A Genealogy of Dissent

A Genealogy of Dissent: Southern Baptist Protest in the Twentieth Century

David Stricklin
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    A Genealogy of Dissent
    Book Description:

    Between the Civil War and the turn of the last century, Southern Baptists gained prominence in the religious life of the South. As their power increased, they became defenders of the racial, political, social, and economic status quo. By the beginning of this century, however, a feisty tradition of dissent began to appear in Southern Baptist life as criticism of the center increased from both the left and the right. The popular belief in a doctrine of "once saved, always saved" led progressive Baptists to claim that moderates, once saved, did not address the serious social and political problems that faced many in the South. These Baptist dissenters claimed that they could not be "at ease in Zion."

    Led by the radical Walter Nathan Johnson in the 1920s and 1930s, progressive Baptists produced civil rights advocates, labor organizers, women's rights advocates, and proponents of disarmament and abolition of capital punishment. They challenged some of the most fundamental aspects of southern society and of Baptist ecclesiastical structure and practice. For their efforts and beliefs, many of these men and women suffered as they lost jobs, experienced physical danger and injury, and endured character assassination.

    InA Genealogy of Dissent, David Stricklin traces the history of these progressive Baptists and their descendants throughout the twentieth century and shows how they created an active culture of protest within a highly traditional society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5945-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Introduction: Terms of Existence for Southern Baptists in the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 1-7)

    While a consideration of dissent must involve the mind of the protesters, it must also delve more broadly into the theological understandings of persons on both sides of several arguments within Southern Baptist life. These understandings grew out of the culture created by people who developed Southern Baptist norms and by those who departed from them. Much fine scholarship deals with the interrelationships of religion and culture, but the model that has most influenced me is that of George M. Marsden in his bookFundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925.By “culture,” Marsden said, “I usually...

  5. 1 Religion and Culture in the Baptist South: At Work in the Fields of the Lord
    (pp. 8-22)

    Born in 1845 of the conflict that tore apart several Protestant denominations in the United States, the struggle between North and South over the issue of slavery, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) became the ecclesiastical structure, if a loose one, with which many of the South’s most conservative Christians affiliated. Baptists, though, had not always been conservative. They had, in fact, deep historic roots in dissent against state-established religion and coercive expressions of religious belief, actions that set them apart as radicals during their beginnings in early seventeenth-century Holland and Britain. Southern Baptists inherited several strains of theological and ecclesiological...

  6. 2 Fellowship of Kindred Minds: Foundations of a Genealogy of Dissident Southern Baptists
    (pp. 23-47)

    Precursors of the genealogy of dissent among Southern Baptists were small in number, but rich in variety, nature, and motivation. Furthermore, as was true of support in the South for the social gospel itself, the origins of progressive dissent among Southern Baptists were never purely indigenous.¹ Many dissenters had embraced northern ideas, some from actual periods of study in northern colleges and seminaries. They departed, however, from both northern and southern social gospel advocates in some significant ways, most especially in the matter of race relations. Southern religious progressives from the 1930s and 1940s on stressed the centrality of race...

  7. 3 “Who Is Their God? Where Were Their Voices?”: Southern Baptist Dissenters and Civil Rights
    (pp. 48-81)

    In direct contrast to the denomination as a whole, Southern Baptist dissenters took their boldest, riskiest stands on issues of civil rights for southern African Americans. Their expressions of how they understood themselves and their relationships with each other tell a great deal about the modern South and the role of religion in the makeup of this most storied region. The experiences of these people, especially those of one most remarkable but little-known person, form the body of testimony that makes this illumination possible. All through the network of dissident white Baptists in the South, an attitude and a manner...

  8. 4 An Appetite for Justice: Peace, Reconciliation, and Southern Baptist Dissenters
    (pp. 82-113)

    “Southern Baptists” and “peace activism” are expressions that are seldom linked. When the United States has needed military personnel, the South has stood ready to supply more than its share of volunteers and draftees with Baptists representing high percentages of the total. The denomination itself was formed in the crucible of conflict during the events leading up to the Civil War. Southern Baptists are often perceived as more patriotic and more likely to be pro-war than churchpeople in mainstream denominations, contributing to their reputation as archetypal southerners. Southern Baptist hymnody, sermons, literature, and common expressions have attached war imagery to...

  9. 5 Community and Faithfulness: A Genealogy of Dissident Southern Baptist Women
    (pp. 114-141)

    Most members of the first three generations of the family of progressive Southern Baptist dissidents were males whose networks provided a measure of emotional support in the absence of the relationships that traditional pastors and laypeople received from Southern Baptist institutional life. Their personal ties and their sense of community if small and far-flung, helped bind them to the causes they embraced, providing encouragement that they were not as alone as they often felt. They and their conservative counterparts knew that the issues they raised and the causes they championed presented threats to traditional southern and Baptist ways of life....

  10. 6 The “Return” of Southern Baptist Fundamentalists: The Other Dissenters
    (pp. 142-161)

    Martha Gilmore and other progressive Southern Baptists were not alone in paying attention to the unorthodox stands of Blake Smith and Carlyle Marney in Austin in the 1950s. A fellow student and good friend of her husband Jerry at the University of Texas school, Paul Pressler, also paid careful attention to Smith and Marney. Unlike Martha Gilmore, however, Pressler did not like what he heard. Smith’s and Marney’s progressive theology and liberal political stands offended the young Pressler, who had experienced more than he wanted of such thinking during his undergraduate studies at Princeton University.

    He determined at an early...

  11. 7 Conclusion: The Ways of Being Baptist
    (pp. 162-170)

    Progressive Southern Baptists had always prompted a range of responses among their more traditional brothers and sisters. Some moderate Southern Baptists absolutely hated what the progressives said and did, while others, for a variety of reasons, actually admired them but chose not to emulate them. To some conservatives, both the more moderate Southern Baptists and those with fundamentalist leanings, the progressives were like carriers of a disease. That disease, liberalism, threatened everything dear to the common believers of the gospel who came up through the ranks of Baptist churches in the South and occupied the pews and voted for the...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 171-203)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 204-220)
  14. Index
    (pp. 221-230)