BJC’s nearly 80-year history.
“It has been a privilege to serve the cause of religious liberty through an organization as respected as the Baptist Joint Committee,” Walker said in a press release. “Just as I discerned an undeniable spiritual calling to perform this ministry, I sense that it is time to turn the reins over to someone else.”
An ordained minister and a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar, Walker was a partner in the Tampa, Fla.-based law firm of Carlton, Fields, Ward, Emmanuel, Smith & Cutler, P.A., before entering Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in 1986. He graduated in 1989 with the master of divinity degree and was named the most outstanding graduate.
While in seminary he was pastor of Richland Baptist Church in Falmouth, Ky.
Walker is a graduate of Stetson University College of Law and also holds a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Florida.
Highlights of his career include working to pass the landmark Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993 and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000, changing the agency’s name from “Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs” to “Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty” in 2005 and opening of the Center for Religious Liberty on Capitol Hill in 2012.
Walker announced his retirement plans Oct. 5 at a meeting of the Baptist Joint Committee board of directors. A search committee will be formed to recommend his replacement.
— With reporting by Cherilyn Crowe of the Baptist Joint Committee.