Southern Baptist Convention

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The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the largest organization of Baptists in the world, the second-largest denomination in the United States (behind Roman Catholicism) and the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. In terms of classification among denominations it is considered Evangelical (and in a category where there is no consensus on what denomination should be considered such, it is the only denomination where there is consensus that it should be).

It has over 16 million members in 42,000 churches across America, with greatest strength in the South.[1] It also sponsors 10,000 missionaries in 157 countries. It holds 41 state conventions and one national convention annually, and in recent years it tends to identify with conservative Christian values and supports Biblical inerrancy. Insistence on baptism by immersion, as it is presented in the Bible, fulfills the twin symbolism of washing from sin and of death and rebirth, as well as pointing to the Baptists' conviction that Scripture is the complete and sufficient basis of the Christian faith, and (in the more traditional congregations) is also mandatory to become a church member.

The SBC is, however, in decline. While "still the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, [the Southern Baptist Convention] lost nearly half a million members last year."[2] Part of this is due to a broader decline in church attendance, which fell below a majority in 2020 for the first time in American history.[2]

Leonard (2000) explores the bitter internal divisions within the SBC since 1979. Conflict between fundamentalist and moderate factions at the national level has continued to impact state conventions, Baptist associations, and local congregations. Important recent changes include the establishment of relationships with other Protestant groups (and, to a lesser extent, Catholics, generally limited to the pro-life cause) and other ethnic and racial groups, the emergence of mega-churches with very powerful ministers and multimillion-dollar budgets (and which often downplay any ties they may have to the denomination), the reorganization of stewardship programs, and the founding of new theological schools.[3]

Southern Baptists are facing a membership decline that could shrink the nation's largest Protestant denomination by nearly half in 40 years, its convention president Rev. Johnny Hunt, warned in June 2009.[4]


American Baptists emerged in the 18th century with bases in Rhode Island, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Influenced by the First Great Awakening they adopted revivals. By 1800-1830 they were major participants in the Second Great Awakening. Most historians view these evangelicals as radicals who were on society's fringe during the colonial period, only to become conservative by the nineteenth century after they had achieved social acceptance.[5]


The denomination grew very rapidly throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, becoming the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. by the 1870s. After 1945 it began to expand outside the South, first to the western states then to the north. Patterson (1979) attributes the growth of Southern Baptists since the 18th century, apart from sociological, demographic, and cultural influences, to religious factors:

  1. heritage of the revival emphasis
  2. denominational pride growing out of Landmark exclusiveness
  3. development of efficient and adaptable denominational organizations
  4. sense of denominational loyalty
  5. massive program of tuition-free theological education
  6. dispersion of Southern Baptists across the United States
  7. a gift for organizing and promoting programs and methods to share the gospel in a more effective way.

By 1955 the SBC counted 8,200,000 members, and were baptising an average 1,000 new members a day. The 30,000 affiliated churches reached 24 states, but were still heavily concentrated in the South. Local churches were worth $1.2 billion, up from $276 million in 1945. Yearly contributions reached $305 million. Sunday school membership was 6,400,000. The denomination supported 30 colleges and universities, 22 junior colleges, six seminaries, eight academies and four Bible schools. Most were still small and the total enrollment was only 50,080. They ran 33 hospitals and 23 magazines.[6]

20th century

The dominant leader in the early 20th century was Edgar Young Mullins. He led the SBC between 1899 and 1928 and was successful at mediating theological, political, and organizational conflicts within among Baptists. He was a theologian as well, and synthesized theology and democratic political thought in his writings.[7] Another major Baptist clergyman was George W. Truett, the pastor from 1897 to 1944 of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, which for a time was considered the largest congregaqtion in the world. Truett headed the SBC from 1927 to 1929 and the Baptist World Alliance from 1934 to 1939.[8]

The Great Depression of the 1930s was a hard blow for most churches, for they were based in impoverished rural areas and money was very scarce. Prosperity returned with World War II, especially with heavy migration to Southern cities (and some western cities like Los Angeles as well), where high paying jobs were plentiful. Affluence came in the 1960s, but meanwhile careful stewards rebuilt the financial base. For example, Avery Hamilton Reid, executive secretary of the Alabama Baptist State Convention during 1944-62, resolved the convention's financial crisis. He led fund-raising drives, established the Advance Programs to improve Howard and Judson colleges, built handsome, modern new churches, and increased membership. Reid oversaw the building of a new headquarters for the convention and removed from the convention's budget hospitals taking federal grant money for construction.[9]

Fighting Sin

Religious leaders in the South were theologically conservative, but most denominations supported the Social Gospel. The Southern Baptists strongly supported some of the main Social Gospel campaigns, especially against liquor and saloons and sexual slavery. The spirit of today's campaigns against abortion very closely resemble the language and rhetoric and organizing techniques of the prohibition campaigns. The Southern churches were also active opponents of prostitution, obscenity and gambling, and they aligned with like minded politicians like Alben Barkley of Kentucky (who later became Truman's vice president). Most of the state Baptist conventions had "Christian Life Commissions" that echoed the Social Gospel (they were especially active in Alabama and Virginia).

