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Baptists and human rights.

Notoriously, Baptists, at times in their history, have violated basic human rights. Support for slavery, segregation, and racism prove the point. However, historic Baptist ideals reject all forms of human rights violations.

On January 12-15, 1976, I had the privilege of attending the National Bicentennial Convocation: Baptists and the American Experience in Washington, D.C. Subsequently, Judson Press published the book, Baptists and the American Experience (1976), edited by James E. Wood, Jr., executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs (now Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty), containing papers presented at the meeting. Titled "Baptists and Human Rights in the American Experience," part 2 of the book included five major papers on the topic.

In 1978, James Wood prepared an article for this journal titled "Baptist Thought and Human Rights." That article concluded with a paragraph worth repeating:
 There has never been a greater need than today for Baptists to
 demonstrate their genuine and unequivocal commitment to human rights
 and their profound concern for human values within the social and
 political structures of today's world. In this Baptists can claim to
 possess no special competence, no superior wisdom, and no ready-made
 formula for the implementation of a program of human rights, at home
 or abroad.... Meanwhile, impelled by a biblical faith, Baptists must
 not fail, now or in the future, to identify themselves with the
 cause of human rights for all persons everywhere. (1)

The Baptist World Alliance has done an excellent job of reminding Baptists over and over of the pivotal need to advance human rights. Four kinds of published resources illustrate that. First, the BWA coordinated nineteen Baptist World Congress meetings between 1905 and 2005. Published volumes of proceedings from those Congresses contain numerous papers, manifestos, declarations, and resolutions supporting human rights. They also present reports of the Human Rights Commission and provide information about persons who received BWA's annual Human Rights Award.

Second, four published volumes contain the papers prepared by and for the Study and Research Division of the BWA in 1986-2005. (2) These volumes contain 18 major papers presented by the Commission on Human Rights in 1986-2000 and by the Freedom and Justice Study Commission in 2000-2005.

Third, the BWA Human Rights Commission published in 1997 a 35-page booklet titled Baptists and Human Rights written by James E. Wood, Jr., professor of church-state studies at Baylor University. (3)

Fourth, in 1999, James Leo Garrett, Jr., distinguished professor of theology emeritus at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, served as editor-in-chief of an 88-page book titled We Baptists: Study and Research Division, Baptist World Alliance. The six chapters reflect the work of the six BWA study commissions. Chapter 6 is titled "Human Rights for All."

Where do Baptists stand today on human rights? First, we need to express deep gratitude for Baptists who sacrificed themselves in defending such rights. Second, we need to recognize, as the book We Baptists put it, that "the greatest problem related to human rights is the universal reluctance and failure to implement them." (4)

Charles W. Deweese

Executive Director-Treasurer

Baptist History and Heritage Society

(1.) Baptist History and Heritage, 13 (July 1978): 62.

(2.) The four volumes include: 1986-1990--william H. Brackney with Ruby J. Burke (eds.), Faith, Life, and Witness (Birmingham, AL: Samford University Press, 1990), 241-313; 1990-1995--William H. Brackney and L. A. (Tony) Cupit (eds.), Baptist Faith & Witness (Birmingham, AL: Samford University Press and McLean, VA: Baptist World Alliance, 1995), 104-34; 1995-2000--L.A. (Tony) Cupit (ed.), Baptist Faith and Witness (McLean, VA: Baptist World Alliance, 1999), 213-59; 2000-2005--L.A. (Tony) Cupit (ed.), Baptist Faith & Witness (Falls Church, VA: Baptist World Alliance, 2005), 166-215.

(3.) James E. Wood, Jr., Baptists and Human Rights (N.p.: BWA Human Rights Commission, 1997).

(4.) Ibid., 85.
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Author:Deweese, Charles W.
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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