President Obama announced plans May 11 to reappoint African-American Baptist leader William J. Shaw to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Shaw, immediate past president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., was appointed in June 2010 to the nine-member bipartisan panel charged with monitoring violations of religious freedom worldwide and making foreign policy recommendations based on their findings.
Pastor of White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia since 1956, Shaw served as president of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., from 1999 to 2009. He has also been a leader in the New Baptist Covenant, a movement to unite North American Baptists across racial and geographical lines that resulted in a mass meeting in Atlanta in 2008 and a series of regional gatherings linked by satellite television last fall.
With the recent departure of five commissioners, including Southern Baptist Convention official Richard Land, Shaw will be the panel’s lone Baptist. Along with Muslim law professor Azizah al Hibri and former GOP congressional counsel Ted van der Meid -- he is one of three sitting members with watchdog experience. Current chairman Leonard Leo, executive vice-president of the Federalist Society and a commission member since 2007, steps down at the end of his second term.
Created in 1998, the panel nearly lost funding last year but survived with a three-year extension after a Senate amendment imposed new term limits for commissioners, who are appointed by leadership of both parties in the House and Senate and the White House.
Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, was among commission members forced by the change to step down. Land was first appointed in 2001 by President Bush, reappointed in 2005 by then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), and then twice more in 2007 and 2010 by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
New appointees include former Democratic Congressman Sam Gejdenson, who is Jewish; human-rights activist Lantos Swett, a Mormon; Zuhdi Jasser, a Republican appointee who describes himself as a devout Muslim but is controversial for his views about political Islam and the threat of Sharia law; and Robert George, a Catholic scholar who with the late Chuck Colson and Southern Baptist historian Timothy George co-authored the Manhattan Declaration, a 2009 document that compares today’s culture warriors to Christians who opposed Hitler in Nazi Germany.
-- Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.