Few local SBC ministers considered issues related to the labor movement until 1930-50, long after Northern Protestant denominations had taken pro-union positions. In 1930, ayt the start of the Great Depression, the SBC issued a statement supporting workers' rights, yet focusing on evangelization as a means of spiritual redemption that would offer relief from the problems of industrialization, rather than proposing structural solutions. The convention's 1938 report was largely drafted in response to fears of communism, urging capital and labor to cooperate to safeguard American political order. Steeped in the patriotism accompanying World War II, convention leaders' 1944 statement looked to the principles of democracy and Christian morality as panaceas for tense industrial relations. Amid postwar Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) drives to unionize Southern textile unions—drives that failed—SBC statements from 1946 to 1948 targeted the dangers of consumerism and decried an increasing polarization of unions and management, arguing that individuals must concentrate on the Kingdom of God and not substitute their personal spirituality with secular group solidarity.[10]

Justice Department Investigation

The SBC Executive Committee confirmed on August 12, 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice initiated an investigation into numerous abuse allegations. The general counsel for the Executive Committee, which oversees daily operations, said they have received a subpoena, but no individuals have been subpoenaed.[11] This investigation followed a Guidepost Solutions independent investigation into the SBC. In May 2022, leaders of the SBC revealed that they had a database that documented a systematic cover-up of hundreds and hundreds of cases of sexual abuse within the community.


In 1888, the Southern Baptist Convention created the Woman's Missionary Union, which in the early 21st century continued to function as an umbrella group coordinating the activities of local groups. The Laymen's Missionary Movement was founded by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1907, quickly followed by state groups such as the Alabama Baptist Laymen in 1908. These brotherhood organizations have championed evangelism, charitable giving, and fraternal brotherhood.

Ending segregation

Newman (1999) explores the changing attitudes of the Georgia Baptist Convention and Georgia Southern Baptists toward desegregation. He identifies three phases: during 1945-53 the state convention defended segregation and urged equalization of facilities in order to stave off desegregation; during 1954-58 the convention urged Baptists to respond calmly to desegregation rulings and to abide by law and order; from 1959 on the convention called for support of the public schools during a period when the state legislature planned to close all the schools if any desegregated. John Jeter Hurt, Jr., and Jack U. Harwell, who successively edited the Baptist weekly magazine The Christian Index during the 1950s-1960s, exercised a moderate and eventually progressive influence. By 1980 most Georgia Southern Baptists rejected segregation and accepted African Americans in their schools and churches.[12] Newman (2001) examines the more hard-line approach of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, the state's largest Protestant denomination and the dominant religious group in the northern part of Louisiana. It endorsed segregation and barred black church membership during 1954-80. Many Southern Baptists were less firmly committed to maintaining segregation than the actions of their convention would suggest. A majority of Baptists, the moderate segregationists, accepted the demise of Jim Crow and racial segregation in the mid 1960s as the price of maintaining public school education and because attempts to maintain it conflicted with their commitment to law and order.[13] By contrast, the Florida Baptist Convention's took a much more moderate stand on racial desegregation of the state's schools from 1954 to 1980. While initially reluctant in accepting the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, W. G. Stracener, editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, and other leaders of the state convention urged Florida Baptists to oppose efforts to circumvent desegregation because of their "primary commitments to scripture, evangelism, law and order, peace, and public education."[14]

The SBC's Christian Life Commission, established in 1948, aroused controversy when it supported integration during the civil rights movement under the direction of Foy Valentine, and it continues to be a voice of conscience within the SBC under the current head, Richard D. Land, who has led the commission since 1988. Land has said his idea is, "America in 1955 without the racism and without the sexual discrimination against women."[15]


The ordination of women was forbidden between 1845 and 1996. However women comprised a majority of the membership, and wanted outlets for their piety and energy. Starting in 1907, the Personal Service Department of the Woman's Missionary Union (WMU) has encouraged women to participate in social reform as a form of missionary activity, making explicit the connection to the Social Gospel.[16] Flowers (2000) explores the history of the WMU and its emphasis on social reform in the Social Gospel mode from its founding in 1888 to the eve of the Great Depression in 1928. WMU activities reveal a commitment to its historical ideal of service as both material and spiritual.[17] In the late-20th century conflict arose between the SBC leadership the WMU. The SBC leaders sought to return the WMU to more traditional evangelistic action, with an emphasis on attacking homosexuality and abortion, and away from the type of broad-gauge social work WMU women had been doing. In 1995 the SBC terminated a 105-year relationship with the WMU when the WMU decided to affiliate with the breakaway moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and to become more involved in social issues.

The SBC became formally committed to the husband's "headship" in marriage at its convention in 1998, and at the same time ousted "evangelical feminists" from some of its seminaries. In October 1997 a mass rally in Washington, D.C., saw the culmination of the rise of the Promise Keepers, a loosely organized, mixed-faith grouping that campaigned for male leadership and female submission within the family.


