The Southern Baptist Convention - A Side Note - Pastor Bob Allen

It’s not my intent to give a full history of the Southern Baptist Convention but to expand a bit on what I said in my second post on the Cooperative Program.

It is no secret that the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention is tied up with the deeply lamentable history of slavery in the US. In the first half of the 19th century…

  • Although most northern Baptist leaders were willing to maintain fellowship with both abolitionist Baptists and slaveholding Baptists, white southern Baptist leaders declared that honor, self-respect, and efficiency in cooperative missionary operations required them to form a convention for the Baptist churches of the slaveholding states.1

As tensions between states rose over the issue of slavery, Baptists in the South presented a home missions candidate and a foreign missions candidate for appointment, both of whom were slaveholders and who wanted to take their slaves with them to their work assignments. Baptists in the North were adamant that that would not happen. As a result, white Baptists in the South met at First Baptist Church in Augusta, GA, in 1845 to form their own convention… 

  • …for the stated purpose of advancing the gospel. They vindicated their separation from northern Baptists on the premise that slaveholding was morally legitimate.2

A century and a half later, the Convention had long since repudiated its support for slavery. In the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Atlanta in June 1995, Southern Baptists overwhelmingly passed a resolution that…

  • …denounces racism, repudiates "historic acts of evil such as slavery" and asks for forgiveness. It commits the 15.6 million-member church to eradicating vestiges of racism and notes that the denomination failed to support the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s.3

Gary L. Frost, a pastor in Youngstown, OH, and the only African-American in Southern Baptist leadership (second vice president) at the time, accepted the apology on behalf of black Southern Baptists:

  • On behalf of my black brothers and sisters, we accept your apology and we extend to you our forgiveness in the name of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Ephesians Chapter 4, Verses 31 and 32, say let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice, and be kind, one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven you.
  • Because of Jesus Christ our lord and savior and his great love toward us, we extend that same love, forgiveness, grace and mercy towards you. We pray that the genuineness of your repentance will be reflected in your attitudes and in your actions. We forgive you, for Christ's sake, amen.4

In its annual meeting in June 2017 in Phoenix, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to approve Resolution 10: ON THE ANTI-GOSPEL OF ALT-RIGHT WHITE SUPREMACY (The following quote is only the Resolved portions of the full Resolution 10. For the full text, use the link in footnote #5 below.):

  • RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further 
  • RESOLVED, That we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil intended to bring suffering and division to our society; and be it further 
  • RESOLVED, That we acknowledge that we still must make progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst; and be it finally 
  • RESOLVED, That we earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.5

As of January 2022, there were 51,138 Southern Baptist churches and church-type missions. Of those, 77.7% were predominately Anglo churches, 7.6% were African American, 6.6% were Hispanic, and the remaining 8.1% were other ethnicities or multi-ethnic churches.6 

The Southern Baptist Convention is not perfect; it is made up of people who are not perfect but who have been redeemed and who are being sanctified daily. Thankfully, attitudes have changed, but the Convention’s focus remains the same — getting the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world.

For further reading:

1 The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Report on Slavery and Racism in the History of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Louisville, 2018. p. 9. The full report is available online.

2 Ibid.

3 Carter, Gary L. “An Apology for Racism”. The Washington Post. June 21, 1995. Online.

4 Frost, Gary L., quoted by Jennifer Ludden. “Southern Baptists Apologize for Slavery Stance,” Tell Me More. NPR, August 28, 2009. Online.

5 Annual of the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention, pp. 98-99. Online.

6 SBC Fast Facts