Representative of Baptist Joint Committee Visits Gardner-Webb University

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BJC’s Hollman Challenges GWU Students to Defend Freedom and to Claim their Voice

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.— A leading Baptist voice for national religious liberty recently brought the issues of religious freedom and Election 2012 from the Capital to the Quad at Gardner-Webb University.

K. Hollyn Hollman is general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) in Washington, D.C., and she recently spent two days on campus at Gardner-Webb discussing the importance of religious freedom and political engagement with Gardner-Webb students.

As general counsel, Hollman monitors the church-state issues that arise before Congress, the courts, and administrative agencies, and provides legal analysis of those issues for Congress, the courts, various other agencies and institutions.  She contributes regularly to the BJC’s monthly publication “Report from the Capital,” and to leading publications like the Washington Post, and is a frequent guest with news media like National Public Radio, CNN, C-SPAN, and Fox News Channel.

In a special Life of the Scholar presentation at Gardner-Webb, Hollman analyzed the ways candidates typically “use” and sometimes “abuse” voters’ religious convictions along the campaign trail.  She thereby empowered students to interpret whether candidates’ appeals to religion are reasonable and appropriate in the light of the church-state distinction in America—a distinction she insists is imperative.

“It is understandable that many citizens want to elect candidates who share their values,” she said, “but we make a real mistake when we equate a political party or a candidate with our religious affiliation, or when we equate our governmental leaders with our God.”

Christians, she said, are dual citizens of two communities—their political community and the Kingdom of God—and they must not confuse the two.  “Those people we elect to lead our political community are responsible to all citizens without regard to religion, and that is as it should be,” Hollman said.  “We should be glad that there are people being raised in various religious traditions who are strong Americans and wonderful leaders for that political community.”

Hollman insisted that church-state separation does not mean Christians shouldn’t exercise their religious convictions when making political decisions.  “As Christians, we can ask our government officials the hard questions, and tell them what our values are,” she said.  “But we should also stand by our founders’ design of a government that does not equate political citizenship with our religious views, and be very careful that we guard that design.”

Hollman explained that the commitment to church-state separation is interwoven with the deepest roots of Baptist heritage.  “The pioneers of early Baptist life were people who had experienced firsthand the dangers of religious zeal when connected with the coercive powers of the State. They spent their lives fighting against that sort of religious persecution.  They knew that for religious conviction to be true and sincere, it must necessarily be free.”

She also pointed out theological reasons for Baptists’ commitment to religious freedom.  “Baptists believe that we were created freely in God’s image to enjoy relationship with Him.  We can only have true relationship, though, when our choice to pursue that relationship is free and not coerced.”

Ultimately, Hollman praised Gardner-Webb students’ desire to exercise their political voice, and challenged them to continue searching for ways to use their freedom and to channel their religious and political convictions into productive citizenship, regardless of their own party or creed.

“Freedom is scary,” she said.  “It takes a life’s work to figure out how to best use the freedom that we’re given.  But I hope you recognize and claim that freedom that you enjoy, the freedom that is the envy of the rest of the world, and that you will remember to balance your freedom with the sense of responsibility to love and serve one another.”

Located in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb University seeks a higher ground in higher education – one that embraces faith and intellectual freedom, balances conviction with compassion, and inspires in students a love of learning, service, and leadership.