Early in the 20th century, some leaders, such as Mullins, attempted to forge ties with Northern evangelicals. The effort collapsed in the 1920s when the "Scopes Monkey Trial" showed an unbridgeable gap between the regions on the issues such as evolution.. Thereafter the SBC stood aloof and avoided any connections with other religious bodies. The lingering influence of Landmarkism, Southern regionalism, and Northern opposition to Southern race relations stood in the way of closer connections. Though its theology had sectarian elements, the SBC dominated white Southern culture into the 1970s.

By the 1980s, however, conservatives had taken firm control of the SBC and saw value in allying with Northern evangelicals (and to a lesser extent, Catholics, specifically on the abortion issue) because both felt threatened by secular humanism and the Left. No longer as dominant in the South, the SBC shared with the neo-evangelicals in "straddling the Christ-and-culture-in-paradox and Christ-and-the-transformer-of-culture positions." Religious alliances were possible because evangelicals North and South had arrived at similar cultural positions, and the SBC membership itself was growing rapidly outside the South by appealing to migrating Southerners and even more to like-minded Northerners.[18]

To form a successful political coalition, SBC leaders had to rethink the relationship of church and state. Hankins (1998) examines the thought of key leaders of the SBC from the 1940s through the mid-1990s who advocated accommodationism - the belief that the government should actively support and promote Christianity. This was a new idea, for the Baptists had long insisted on a sharp separation of church and state. However influential conservatives popularized accommodationism in the SBC since the 1980s.[19] Politically most Southern Baptist leaders had shown little interest in partisan politics before about 1980, when Ronald Reagan encouraged prominent ministers to form a political coalition with the Republican Party based on moral issues, including opposition to abortion and support for school prayer. Many GOP leaders have joined SBC churches (including Newt Gingrich[20] and John McCain), but the first insider to show wide political appeal was Mike Huckabee (a lifelong Southern Baptist and former pastor) in 2008.[21]

Although Southern whites began voting Republican in presidential elections in the 1960s, they considered themselves Democrats and voted for state and local Democrats for many more years. The table shows that SBC pastors were only 27% Republican in the 1970s; they then moved into the GOP, followed by their parishioners a few years later. By 2004 all elements of the SBC were heavily Republican in orientation. The GOP identification slipped a little in 2008, but about 80% of the Southern Baptists voted for McCain over Barack Obama.

The following table shows the percentages of certain Christian "groupings" that consider themselves Republican:[22]

 1972-1980  1982-1990  1992-2000   2004      Gain   
All 32% 39% 50% 58%  +26%
SBC members 27% 38% 46% 65%  +38%
SBC pastors 27% 66% 77% 81%  +54%
other evangelicals 28% 37% 52% 61%  +33%

In 2017, the SBC called for the defunding of Planned Parenthood.[23]

Theological Controversies

During its tenure the SBC was greatly impacted, and shaped, by three major theological controversies: the Landmark controversy of the 1850s and continuing in some form until around 1910, the Modernist controversy of the 1920s-1930's, and the "Conservative-Moderate" controversy beginning in 1979 and continuing for approximately two decades.

Landmark Controversy

Wamble (1964) surveys the Landmark theology which emerged in Tennessee in the 1850s, was quite strong by 1900, and can still be found among Baptists, even though the organized Landmarker (or "Landmarkean") movement has largely disappeared. Landmarkism insists upon Baptist exclusivism because (1) only Baptist ministers are authentic gospel ministers. (2) Only baptism by immersion, authorized by an authentic minister, upon an authentic candidate (believer), as a symbol (not means) of salvation, is true baptism. (3) The church is a visible, local and independent congregation, exercising plenary authority in a democratic manner, and only Baptist churches fit this description. (4) Baptist churches –unlike all other churches—have an unbroken succession since the time of Christ.[24] Landmarkers refuse to recognize the legitimacy of other denominations, or the validity of their baptisms. By 1859 the movement failed to take control of the Southern Baptist Convention, and always remained a minority viewpoint.

J. R. Graves, a Baptist pastor in Nashville, Tennessee, during the 1840s-1860s, became the leader of the Landmark movement among Baptists, asserting that Southern Baptists alone possessed the true version of Christianity.[25] James Madison Pendleton (1811-1891) was one of the "Great Triumvirate" of the Landmark Movement. Not as intensely doctrinaire as James R. Graves or Amos Cooper Dayton, he accepted the concept of the universal church, never adhered to the theory of Baptist successionism, and was able and willing to work within the framework of Baptist conventions and societies in a way that many Landmarkists were unable to do. He named the movement with his book, An Old Landmark Reset (1854). His basic contribution to the Landmark movement lay in his refusal to accept non-immersionists (non-Baptists) as gospel ministers. Although born in the South, he favored the gradual emancipation of slaves, a position which finally forced him out of his pastorate in Tennessee during the Civil War. He subsequently moved to Ohio and later to Pennsylvania. He wrote numerous works, two of which have significantly influenced American Baptist practice and thought until recent days: Church Manual (1867) and Christian Doctrines: A Compendium of Theology (1878).[26] Amos Cooper Dayton (1813-1865) was the most prolific Landmarkean writer, and indeed was the first Baptist in the South to write a religious novel, Theodosia Ernest (1857). It covered baptism and church polity. Seeking to disseminate Baptist doctrine through the medium of fiction, he defined the church in one of his novels as a "local" group, organized independently of Christian people - a definition of the church which became a major cornerstone of Landmarkism. Beginning as a Presbyterian, he became a Baptist in 1852, and launched his literary career the following year. He authored 13 volumes of fiction and theology and contributed nearly 1,000 articles to 20 different religious periodicals.[27]

