Taking Stock of Divisions among U.S. Baptists

Article excerpt

One-hundred-fifty years after Baptists in America split over slavery, there is little prospect for unification, according to a recent consultation of scholars. New divisions--over such issues as openness to gays and whether the Bible is free from error --threaten to further fragment the Baptist family, said speakers at an October 27-29 colloquium on "Division, Diversity and Dialogue" within the country's Baptist groups.

"We have ended slavery as an institution, but we are still slaves to separation," Thomas McKibbens, pastor of First Baptist Church in Newton, Massachusetts, told the gathering at First Baptist Church in Providence, Rhode Island--the first Baptist congregation established in America. The church also was the site for a fateful meeting on August 28, 1845, when members of the Baptist Home Mission Society officially refused to appoint slaveholders as missionaries and suggested that Baptists sympathetic to slavery withdraw. Baptists in the South did so, meeting a week later in Augusta, Georgia, to form the Southern Baptist Convention--now the nation's largest non-Catholic faith group.

At its sesquicentennial convention in June, the 15-million-member SBC adopted a resolution repenting for past racism and asking for forgiveness from African-Americans. But that doesn't mean that Baptists in the north and south can expect to get back together soon, agreed speakers at the meeting. The two bodies have become increasingly estranged as the SBC has grown more conservative and the 1.5-million-member American Baptist Churches in the U. …