The Southern Baptist Convention hasn't always been very welcoming to Catholics. But, sometimes there are circumstances that draw us closer together. The attacks on religious freedom are certainly one to do that.
At its Annual Meeting in New Orleans last week, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution on Religious Liberty.
Representing about 45,000 individual churches with 16 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention is a voluntary organization whose members agree on a statement of beliefs. Almost 8,000 “messengers,” or church representatives, attended the Annual Meeting. The SBC made history this year by electing its first African-American President, Rev. Fred Luter, Jr. It also made history by, for the first time, directing its members to work with Catholics in the fight to preserve religious liberty.
“Our religious freedom is under attack,” says Dr. Richard Land, who heads the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Former Vice President for Academic Affairs at The Criswell College, where he taught Theology and Church History, Dr. Land has worked with then-Texas Governor William Clements, Jr., and former President George W. Bush on church-state issues, and served five terms with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. He is the author of The Divided States of America: What Liberals and Conservatives Get Wrong About Faith and Politics, and numerous other books about religion and public policy.
Calling the HHS Rule mandating that all insurance policies cover contraception, sterilization, and “morning after” abortifacient drugs the latest in “a disturbing pattern” of actions encroaching on religious liberty, Dr. Land has worked with New York’s Cardinal Dolan and Baltimore’s Archbishop Lori on religious liberty issues. Last month his commission organized a day-long event on the issue for Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox, Jewish, Mormon, and other religious leaders.
“We took an unprecedented action at the convention this year,” Dr. Land explains. “Our booth is one of the most popular — we probably had six or seven thousand people stop by. We passed out information about how to get on the USCCB web site and how to adapt what they have for the Fortnight for Freedom for Southern Baptists.”
Although relations between Southern Baptists and Catholics have not always been cordial, Dr. Land says the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission received no complaints about the suggestion to visit the USCCB site, and the resolution passed “overwhelmingly.”
“We stand with the bishops on this,” he says. “The United States government is attempting to make people do what they believe is unconscionable. For Catholics, it’s contraception. For Southern Baptists, it’s abortifacients. We find it utterly unacceptable.”