In 1898 a major controversy arose when Baptist church historian Dr. William Heth Whitsitt challenged the Landmarkean belief that, from St. Peter to contemporary times, an unbroken chain of churches practiced immersion in the baptismal rite and thereby established themselves as part of the "one, true church." Texas Baptists, led by Benajah Harvey Carroll, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Waco, organized the Landmarkeans to reject Whitsitt's findings.

The central idea of Landmarkism is the authority of the local congregation in Baptist ecclesiology. Landmarkism can be viewed as a doctrinal aberration from the English and early American Baptist theology and polity. Tull (1975) traces the movement from its 1851 beginning in Cotton Grove, Tennessee to its present small remnant. In its full intensity Landmarkism was sectarian in its emphasis on the role of the local church, its denial of the validity of "alien" immersion, an adherence to strict, local church communion, and a hostile response to the ecumenical movement - all of which, Tull concludes, are quite foreign to the ecclesiological traditions which had been developed by English and American Baptists in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Patterson (1975) identifies specific historical situations in which the Landmark movement influences the Baptist church. The greatest influence was and is among Baptists of the Old Southwest, largely due to the 50 year editorial ministry of Graves in Nashville and Memphis. Seaboard Baptists were more settled, and thus less susceptible to the controversies which raged along the frontier and the newly settled lands. Landmarkism was responsible for the idea that the local church, not boards, should be responsible for the conduct and administration of missionary activity, which spawned the gospel missions concept. The Landmark theory of Baptist succession was challenged at the end of the last century, creating the Whitsitt Controversy.

In the late 1890s, William H. Whitsitt (a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of six SBC-operated seminaries) contended that (contrary to Landmarkism), English Baptists (then called Anabaptists) did not begin to practice baptism by immersion until 1641, as opposed to the Landmark view that this practice could be traced to the earliest Baptists.

Landmarkism peaked by 1910, and has nearly faded away (to the extent it still exists it does so within the Independent Baptist ranks, which formed around the 1930s), but its long-term impact is still seen in a resistance to outside influences.[28]

Modernist Controversy

This controversy originated initially in the Presbyterian denomination, but spilled over into the Southern Baptist ranks. Pastors such as J. Frank Norris contended that Baptist universities (such as Baylor University) were teaching Modernism (a form of liberal Christianity which argued that "antiquated beliefs" needed to be discarded). The ensuing result was that many churches (or large segments of churches) left the SBC. Although some minor denominations were formed (such as the Texarkana, Texas-based American Baptist Association), the movement greatly spawned the modern-day Independent Baptist movement.

"Conservative Resurgence"

For most of the 20th century, the factions that became known as "conservatives" and "moderates"[29] were at the fringe of the SBC. That changed when the Civil Rights issue and opposition to Jim Crow (racial segregation) energized the moderate in the 1950s and 1960s. By the 1970s the conservatives had coalesced. Conservatives believe that moderates were right to support desegregation but that they went too far by accepting changes in changing national social norms, especially regarding abortion, homosexuality and women's roles in society and the ministry.[30]

Beginning in the late 1960s, conservatives under the leadership of layman Paul Pressler and minister Paige Patterson claimed that the denomination's institutions had come under the influence of liberalism and that a redirection was necessary. At one point the liberalism was so rampant, the SBC actually passed a resolution during its 1971 Annual Meeting in St. Louis—nearly two years before the infamous Roe v. Wade decision—supporting abortion in such cases as "clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother",[31] and three years later in Dallas (the year after Roe v. Wade) reaffirmed the resolution, saying that it "dealt responsibly from a Christian perspective with complexities of abortion problems in contemporary society" while also in the same resolution claiming that the SBC "historically held a high view of the sanctity of human life".[32]

Patterson and Pressler were aided by William Powell, an SBC employee who noted that the structure of the SBC presidency could be used to gain this redirection: the SBC president solely nominates the Committee on Committees, which in turn nominates the Committee on Nominations (previously known as the Committee on Boards), which in turn nominates the Executive Committee, heads of all SBC organizations, and other open positions.[33] A conservative-minded President would fill vacancies on the Committee on Committees with similarly conservative-minded persons, and when that faction had control it would, in turn, fill nominees for the Committee on Nominations (again with similarly conservative-minded persons), and thereafter fill all other positions similarly; the entire process (which overlapped in part; in Year 2 the President would nominate a new Committee on Committees who would nominate a new Committee on Nominations, while the prior Committee on Nominations was nominating persons for open positions) would take roughly 10–11 years to complete.

