Best for the Church and Best for the State

By Durso, Pamela R. | Baptist History and Heritage, Summer-Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Best for the Church and Best for the State


Durso, Pamela R., Baptist History and Heritage


While putting together this issue of Baptist History and Heritage, I realized that it will be distributed in early November--at about the same time that Americans are going to the polls to elect a new president. In what has been an extremely long campaign period, organizations concerned about First Amendment issues have been confronted by numerous questions, especially with regard to the free exercise of religion and the establishment of religion clauses. In September, the Alliance of Defense Fund sought to recruit pastors to endorse political candidates from the pulpit. J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), called this effort "a misguided idea and brazen attempt to blend the worship of God with electoral politics." (1) Baptists, and indeed all Americans, are in need of education about the importance of' the First Amendment, and Baptists are indeed fortunate to have the BJC in Washington, D.C., providing a clear voice and a strong message about religious liberty and church-state separation.

Since 1936, the BJC has been working to protect and promote freedom, not just for Baptists but tot all people, and in those seventy-two years, the committee has had amazing leadership. Its first full-time director was J. M. Dawson, who served from 1946 to 1953. Dawson accepted this role at the age of sixty-seven, after a long pastoral ministry in Texas.

Three years after he retired as director of the BJC, Dawson wrote Baptists and the American Republic, in which provided a look back at the historical foundation on which he had built much of his life's work. Presenting an overview of the role Baptists played in making religious freedom a reality in the United States, Dawson concluded that religious freedom was an intentional gift from God, a gift that early Baptist leaders in America had recognized and fought to establish.

Before moving into the chapters on those early Baptists who contributed to religious freedom, Dawson set forth five concepts that the Joint Committee, as it was called then, sought to define and then to educate the public about:

(1) "Separation of church and state means separation on an official, organizational, legally contractual level. …

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