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English Speaking Protestantism

Southern Baptist Convention

Doctrines See Baptists. The Convention tends to be very conservative theologically and Calvinistic. Its member churches have traditionally addressed an evangelical message to the ordinary person. Their message, which continues to have a powerful attraction to an American audience, emphasises Christian rebirth, the truth of scripture and a Christianity relevant to everyday life within a local, independent, community based church. The Convention also stresses the importance of "stewardship", the duty of Christians to donate money to the church.

History The first Baptist church in the southern colonies of British North America was founded in 1714. But it was not till after the Great Awakening that southern Baptist churches really began to spread rapidly stressing the evangelical outreach which was to become characteristic of them. These advances in the South continued after American independence amongst both whites and blacks. The Southern churches participated in the three national Baptist societies formed in the 1820s (for this see American Baptist Churches). Southern Baptists wanted to amalgamate the societies together in the interests of efficiency, but the societies were dominated by Northern Baptists who blocked the idea and favoured their own interests. Tension rose higher as the Northern Baptists increasingly came under the influence of the slavery abolition movement which struck at an institution which Southerners felt underpinned their society. Increasingly bitter arguments came to head in 1845 when the American Baptist Home Mission society refused to appoint any person who owned slaves as a missionary. In fury the Southern Baptists withdrew their churches from the national societies and formed a convention to handle all inter-church activities for the South within one body.
The first problem the Convention faced was the Civil War and the defeat of the South in the 1860s. This was a disaster for the Southern Baptists due to their commitment to the confederacy and because the entire region was impoverished. Furthermore black Baptists, who had formerly been the majority in most Southern Baptist congregations, withdrew to form their own churches. (See National Baptist Convention.) The Convention recovered gradually, and managed to maintain its role in the South through periodic revivals. In the 1920s the generally conservative theology within its churches meant it escaped the virulent Modernist/Fundamentalist controversy which divided Northern Baptists.
Till World War Two the Convention was generally confined to the Southern states then it began a rapid expansion across the USA, rising from 5 million members in 1940 to triple that today, becoming the largest Protestant denomination in the country. The Convention invested the funds provided by its emphasis on stewardship in television programmes, publications, overseas missions and a network of Sunday schools and theological colleges, which repaid dividends in successful conversions. Worried by the possibility of external interference in independent congregations the convention refuses to participate in the modern trend for increasing co-operation between the world's churches. Recently the Convention faced internal problems as more fundamentalist Baptists took control of the leadership of the convention from a more moderate wing during the 1980s. This has lead the Convention leadership to adopt an increasingly conservative social attitude.

Symbols See Baptists.

Adherents The Convention had 15,358,866 adherents in 1995 (World Almanac, 1995, 729).

Main Centre
 901 Commerce St., Nashville, TN 37203, USA.