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Remembering James Dunn: Baptist Champion Of Religious Freedom

by Rob Boston

by Rob Boston

When I began working for Americans United in 1987, one thing confused me: Why were there so many Southern Baptists hanging around?

Southern Baptists were the enemy – or so I thought. After all, they were extremely conservative and always advocating things like school prayer amendments and anti-LGBT legislation.

Then, a diminutive man in a bow tie named James M. Dunn set me straight. Sure, some Southern Baptists – the fundamentalists – do those things, he explained, but lots of other Baptists are much more moderate and hew to a proud Baptist tradition of religious liberty for all undergirded by the separation of church and state.

James introduced me to great Baptist heroes like John Leland, Isaac Backus and Thomas Helwys. My work at Americans United was enriched because I had the privilege of knowing James Dunn.

Dr. Dunn, who died July 4 at age 83, served as executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) from 1981-99. During that period, he was in the thick of several church-state battles.

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