Barrett Duke, a VP at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, opened the conference last night with an address on whether religious freedom is a fundamental right given by God or a temporal right conferred by culture. Among Baptists in any generation the answer to that question has a foregone conclusion. That religious liberty is a right given by God has been a Baptist conviction from the beginning.
What was new in Duke's speech, in comparison to what was expressed at Southwestern Seminary in the 1970's and 80's, was frequent mention of the Vatican's 1965 Declaration on Religious Freedom and a little appreciation for its arguments for religious liberty based on natural law. In the 1970's and 80's what the Vatican said about religious liberty would have gotten little more than a passing mention, if that.
What was missing at Duke's speech was any kind of noticeable reaction among the students or audience to his assertion that "the" Baptist position on prayer in the public schools was in accord with the Supreme Court ruling in the 1960's. In the 1970's and 80's had a James Dunn or an Oliver Thomas or a Brent Walker said that on campus, he would have been challenged by fundamentalists from every corner of the room.
It was good to hear that, at least officially, Baptists may still not be supportive of Ernest Istook's constitutional prayer amendment. I wish the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission would make its position more widely known. It would certainly be news to Southern Baptists in the pulpits and pews in Oklahoma, Texas and elsewhere across the country.