"A Monthly Emagazine, Bridging Baptists Yesterday and Today"

July 2002              Vol.1  No. 7


Produced by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University

Walter B. Shurden, Executive Director and Editor, BSB

Greg Thompson, Baptist Studies Associate


Table of Contents:

        I Believe . . .: by Walter B. Shurden

                "All Baptists Are Not Jerry Vines Type Baptists"

        The Baptist Soapbox: Baptist Responses to the Vines Statement

                     A pastor, three former missionaries, a Sunday School teacher, and

                 Baptist leaders say "No" to Jerry Vines

        Baptist History 101: by William H. Brackney

                Bill Brackney introduces you to The American Baptist Churches, USA

        Baptists and Books: by Bill J. Leonard

                Bill Leonard looks again at Roger Williams and Richard Furman

        The Baptist Library: Baptist Books: by Rosalie Beck

                Rosalie Beck introduces you to two very important Baptist dictionaries

        The Baptist Stacks: Perusing Periodicals for Baptistiana: by Pam Durso

                Pam Durso reads the journals with Baptist eyes on the Catholic Crisis

        Baptist Bits: by W. Loyd Allen

                Loyd Allen provides you tidbits for preaching and teaching the Baptist heritage

        Q and A: by Greg Thompson

                "How do you respond to the remarks of former SBC President, Jerry Vines?"

        Baptistville: by Greg Thompson

                Happenings in Baptistville


"All Baptists Are Not Jerry Vines Type Baptists"

by Walter B. Shurden

I Believe . . .

       that Baptists, like Catholics and Muslims, are certainly not all alike and that one of the major problems for religious people today is to distinguish themselves from some who bear the same religious labels. All Catholics are not pedophiles. All Muslims are not terrorists. All Baptists are not Jerry Vines type Baptists.

       Dr. Jerry Vines, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), called Muhammad, the founder of Islam, a "demon-possessed pedophile." Speaking at the SBC pastor’s conference prior to the annual meeting of the SBC, Vines said that religious pluralism caused many of America’s contemporary woes.

       Pluralists, he said, according to the Associated Baptist Press, "would have us to believe that Islam is just as good as Christianity, but I'm here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that Islam is not as good as Christianity." Contrasting Jesus of Nazareth with the founder of Islam, Vines said that Islam "was founded by Muhammed, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives-- and his last one was a 9-year-old girl."

       The immediate past-president of the SBC, Dr. James Merritt, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Snellville, Georgia, and the newly elected SBC president, Jack Graham of Dallas, Texas, defended Vines. Jerry Falwell likewise supported Vines in a statement following the annual meeting of the SBC.

       Under the Baptist Soapbox below you will find several responses by Baptist people who vigorously disagree with Dr. Vines. Why print this now, when the event happened over a month ago? For two reasons. One, all readers of this emagazine are not Baptists, and while they may have seen reference to Vines’ statement in the general media, they probably have not seen some of the responses by Baptist people. Our non-Baptist friends, especially, need to know that all Baptists are not Jerry Vines type Baptists. Two, the Soapbox provides an opportunity to collect several of the responses to the Vines statement in one place.

       Most of the responses below analyze Mr. Vines’s remarks in light of how incongruous they are with the spirit of Christ, how they blunt the mission of the church of Christ, how downright uncivil they are, and how egregiously ill-timed they are given the circumstances in our world. I agree with all those assessments. However, I am also deeply troubled that a leading Baptist pastor has such little understanding of and respect for the meaning of religious pluralism. I could understand such remarks about pluralism coming from some other religious groups, but a BAPTIST pastor? The advocacy of religious pluralism is the bread and butter of Baptist history in America. From their beginning in colonial America, Baptists of this country championed the idea of religious pluralism, the idea that all religions have the right to exist, to believe as they wish, to spread their faith without hindrance, and to practice their faith without harassment. Baptists never meant by pluralism what Dr. Vines said pluralism means today-- that one faith or even one Christian denomination is as good as another. Baptists certainly thought they were right in the religiously oppressed environment of the seventeenth century. That is why, as minorities, they fought for the right to express their own faith, and it is also why they defended the rights of other religious groups without belittling others’ faith.


