News Articles

Gulledge, ‘average pastor,’ receives ERLC’s religious liberty award

Griffin Gulledge (center), pastor of Madison (Ga.) Baptist Church, receives the John Leland Religious Liberty Award from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) Sunday (Oct. 24). Brent Leatherwood (right), the ERLC's acting president, presented the award. Jimmy Patterson, ERLC trustee from Georgia, also spoke at the ceremony. Photo by Carlotta White

MADISON, Ga. (BP) – Griffin Gulledge doesn’t think he did anything special to gain the John Leland Religious Liberty Award from the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He did what any Baptist can do, he said.

Gulledge, pastor of Madison (Ga.) Baptist Church, received the award – named after a Baptist pastor in Colonial America who was instrumental in helping secure religious freedom in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment – during a special ceremony Sunday night (Oct. 24) in this town about 60 miles east of Atlanta.

The ERLC’s trustees voted unanimously in September to honor Gulledge for his advocacy on behalf of the Uyghur people, primarily Muslims in northwest China who are the targets of a genocidal campaign by the Communist government. The trustees’ unanimous vote also approved Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., for the award.

Gulledge’s work to bring attention to the Uyghurs’ plight began with a lengthy Twitter thread in mid-July 2020 that went viral. It continued with his resolution, which was resoundingly adopted by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in June. That resolution condemned the Chinese Community Party’s (CCP) treatment of the Uyghurs and called for the U.S. government to take “concrete actions” to end the genocide. By passing Gulledge’s resolution, the SBC reportedly became the first Christian group to denounce China’s campaign against the Uyghurs as genocide.

He told Baptist Press Monday (Oct. 25) he feels “very unworthy” of the award, “because I feel like all I’ve done is raise my voice and speak out on the issue that matters because it’s the right thing to do and because these people need help. I’m a nobody, but these people need us. If I can do this, anybody in Baptist life can do this.

“Religious freedom is the bedrock of global evangelism. It opens the doors for us to go and share the Gospel. So if we just sit silently by thinking that encroaching communism and shutting down religious freedom isn’t going to affect us, we are deeply mistaken.

“And you don’t have to be somebody important to see that or say that. You can just be an average pastor, an average Southern Baptist, an average Christian, and that’s what I am.”

In presenting the award, ERLC acting President Brent Leatherwood said the commission has written President Biden and the United Nations in support of the Uyghurs as a result of the messengers’ adoption of the Gulledge-drafted resolution.

“[W]e are so thankful to Griffin for having the foresight to submit this resolution and putting the Southern Baptist Convention on the record for calling what is being perpetrated there … a genocide,” Leatherwood told the audience in Madison.

“When one pastor takes a stand and gets other pastors and messengers and this entire denomination around him, we get the privilege of carrying that message forward into the global public square.”

Gulledge said Sunday night after receiving the award, “It’s not just that persecution ends. It’s not just that [the Uyghurs’] suffering would be diminished. It’s not just that communism would fall. My hope for them is that they would know Christ.

“I am grateful for this award, but I would gladly trade it in to see the Uyghurs come to know Christ.”

As part of its oppressive practices, the CCP tracks Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region by means of a high-tech surveillance system that has obtained genetic data on many residents, according to reports. More than 1 million Uyghurs, and maybe as many as 3 million, have been detained in “re-education” camps, and forced labor by prisoners is common. Life in the camps can result in indoctrination, as well as rape, torture and coercive organ harvesting. Uyghur women are also at the mercy of a population-control program of forced abortions and sterilizations.

Then-Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced in January on the last full day of the Trump administration his determination that China is guilty of genocide against the Uyghurs. New Secretary of State Antony Blinken affirmed that designation after he took office under President Biden. According to a 1948 United Nations treaty, genocide is defined as murder and other acts with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

“[T]his is truly a modern-day Holocaust,” Gulledge told BP. “This is truly an affront to everything we believe about the inherent dignity of human beings.

“And this is a religious freedom crisis. The largest, most powerful communist government in the world can shut down religious freedom for 3 million people and put them in concentration camps and use advanced technology and face-tracking technology to track them all over the nation and hunt them down.”

He told BP he “was thrilled” by the adoption of the resolution he wrote. “Creating awareness and then creating permission for like-minded groups to really take action is what I was hoping for, and I think that’s happened. And I’ve been pleased with the response.”

Gulledge urged Southern Baptists to call their U.S. senators and representatives and otherwise advocate for the Uyghurs.

While he is grateful both the Trump and Biden administrations have designated China’s treatment of the Uyghurs as genocide, “we have to put actions behind our words,” Gulledge said. It appears the United States is not using some of the mechanisms it has to aid the Uyghurs, he said.

The ERLC is working for passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (S. 65), which would prohibit products made with forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region from being introduced into the U.S. market. The Senate approved the bill in July, but the House of Representatives has yet to vote on it in this congressional session.

Jimmy Patterson, an ERLC trustee and minister of biblical and theological research at First Baptist Church in Newnan, Ga., spoke at the presentation ceremony on Southern Baptist commitment to human dignity.