Southern Baptist History 101

Southern Baptist History 101

by Edward T. Babinski

On June 10, 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention, for the first time, amended the 1963 Southern Baptist statement of faith known as the Baptist Faith And Message, adding a brand new section (XVIII) entitled the “Family Amendment” that states in part, “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 [spiritually], has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation [in the societal realm].” [Comments in brackets by E.T.B.]

Of course, Southern Baptists believe their amendment concerning the necessity of wifely “submission” and the wifeʼs duty to “respect, serve and help” her husband, is what the Holy Scriptures demand. But Southern Baptist slave owners once believed the same thing regarding the “submission” of slaves and the slaveʼs duty to “respect, serve and help” their masters. Hereʼs the story. In 1844, the national Baptist General Convention for Foreign Missions refused to license slave owning missionaries. One year later, that refusal led to the split between the northern and southern Baptists. The southern Baptists were absolutely convinced that the Bible taught that God had divinely sanctioned slavery. As early as 1823, Richard Furman, a leader of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, a slaveholder, and for whom Furman University is named, stated in a famous address to the Governor of South Carolina, “The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.” [See Exposition of The Views of the Baptists, Relative To The Colored Population In The United States]. The next year, in 1845, those firmly convicted defenders of slavery formed their own separate Baptist denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.

Baptists at the 1998 Convention should go back and read the pro-slavery sermons, tracts and treatises of the founders of their denomination. Their Biblical expositions of Negro inferiority were based on Noahʼs curse of slavery upon Canaan, son of Ham, who was presumed to be the ancestor of the Black race; and also based on the patriarchal and Mosaic acceptance of slavery, and, also based on the New Testament commands of Peter and Paul regarding slave-master relationships. Rev. Furman stated, “For though they are slaves, they are also men; and are with ourselves accountable creatures; having immortal souls, and being destined to future eternal reward.” The Southern Baptist view was that slaves were better off under the loving, tender, compassionate care of Christian slave owners, and the institution of slavery was to be “a blessing both to master and slave.” [Just like todayʼs Southern Baptists who preach that the “submission” of women to men is the only “blessed” norm.—E.T.B.] In fact it would little rewording of the 1998 “Family Amendment” to make it fit the 1845 Southern Baptist view toward slaves: “A slave/wife is to submit themselves graciously to the servant leadership of their master/husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. Slaves/females, being in the image of God as is their master/husband and thus equal to them [spiritually], has the God-given responsibility to respect their master/husband and to serve as their helper in picking cotton/managing the household and nurturing the next generation [in the societal realm].”

One hundred and fifty-five years later, after a Civil War that left six hundred thousand dead and one million wounded, we recognize that our Southern Baptist forefathers and foremothers were on the wrong side of history and Biblical interpretation…But if the slave subordination and submission passages are no longer binding upon the church, then why are the female subordination and submission passages?

Southern Baptist seminary professors were forced to sign a pledge of acceptance of the Family Amendment, or be fired. And denominational leaders were given the green light by their agencies to brand dissenters as heretics. Dr. Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and drafter of the Amendment, has written that those who do not support the Family Amendment are either “goddesses of radical feminism,” “gurus of political correctness,” “defenders of the subjective, secular Church of Sociology and Political Correctness,” or have succumbed to the “trendy egalitarian rhetoric of the late 20th century.” [November/December 1999 issue of Light (official magazine of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission) entitled, “Questioning Biblical Submission: Religious Critics Renew Debate.”] Similar ridicule was heaped on Black Baptist ministers mere decades ago for refusing to attend the then segregated Southern Baptist Convention meetings and who insisted on the full equality of Blacks. Back then the pro-segregation Southern Baptist Convention leaders ridiculed the Black ministers, calling them “unchristian” in their objections, and unduly influenced “by what are essentially Russian Communistic theories.”

Letʼs review. Southern Baptists favored slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, and fought against womenʼs suffrage, federal lynching laws, desegregation and civil rights. Now they call for women to submit to their husbands regardless of the talents, abilities or calling of the parties…

Why is it that a large group of humans who know the Bible and claim to believe it, have missed the whisper of the Holy Spirit on all of the great American social issues of the last two centuries? Perhaps because churches do not exist in isolation from the ideas of their age and cultural milieu. And the South has a distinct cultural milieu/heritage. W. J. Cash opened his classic, The Mind Of The South, with these words, “There exists among us by ordinary…a profound conviction that the South is another land, sharply differentiated from the rest of the American nation, and exhibiting within itself a remarkable homogeneity.” Cash goes on to comment, “It is easy to trace throughout the region…a fairly definite mental pattern, associated with a fairly definite social pattern—a complex of established relationships and habits of thought, sentiments, prejudices, standards and values, and associations of ideas, which, if it is not common strictly to every group of white people in the South, is still common in one appreciable measure or another, and in some part or another, to all but relatively negligible ones.” (See also Religion And The Solid South, ed. Samuel S. Hill, Jr, E. T. Thompson, “God And The Southern Plantation System,” Nashville, Abington Press, 1972).

