Southern Baptist Convention

Southern Baptist Convention
Abbreviation SBC
Classification Protestant
Theology Evangelical Baptist
Polity Congregational
President Steve Gaines
Region United States
Origin May 8–12, 1845
Augusta, Georgia
Separated from Triennial Convention
Congregations 46,793 (2015)[1]
Members 15.29 million (2015)
Official website

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is a Christian denomination based in the United States. It is the world's largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States, with over 15 million members as of 2015.[1] This also makes it the second-largest Christian body in the United States, after the Catholic Church.[2]

The word Southern in Southern Baptist Convention stems from it having been founded and rooted in the Southern United States, following a split from northern Baptists over the issue of slavery; the immediate issue was whether slave owners could serve as missionaries. Members at a regional convention held in Augusta, Georgia, created the SBC in 1845. After the American Civil War, another split occurred when most freedmen set up independent congregations. Many set up their own Baptist churches, regional associations, and state and national conventions, such as the National Baptist Convention, which became the second-largest Baptist convention by the end of the 19th century. Others joined new African-American denominations, chiefly the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Since the 1940s, the SBC has moved away from some of its regional and historical identification.[3] Especially since the late twentieth century, the SBC has sought new members among minority groups and become much more diverse. In addition, while still heavily concentrated in the Southern US, the SBC has member churches across the United States and 41 affiliated state conventions.[4][5]

At its annual convention in 2012, the SBC elected as president Fred Luter Jr., the first African American to hold the position. An SBC presidential term is for one year, with a term limit of two terms. Each president is elected by Messengers sent by each local church at the SBC annual meeting. Since Luter ran unopposed, per the by-laws of the convention, only a single ballot was cast by the recording secretary to secure his election. Because of the historic nature of the vote, the assembly was asked to rise in support of the vote, which the messengers did enthusiastically. Luter was re-elected president for a second (and final) term at the 2013 meeting.[6][7] The current president in 2016 is Steve Gaines.

Southern Baptists emphasize the significance of the individual conversion experience which is affirmed by the person having complete immersion in water for a believer's baptism. As a result, they reject the practice of infant baptism.[5] SBC churches are evangelical in doctrine and practice. Specific beliefs based on biblical interpretation can vary somewhat due to their congregational polity which allows autonomy to each individual local church.[8]


Further information: Baptists in the United States

Colonial era

Most early Baptists in the British colonies came from England in the 17th century, after the established Church of England persecuted them for their dissenting religious views. The oldest Baptist church in the South, First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, was organized in 1682 under the leadership of William Screven.[9] A Baptist church was formed in Virginia in 1715 through the preaching of Robert Norden and another in North Carolina in 1727 through the ministry of Paul Palmer.

The Baptists operated independently of the state-established Anglican churches in the South, at a time when non-Anglicans were prohibited from holding political office. By 1740, there were about eight Baptist churches in the colonies of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, with an estimated 300–400 members.[10] New members, both black and white, were converted chiefly by Baptist preachers who traveled throughout the South during the 18th and 19th centuries, in the eras of the First Great Awakening and Second Great Awakening.[11]

Baptists welcomed African Americans, both slave and free, allowing them to have more active roles in ministry than did other denominations by licensing them as preachers and, in some cases, allowing them to be treated as equals to white members. As a result, black congregations and churches were founded in Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia before the American Revolution. Some black congregations kept their independence even after whites tried to exercise more authority after the Nat Turner slave rebellion of 1831.[12]

American Revolution period

Before the Revolution, Baptist and Methodist evangelicals in the South had promoted the view of the common man's equality before God, which embraced slaves and free blacks. They challenged the hierarchies of class and race and urged planters to abolish slavery. They welcomed slaves as Baptists and accepted them as preachers.[13]

Isaac (1974) analyzes the rise of the Baptist Church in Virginia, with emphasis on evangelicalism and social life. There was a sharp division between the austerity of the plain-living Baptists, attracted initially from yeomen and common planters, and the opulence of the Anglican planters, the slaveholding elite who controlled local and colonial government in what had become a slave society by the late eighteenth century.[14] The gentry interpreted Baptist church discipline as political radicalism, but it served to ameliorate disorder. The Baptists intensely monitored each other's moral conduct, watching especially for sexual transgressions, cursing, and excessive drinking; they expelled members who would not reform.[15]

In Virginia and in most southern colonies before the Revolution, the Church of England was the established church and supported by general taxes, as it was in England. It opposed the rapid spread of Baptists in the South. Particularly in Virginia, many Baptist preachers were prosecuted for "disturbing the peace" by preaching without licenses from the Anglican church. Both Patrick Henry and the young attorney James Madison defended Baptist preachers prior to the American Revolution in cases considered significant to the history of religious freedom.[16] In 1779, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, enacted in 1786 by the Virginia General Assembly. Madison later applied his own ideas and those of the Virginia document related to religious freedom during the Constitutional Convention, when he ensured that they were incorporated into the national constitution.