Starting in 1979 they mobilized delegates to attend the annual convention and to elect strong conservative candidates. Usually winning by ratios of about 55%-45% they elected a series of strong conservative presidents. In turn the presidents appointed strong conservative committees and trustees, and systematically transformed the mindset of the SBC's six seminaries, its publishing house, its mission boards, and its numerous agencies to a conservative view. Theologically the issue has focused on the inerrancy of Scripture. In 1980 the SBC had completely reversed itself on abortion, passing a much stronger resolution condemning the practice (ironically, meeting again in St. Louis, the site of the 1971 convention where they initially supported the practice)[34]; the SBC has since passed numerous resolutions on this and other issues involving the sanctity of life, taking the conservative view in all cases.

Some Baptist colleges and universities not officially owned by the SBC but historically tied to it resisted the trend and broke their ties with the SBC (Baylor University being one example). The moderates protested that the fundamentalists had downplayed the historic emphasis on evangelism to impose a particular reading of Scripture, thereby breaking with the denomination's historic unwillingness to impose creeds. The more openly-liberal churches broke away in 1987 to form the Alliance of Baptists, while the moderates in 1991 established a splinter group (the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, or CBF), convincing two state associations (the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Baptist General Association of Virginia) to dually align with it and the SBC (this, in turn, resulted in two new conservative-minded state associations, solely aligned with the SBC, to form: the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia).[35]

The success of the conservatives led to two major changes to the Baptist Faith and Message (the SBC's official "statement of faith"): a 1998 amendment adding a section on The Family and a 2000 revision which repudiated homosexuality and stood for the sanctity of life.

In 2004, conservatives at the SBC introduced a resolution calling on all parents to pull their children out of public schools due to the liberal indoctrination there. The resolution was defeated, not because Baptists disagreed with the motivation, but because the SBC did not want to usurp parental authority over how to educate their children.[36]


In all the major tenets of the faith (Biblical inerrancy, the Virgin Birth, the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, His bodily resurrection, and his ultimate return to Earth to judge humanity), as well as on the view of the Trinity, the SBC holds to traditional Christian views and generally has for most of its existence (notwithstanding arguments over Biblical inerrancy during the Conservative Resurgence).[37]

On non-major tenets the SBC holds to views traditionally held by Baptists in general. A notable example is that the SBC believes in two ordinances, both of which are considered to be symbolic:

  • "believers' baptism", whereby a person must come to saving faith in Jesus Christ before baptism by immersion (the SBC does not believe in infant baptism, sprinkling or pouring, or the doctrine of baptismal regeneration)
    • Historically baptism has been the means by which a previous non-member and new Christian (or someone who had previously been baptized by any means other than immersion subsequent to salvation) became an official church member for the first time (though the trend is for churches to require prospective members to attend "new members classes" instead, and some in the "seeker movement" do not require believers baptism for church membership though it is strongly encouraged).
    • Although "baby dedication" services (where parents pledge to raise their child(ren) in the Christian faith) have increased in popularity within SBC churches, the service does not involve any practice common with christening, and is more a celebration that the congregation is reaching parents and families.
  • the Lord's Supper (the term Eucharist is not used, and the more traditional Baptist churches also avoid using the term Communion, due to those terms commonly being associated with Catholicism or mainline denominations); as Southern Baptists historically have preached against drinking alcohol, grape juice is used as the "wine"
    • Each congregation may decide whether to practice open communion or closed communion or some intermediate position; open communion is the most common (though among those congregations holding to Reformed doctrine, closed communion is the predominant practice).

Other ordinances, such as foot washing, are generally not practiced.

With the Conservative Resurgence the SBC has taken a more conservative stand on issues such as sanctity of life, homosexuality, and the limitation of the pastorate to males. However, it has always maintained a view of separation of church and state (believing that each has its role, but not to the extent of liberals who would push religion completely out of the public).

In nearly all other areas, the SBC is quite diverse. For example, there are fairly equal numbers of individuals holding to Calvinism as to Arminianism,[38] and although the SBC believes in Jesus' ultimate return, there is no majority viewpoint on eschatology. This is due in great part to the Baptist views of priesthood of all believers and autonomy of the local church. Although Southern Baptists in general do not hold to Pentecostal or Charismatic practices such as glossolalia ("speaking in tongues"), Independent Baptist author David Cloud believes the practice within the SBC to be far greater than officially discussed.[39][40]

Like other Baptist bodies the SBC does not have a formal confession of faith or creed. It publishes a doctrinal statement, the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M), which summarizes its key beliefs. The SBC, nor any state convention or local association, cannot force a congregation to adhere to the BF&M;[41] however, adherence to the BF&M is required for missionaries, key leadership, and faculty at SBC-supported universities. Most congregations, however, generally adopt the BF&M (in whole or in part) as their doctrinal statement.[42]


