J. Brent Walker, Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty
Text: Gen. 1:26-27; Gal. 5:1; Acts 4:18-20
This year we celebrate our 400th year of being Baptists -since John Smyth baptized himself and then others in 1609. These proto-Baptists were in Amsterdam, Holland, having fled England to avoid religious persecution at the hand of King James I, the man whose name appears on some of your Bibles.
Despite our astonishing diversity and historical disagreements on other issues, Baptists from the beginning have always fought the fight for religious liberty. At our best, we have taken seriously the liberty for which Jesus himself broke the yoke of slavery and set us free. This was our birthright in 1609, our battle cry today in 2009, and I pray, our legacy four centuries from now in 2409.
From jail cells in England, to stockades in Massachusetts Bay, to whipping posts in Virginia, Baptists have suffered and paid the price for religious liberty. We must celebrate our Baptist heroes and retell their stories if our commitment to religious liberty is to remain passionate and vital for generations to come.