Southern Baptist Convention

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The Southern Baptist Convention is a fundamentalist Protestant Christian denomination in the United States. Southern Baptist Convention may refer to both the denomination and to its annual meeting of delegates, who are referred to as "messengers."

The overwhelmingly white and English speaking 16 million members of Southern Baptist Convention congregations comprise the membership of the largest Baptist denomiantion and the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. According to the Religious Congregations Membership Study, the Convention had 15,922,039 members in 41,514 churches in the United States in 2000. It has 1,200 local associations, 41 state conventions and fellowships covering all 50 states and territories of the United States, and supports thousands of missionaries worldwide (over 10,000 in 2005). There are more Southern Baptist congregations in America than of any other religious group, including the Catholic Church (although in terms of members there are three times more Catholics in the United States than Southern Baptists).

The SBC has congregations in every state and territory in the United States, though its greatest numbers are in the southern United States, where in the past they exerted considerable influence (to this day, some southern states have little or no legalized gambling, and many southern state counties or portions thereof prohibit alcohol sales, due in part to SBC influence). (As a result of their national scope, in 2005 a proposal was made to change the name from the regional-sounding "Southern Baptist Convention" to a more national-sounding "North American Baptist Convention"; however, the measure was defeated by messengers.)

Data from church sources and independent surveys indicate that since 1990, membership of SBC churches is declining as a proportion of the American population. [1]

Because Baptist churches believe strongly in the autonomy of the local church, the SBC is a cooperative organization by which churches can pool resources, rather than as a body with any administrative control over local churches (see SBC Organization below). It maintains a central administrative organization based in Nashville, Tennessee, which has no authority over its affiliated state conventions, local associations, or individual churches or members. Its "confession of faith", the Baptist Faith and Message (2000 edition), is also not binding on churches or members (see "SBC Beliefs" below).

Contents

History

Baptists arrived in the southern United States near the end of the 17th century. The first Baptist church in the south was formed in Charleston, South Carolina under the leadership of William Screven, a Baptist preacher and shipbuilder who arrived there from Maine in 1696. But the zealous evangelism of the Separate Baptists was the chief instrument of spreading the Baptist denomination throughout the southern U. S. The first associations formed in the South were the Charleston Association (org. 1751) and the Sandy Creek Association (org. 1758). Baptists in the South participated in forming the first national Baptist organization in 1814 - the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions (better known as the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions or the Triennial Convention; it met every three years).

The Southern Baptist Convention was formed May 8-12, 1845 in Augusta, Georgia. Its first president was William Bullein Johnson (1782-1862), who was president of the Triennial Convention in 1841. The immediate, though not only, cause was the controversy over slavery between Northerners and Southerners within the Triennial Convention and the Home Mission Society. Though the bodies were theoretically neutral, some Baptists in the South did not believe the assurances of neutrality. They knew several leaders were engaged in abolitionist activity. To test this, Georgia Baptists recommended James E. Reeve, a slaveholder, to the Home Mission Society as a missionary in the South. The Society did not appoint Reeve, presumably not on the basis of his being a slaveholder, but because the Georgia Baptists wished his appointment specifically because he was a slaveholder. Baptists from the South subsequently broke from this organization and formed the new convention.

Another issue that disturbed the churches in the south was the perception that the American Baptist Home Mission Society (org. 1832) did not appoint a proportionate number of missionaries to the southern region of the U. S.

It is also evident that Baptists north and south preferred a different type of denominational organization: the Baptists in the north as a whole preferred a loosely structured society composed of individuals who paid annual dues, with each society usually focused on a single ministry, while the southern churches preferred an organization composed of churches patterned after their associations, with a variety of ministries brought under the direction of one denominational organization.


SBC Membership, 1845-2000
members (1000)
1845 350
1860 650
1875 1,260
1890 1,240
1905 1,900
1920 3,150
1935 4,480
1950 7,080
1965 10,780
1980 13,700
1995 15,400
2000 15,900

source: Historical Statistics of the U.S. (1976) series H805

SBC Beliefs

The general theological perspective of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention is represented in the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M). The BF&M was first drafted in 1925, then revised significantly in 1963 and again in 2000, with the latter revision being the subject of much controversy.

The BF&M is not considered to be a creed along the lines of historic Christian creeds such as the Nicene Creed; members are not required to adhere to it nor are churches required to use it as their "Statement of Faith" or "Statement of Doctrine" (though many do in lieu of creating their own Statement). Despite the fact that the BF&M is not a "creed," missionaries who apply to serve through the various SBC missionary agencies must "affirm" that their practices, doctrine, and preaching are consistent with the BF&M; this affirmation has also been the subject of controversy.