The Baptist Soapbox: Invited guests speak up and out on things Baptist (therefore, the views expressed in this space are not necessarily those of The Baptist Studies Bulletin, though sometimes they are).

This month’s Soapbox articles consist of selected Baptist responses to former SBC president Jerry Vines’s statement regarding Islam in order to let the public know that all Baptists certainly do not agree with Dr. Vines.

Dr. William L. Coates, Jr.

Dr. Bill Coates, Jr. is pastor of the First Baptist Church in Gainesville, Georgia. He issued the following response to Dr. Vines and titled it "Another Voice in Baptist Life."


       My life as a Baptist is a positive one. I am pastor of a congregation that is loving, accepting, and desirous of presenting the gospel as good news. Unfortunately, not all Baptists experience such a positive and loving environment. Because I belong to this wonderful, historic group of Baptists in the heart of our city, I am compelled to speak out following the highly publicized remarks made by former Southern Baptist Convention president Jerry Vines a few days ago. Vines declared that Muhammed, founder of Islam, "was a demon-possessed pedophile." It is extremely important to me, to many in my congregation, and to many Baptists in general that everyone know that Mr. Vines does not speak for all Baptists. Neither do other SBC leaders who defend his statement. I would like to believe that Vines and company speak, in fact, for a very small number of Baptists. Time and again many Baptist Christians have had to shamefully endure ill-considered, even scandalous and outrageous, statements from national SBC leaders. Some years ago, for instance, Bailey Smith proclaimed that "God Almighty does not hear the prayers of a Jew." (Not withstanding that Jesus was Himself a Jew.) Recently, Jerry Falwell declared that we Americans deserved the attacks of September eleventh and, in fact, brought them upon ourselves. A great many of us are wondering when will such pronouncements cease. How many more grace-less and embarrassing words can we endure? I’m sure that Mr. Vines believed what he said, but such a sentiment should never have been given voice. There are nearly one billion followers of Muhammed in this world. Slanderous and derogatory words about their founder (even if one believes those words to be the truth) do not invite good relations between Muslims and us. And without good relations between us, what are our chances even for discussing our beliefs with them? Only in a climate of understanding and respect can healthy dialogue, much less evangelism, occur. Suppose a Muslim leader were to pronounce Jesus Christ to have been an insane cannibal (a charge believed by some of the Roman population because of Christ’s command to receive his body and blood when he instituted Holy Communion). Would not every Christian be deeply offended? Would not all Christians develop a justifiable resentment toward Muslims?

       But my disappointment and dismay arise as a result of even deeper questions: Where is the spirit of Christ in such a charge as the one leveled by Vines? I can see how Christ’s great cause in the world is advanced by exalting Christ and His teachings. I cannot for the life of me understand how Christ’s cause can be advanced by demeaning, belittling, or vilifying the founder of another faith. The Bible says that we are to "speak the truth in love." Even what we believe to be the truth is best left unspoken if it cannot be spoken with love and grace. Perhaps Vines’ statement was his attempt at expressing the truth, but where is the love? And where is the example of Christ Himself who said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?" We surely do not want our Christ profaned. How then can we tolerate one of our "spokesmen" profaning Muhammed or anyone else?

       And then there is the principle of plain old human respect and civility. Most atheists and agnostics I know would not treat the deeply held beliefs of either Christians or Muslims with scorn and contempt. They would refrain out of the sense of decency if not conviction. Should not Christian leaders live up to at least as high a standard? Bashing another’s religion or values or beliefs is never a method for converting another to our own. Instead, it angers and provokes those outside our faith into a defensive position and galvanizes them against us.

