The founding of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845 was due to a disagreement strong enough to divide Christian brothers. And the issue that brought the decision was slavery. Baptists in the north did not believe slave owners should be qualified to serve overseas as missionaries. They saw slavery as intrinsically evil and not a practice for Christians, especially those who would represent Christ to other cultures. The churches in the north said, “No!”
The churches in the south disagreed, and as a result separated from the northern Baptists, starting their own denomination that would allow slave owners to become foreign missionaries. Why would Christians, including pastors defend something like slavery? It’s not the kind of beginning that should have ever happened in a body of Christian people, but nonetheless it happened.
I’ve recognized at least five poor reasons they, and others (even today) have used to justify choosing evil over righteousness. All five led to such wrong then and do as well today when we seek to make wrong somehow right.
First, the dollar took precedence over godliness. The economy of the south, with its large plantations had been built on the blood, sweat and tears of slaves. It was for the sake of maintaining economic stability that slavery was seen as necessary. The thought was, “If we condemn this practice our economy will suffer and likely collapse.” Slavery was seen as “just the way it is down here.” Somehow they missed Jesus’ words about the impossibility of serving God and money. Only one can be God.
A second, while not likely a known phrase in 1845, was what we today know as “political correctness”. Preachers bashing slavery would have rocked a boat they were unwilling to rock. In many churches the greatest financial supporters were no doubt wealthy plantation owners. Because slavery had been in practice at the time for about 200 years there was no one who could remember a time when slavery was unacceptable. So, very few dared speak out against it because of its virtual universal acceptance below the Mason-Dixon.
Because “everybody’s doing it” why challenge it and seem out of step. That’s political correctness. And history has shown that being PC and at the same time being morally correct is pretty much impossible. They’re oil and water.
Third was a choice to redefine humanity. The thought among the supporters of slavery was that whites were created to domineer over blacks. It was a racist supremacy built on a lie that a black man was somehow less than fully human. And, they reasoned, that is by the design of the Creator. So, it must be the will of God to own other men and women. Misguided, indeed. But they bought their own lie. They even preached it from their pulpits.
A fourth error was to twist the Scriptures so that they justified slavery. After all, it’s true that you can find plenteous examples of slavery in the Bible, right? (And you can find murder, torture, rape...) Yet they ignored the clear historic fact that biblical Christianity has always ended slavery in every culture in which the Gospel was free and adopted as the basis for civilization.
I’ll continue this next week. And while it isn’t pretty, it is contemporary. (And if you are wondering, yes, I am a Southern Baptist. But, I came along a few years after 1845.)