In accordance with the traditional Baptist principle of church autonomy, the lowest level (or highest, depending on your perspective) of the SBC is the local church. With the exception of a "mission church",[43] every congregation is autonomous of every other.[44] Furthermore, no higher organization has any authority to direct a church to hire/fire ministers, discipline members, or force it to cease operations; their only power is that they can choose not to seat the congregation's delegates (called "messengers") at the annual meeting, for such matters as failing to support the Cooperative Program or for holding views not in accordance with the association's statement of faith (e.g. having a female pastor, ordaining a practicing homosexual, or having a known sexual predator on staff).

The next level is the local association. These are usually organized by county in the larger metro areas; less populated counties are usually combined into one association. These groups handle matters involving local issues, such as operating a food pantry or supporting a pregnancy resource center.

The next level is the state convention. Most states in the Southern United States have a single state convention; however, due to the moderates-conservatives controversy discussed above, three states (Missouri, Texas and Virginia)[45] have two separate ones; a more conservative one aligned solely with the SBC and a more liberal one aligned both with the SBC and the liberal splinter group Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Less populated states in northern and western parts of the United States, where the SBC is not as strong, are organized into multi-state conventions. These groups handle statewide matters such as speaking on political issues involving the state (e.g. a bill to limit abortions) or disaster relief.

The highest level is the national convention. The name "Southern Baptist Convention" refers to both the denomination as a whole and its Annual Meeting, held in June for two days and generally at a major city. The convention handles both national and international matters, mainly in the area of missions, though it also publishes literature and other materials and has a public policy arm. Its main function is to operate the SBC's Cooperative Program, its unified program for collecting and distributing funds for various mission projects. Each supporting church is permitted a minimum of two delegates (called "messengers") to the Annual Meeting but may send up to 12 messengers depending on the amount given to the SBC (either in terms of dollars or a percentage of undesignated receipts, whichever method provides the most messengers is the one used).

SBC Entities

Mission Boards and Auxiliary

  • North American Mission Board (formerly Home Mission Board), located in Alpharetta, Georgia, coordinates mission work in the United States and Canada; it is also well known for its disaster relief efforts
  • International Mission Board (formerly Foreign Mission Board), located in Richmond, Virginia, coordinates mission work outside of the United States and Canada
  • Woman's Missionary Union, an auxiliary located in Birmingham, Alabama; its primary function is to raise money for missions through the SBC's two main annual missions offerings: the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.


Other SBC Entities

  • Baptist Press is the SBC's official news agency, reporting on SBC work worldwide and on other issues pertinent to the SBC and its membership
  • GuideStone Financial Services (formerly the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention) provides insurance, investments, and retirement plans to churches and to church and agency ministers and employees.
  • LifeWay Christian Resources (formerly the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention) provides publications (including the Holman Christian Standard Bible) and formerly operated the Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina (sold in 2021 to an independent group). It is best known, though, for its operation of LifeWay Christian Stores (formerly Baptist Book Stores), previously one of the two major Christian bookstores in the United States but as of 2019 operates on an e-commerce platform along with affiliated independent stores.
  • Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (formerly the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention) is the SBC's public policy arm, providing information and research on political issues. It also files amicus briefs (sometimes with other religious liberty organizations) on matters involving religious liberty before the courts.

See also


Secondary sources

  • Basden, Paul, ed. Has Our Theology Changed? Southern Baptist Thought since 1845. (1994). 344 pp.
  • Baker, Robert. The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People, 1607–1972. Broadman Press, 1974.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Harper, Keith. "Old Landmarkism: a Historiographical Appraisal." Baptist History and Heritage 1990 25(2): 31-40, reviews the scholarly studies
  • Harvey, Paul. Redeeming the South: Religious Cultures and Racial Identities among Southern Baptists, 1865–1925. (1997) online edition
  • Heyrman, Christine Leigh. Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (1998) 1770–1860
  • Hill, Samuel, et al. Encyclopedia of Religion in the South (2005), comprehensive coverage
  • Leonard, Bill J. Baptist Ways: A History (2003), comprehensive international history
  • Leonard, Bill J. Baptists in America. (2005), general survey and history by leading Southern Baptist
  • Leonard, Bill J. "Independent Baptists: from Sectarian Minority to 'Moral Majority'". Church History. Volume: 56. Issue: 4. 1987. pp 504+. online edition
  • Lindman, Janet Moore. Bodies of Belief: Baptist Community in Early America (2008)
  • Lumpkin, William L. Baptist History in the South: Tracing through the Separates the Influence of the Great Awakening, 1754–1787 (1995)
  • Marsden, George. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of 20th Century Evangelicalism. Oxford University Press, 1980. the major scholarly history of the movement
  • Morgan, David T. Southern Baptist Sisters: In Search of Status, 1845–2000. (2003)
  • Patterson, W. Morgan. "Baptist Growth in America: Evaluation of Trends." Baptist History and Heritage 1979 14(1): 16-26.
  • Scales, T. Laine. All That Fits a Woman: Training Southern Baptist Women for Charity and Mission, 1907–1926 Mercer U. Press 2002
  • Shurden, Walter B. and Lori Redwine Varnadoe. "The Origins of the Southern Baptist Convention: a Historiographical Study." Baptist History and Heritage 2002 37(1): 71-96. How 12 church historians have interpreted the organization's 1845 founding. Although early historians ignored the importance of the issue of slavery, gradually historians began to realize the xcentrality of the issue in the group's founding.
  • 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).
  • Tull, James E. "The Landmark Movement: an Historical and Theological Appraisal." Baptist History and Heritage 1975 10(1): 3-18. in JSTOR
  • Tull, James E., and Morris Ashcraft. High Church Baptists in the South: The Origin, Nature, and Influence of Landmarkism (2000) 182pp
    • Tull, James E. "A Study of Southern Baptist Landmarkism in the Light of Historical Baptist Ecclesiology," Church History, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Sep., 1962), pp. 359–360, short summary
  • Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785–1900. (1997) online edition
  • Yarnell III, Malcolm B. The Formation of Christian Doctrine (2007), on Baptist theology