SBC Organization

There are four levels of SBC organization: the local congregation, the local association, the state convention, and the national convention.

The Local Congregation

The "lowest" level is the individual congregation. (Though, because the SBC operates on a form of congregationalist church governance, the individual congregation may be considered the "highest" level.)

Each congregation is independent and autonomous, except for certain "mission churches". Thus, it is free to:

  • associate with or disassociate from the SBC (and/or any of its affiliates) at any time,
  • determine the level of support which it provides to SBC-affiliated programs and/or other groups, and
  • conduct its own internal affairs (such as hiring and firing, determining its doctrinal statement and membership qualifications, order and format of services, and other matters) without "direction" from a higher level entity.

Certain smaller congregations, called "mission churches", are operated by a larger parent church. One or more parent churches may sponsor the mission church, along with assistance from a local association. The goal is for the mission church to become self-supporting, and thus become an independent and autonomous church. A mission church is typically either a church in a new real estate development, or a church which may be devoted to reaching a certain ethnic group.

The Local Association

Individual congregations may then choose to affiliate into associations, which are generally organized within certain defined geographic areas within a state (such as a county). The prior general rule was that only one association existed in a specific geographical area, did not cross state lines (unless a state convention consisted of multiple states), and did not accept churches from outside that area; however, with the SBC/CBF division in recent years there may be two or more associations serving an area, and some churches have aligned with out-of-state associations, though the general rule applies in most cases.

The primary goal of associations is evangelism and church planting (i.e., assisting churches in starting "mission churches"), though some local ministries may be supported by the association (such as a food pantry or crisis pregnancy center).

Associations cannot direct the affairs of associated churches, but can set requirements for association, and can "disfellowship" any church with which it disagrees, generally in areas of contentious practice (such as a local church promoting charismatic doctrine – a major issue in the 1970's – or, more common today among conservative associations, a local church promoting ordination of women or support for homosexuality).

Association meetings are generally held annually. The association is free to set the time and place, as well as determining the number of messengers each church may send (each church is allowed a minimum number; the general practice – at the association level and at the higher levels as well – is that larger and more financially supportive churches are allowed more messengers).

The State Convention

Individual congregations and associations may further choose to affiliate into state conventions.

With the exception of Texas and Virginia, which have two conventions, each state has only one convention (some smaller states, in terms of number of SBC congregations, are affiliated into a larger multi-state convention).

As with associations, the primary goal is evangelism and church planting; however, the state conventions also support educational institutions and may support retirement and children's homes.

As with associations, the state convention cannot direct individual church affairs but can set requirements for affiliation and "disfellowship" churches at its discretion. And, the state convention generally meets annually, sets the time and place, and determines the number of messengers allowed per church.

The National Convention

The "highest" level of organization is the national convention (usually called the Convention) made up of individual churches, associations, and state conventions, which meets annually in early June.

Article III of the Convention's Constitution states that each church (which it defines as one) 1) "in friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work" – but which specifically excludes any church supporting homosexuality – and 2) is a bona fide financial supporter of the Convention through the Cooperative Program during the prior year) is entitled to send one messenger to the Convention, plus one additional messenger for each additional 250 members or $250 in support, but no church can send more than 10 messengers. The messengers must be members of the church they represent.

The Convention is led by a President, who is elected for a one-year term and cannot be elected for more than two consecutive terms (but can serve for more than two terms if not consecutive; only Adrian Rogers has ever done so).

SBC Leadership

Although the SBC President serves for only one year, and cannot serve for more than two consecutive years, he (the President has always been a male, and, given the SBC's stated position on women in leadership positions within the church, probably will continue to be for some time) has the potential to exercise significant influence over the direction of the SBC.

The process starts with the appointment by the SBC President of the Committee on Committees, which consists of two members from each "qualified state" (which includes the District of Columbia). The President has the sole authority to nominate the members (unlike other committee members or heads of institutions, the messengers do not approve the Committee on Committees selections). The appointments must be made within 45 days prior to the next Convention session (in other words, near the end of the SBC President's first term).

The Committee on Committees, in turn, nominates the Committee on Nominations, which also consists of two members from each "qualified state". These members are voted on by messengers at the next session (again, near the end of the SBC President's first term); however, nominations to this Committee can be made from the floor.

The Committee on Nominations, in turn, nominates persons to fill vacancies on SBC institutions (a person serving cannot be removed simply due to a change in leadership). Any SBC member may nominate, and be nominated for, any position; the general criteria for approval are 1) the nominee's support of the BF&M and 2) the nominee's church's support for SBC programs. The vacancies are approved at the next Convention session (in other words, by the end of the SBC President's second term, provided he is re-elected).

