Baptist Influence in the Public Arena: Baptists Began as a Small, Oppressed Movement in the American Colonies, and Baptists Became Well-Known and Well-Despised as Defenders of Freedom and Champions of Religious Liberty. in Their Early Years, They Had No Political Power, and Few Baptists Ventured into the Public Arena

Article excerpt

As the nation grew and matured, Baptists also grew and matured, eventually becoming a majority movement, particularly in the southern region of the country. As their numbers increased, Baptists slowly gained more clout and prestige, and Baptist men and women began to provide leadership in politics, social reform, and education. In the twentieth century especially, Baptists stepped up and began service as leaders in public life.

In 1920, Baptist layman Warren G. Harding was elected as president. Three other Baptists have since held that office: Harry S. Truman, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. Three Baptists have been appointed to the United States Supreme Court: Hugo L. Black, Charles E. Hughes, and Howell E. Jackson. Numerous Baptist men and women--Democrats and Republicans--have served in the United States Congress and Senate, including Robert Byrd, Mark O. Hatfield, Brooks Hays, Jesse Helms, Barbara Jordan, Juanita Millender-McDonald, Trent Lott, Jennings Randolph, and Harold E. Stassen. Baptists can now claim a strong and diverse heritage in the political arena.

In other areas of public life, the influence of Baptist leaders has also been strongly felt. Walter Rauschenbusch and Martin Luther King, Jr., served as social reformers and Baptist prophets; leaders of Christian Life Commissions provided ethical and moral guidance for Baptists; and Billy Graham served as America's preacher and pastor during the last half of the twentieth century.

The Summer/Fall 2006 issue of Baptist History and Heritage contains articles on Baptist public figures and their contributions to American society and to the Baptist world. Each of these articles was presented at the 2006 Baptist History and Heritage Society annual meeting held in Washington, D. …