The struggle for religious toleration erupted and was played out during the American Revolution, as the Baptists worked to disestablish the Anglican church in the South. Beeman (1978) explores the conflict in one Virginia locality, showing that as its population became more dense, the county court and the Anglican Church were able to increase their authority. The Baptists protested vigorously; the resulting social disorder resulted chiefly from the ruling gentry's disregard for public need. The vitality of the religious opposition made the conflict between 'evangelical' and 'gentry' styles a bitter one.[17] Kroll-Smith (1984) suggests that the strength of the evangelical movement's organization determined its ability to mobilize power outside the conventional authority structure.[18]

National unification and regional division

Main article: Triennial Convention

In 1814, Baptists unified nationally under what became known informally as the Triennial Convention (because it met every three years) based in Philadelphia. It allowed them to join their resources to support missions abroad. The Home Mission Society, affiliated with the Triennial Convention, was established in 1832 to support missions in frontier territories of the United States. By the mid-19th century, numerous social, cultural, economic, and political differences existed among business owners of the North, farmers of the West, and planters of the South. The most divisive conflict was primarily over the deep sectional issue of slavery and secondarily over missions.

Divisions over slavery

Slavery in the 19th century became the most critical moral issue dividing Baptists in the United States. Struggling to gain a foothold in the South, after the American Revolution, the next generation of Baptist preachers accommodated themselves to the leadership of southern society. Rather than challenging the gentry on slavery and urging manumission (as did the Quakers and Methodists), they began to interpret the Bible as supporting the practice of slavery and encouraged good paternalistic practices by slaveholders. They preached to slaves to accept their places and obey their masters. In the two decades after the Revolution during the Second Great Awakening, Baptist preachers abandoned their pleas that slaves be manumitted.[19]

After first attracting yeomen farmers and common planters, in the nineteenth century, the Baptists began to attract major planters among the elite.[19] While the Baptists welcomed slaves and free blacks as members, whites controlled leadership of the churches, their preaching supported slavery, and blacks were usually segregated in seating.[19]

Black congregations were sometimes the largest of their regions. For instance, by 1821 Gillfield Baptist in Petersburg, Virginia, had the largest congregation within the Portsmouth Association. At 441 members, it was more than twice as large as the next ranking church. Before the Nat Turner slave rebellion of 1831, Gillfield had a black preacher. Afterward, the state legislature insisted that black congregations be overseen by white men. Gillfield could not call a black preacher until after the American Civil War and emancipation.[20] After Turner's slave rebellion, whites worked to exert more control over black congregations and passed laws requiring white ministers to lead or be present at religious meetings (many slaves evaded these restrictions).

In addition, from the early decades of the nineteenth century, many Baptist preachers in the South argued in favor of preserving the right of ministers to be slaveholders (which they had earlier prohibited), a class that included prominent Baptist Southerners and planters.[21]

The Triennial Convention and the Home Mission Society adopted a kind of neutrality concerning slavery, neither condoning nor condemning it. During the "Georgia Test Case" of 1844, the Georgia State Convention proposed that the slaveholder Elder James E. Reeve be appointed as a missionary. The Foreign Mission Board refused to approve his appointment, recognizing the case as a challenge and not wanting to overturn their policy of neutrality on the slavery issue. They stated that slavery should not be introduced as a factor into deliberations about missionary appointments.[22]

