SOUTHERN BAPTIST HISTORY
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.
The history of the Southern
Baptists is quite a story in itself. It has certainly become the religious
community of the South. One historian has stated that "the Baptist
presence" has so dominated "Southern mainstream Protestantism
for more than a century, to such an extent that in some circles critics
cavalierly refer to Dixie as the region 'where there are more Baptists
Southern Baptists were at one time a minority
in the region. A few short generations ago this denomination in the
South did not see themselves as a productive body.
About 1861, the Baptist organization came
to be identified with the South, and became the dominant religious denomination
within this region. During this time, the Southern Baptist Convention
was held in Savannah, Georgia, where the delegates clearly identified
themselves with secession and everything Southern. They defended the
right of the South to secede, pledged themselves to the Confederacy,
and submitted the phrase "Southern States of North America"
in the Southern Baptist constitution where it had formerly said "United
States." It was during the Civil War, and the period of Reconstruction,
that Baptists living in the South became Southern Baptists.
The Southern Baptist Convention was formed
in 1845, but it was not until this denomination underwent a "baptism
in blood" during the Great War that their identity became clear.
It was during this period that the denomination became deeply involved
in the anti-Yankee force. In the post-war period, Southern Baptists
participated deeply in the custom and experiences of the emerging Southern
Prior to the Civil War, Southern Baptist
life revolved around four major centers. Charleston was the central
point of those Southern Baptists who chose to put importance on a regular
and orderly worship. Sandy Creek, North Carolina evolved to be the focal
point for those Baptists who were deemed separate and revivalistic.
Georgia was the center for Landmark and Primitive Baptists. In Texas,
Baptists tended to be larger than life.
These centers were the hub of the Southern
Baptists organization where conflicts concerning the content of doctrine
and influence of philosophy were quarreled over. The identity of "Southern"
was foremost in the equality of belief and practice.
With the Civil War raging on, Southern
Baptist leaders grew more concerned that they might lose their independent
identity. This issue centered around the goals of "evangelism and
Emphasis was given first priority on their
division from the North. All this happened during the face of defeat
at the hands of the Union army. The South decided that if it did not
have a separate identity from the North, then its goal was to have a
cultural one. Logic in the Southern minds was the North had won the
battle, but the South
could win over the hearts and attitude of its people.
The Southern Baptists quickly seized upon
this situation and enthusiastically struggled together to remain strictly
Southern. The denomination ultimately played a role in shaping the existing
attitude in the region during the last three decades on the 19th Century.
In 1872, Baptists refused to include black
members in their official numbers, and were still passing declarations
concerning slavery as late as 1892. Southern Baptists were so concerned
as to their identity that they were unwilling to do anything that might
upset their existing Southern policy.
The Southern Baptist denomination deliberately
set out to be centrally based, in which they would assume leadership
in all their caring traits that anyone might be anxious to support.
Due to this policy, Southern Baptists enjoyed extraordinary growth during
the 35 years between the Civil War and the turn of the century. The
organization also accumulated great monetary value through income, property
values, and cultural influence.
By the beginning of the 20th Century,
Southern Baptists had enveloped the region. The denominations rapid
growth, and its dominance of regional religious life, typified the culture
more accurately than any other institution.
During this period, the Southern Baptist
Convention expanded its efforts establishing a press to publish Sunday
School materials. It also strengthened its role in its colleges and
developed a foreign missionary venture.
Simply summarizing the situation, it was
the Southern Baptists who came to characterize and shape Southern society.
They never expressed any serious or extensive interest in rejoining
their religious cohorts in the North. They had little to do with other
denominations even in the South. The organization lived unto itself,
and set out to be faithful to its own standards and ideas.
The denomination has since spread beyond
the Bible belt. The focus on the idea that the South should forever
be dominated by the Southern Baptists organization has since vanished.
The Convention has grown and spread beyond Dixie