Last week I heard someone suggest that Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty has moved to the left politically and abandoned its historic Baptist tradition. There’s an agricultural word to describe the fallacy of that argument, but I won’t use it in this publication.
The idea is that our beloved religious liberty watchdog in Washington, D.C., has somehow been captured by a “woke” agenda because of its emphasis on calling out and opposing Christian nationalism.
Here’s the real truth: The only people who think that’s the case are Christian nationalists who don’t want to admit they’re Christian nationalists.
And here’s a second truth: Christian nationalism is the greatest single threat to our faith and our democracy that I have witnessed in my lifetime.
BJC is right on target in helping us understand this, and they are remaining true to the mission they’ve always had. If J.M. Dawson, Emanuel Carlson, James Wood, James Dunn or Brent Walker were still at the helm, I have little doubt they also would be leading the charge against Christian nationalism today just as Amanda Tyler is doing.
Christian nationalism is a clear and present danger to religious liberty because it is based on the belief that a certain brand of evangelical Christianity is so closely associated with the nation’s founding principles that it should enjoy rights and privileges not afforded to people of other faiths or no faith at all. It is the belief that conservative evangelical morality should be enshrined as law and forced upon all our nation’s diverse citizens.
“Christian nationalism is the belief that conservative evangelical morality should be enshrined as law and forced upon all our nation’s diverse citizens.”
And as we now see with absolute clarity, Christian nationalists will go to any lengths — even abandoning their much-touted morality and principles — to achieve the control they so desperately crave. This is how they rationalize supporting the most deranged and narcissistic president in American history who has done more damage to democracy and religious liberty than any outside invader ever has. It is about control. Their desire to control.
BJC’s entire mission is about ensuring no religious group — whether majority or minority — gets control of the nation. That is the true meaning of religious liberty.
But Christian nationalists have redefined religious liberty to be less than half of what it really means. They focus only on the freedom of religious practice part — as it relates to their preferred religious practice only — while ignoring the Constitutional prohibition on establishing one religion over others.
Despite the dangers of this approach, not all Christian nationalists are dastardly evil people. Many of them are otherwise warm-hearted Christians who are engaged in evangelism and social ministries and worship and Bible study and all the things the Christian church has been known for. Some of them are pastors and leaders of state Baptist conventions. Some of them are Methodists and Presbyterians and Episcopalians and Catholics.
This is part of what makes Christian nationalism so insidiously dangerous. It is being carried and spread like a virus by otherwise good Christian people who don’t understand they are infected with heresy.
“It is being carried and spread like a virus by otherwise good Christian people who don’t understand they are infected with heresy.”
Baptists of all people should understand this. Our forebears were persecuted — truly persecuted, not just inconvenienced — and jailed and beaten and martyred for their religious beliefs, which were a minority among the colonial leadership. Yet they stayed true to their demands for religious liberty for all people, not just for themselves.
This is the same message BJC declares loudly today — and it has not changed from the beginning. If BJC appears to you to have moved to the left, maybe the one who has moved is you.
I’m reminded of my first train ride as a child. My parents put me on an Amtrak train in Oklahoma City to go visit my aunt and uncle and cousins in Austin. Sitting by the window in the train, I looked out to watch the train on the adjoining track when suddenly I noticed movement. The other train was leaving the station. Or so I thought. Until it finally became obvious from the clear vistas out both sides of our train that we were the ones who had left the station.
What I assumed to be movement by the other train was instead the movement of our train, but because I was on the moving train I couldn’t tell the difference. This is the same misconception afflicting many good Christian people today who have been conditioned by talking heads and political opportunists to believe they are standing firm when, in fact, they are moving ever more rightward.
Checked against the markers of history, BJC has not moved. Anyone who says otherwise needs to look out the window and see where they’re headed.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global.