Southern Religion

In the age of political correctness, another institution wants to run from its slave-holding past.  This time, it’s the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), saying it’s too identified with one region, and wants the denomination — already the largest Protestant denomination in the United States — to expand.  To do that, the religious organization wants to drop “Southern” from its title, and re-brand itself with an all new name, despite the issue needing to pass two consecutive annual  conventions, which it has failed to do on several occasions.

Indeed, such a split can be credited with the initial foundations of the SBC.

This maps shows the dominance of the Southern Baptist Convention across the South
This maps shows the dominance of the Southern Baptist Convention across the South

In 1814, Baptists unified under what eventually became known as the Triennial  Convention, basing itself in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Like today, by the mid-19th  Century, with many members coming from varying cultural and business  backgrounds, the controversial issues of the day were causing divides among members of the convention.

In the early days, Baptists were seen as radicals in the South.  They were, by and large, abolitionists, and railed against the slaveholders of the region, going so far as welcoming slaves among their congregations and accepting them as members of the clergy. Unlike today, Baptists struggled to find their place below the Mason-Dixon line, but it didn’t take long to rectify the problem.  Within the next generation, Baptists simply altered their position on slavery, began re-interpreting the Bible to support the practice, welcoming slaveholders — and not slaves — among their congregations, and opting to allow their ministers to own the black Americans they once counted among their equals.

When the Triennial Convention in partnerships with the Home Missions Society, a body founded to “give ministry to the unchurched and destitute,” disagreed with this practice, and began to  be seen as anti-Southern, the Southern members of the body understandably split, forming the Southern Baptist Convention, forever tying the institution to slavery and their duplicitous about-face on the issue — the very tie they now wish to avoid, despite issuing an apology at their  sesquicentennial in 1995.

Some have seen this move as a political ploy, similar to that of 1845, to boost the church’s declining numbers, and some, mostly inside the SBC, an organization who’s no stranger to controversial measures , see this as the conventions only means for survival in a world already critical of Southern Baptists as beign out-of-touch.  In some ways, the convention is ready to bow to the political left, an ideology they have previously rejected, and bite the hand the initially fed it.

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Shane Gilreath

Writer/historian Shane Gilreath is a lifelong Southerner, with an ever growing repertoire, including news, government, and interpretive history. He is twice an author, was editor of The Evangel, and wrote the syndicated column "Under the Kudzu," a conservative Southerners take on world affairs. Shane calls himself a traditionalist and a sports-aholic, listing politics and cultures as particular interests. He's an award winning business owner and a graduate of Cumberland College.