       Some years ago when fundamentalist Muslims made outrageous statements and committed outrageous actions, Egyptian president Anwar Saddat, a devout Muslim who worked for peace with Israel, said with sorrow and embarrassment: "This is not Islam. This extremism is not Islam." Today, many Baptists, after Vines' remarks, are moved with embarrassment and profound sadness to say, " This is not Christian. This extremism is not Christian." Vines asserted correctly that our Christian faith is one of grace, not law. A religion of grace must speak the language of grace, use gracious words. The New Testament says that we are "stewards of the manifold grace of God." Do Vines’ words exemplify good stewardship of grace? I will gladly praise the life, teachings, and person of Jesus Christ. I ardently believe Christ is the clear picture of who God is. But I can never be comfortable with those who demean or decry another person’s faith. Be assured that these words represent quite a large number of Baptist Christians.


Dr. David Currie

Dr. David Currie, executive director, Texas Baptists Committed and treasurer of the Interfaith Alliance, released the following statement entitled "Vines’ Remarks Absurd in Every Way."

       Jerry Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida, and past president of the Southern Baptist Convention should have offended all decent and intelligent persons with his absurd remarks during the SBC pastor's conference.

       Vines harshly criticized Islam: "They would have us believe that Islam is just as good as Christianity. Christianity was founded by the virgin-born Son of God, Jesus Christ. Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives, the last one of which was a 9-year-old girl." Vines continued, "And I will tell you Allah is not Jehovah either. Jehovah's not going to turn you into a terrorist that will try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people."

       As I said, I believe Vines' remarks are absurd (Merriam-Webster: ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous) Let me tell you why.

       1.It is ABSURD to think attacking the founder of another religion is an effective witnessing tool. Again, no one is ever "offended" into the Kingdom any more than the Crusades could bring persons into the Kingdom via the sword. Baptists believe in "free religion, i.e., soul competency." Persons must be free to accept or reject Christ. We are to preach the beauty of Christ's character, his life and death for all.

       Personally, I agree with Vines that Islam is "not just as good as Christianity." Christianity is the ultimate truth. Jesus is the Savior of the world. We share this in personal witnessing; we preach the superiority of Christ in our churches. However, we do not have to preach the superiority of Christ by criticizing other religions.

       Have you ever heard Billy Graham attempt to share Christ using the approach of Vines? Do you think Billy Graham believes other faiths are equal to Christianity? No, but he does not criticize other faiths. He preaches the Gospel and trusts the Holy Spirit.

       2.The remarks show an ABSURD understanding of biblical revelation and the doctrine of sin as well as an ABSURD understanding of church history. The Bible is full of stories of followers of Jehovah who committed horrible crimes. David, a man after God's own heart according to the Scriptures, not only committed adultery but also had the woman's husband murdered. Did Jehovah lead David to do these deeds? Of course not. Such actions arise out of one's delusional sinfulness.

       Likewise Church History is full of atrocious acts done by the Church and in the name of Christianity, including but not limited to the Crusades, the Inquisition, the killing of many Anabaptists over believer's baptism, and the Ku Klux Klan, which claimed to be a Christian movement. These acts also arose out of delusional sinfulness.

        A further absurdity is SBC leaders defending Vines. This is classic sinful behavior. King David, following his adultery attempted to cover it up. We have watched various political leaders choose this path over and over. Now, SBC leaders are following this same path when a simple apology would be the biblical response and might do wonderful things for the Kingdom of God. After David repented of his sins, there were good occurrences, including the birth of Solomon.

       The reason David "was a man after God's own heart" was not his moral, perfect life, but his example of repentance when confronted with his sinfulness by the prophet Nathan. You and I are not witnesses to the power of Christ because we now lead lives of moral superiority, which none of us do. We witness out of our joy of being sinful persons saved by grace. It is ABSURD to share Christ from any position other than that of a horrible sinner who has found salvation.

       3.Vines' remarks further show an ABSURD lack of appreciation for America's greatest gift to the world: religious liberty. The future of our country lies in our ability to handle religious pluralism in a healthy manner. Our founding fathers wisely established that we are free to believe as our conscience dictates, without aid or interference from the government. That must remain the official and applied position of our government.

       There is nothing that would help missions more than for all countries to value and practice religious liberty. Vines' remarks hurt this important goal we should all have: total religious liberty for all persons everywhere.