In 1844, Basil Manly Sr., president of the University of Alabama, a prominent preacher and a major planter who owned 40 slaves, drafted the "Alabama Resolutions" and presented them to the Triennial Convention. These included the demand that slaveholders be eligible for denominational offices to which the Southern associations contributed financially. These resolutions failed to be adopted. Georgia Baptists decided to test the claimed neutrality by recommending a slaveholder to the Home Mission Society as a missionary. The Home Mission Society's board refused to appoint him, noting that missionaries were not allowed to take servants with them (so he clearly could not take slaves) and that they would not make a decision that appeared to endorse slavery. Southern Baptists considered this an infringement of their right to determine their own candidates.[23] From the Southern perspective, the Northern position that "slaveholding brethren were less than followers of Jesus" effectively obliged slaveholding Southerners to leave the fellowship.[24]

Missions and organization

Original location of First Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia

A secondary issue that disturbed the Southerners was the perception that the American Baptist Home Mission Society did not appoint a proportionate number of missionaries to the southern region of the US. This was likely a result of the Society's not appointing slave owners as missionaries.[25] Baptists in the North preferred a loosely structured society composed of individuals who paid annual dues, with each society usually focused on a single ministry.[26]

Baptists in southern churches preferred a more centralized organization of congregations composed of churches patterned after their associations, with a variety of ministries brought under the direction of one denominational organization.[27] The increasing tensions and the discontent of Baptists from the South regarding national criticism of slavery and issues over missions led to their withdrawal from the national Baptist organizations.[10]

The southern Baptists met at the First Baptist Church of Augusta in May 1845.[28] At this meeting, they formed a new convention, naming it the Southern Baptist Convention. They elected William Bullein Johnson (1782–1862) as the new convention's first president. He had served as president of the Triennial Convention in 1841.

Formation and separation of black Baptists

African Americans had gathered in their own churches early on, in 1774 in Petersburg, Virginia,[29] and in Savannah, Georgia, in 1788.[30] Some were established after 1800 on the frontier, such as the First African Baptist Church of Lexington, Kentucky. In 1824, it was accepted by the Elkhorn Association of Kentucky, which was white-dominated. By 1850 First African had 1,820 members, the largest of any Baptist church in the state, black or white.[31] In 1861 it had 2,223 members.[32]

First African Baptist Church, Savannah, Georgia, constructed 1856

Generally whites in the South required that black churches be under the supervision of white ministers and associations. In practice, as noted above, in churches with mixed congregations, blacks were made to sit in segregated seating. White preaching often emphasized Biblical stipulations that slaves should accept their places and try to behave well toward their masters.

After the Civil War and emancipation, blacks wanted to practice Christianity independently of white supervision.[33] They had interpreted the Bible as offering hope for deliverance, and saw their own exodus out of slavery as comparable to The Exodus.[12] They quickly left white-dominated churches and associations and set up separate state Baptist conventions.[34][35] In 1866, black Baptists of the South and West combined to form the Consolidated American Baptist Convention.[34] In 1895 they merged three national conventions to create the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc..[34][35] With 8 million members, it is today the largest African-American religious organization and is second in size to the Southern Baptist Convention.

Free blacks in the North had founded churches and denominations in the early nineteenth century that were independent of white-dominated organizations. In the Reconstruction Era, missionaries both black and white from several northern denominations worked in the South; they quickly attracted tens and hundreds of thousands of new members from among the millions of freedmen. The African Methodist Episcopal Church attracted the most new members of any denomination.[35] White Southern Baptist churches lost black members to the new denominations, as well as to independent congregations organized by freedmen.

Into the 1960s and the Civil Rights era, most Southern Baptist pastors and most members of their congregations rejected Racial integration and accepted white supremacy, further alienating African Americans.[36] According to historian and former Southern Baptist Wayne Flynt, "The [Southern Baptist] church was the last bastion of segregation."[37]

Historical controversies

During its history, the Southern Baptist Convention has had several periods of major internal controversy.

Landmark controversy

In the 1850s–1860s, a group of young activists called for a return to certain early practices, or what they called Landmarkism. Other leaders disagreed with their assertions, and the Baptist congregations became split on the issues. Eventually the disagreements led to the formation of Gospel Missions and the American Baptist Association (1924), as well as many unaffiliated independent churches. One historian called the related James Robinson Graves—Robert Boyte Crawford Howell controversy (1858–60) the greatest to affect the denomination before that of the late 20th century involving the "fundamentalist-moderate" break.[38]

Whitsitt controversy

In the "Whitsitt controversy" of 1896–99,[39] William H. Whitsitt, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, suggested that, contrary to earlier thought, English Baptists did not begin to baptize by immersion until 1641, when some Anabaptists, as they were then called, began to practice immersion. This overturned the idea of immersion as the practice of the earliest Baptists, as some of the Landmarkists contended.

Moderates–Conservatives controversy

B.H. Carroll Memorial Building, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's main administrative building

The Southern Baptist Convention conservative resurgence (c.1970–2000) was an intense struggle for control of the SBC's resources and ideological direction. The major internal disagreement captured national attention.[40] Its initiators called it a Conservative Resurgence[41] while its detractors have labeled it a Fundamentalist Takeover.[42] Russell H. Dilday, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1978 to 1994,[26][43] described the resurgence as having fragmented Southern Baptist fellowship and as being "far more serious than [a controversy]".[44] Dilday described it as being "a self-destructive, contentious, one-sided feud that at times took on combative characteristics".[44] Since 1979, Southern Baptists had become polarized into two major groups: moderates and conservatives. Reflecting the conservative majority votes of delegates at the 1979 annual meeting of the SBC, the new national organization officers replaced all leaders of Southern Baptist agencies with presumably more conservative people (often dubbed "fundamentalist" by dissenters).[lower-alpha 1][45] Among historical elements illustrating this trend, the organization's position on abortion rights grew increasingly restrictive in accord with that of the Catholic Church. In 1971, the organization had called for permitting the procedure in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, or "the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother."[46]

Recent history

In 1995, the convention voted to adopt a resolution renouncing its racist roots and apologizing for its past defense of slavery, segregation, and white supremacy.[47][48] This marked the denomination's first formal acknowledgment that racism had a profound role in its early and modern history. The convention recognized that the demographics of the United States were changing and has subsequently made an effort to recruit new members among minority populations.[49]

US President George W. Bush meets with the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2006 in the Oval Office at the White House. Pictured with the President are Morris Chapman, left, Frank Page and his wife Dayle Page.

By the early 21st century, there were increasing numbers of ethnically diverse congregations within the convention. In 2008, almost 20 percent were estimated to be majority African American, Asian or Hispanic. The SBC had an estimated one million African-American members.[50] The convention has passed a series of resolutions recommending the inclusion of more black members and appointing more African-American leaders.[36] In the 2012 annual meeting, the Southern Baptist Convention elected Fred Luter Jr. as its first African-American president. He had earned respect by his leadership skills shown in building a large congregation in New Orleans.[51]

The increasingly national scope of the convention has inspired some members to suggest a name change. In 2005, proposals were made at the SBC Annual Meeting to change the name from the regional-sounding Southern Baptist Convention to a more national-sounding "North American Baptist Convention" or "Scriptural Baptist Convention" (to retain the SBC initials). These initial proposals were defeated.[52]

The messengers of the 2012 annual meeting in New Orleans voted to adopt the descriptor "Great Commission Baptists". The legal name of the convention remains "Southern Baptist Convention", but churches and convention entities can voluntarily use the descriptor.[53]

Almost a year after the Charleston church shooting, SBC approved Resolution 7 which called upon member churches and families to discontinue the flying of the Confederate Flag.[54]

The SBC approved a Resolution 12 titled "On Refugee Ministry", encouraging member churches and families to welcome refugees coming to the United States. [55] In the same convention, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission quickly responded to a pastor who asked why a Southern Baptist should support the right of Muslims living in the United States to build mosques. Moore responded, "Sometimes we have to deal with questions that are really complicated... this isn't one of them." Moore states that religions freedom must be for all religions. [56]

Theology and practice

The general theological perspective of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention is represented in the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M).[57] The BF&M was first drafted in 1925 as a revision of the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith. It was revised significantly in 1963 and again in 2000, with the latter revision being the subject of much controversy, particularly in regards to the role of women in the church.[58] The BF&M is not considered to be a creed, such as the Nicene Creed. Members are not required to adhere to it. Churches and state conventions belonging to the SBC are not required to use it as their statement of faith or doctrine, though many do in lieu of creating their own statement.[59] Despite the fact that the BF&M is not a creed, faculty in SBC-owned seminaries and missionaries who apply to serve through the various SBC missionary agencies must affirm that their practices, doctrine, and preaching are consistent with the BF&M.[60][61]

In 2012, a LifeWay Research survey of SBC pastors found that 30 percent of congregations identified with the labels Calvinist or Reformed, while 30 percent identified with the labels Arminian or Wesleyan. Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, explained that "historically, many Baptists have considered themselves neither Calvinist nor Arminian, but holding a unique theological approach not framed well by either category". Nevertheless, the survey also found that 60 percent of SBC pastors were concerned about Calvinism's impact within the convention.[62] Nathan Finn notes that the debate over Calvinism has "periodically reignited with increasing intensity", and that non-Calvinists "seem to be especially concerned with the influence of Founders Ministries," while Calvinists "seem to be particularly concerned with the influence of revivalism and Keswick theology."[63]

Position statements

In addition to the BF&M, the SBC has also issued the following position statements:


Southern Baptists observe two ordinances: the Lord's Supper and believer's baptism (also known as credo-baptism, from the Latin for "I believe").[5][57] Furthermore, they hold the historic Baptist belief that immersion is the only valid mode of baptism.[5] The Baptist Faith and Message describes baptism as a symbolic act of obedience and a testimony of the believer's faith in Jesus Christ. The BF&M also notes that baptism is a precondition to church membership.[57]

The BF&M holds to memorialism, which is the belief that the Lord's Supper is a symbolic act of obedience in which believers commemorate the death of Christ and look forward to his Second Coming.[57] Although individual Southern Baptist churches are free to practice either open or closed communion (due to the convention's belief in congregational polity and the autonomy of the local church), most Southern Baptist churches practice open communion. For the same reason, the frequency of observance of the Lord's Supper varies from church to church. It is commonly observed quarterly; though, some churches offer it monthly and a small minority offers it weekly.[72]

Gender-based roles

The Southern Baptist Church subscribes to the complementarian view of gender roles.[73] Beginning in the early 1970s, as a reaction to their perceptions of various "women's liberation movements",[74] the SBC, along with several other historically conservative Baptist groups,[75] began as a body to assert its view of the propriety and primacy of what it deemed "traditional gender roles". In 1973, at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, delegates passed a resolution that read in part: "Man was not made for woman, but the woman for the man. Woman is the glory of man. Woman would not have existed without man."[76] In 1998, the SBC appended a male leadership understanding of marriage to the 1963 version of the Baptist Faith and Message, with an official amendment: Article XVIII, "The Family". In 2000, it revised the document to reflect support for a male-only pastorate with no mention of the office of deacon. [71][77]

In the pastorate

By explicitly defining the pastoral office as the exclusive domain of males, the 2000 BF&M provision becomes the SBC's first-ever official position against women pastors.[78]

Autonomous local congregations are not required to adopt male-only pastors as their theological position. Neither the BF&M nor the SBC provides any mechanism to trigger automatic expulsion of congregations that adopt practices or theology contrary to the BF&M.[8] However, going against the SBC's official gender protocol, defended on biblical grounds, opens a local Baptist congregation to severe criticism and even further penalties. Some SBC churches that have installed women as their pastors have been excluded from membership in their local associations of Baptist churches; a smaller number have been expelled from their state conventions.[79] As individual churches affiliated with the SBC are autonomous, local congregations cannot be compelled to adopt a male-only pastorate.[8]

The crystallization of SBC positions on gender roles and restrictions of women's participation in the pastorate contributed to the decision by members now belonging to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to break from the SBC in 1991.[80]

In marriage

The 2000 BF&M now prescribes a husband-headship authority structure, closely following the apostle Paul's exhortations in Ephesians 5:21–33:

Article XVIII. The Family. The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to his people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation [emphasis added].

Worship services

Worship services usually include hymns, prayer, choral music by a choir, soloist, or both, the reading of Scripture, the collection of offerings, a sermon, and an invitation to respond to the sermon (sometimes termed an altar call).[81] Most Southern Baptists observe a low church form of worship, which is less formal and uses no stated liturgy. People may respond during the "invitation" by receiving Jesus Christ as "Lord and Saviour" and beginning Christian discipleship, entering into vocational ministry, joining the church, or making some other publicly stated decision.[82]



Year Membership
1845 350,000
1860 650,000
1875 1,260,000
1890 1,240,000
1905 1,900,000
1920 3,150,000
1935 4,480,000
1950 7,080,000
1965 10,780,000
1980 13,700,000
1995 15,400,000
2000 15,900,000
2005 16,600,000
2006 16,306,246
2007 16,266,920
2008 16,228,438
2009 16,160,088
2010 16,136,044
2011 15,978,112
2012 15,872,404
2013 15,735,640
2014 15,499,173
2015 15,294,764