In short, we Southern Baptists, more so than most any other American denomination, are a cultural tribe with such deeply ingrained cultural biases and prejudices that it is difficult for us to even recognize we have them.

In a speech to the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission, William M. Dyal, Jr. stated, “The Southern Baptist Convention carries yet the birthmark of guilt for slavery and racism. It is still difficult to discern between our church and our culture.” Foy Valentine, retired Executive Director of the Christian Life Commission, observed that Southern Baptists “abandoned the Lordship of Christ in racial ethics.” Instead we Southern Baptists simply reproduced the caste culture of slavery, segregation and prejudice. (A Historical Study Of Southern Baptists And Race Relations 1917-1947, Arno Press, New York, 1980).

Southern Baptist historian Walter B. Shurden wrote, “The Southern Baptist Convention was organized in defense of mid-nineteenth century Southern culture.” (Not A Silent People, Broadman Press, 1972, p.52).

Secular sociologists and church historians have all pointed out that the Southern Baptist church is strongly influenced by its culture, and is in fact, controlled by southern culture. (See, C. Penrose St. Amant, “Southern Baptists And Southern Culture,” Review and Expositor, LXVII, Spring 1970, p.146).

Sociologist Norman Yance wrote, “Southern Baptist attitudes follow the path of least resistance and conform to sectional opinion.” (Religion Southern Style, 1978, p.5).

One of the great Southern Baptist pastors, denominational leaders and editorialists of bygone days recognized our “cultural Christianity,” and reveled in it. J. W. Porter once wrote while opposing womenʼs suffrage: “The truth is, and we may as well speak it, this contention about equal rights for women is a by-product of a civilization that is antithetic to the genius of our Southern social system. Susan B. Anthony [not a Christian], one of the leading advocates of the sexless woman, was also an ardent advocate of the social equality of the races.” (Western Recorder, February 14, 1918). What a sin, to be “an advocate of the social equality of races”—what a sin, that is, in the eyes of a Southern Baptist leader writing in 1918.

More than 80 years ago, Southern Baptist leaders in the U.S. opposed the attempt by women to gain the right to vote. Baptist, Stalworth W. L. Hargis, quoted various Bible texts and concluded, “Does this sound like God intended that man and woman should be on a parity in everything, civil, religious, social and everything else?" ("Woman Suffrage,” The Baptist Record, XXIV, August 10, 1922, p.6).

The Barna Research Group just concluded an extensive survey of the correlation between religion and divorce in American. They found that 24 percent of all Americans have been divorced. The divorce rate of Baptists is 29 percent. Interestingly, the divorce rate among those calling themselves atheists or agnostics is 21 percent. After Nevada, home of the quickie Las Vegas divorce, the four Southern Baptist stronghold states Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma (from which a Family Amendment drafter hails) and Arkansas lead the nation in divorce, and round out the top five. The Southeast, the Bible Belt, as a region, has the highest divorce rate. All southern states except South Carolina exceed the national divorce average.

D. Marty Lasley [Southern Baptist], “Keeping Women In Servitude: Why Southern Baptists Resurrected The Hermeneutics Of Slavery” (2000) [Edited by E.T.B.] Lasleyʼs website:

The Southern Baptists, a denomination that split with its Baptist cousins to the north over the right of ministers to own slaves (and presently the nationʼs largest Protestant Christian denomination) “apologized” in June 1995 for their pro-slavery, pro-racist, pro-segregationist past. Measured from the date Southern Baptists began waving their Christian banner for slavery (1845) to the date they apologized (1995), it took them longer to apologize than it took the white South African government to apologize for their segregation policy known as “apartheid;” it took them longer to apologize than it took the Japanese Emperor to apologize to the Asian nations who suffered at the hands of Japan during World War II; it took them longer to apologize than it took the U.S. government to apologize to the 120,000 Japanese-Americans sent to prison camps during World War II; it took them longer to apologize than it took the U.S. government to apologize to the native Hawaiians whose government was forcibly overthrown in 1893; it took them longer to apologize than it took an Israeli president to shake hands with the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Besides which, the Berlin Wall rose and fell and so did communism in Russia, before Southern Baptists finally apologized—an apology uttered one hundred and fifty years, six hundred thousand corpses, and countless lynchings, whippings and beatings, too late.



  1. Very interesting info. I'm over here from someone's link at, re: SBC's most recent opposition to marriage equality.

  2. The Baptist church was established in the Netherlands in 1609 by John Smyth. According to Baptist history, Roger Williams established the church in the U.S. in 1639 in Providence, Rhode Island. In the U.S., Southern Baptists are the most widely known members of the religion, but there are other sects in the country. There is no hierarchy in the church, and each congregation makes its own rules. However, there are some basic Baptist beliefs and practices that apply to most of the churches.

  3. Hay your post is so nice. Baptist history has been characterized by a lot of intrigues .Quite a number of churches go by the name the “First Southern Baptist Church”, which makes one to wonder how all these churches can be first. This article will take a critical look at the origin of this denomination and the development of the First Southern Baptist Church.