Getting Right with God: Southern Baptists and Desegregation, 1945-1995

Getting Right with God: Southern Baptists and Desegregation, 1945-1995

Getting Right with God: Southern Baptists and Desegregation, 1945-1995

Getting Right with God: Southern Baptists and Desegregation, 1945-1995


This groundbreaking study finds Southern Baptists more diverse in
their attitudes toward segregation than previously assumed.

Focusing on the eleven states of the old Confederacy,
Getting Right with God examines the evolution of Southern Baptists'
attitudes toward African Americans during a tumultuous period of change
in the United States. Mark Newman not only offers an in-depth analysis
of Baptist institutions from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and
state conventions to colleges and churches but also probes beyond these
by examining the response of pastors and lay people to changing race relations.

The SBC long held that legal segregation was in line with
biblical teachings, but after the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown vs. Board
of Education
decision in favor of desegregating public institutions,
some Southern Baptists found an inconsistency in their basic beliefs. Newman
identifies three major blocs of Baptist opinion about race relations: a
hard-line segregationist minority that believed God had ordained slavery
in the Bible; a more moderate majority that accepted the prevailing social
order of racial segregation; and a progressive group of lay people, pastors,
and denominational leaders who criticized and ultimately rejected discrimination
as contrary to biblical teachings.

According to Newman, the efforts of the progressives to
appeal to Baptists' primary commitments and the demise of de jure segregation
caused many moderate and then hard-line segregationists to gradually relinquish
their views, leading to the 1995 apology by the Southern Baptist Convention
for its complicity in slavery and racism. Comparing Southern Baptists to
other major white denominations, Newman concludes that lay Baptists differed
little from other white southerners in their response to segregation.


Traditionally, baptists have had no creed. They based their faith and practice on New Testament teachings. Doctrinally, Baptists agreed on the authority of the Bible as the word of God, personal salvation by faith, believer's baptism by immersion and the priesthood of the believer. the Bible, they believed, made personal evangelism and missions central concerns for Christians. To further the missionary enterprise, Baptists created the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States for Foreign Missions in 1814 and the American Baptist Home Mission Society in 1832. After a sectional divide over the issue of appointing slaveholders as missionaries, Baptists in the South formed the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 1845 with the continued aim of fostering missions. To facilitate their evangelistic goals, Southern Baptists created the Domestic Mission Board (from 1874 the Home Mission Board or HMB) and the Foreign Mission Board (FMB) as agencies of the new convention. in 1888, Baptist women formed the Woman's Missionary Union (WMU), an auxiliary to the convention, to raise funds for missionary work. Three years later, the convention established the Sunday School Board to publish religious literature for use by its churches. Baptist men organized the Laymen's Missionary Movement in 1907, which became the Brotherhood Commission in 1950.

Although all churches attempt to present themselves in the best moral light, the real opinions and feelings of Southern Baptists on racial issues can be discerned with a greater degree of accuracy than those of members of hierarchical denominations. the congregational nature of Southern Baptist polity ensured that opinions expressed about civil rights issues by denominational messengers, presidents and pastors usually fell within the parameters of mainstream Baptist opinion. Taken together, these views provide an indication of social change over time. the sbc and Baptist state conventions are annual meetings of messengers elected by and from affili-

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