The representatives of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs approved alterations to the national organization’s name, during a Sept 27 annual meeting in Washington D.C. The representatives unanimously voted to change the name to the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) to better reflect the role of the organization.
"'Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs' is a relic from the old days when there was possibly more of a public-affairs mission [for the organization]," David Massengill, chair of the BJC's bylaw revision committee, said as he recommended the change.
The new name change would better express the role of the Washington-based advocacy group. The BJC, an extension of some 14 regional and national Baptist bodies, deals strictly with legal and legislative issues regarding the First Amendment’s clauses on religion. Specifically, the BJC advocates for religious freedom and church-state separation, to prevent bans on both government establishment of religion and government infringement on religious exercise.
Massengill explained that since the BJC does not deal with other social and public-affair issues, the group’s name should be rightfully changed.
The BJC will now revise the group's incorporation documents, as well as its bylaws, to bring the documents better into line with District of Columbia law for non-profit corporations.
Meanwhile, during the meeting’s keynote message, Jim Baucom told the representatives that the BJC should focus on understanding what it means to separate church and state. Baucom said that without understanding church-state separation, religious freedom cannot be fully attained.
"It is religious freedom that we need to begin preaching, not church-state separation…. It is the job of our forebears that we need to begin doing again," Baucom said. "This is what Baptist life is all about -- that we believe that we have a God that we love because we choose to love him, not because we are coerced to love him. And any union between church and state leads to coercion."
In other business, the board voted to enter a 2-year fundraising campaign that will culminate at the 70th anniversary of the group’s founding. The funds will be used to build, buy or lease a religious-freedom center in Washington, that will serve as the BJC’s office as well as meeting space for educational and lobbying efforts.
The board also approved a 2005 budget of $1,096,100, representing a $33,000 increase over BJC's 2004 budget.
The BJC is a cooperative venture by 14 Baptist bodies, namely: the Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Baptist General Association of Virginia, Baptist General Conference, Baptist General Convention of Texas, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, National Baptist Convention of America, National Baptist Convention U.S.A., National Missionary Baptist Convention, North American Baptist Conference, North Carolina Baptist Convention, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Religious Liberty Council, and the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference.