Howard Bess

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister who lives in Palmer.

The Baptist Joint Committee has been and is a very important not-for-profit agency for our national health. BJC is an organization totally dedicated to preserving the religious liberty of every American citizen. BJC argues cases in courts all across the nation and especially in Washington DC at the Supreme Court in order to insure that every American has the right to pursue his/her spiritual beliefs.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution makes two provisions about religion in our land. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof.” These words are commonly referred to as the “establishment” and the “free exercise” clauses. They are the basis of what Americans call “separation of church and state.”

BJC has issued a new warning to the nation. Christian Nationalism is on the rise.

Our founding fathers came from Europe where church and state had official connections. Even today governments in some countries financially support churches and particular faith groups enjoy privileged status. Our founding fathers wanted no part of such systems. The American solution was simple. The United States was to be a secular nation in which religion was practiced freely without any interference of the state. With First Amendment guidance and reinforcing legislation, religion in America has flourished. However, as BJC points out, this policy of separation has always had its challengers. The challengers’ reasoning is simple. Christianity is the majority faith in the U.S. Therefore, Christianity has privilege and power that is not held by smaller faith groups. This is the bed-rock assertion of Christian nationalism. The First Amendment sets a different standard.

In America there is to be no privileged religious group. There are to be no second class faiths. At the time of the adoption of our founding documents, Baptists were a tiny minority group. Baptists had suffered their full share of religious discrimination in England and Europe. They wanted an end to discrimination. Baptists wanted to be full participants in the public square but with no special privileges or restraints. They wanted that same privilege for all other religious people and for citizens who claimed no faith. Baptists and other minority religious groups have done very well under American style religious freedom. Separation of church and state has been good for both church and state.

It should be no surprise that the Baptist Joint Committee is speaking out at this time about the rise of the new Christian nationalism that is quite overt in its attacks on Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and other non-Christians. BJC is speaking out and are asking others to join them. They have drafted a document entitled “Christians Against Christian Nationalism.” They are asking others to join in the protest.

Following are parts of the document.

We believe that people of all faiths and those who have none have the right and responsibility to engage constructively in the public square.

We believe that patriotism does not require us to minimize our religious convictions.

We believe one’s religious affirmation, or lack thereof, should be irrelevant to one’s standing in the civic community.

We believe government should not prefer one religion over another or religion over nonreligion.

We believe religious instruction is best left to our houses of worship, other institutions and families.

We believe America’s historic commitment to religious pluralism enables faith communities to live in civic harmony with one another without sacrificing our theological convictions.

We believe conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion.

We believe we must stand up to and speak out against Christian nationalism, especially when it inspires acts of violence and intimidation….including vandalism, bomb threats, arson, hate crimes, and attacks on houses of worship….against religious communities at home and abroad.

As Christians we must speak in one voice concerning Christian nationalism as a distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy.

When Baptist Joint Committee first thought about speaking out about Christian nationalism, they thought the best approach was to make it an ecumenical effort. To the surprise of the leaders of BJC, some denominational organizations were hesitant to speak out and identify Christian nationalism as a distortion of Christianity itself. Amazingly they were hesitant to speak out for a founding principle of the nation in which we live.

When faced with dissent, the decision was made by BJC to author its own document and then invite others to become signers and endorsers of BJC’s alert to the entire nation. If you are interested in knowing more about BJC, go to their website. If you want to know more about “Christians Against Christian Nationalism” go to “ChristiansAgainstChristianNationalism.Org.”

I have become an endorser. The list of endorsers is now long, diverse, and growing. I trust that you will also become an endorser. Stay on your alert. Diversity has been the strength of our nation. May it ever be so.

The End

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska. His email address is hdbss@mtaonline.net. He is the pastor emeritus of Church of the Covenant in Palmer, an American Baptist congregation.

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