The SBC reports having 15.74 million members in 46,125 churches throughout the US in 2013. On average, 37 percent of the membership (5,834,707 members, guests and non-member children) attend their churches' primary worship services.[88]

The SBC has 1,161 local associations and 42 state conventions, and fellowships covering all 50 states and territories of the United States. The five states with the highest rates of membership in the SBC are Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee. Texas has the largest number of members with an estimated 2.75 million.[89]

Through their Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists support thousands of missionaries in the United States and worldwide.

Data from church sources and independent surveys indicate that since 1990 membership of SBC churches has declined as a proportion of the American population.[90] Historically, the convention grew throughout its history until 2007, when membership decreased by a net figure of nearly 40,000 members.[91] The total membership, of about 16.2 million, was flat over the same period, falling by 38,482, or 0.2 percent. An important indicator for the health of the denomination is new baptisms, which have decreased every year for seven of the last eight years. As of 2008, they had reached their lowest levels since 1987.[92] Membership continued to decline from 2008 to 2012.[7] SBC's statistical summary of 2014 recorded a loss of 236,467 members, their biggest one-year decline since 1881.[86]

This decline in membership and baptisms has prompted some SBC researchers to describe the convention as a "denomination in decline".[93] Former SBC president Frank Page suggested that if current conditions continue, half of all SBC churches will close their doors permanently by the year 2030.[94] This assessment is supported by a recent survey of SBC churches which indicated that 70 percent of all SBC churches are declining or are plateaued with regards to their membership.[95]

The decline in membership of the SBC was an issue discussed during the June 2008 Annual Convention.[96] Curt Watke, a former researcher for the SBC, noted four reasons for the decline of the SBC based on his research: the increase in immigration by non-European groups, decline in growth among predominantly European American (white) churches, the aging of the current membership, and a decrease in the percentage of younger generations participating in any church life.[94] Some believe that the Baptists have not worked sufficiently to attract minorities.[97]

On the other hand, the state conventions of Mississippi and Texas report an increasing portion of minority members.[97] In 1990 5% of SBC congregations were non-white. In 2012, the proportion of SBC congregations that were of other ethnic groups (African American, Latino and Asian) had increased to 20%.[36] 60% of the minority congregations were found in Texas, particularly in the suburbs of Houston and Dallas.[36]

The decline in SBC membership may be more pronounced than these statistics indicate because Baptist churches are not required to remove inactive members from their rolls. In addition, hundreds of large moderate congregations have shifted their primary allegiance to other Baptist groups, such as the American Baptist Churches USA, the Alliance of Baptists or the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, but have continued to remain nominally on the books of the convention. Their members are thus counted in the SBC's totals although these churches no longer participate in the annual SBC meetings or make more than the minimum financial contributions.[98]

In some cases, groups have withdrawn from the SBC because of its conservative trends. On November 6, 2000, The Baptist General Convention of Texas voted to cut its contributions to SBC seminaries and reallocate more than $5 million in funds to three theological seminaries in the state which members believe were more moderate.[99] These include the Hispanic Baptist Theological School in San Antonio, Baylor University's George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, and Hardin-Simmons University's Logsdon School of Theology in Abilene. Since the controversies of the 1980s, more than 20 theological or divinity programs directed toward moderate and progressive Baptists have been established in the Southeast. In addition to Texas, schools in Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina and Alabama were established in the 1990s. These include the Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, McAfee School of Theology of Mercer University in Atlanta, Wake Forest, Gardner Webb and Campbell Divinity schools in North Carolina and Beeson Divinity School at Samford University to name a few. These schools contributed to the flat and declining enrollment at Southern Baptist seminaries operating in the same region of the United States. Texas and Virginia have the largest state conventions identified as moderate in theological approach.[100]


The First Brazilian Baptist Church in Charlestown, Massachusetts

The Southern Baptists' typical form of polity is congregationalist: each local church is autonomous without formal lines of responsibility to organizational levels of higher authority.