Since 1960s

  • Ammerman, Nancy, Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention. Rutgers University Press, 1990.
  • Ammerman, Nancy, ed. Southern Baptists Observed University of Tennessee Press, 1993.
  • Farnsley II, Arthur Emery, Southern Baptist Politics: Authority and Power in the Restructuring of an American Denomination (1994) online edition
  • Hankins, Barry. Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture. (2002) 344 pp Argues that Baptist conservatives see themselves as cultural warriors critiquing a secular and liberal America
  • Kell, Carl L. and L. Raymond Camp, In the Name of the Father: The Rhetoric of the New Southern Baptist Convention. (1999) online edition
  • Leonard, Bill J. God's Last and Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.
  • Morgan, David T. The New Crusades, the New Holy Land: Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention, 1969-1991. (1996). 246 pp.
  • Rosenberg, Ellen. The Southern Baptists: A Subculture in Transition. University of Tennessee Press, 1989.
  • Smith, Oran P. The Rise of Baptist Republicanism (1997), on recent voting behavior

State and regional studies

  • McBeth, Harry Leon. Texas Baptists: A Sesquicentennial History (1998)
  • Williams, C. Fred, S. Ray Granade, and Kenneth M. Startup. A System and Plan: Arkansas Baptist State Convention, 1848-1998 (1998)
  • Flynt, Wayne. Alabama Baptists in the Heart of Dixie (1998)
  • Wardin, Jr., Albert W. Tennessee Baptists: A Comprehensive History, 1779-1999 (1999).

Primary sources

  • Baker, Robert. ed. A Baptist Source Book. Broadman Press, 1966.
  • Glenmary Research Center. Religious Congregations & Membership in the United States 2000.
  • Kell, Carl L., ed. Exiled: Voices of the Southern Baptist Convention Holy War. (2006) 228pp
  • McBeth, H. Leon, (ed.) A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (1990), primary sources for Baptist history.
  • McGlothlin, W. J. (ed.) Baptist Confessions of Faith. Philadelphia: The American Baptist Publication Society, 1911.
  • Shurden, Walter B. and Randy Shepley, eds. Going for the Jugular: A Documentary History of the SBC Holy War. Mercer U. Press, 1996. 281 pp.