       4.It is ABSURD to criticize another religion in a political climate on the verge of explosion. In the Middle East, people are dying daily due to religious fanatics. Americans are being urged to leave Pakistan immediately. Many SBC missionaries are serving in Islamic countries attempting to tell people about Christ. Vines' remarks further put all these persons in danger from religious extremists who would use these remarks to perpetuate violence. Vines forgot an important principle, "know the difference in making noise and getting something done." These remarks "make noise" but the only thing they can accomplish is increased tensions between Christians and persons of other faiths.

       I am very active in interfaith work, and I serve on the national board of the Interfaith Alliance with Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Hindus and persons of other faiths. Every one of them will tell you that I am very open and straightforward about my faith in Jesus and will tell you that I believe everyone should come to a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Being involved in Interfaith work does not mean one believes all faiths are equal or that one denies the depth of one's commitment to their personal faith. Being a Christian does not mean I do not respect the faith of others nor does it mean I do not respect them as individuals. Each of us, out of our deep faith commitments works together for the good of our country: to help protect religious liberty and to make us a just and respectful society.

       We as Christians have a wonderful story to share with the world. It is very important we share this life changing truth with an attitude of humility and love. May we all, including Dr. Vines, whom I am sure is a wonderful pastor, learn from this ABSURD action.


Marie Knowles

Marie Knowles, a Baptist layperson and professional counselor in Missouri, sent this email to Dr. Vines on 12 June 2002.


Dr. Vines,

       Having just read your statement in which you described Muhammad as a "demon possessed pedophile," I would like to share with you my response. I have been a Southern Baptist since 1949 and have worked with international students in various capacities much of my adult life. While I teach and believe with all my being that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that there is no other name given among us through which we may be saved, I am outraged that you would use such careless, derisive language in your description of Muhammad. Surely you are aware that such words do absolutely nothing to further God's purposes in a world that so desperately needs to know, love, and follow him. Surely you are aware that such words can and will do great harm by damaging relationships and trust among those who seek to share our faith with people of the Muslim faith. Surely you do not believe that had you been born in the Middle East you would not have become a follower of this one you so disparage. What incredible insensitivity and lack of respect you display with your arrogant remarks!

       In the College Sunday School Department in which I am presently working, we recently utilized a videotape produced by the SBC to educate our students about the Muslim faith. It was our goal to facilitate better understanding of this religion in order to enhance our students' interest in and ability to share their faith in Jesus Christ with the many students who attend the university and worship in the mosque in our city. It was and is our belief that being well informed, finding areas of commonality with Muslims, showing respect for their faith and personhood, and demonstrating the love that we are enjoined to share is a very effective manner for building the bridge across which Muslims may travel in order to first hear what we say and ultimately to come to know our living Lord and to receive the truth of the gospel. How I pray that none of these young, vibrant, enthusiastic Christian students choose to emulate the pomposity demonstrated in your comments.

       It seems that what you say carries great weight with many people who listen to you, and it is my prayer that you may consider carefully what the Bible has to say about the accountability of those who teach. I am praying that you may find ways to convey the good news in a manner more consistent with the teachings of Christ. I am praying that you can show more respect for persons whose ways of seeking of God differ so markedly from your own. I am praying that you will not be defensive but will rather allow yourself to learn whatever God may be trying to teach you through this experience.

       I have no illusions that my remarks alone will in any way affect your stance, your beliefs, nor what I view as a hostile expression of Christianity, but I am convinced that my writing of this will relieve the blood pressure spike I experienced as soon as I read what you had said. However, I am comforted by the awareness that men and women around the world will continue to be drawn to the Christian faith through the message of love, which Jesus came to bring in spite of such harsh and ill-timed words and in spite of the sin and brokenness of all of us who carry his name.

       If my own words to you convey a measure of hostility as well I regret that I can find no better way to express my dismay and outrage. God has always had a people, and one can only wonder to what extent he will be able to continue to use Southern Baptists or anyone else who presents his message in such a manner as this! May he have mercy on us all.


