The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is a United States cooperative ministry agency serving missionary Baptist churches around the world. The words Southern Baptist Convention refer both to the denomination and its annual meeting of delegates. Because Baptist churches believe strongly in the local autonomy of the church, the SBC can be seen mainly as a cooperative organization by which churches can pool resources, rather than as a body with any administrative control over local churches. It does, however, maintain a central administrative organization based in Nashville, Tennessee.
Baptists arrived in the southern United States near the end of the 17th century. The first Baptist church in the south was formed in Charleston, South Carolina under the leadership of William Screven, a Baptist preacher and shipbuilder who arrived there from Maine in 1696. But the zealous evangelism of the Separate Baptists was the chief instrument of spreading the Baptist denomination throughout the southern U. S. The first associations formed in the South were the Charleston Association (org. 1751) and the Sandy Creek Association (org. 1758). Baptists in the South participated in forming the first national Baptist organization in 1814 - the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions (better known as the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions or the Triennial Convention; it met every three years).
The Southern Baptist Convention was formed May 8-12, 1845 in Augusta, Georgia. Its first president was William Bullein Johnson (1782-1862), who was president of the Triennial Convention in 1841. The immediate, though not only, cause was the controversy over slavery between Northeners and Southerners within the Triennial Convention and the Home Mission Society. Though the bodies were theoretically neutral, some Baptists in the South did not believe the assurances of neutrality. They knew several leaders were engaged in abolitionist activity. To test this, Georgia Baptists recommended James E. Reeve, a slaveholder, to the Home Mission Society as a missionary in the South. The Society did not appoint Reeve, presumably not on the basis of his being a slaveholder, but because the Georgia Baptists wished his appointment specifically because he was a slaveholder. Baptists from the South subsequently broke from this organization and formed the new convention.
Another issue that disturbed the churches in the south was the perception that the American Baptist Home Mission Society (org. 1832) did not appoint a proportionate number of missionaries to the southern region of the U. S. It is also evident that Baptists north and south preferred a different type of denominational organization. The Baptists in the north as a whole preferred a loosely structured society composed of individuals who paid annual dues. Each society usually focused on a single ministry. The southern churches preferred an organization composed of churches patterned after their associations. A variety of ministries were thereby brought under the direction of one denominational organization.
In addition to the controversy that led to the formation of the SBC, the Convention has suffered several issues that caused loss of churches and/or support, notably Landmarkism, which led to the formation of Gospel Missions and the forming of the American Baptist Association; the Whitsitt controversy (1896-1899); and the fundamentalist/modernist controversy, which led to the formation of independent Baptist groups such as the World Baptist Fellowship. The more recent conservative/moderate controversy has led to the founding of both the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The general theological perspective of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention is represented in the Baptist Faith and Message.
The churches of the SBC support a number of educational institutions, the oldest being the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky (founded in 1859 in Greenville, South Carolina). Other such instituions include Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; Golden Gate Baptist Seminary in Mill Valley, California; Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri; and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The SBC also operates one of the largest religious publishing houses in the United States, LifeWay Christian Resources, which was founded as the Baptist Sunday School Board in 1891.
Southern Baptists are the largest baptist and protestant group in the United States, claiming 16 million members. According to the Religious Congregations Membership Study, the Convention had 15,922,039 members in 41,514 churches in the United States in 2000. It has 1,200 local associations, 41 state conventions and fellowships, and supports thousands of missionaries worldwide (over 10,000 in 2003). There are more Southern Baptist churches in America than of any other religious group, including the Roman Catholic Church. Their greatest numbers are in the southern part of the United States, where they exert considerable influence. Some southern states have no lotteries or any gambling because of strong Baptist opposition to gambling. Also many majority Southern Baptist counties are "dry" because of their strong opposition to any alcohol consumption.
In 2004, the SBC elected Dr. Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Florida, as its president. Prominent Southern Baptists include Evangelist Billy Graham, probably the most famous Southern Baptist alive today; his son and designated successor, Franklin; former US President Bill Clinton; Charles Stanley, the pastor of the nearly 16,000-member First Baptist Church of Atlanta; Jerry Falwell, the pastor of the 24,000-member Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia; Adrian Rogers, the pastor of the 28,000 member Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee; Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in California and author of the "Purpose Driven Life;" H. Edwin Young, the pastor of the 31,000 member Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas; and Jerry Vines, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida.
Former US President Jimmy Carter was associated with the Southern Baptist Convention until October, 2000 when disassociated himself due to the Convention's stance on subordination of women. (beliefnet.com (http://www.beliefnet.com/story/47/story_4798_1.html) & baptiststandard.com (http://www.baptiststandard.com/2000/10_23/pages/carter.html))
In the 1970s, two clear factions emerged in the convention. Moderates argued for a less fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible and were open to adopting changes that reflected those taking place in society as a whole. Amongst other things, moderates took more liberal positions on issues such as temperance, ordination of women.
Conservatives, alarmed by what they considered to be an erosion of their traditional values, fought back and engineered an effort to gain administrative control over the convention. Led by Paul Pressler and Paige Patterson, conservatives succeeded in having conservative sympathizers elected to key administrative positions in the convention. Throughout the eighties, conservatives consolidated their control over the convention at every level from the administration to key faculty at their seminaries.
In 1998, the largest state constituent convention of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist General Convention of Texas voted to disassociate itself from the SBC. Its stated reasons for doing so were its objections to proposed changes in the Baptist Faith and Message for the year 2000. The document has traditionally served as a statement of beliefs for the convention. The Texas convention in particular was opposed to language that made the document sound like a creed. They feared that if the full acceptance of such a document were required for church officials, the writers of the document would be able to effectively control who held any position of power.
The Texans were also opposed to the deletion of a passage declaring that "the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ." They believed that this omission would allow a published church document to supersede the fundamental authority of Jesus Christ, which could in turn lead to a more liberal interpretation of the scriptures. The Texans do not recognize the 2000 document, retaining instead the 1963 version.
The departure of the Texas convention has not led to a wider schism in the convention. This is primarily attributed to the fact that the individual churches have a high degree of autonomy, unlike the strict hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic Church.
- A Baptist Source Book, by Robert A. Baker
- Baptist Foundations in the South, by William L. Lumpkin
- Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists (4 Volumes)
- Religious Congregations & Membership in the United States, 2000, Glenmary Research Center
- The Southern Baptist Convention, 1845-1953, by W. W. Barnes