External links


  1. There are four other major national Baptist denominations (excluding Independent Baptists who do not organize into formal denominations): the American Baptist Churches (strongest in the North), National Baptist Convention (African Americans, strong in the South and northern cities), the Conservative Baptist Association, and the Progressive National Baptist Convention (a more liberal body of African Americans, strong in the South and northern cities).
  2. 2.0 2.1
  3. Bill J. Leonard, "Baptists in the South: a New Connectionalism." American Baptist Quarterly 2000 19(3): 208-221.
  4. Dylan T. Lovan, "Southern Baptist Convention opens in Kentucky," Associated Press Jun 23, 2009
  5. But for an alternative view see Janet Moore Lindman, Bodies of Belief: Baptist Community in Early America (2008)
  6. "The Oldtime Religion," Time Dec. 05, 1955
  7. H. Clark Maddux, Edgar Young Mullins and Evangelical Developments in the Southern Baptist Convention." Baptist History and Heritage 1998 33(2): 62-73.
  8. George W. Truett: A Texas, Baptist, and Baylor legend. (May 4, 2017). Retrieved on March 20, 2018.
  9. George E. Bagley, "Avery Hamilton Reid," Alabama Baptist Historian 1996 32(1): 9-29. 0002-4147
  10. H. B. Cavalcanti, "God and Labor in the South: Southern Baptists and The Right to Unionize, 1930-1950." Journal of Church and State 1998 40(3): 639-660.
  12. Mark Newman, "The Georgia Baptist Convention and Desegregation, 1945-1980." Georgia Historical Quarterly 1999 83(4): 683-711.
  13. Mark Newman, "The Louisiana Baptist Convention and Desegregation, 1954-1980." Louisiana History 2001 42(4): 389-418.
  14. Mark Newman, "The Florida Baptist Convention and Desegregation, 1954-1980." Florida Historical Quarterly 1999 78(1): 1-22.
  15. Quoted in Hankins (2002) pp. 59-60
  16. Carol Crawford Holcomb, "The Kingdom at Hand: the Social Gospel and the Personal Service Department of Woman's Missionary Union, Auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention." Baptist History and Heritage 2000 35(2): 49-66.
  17. Betsy Flowers, "Southern Baptist Evangelicals or Social Gospel Liberals? The Woman's Missionary Union and Social Reform, 1888 to 1928." American Baptist Quarterly 2000 19(2): 106-128.
  18. Barry Hankins, Southern Baptists and Northern Evangelicals: Cultural Factors and The Nature Of Religious Alliances". Religion and American Culture 1997 7(2): 271-298.
  19. Barry Hankins, “The Evangelical Accommodationism of Southern Baptist Convention Conservatives." Baptist History And Heritage 1998 33(1): 54-65.
  20. Though Gingrich later converted to his (third) wife's Roman Catholicism.
  21. Oran P. Smith, The Rise of Baptist Republicanism (1997)
  22. Source: Lyman A. Kellstedt et al., "The Soul of the South: Religion and Southern Politics in the Twenty-first Century" in Charles S. Bullock III and Mark J. Rozell, eds. The New Politics of the Old South (2007) p. 316
  23. Berry, Susan (June 19, 2017). Southern Baptist Convention: Funding Planned Parenthood Is ‘Subsidizing Piracy of Defenseless Infants’. Breitbart News. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
  24. Hugh Wamble, "Landmarkism: Doctrinaire Ecclesiology among Baptists." Church History 1964 33(4): 429-447. [ in JSTOR]
  25. Chad W. Hall, “When Orphans Became Heirs: J. R. Graves and the Landmark Baptists,” Baptist History and Heritage 2002 37(1): 112-127.
  26. Bob Compton, "J. M. Pendleton: a Nineteenth-century Baptist Statesman (1811-1891)". Baptist History and Heritage 1975 10(1): 28-35.
  27. James E. Taulman, "The Life and Writings of Amos Cooper Dayton (1813-1865)." Baptist History and Heritage 1975 10(1): 36-43.
  28. W. Morgan Patterson, "The Influence of Landmarkism among Baptists." Baptist History and Heritage 1975 10(1): 44-55.
  29. These are the terms preferred by the conservative wing, which ultimately gained control of the convention and refers to their regaining control as the "Conservative Resurgence"; the "moderates" -- who were really theological and social gospel liberals -- preferred to be called "conservatives" while labeling their opponents as "fundamentalists" (notwithstanding that true fundamentalists -- who had formed other denominations or were in the Independent Baptist camp a half-century or more before -- thought that the conservatives were, and still believe they are, misguided at best and apostate at worst) and the conservatives' actions as the "Fundamentalist Takeover".
  30. See Hankins (2002).
  31. See SBC Resolution on Abortion, 1971 Annual Meeting, St. Louis, Missouri.
  32. See SBC Resolution on Abortion and Sanctity of Human Life, 1974 Annual Meeting, Dallas, Texas.
  33. SBC bylaws did not permit firing except in very rare cases; a position was vacant only at the end of a term (most terms were five years, with a limit of two consecutive terms), or if the incumbent died, retired, or resigned.
  34. See SBC Resolution on Abortion, 1980 Annual Meeting, St. Louis, Missouri.
  35. BGCT no longer claims an affiliation with CBF but is dually aligned with SBC and the Baptist World Alliance.
  36. see news
  37. Paul Basden, Has Our Theology Changed? Southern Baptist Thought since 1845. (1994)
  38. Though nearly all Southern Baptists hold to eternal security, and this viewpoint is in the Baptist Faith & Message.
  40. It should be noted that two persons mentioned in Cloud's report – noted charismatic televangelists James Robison and Pat Robertson – though at one time were Southern Baptist, have since left the denomination.
  41. However, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention requires that a supporting church adhere to the BF&M 2000 Edition as a condition of membership in its convention.
  42. The general trend is for moderate churches to adopt the 1963 version of the BF&M (without the 1998 amendment generally opposed by those churches) while conservative churches adopt the 2000 version.
  43. A mission church is one sponsored by another congregation, either to start a congregation in an area without a church (such as a new subdivision) or to minister to an ethnic group in their own language.
  44. In the case of a multi-site arrangement, all sites are considered to be one congregation,
  45. The Texas and Virginia conservative state conventions formed when the existing state conventions refused to accept the Conservative Resurgence; in Missouri the liberal state convention formed after the existing convention refused to associate with the liberal Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.