A basic Baptist principle is the autonomy of the local church.[8] The convention is therefore conceived as a cooperative association by which churches can pool resources rather than as a body with any administrative or ecclesiastical control over local churches. It maintains a central administrative organization in Nashville, Tennessee. The SBC's Executive Committee exercises authority and control over seminaries and other institutions owned by the Southern Baptist Convention. However, the Executive Committee has no authority over affiliated state conventions, local associations, individual churches or members.

The Southern Baptist Convention has around 10,000 ethnic congregations.[101] Commitment to the autonomy[8] of local congregations was the primary force behind the Executive Committee's rejection of a proposal to create a convention-wide database of SBC clergy accused of sexual crimes against congregants or other minors[102] in order to stop the "recurring tide"[103] of clergy sexual abuse within SBC congregations. A 2009 study by Lifeway Christian Resources, the convention's research and publishing arm, revealed that one in eight background checks for potential volunteers or workers in SBC churches revealed a history of crime that could have prevented them from working.[104]

The convention's confession of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message,[57] technically is not binding on churches or members due to the autonomy[8] of the local church. Politically and culturally, Southern Baptists tend to be conservative. Most oppose the use of alcohol as a beverage, homosexual activity, and abortion with few exceptions.[5]

There are four levels of SBC organization: the local congregation, the local association, the state convention, and the national convention.

Pastor and deacon

Generally, Baptists recognize only two scriptural offices: pastor-teacher and deacon. The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in the early 1980s recognizing that offices requiring ordination are restricted to men. According to the Baptist Faith and Message, the office of pastor is limited to men based on certain New Testament scriptures. However, there is no prohibition in the Baptist Faith and Message against women serving as deacons.[105] Neither the BF&M or resolutions are binding upon local churches. Each church is responsible to prayerfully search the Scriptures and establish its own policy.

State conventions

Individual congregations and associations may choose to affiliate with state conventions or fellowships which in turn can affiliate with the SBC. There are 41 affiliated state conventions or fellowships.[4]

Annual meeting

President Jimmy Carter addressing the SBC in Atlanta in 1978. (In 2009, Carter broke with the SBC over its position on the status of women.)[106]

The Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting consists of messengers from cooperating churches. In the month of June, they gather to confer and determine the programs, policies, and budget of the SBC. Each church may be represented by up to 10 messengers, the exact number being determined by the church's number of members and contributions to the national SBC organization.[107]

The following quotation from the SBC Constitution explains the membership and description of messengers to each annual meeting:

Article III. Membership: The Convention shall consist of messengers who are members of missionary Baptist churches cooperating with the Convention as follows:
  1. One messenger from each church which (1) Is in friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work. Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior; and (2) Has been a bona fide contributor to the Convention's work during the fiscal year preceding.
  2. One additional messenger from each such church for every two hundred and fifty members; or for each $250.00 paid to the work of the Convention during the fiscal year preceding the annual meeting.
  3. The messengers shall be appointed and certified by the churches to the Convention, but no church may appoint more than ten.
  4. Each messenger shall be a member of the church by which he is appointed.

Article IV. Authority: While independent and sovereign in its own sphere, the Convention does not claim and will never attempt to exercise any authority over any other Baptist body, whether church, auxiliary organizations, associations, or convention.[108]

Missions and affiliated organizations

Cooperative Program

The Cooperative Program (CP) is the SBC's unified funds collection and distribution program for the support of regional, national and international ministries.[109] The CP is funded by contributions from SBC congregations.[109]

In the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, the local congregations of the SBC reported gift receipts of $11.1 billion.[110] From this they sent $548 million, approximately 5 per cent, to their state Baptist conventions through the CP.[110] Of this amount, the state Baptist conventions retained $344 million for their work. $204 million was sent on to the national CP budget for the support of denomination-wide ministries.[110]

Missions agencies

Members of a Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief team prepare to cook food after the Greensburg, Kansas Tornado in 2007

The Southern Baptist Convention was organized in 1845 primarily for the purpose of creating a mission board to support the sending of Baptist missionaries. The North American Mission Board, or NAMB, (founded as the Domestic Mission Board, and later the Home Mission Board) in Alpharetta, Georgia serves missionaries involved in evangelism and church planting in the U.S. and Canada, while the International Mission Board, or IMB, (originally the Foreign Mission Board) in Richmond, Virginia, sponsors missionaries to the rest of the world.