During this time, the SBC President is appointing the next Committee on Committees, to begin the process again.

As outlined above, the process by which the SBC President can exert influence is a lengthy, complicated, and overlapping one, which takes cooperation from other, like-minded individuals to successfully accomplish, as the results take at least three years to complete, while the SBC President is limited to two one-year consecutive terms. However, if organized and executed properly, a faction can over time move the SBC in its desired direction. The SBC conservative faction of the late 1970's and 1980's (see "The Conservative/Moderate Controversy" below) used the process to its advantage to move the SBC to its current conservative stance.

SBC-Affiliated organizations

The Southern Baptist Convention was organized in 1845 primarily for the purpose of creating a mission board to support the sending of Baptist missionaries. The North American Mission Board, or NAMB, (originally founded as the Domestic Mission Board, and later the Home Mission Board) in Alpharetta, Georgia serves missionaries involved in evangelism and church planting in the U.S. and Canada, while the International Mission Board, or IMB, (originally the Foreign Mission Board) in Richmond, Virginia sponsors missionaries to the rest of the world.

The SBC at the national level supports six educational institutions devoted to religious instruction and ministry preparation:

Many state conventions also support their own educational institutions in their states such as

The S.B.C. also operates LifeWay Christian Resources, founded as the Baptist Sunday School Board in 1891, which is one of the largest Christian publishing houses in America and operates the "LifeWay Christian Store" chain of bookstores.

Baptist Press [11], the largest Christian news service in the country, was established by the SBC in 1946.

Guidestone Financial Resources (founded in 1920 as the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention) exists to provide insurance, retirement, and investment services to ministers and employees of Southern Baptist churches and agencies. It underwent a severe financial crisis in the 1930s.

Woman's Missionary Union, founded in 1888, is an auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention, and helps facilitate two large annual missions offerings: the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

Prominent Southern Baptists

Controversies in SBC history

In addition to the controversy that led to the formation of the SBC, the Convention has suffered several issues that caused loss of churches and/or support, notably:

The most notable of the controversies in SBC history is the "conservative/moderate" controversy of the late 1970's and 1980's, which is reported to be among the very few instances where the more conservative of two factions has managed to gain or maintain control of a mainline denomination.

The "conservative/moderate controversy"

By the late 1970s, two clear factions had emerged in the convention.

Moderates argued for a less orthodox interpretation of the Bible and were open to adopting changes that reflected those taking place in society as a whole. Amongst other things, moderates took more liberal positions on issues such as biblical inerrancy, temperance, abortion, and the ordination of women. Conservatives opposed these trends, alarmed by them.

W.A. Criswell and Adrian Rogers were chief among the key leaders of what largely was a grassroots movement among Southern Baptists to use the president's sole authority to nominate the Committee on Committees, and over time turn the Convention back to its historic roots. Using the strategy below, the SBC ousted liberal and moderate leaders:

  • Nominate a conservative-minded SBC President, to be approved by what was a "silent majority" of conservative SBC messengers.
  • The SBC President would then appoint a conservative-dominated Committee on Committees (this action did not require messenger approval, as stated above).
  • The Committee on Committees would then nominate a conservative-dominated Committee on Nominations, to be approved by the conservative majority of messengers at the next meeting.
  • The Committee on Nominations would then nominate conservative-minded SBC members whenever an opening was available (the Committee does not have authority to remove someone from a position), again to be approved by the conservative majority of messengers at the second meeting after initial election of the conservative-minded President.
  • Repeat the process each year, so that eventually conservative-minded SBC members comprise the majority of leadership in key positions.

Conservatives succeeded in having conservative supporters elected as SBC President, beginning with the election of Adrian Rogers in 1979. Throughout the 1980s, working within the existing framework and the strategy outlined above, conservatives gained control over the SBC leadership at every level from the administration to key faculty at their seminaries, and slowly reversed the SBC's existing positions in favor of more conservative ones (for example, on abortion, the SBC reversed course from a moderate "reluctant support" pro-choice stance to a strong conservative pro-life stance, which it continues to hold today).

This change in control, termed the "Conservative Resurgence" by supporters and the "Fundamentalist Takeover" by detractors, culminated in the adoption of significant changes to the Baptist Faith and Message at the 2000 SBC Annual Meeting. At this point, the moderates then formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), organized as a "convention within the convention" to support causes not controlled by the conservative faction. In addition, the Alliance of Baptists, an independent and unaffiliated group similar in theological viewpoint to the CBF, also formed during this time.

