Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture

Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture

Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture

Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture

Excerpt

In 1967 historian Rufus Spain published a social history of late-nineteenthcentury Southern Baptists entitled At Ease in Zion. In that book Spain showed how Southern Baptists were comfortable in a culture they had largely built. This did not necessarily mean that Southern Baptists had succeeded in making the South distinctly Christian, let alone Baptist, just that they had come to identify with southern culture and feel comfortable in their role of supporting and perpetuating its norms and mores. Throughout much of the twentieth century, the easy identification of Southern Baptists and southern culture persisted, so much so that church historian Martin Marty once referred to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) as the “Catholic Church of the south.” He argued that southern Protestants in general, along with African American Protestants and Mormons, had the most intact religious subcultures in America. As the SBC grew, its dominance over the South only increased, especially as other mainline denominations in the region ceased to identify so closely with southern culture. And as the SBC became ever more dominant, the historic Baptist tradition of dissent was largely lost, at least at the highest levels of denominational life. It was left to a minority on the fringes of SBC life to carry that dissenting tradition forward. During the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, the time was largely passed when an intact Southern Baptist Convention could dominate a largely homogenous southern culture. It is neither as clear nor as easy as it was once to know exactly what it means to be a southerner or a Southern Baptist.

In the late twentieth century, a group of Southern Baptists quite different from Spain's subjects came to control the Southern Baptist Convention, but they do not dominate the South like their Baptist forebears of a century ago.

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