Among the more visible organizations within the North American Mission Board is Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. In 1967, a small group of Texas Southern Baptist volunteers helped victims of Hurricane Beulah by serving hot food cooked on small "buddy burners." In 2005, volunteers responded to 166 named disasters, prepared 17,124,738 meals, repaired 7,246 homes, and removed debris from 13,986 yards.[111] Southern Baptist Disaster Relief provides many different types: food, water, child care, communication, showers, laundry, repairs, rebuilding, or other essential tangible items that contribute to the resumption of life following the crisis – and the message of the Gospel. All assistance is provided to individuals and communities free of charge. SBC DR volunteer kitchens prepare much of the food distributed by the Red Cross in major disasters.[112]

Seminaries and colleges

Binkley Chapel at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

The SBC directly supports six theological seminaries devoted to religious instruction and ministry preparation.[113]

Other organizations

See also


  1. The era of conservative resurgence was accompanied by the erosion of more-liberal members (see, e.g., G. Avery Lee).



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Early, Joseph, Jr., ed. (2008). Readings in Baptist History: Four Centuries of Selected Documents. Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-8054-4674-6. 
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Heyrman, Christine Leigh (1998). Southern Cross: The Beginning of the Bible Belt. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. 
Hankins, Barry (2002). Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 978-0-8173-5081-9. 
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Further reading

Ammerman, Nancy (1990), Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention, Rutgers University Press .
  , ed. (1993), Southern Baptists Observed, University of Tennessee Press .
Baker, Robert, ed. (1966), A Baptist Source Book, Nashville, TN: Broadman .
   (1974), The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People, 1607–1972, Broadman .
Barnes, William. The Southern Baptist Convention, 1845–1953 Broadman Press, 1954.
Eighmy, John. Churches in Cultural Captivity: A History of the Social Attitudes of Southern Baptists. University of Tennessee Press, 1972.
Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists: Presenting Their History, Doctrine, Polity, Life, Leadership, Organization & Work Knoxville: Broadman Press, v 1–2 (1958), 1500 pp; 2 supplementary volumes 1958 and 1962; vol 5. Index, 1984
Farnsley II, Arthur Emery, Southern Baptist Politics: Authority and Power in the Restructuring of an American Denomination; Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994
Flowers, Elizabeth H. Into the Pulpit: Southern Baptist Women and Power Since World War II (University of North Carolina Press; 2012) 263 pages; examines women's submission to male authority as a pivotal issue in the clash between conservatives and moderates in the SBC
Fuller, A. James. Chaplain to the Confederacy: Basil Manly and Baptist Life in the Old South (2002)
Gatewood, Willard. Controversy in the 1920s: Fundamentalism, Modernism, and Evolution. Vanderbilt University Press, 1969.
Harvey, Paul. Redeeming the South: Religious Cultures and Racial Identities among Southern Baptists, 1865–1925. University of North Carolina Press, 1997
Hill, Samuel, et al. Encyclopedia of Religion in the South (2005)
Kell, Carl L. and L. Raymond Camp, In the Name of the Father: The Rhetoric of the New Southern Baptist Convention. Southern Illinois University Press, 1999.
Kidd, Thomas S. and Barry Hankins. Baptists in America: A History. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Leonard, Bill J. God's Last and Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.
Lumpkin, William L. Baptist History in the South: Tracing through the Separates the Influence of the Great Awakening, 1754–1787 (1995)
McSwain, Larry L. Loving Beyond Your Theology: The Life and Ministry of Jimmy Raymond Allen (Mercer University Press; 2010) 255 pages. A biography of the Arkansas-born pastor (b. 1927), who was the last moderate president of the SBC
Marsden, George. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of 20th Century Evangelicalism. Oxford University Press, 1980.
Religious Congregations & Membership in the United States, Glenmary Research Center, 2000 .
Rosenberg, Ellen (1989), The Southern Baptists: A Subculture in Transition, University of Tennessee Press .
Scales, T. Laine. All That Fits a Woman: Training Southern Baptist Women for Charity and Mission, 1907–1926 Mercer U. Press 2002
Smith, Oran P. The Rise of Baptist Republicanism (1997), on recent voting behavior
Spain, Rufus B. At Ease in Zion: A Social History of Southern Baptists, 1865–1900 (1961)
Sutton, Jerry. The Baptist Reformation: The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (2000).
Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785–1900. Oxford University Press, 1997
Yarnell III, Malcolm B. The Formation of Christian Doctrine (2007), on Baptist theology
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