The majority of state conventions sided with the SBC. However, the state conventions in Texas and Virginia sided with the CBF, which resulted in the formation of conservative, SBC-affiliated state conventions in these states. Of the two state conventions deciding to align with the CBF, the most notable involved the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), the largest of the Southern Baptist state conventions. BGCT voted in 1998 to align with the CBF, stating as its reasons for doing so were its objections to proposed changes in the 2000 revision of the Message, which it stated made the document sound like a "creed", in violation of historic Baptist tradition which opposed the use of creeds. In a reversal from the national convention (where the moderates left and the conservatives stayed), many Texas conservatives formed their own state convention, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and either disassociated completely from BGCT or sought "dual alignment" with both groups. Similarly, conservative Baptists in Virginia formed the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.

A Woman's Place

During the June 1998 convention the Baptist Faith and Message was rewritten for the first time since 1963. The changes where made to the position of women in relationships. The altered 18th Article states:

God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption.

Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and his church, and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel for sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.

The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to his people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.

Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord. Parents are to demonstrate to their children God’s pattern for marriage. Parents are to teach their children spiritual and moral values and to lead them, through consistent lifestyle example and loving discipline, to make choices based on biblical truth. Children are to honor and obey their parents.

The 141st annual Southern Baptist Convention held in Salt Lake City, Utah was attended by at least 8,000 delegates. Delegates rejected two amendments that called on husbands and wives to submit to each other.

On June 14, 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to approve the BF&M 2000, which expressed the consensus belief that the role of pastor according to Scripture is reserved for men. However, this statement of faith only represents the majority view among Southern Baptists and individual congregations may hire women as pastors if they want. A study showed that among SBC churches only 35 of 40,000 congregations (less than one-tenth of one percent of SBC churches) had a female pastor.

See also

References

Primary sources

  • Baker, Robert. ed. A Baptist Source Book. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1966.
  • Religious Congregations & Membership in the United States, 2000. Glenmary Research Center

Secondary sources

  • Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists: Presenting Their History, Doctrine, Polity, Life, Leadership, Organization & Work Knoxville: Broadman Press, v 1-2 (1958), 1500 pp; 2 supplementary volumes 1958 and 1962; vol 5 = Index, 1984
  • Ammerman, Nancy, ed. Southern Baptists Observed University of Tennessee Press, 1993.
  • Ammerman, Nancy, Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention. Rutgers University Press, 1990.
  • Baker, Robert. The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People, 1607-1972. Broadman Press, 1974.
  • Barnes, William. The Southern Baptist Convention, 1845-1953 Broadman Press, 1954.
  • Eighmy, John. Churches in Cultural Captivity: A History of the Social Attitudes of Southern Baptists. University of Tennessee Press, 1972.
  • Arthur Emery Farnsley II, Southern Baptist Politics: Authority and Power in the Restructuring of an American Denomination; Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994
  • Fuller, A. James. Chaplain to the Confederacy: Basil Manly and Baptist Life in the Old South (2002)
  • Gatewood, Willard. Controversy in the 1920s: Fundamentalism, Modernism, and Evolution. Vanderbilt University Press, 1969.
  • Barry Hankins. Religion and American Culture. Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 2002. Argues that Baptist conservatives see themselves as cultural warriors critiquing a secular and liberal America
  • Paul Harvey, Redeeming the South: Religious Cultures and Racial Identities among Southern Baptists, 1865-1925 University of North Carolina Press, 1997
  • Heyrman, Christine Leigh. Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (1998) 1770-1860
  • Hill, Samuel, et al. Encyclopedia of Religion In The South (2005)
  • Carl L. Kell and L. Raymond Camp, In the Name of the Father: The Rhetoric of the New Southern Baptist Convention Southern Illinois University Press, 1999
  • William L. Lumpkin, Baptist History in the South: Tracing through the Separates the Influence of the Great Awakening, 1754-1787 (1995)
  • Leonard, Bill J. God's Last and Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.
  • Marsden, George. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of 20th Century Evangelicalism. Oxford University Press, 1980.
  • Rosenberg, Ellen. The Southern Baptists: A Subculture in Transition. University of Tennessee Press, 1989.
  • T. Laine Scales. All That Fits a Woman: Training Southern Baptist Women for Charity and Mission, 1907-1926 Mercer U. Press 2002
  • Oran P Smith. The Rise of Baptist Republicanism (1997), on recent voting behavior
  • Rufus B. Spain, At Ease in Zion: A Social History of Southern Baptists, 1865-1900 (1961)
  • Jerry Sutton, The Baptist Reformation: The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (2000). "a testimony and an expression of gratitude to those who worked to bring about the Baptist Reformation" according to publisher
  • Gregory A. Wills, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900 Oxford University Press, 1997

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