Dr. Earl Martin

Dr. Earl Martin of Dandridge, Tennessee, spent 35 years as a Baptist missionary in Africa and Europe and is a former professor of missions and world religions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He wrote the following reaction to Jerry Vines’ comments on Islam.

       If I were Vines, I'd be ashamed of exposing such abysmal ignorance of Islam. After he cited the multiple marriages and concubines of Muhammad someone should've ask him if he reads the wisdom of Solomon with his multitude of wives (how old were they when they were betrothed to him?) or the Psalms of David who was an adulterous murderer?

       If I were a missionary in a Muslim culture, I would totally disassociate myself from this. The following is a true account that illustrates my stance.

       As a missionary, I had an experience once in Tanga, Tanzania, while doing my doctoral research on Islam. One day at a Muslim school I was confronted by a group of Muslim elders who angrily showed me a Swahili tract by a Christian missionary. The title of the tract was "Muhammad, a Great Sinner!" They thrust it in my face. I paused to skim it while they waited with grim expressions on their faces.

       The tract censured Muhammad as a deluded evil man. It stressed his sexual immorality by pointing to his many wives and concubines. At the very end of the tract it invited the reader to believe in Jesus Christ who was sinless. I raised my eyes to look into their faces and I said in Swahili, "Even though, as you know better than me, it is true that Muhammad had several wives. Nevertheless, it is so very wrong for a Christian to write in this way about your Prophet." With these words I distanced myself from the vitriolic tract.

        I sensed the anger subside in the room. After explaining that I had come to learn more about Islam they were open to my questions. Thus, we were able to talk together in an amiable respectful manner. This led to opportunities for witness to Jesus Christ, the reason I spent 35 years as a missionary in Africa and Europe. We go into the world to draw people with the love of Christ, not to publicly attack their religions.


Dr. Alan Neely

Dr. Alan Neely of Raleigh, N.C. is a former Southern Baptist Convention missionary, former professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, and emeritus Henry Winters Luce Professor of Ecumenics and Mission at Princeton Theological Seminary. He issued the following statement regarding Vines’ comments.


       I thought Southern Baptists reached the low watermark with Bailey Smith's statement that "God does not hear the prayer of a Jew" in 1981. I was wrong, Jerry Vines now has established the nadir with his calculated attack on a religion he has never studied, on a people he does not know, manifesting an ignorance of history and culture that is abysmal, and with the bigotry repeatedly evidenced by the fundamentalist SBC leadership since they made their move in Houston in 1979.

       My only hope is that others still a part of the SBC--pastors and people--will repudiate this kind of hate language and cease supporting a body that is locked in a tight embrace with the most extremist elements of the political right wing in this country. If those Southern Baptists of good will remain silent now, they will reap what they sow.


Dr. Robert Parham

In the 13 June 2002 issue of, Robert Parham, executive director of The Baptist Center for Ethics, wrote the following column titled "Vines’ Hate Speech Tarnishes Golden Rule."

       Southern Baptist fundamentalists continued their hateful attack on non-Christian religions this week at their annual convention, meeting in St. Louis.

       Former SBC president Jerry Vines told pastors "Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives, and his last one was a 9-year-old girl." The pastors applauded, the Houston Chronicle reported.

       Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., blamed religious pluralism for America's problems and implied that Allah was the source of terrorism.

       James Merritt, current SBC president, and Jack Graham, president-elect, refused to repudiate Vines' statements.

       Merritt agreed with Vines that Muhammad was a pedophile, while Graham said Vines' statement was accurate, according to the Chronicle.

       Bill Merrell, spokesman for the SBC's Executive Committee, also declined to censure Vines' statements.

       Hate speech has become a predictable event at the SBC's June meetings. But Vines sermon remarks disclose a peculiar blindness to the moorings of Christian faith, his pastoral leadership and the reality of global communications.

       When Vines seeks to discredit the Islamic faith, he opens the Christian faith to stinging criticism about its own flaws.

       The New Testament's list of heroes and heroines of the faith include Abraham, the polygamist; Moses, the murderer; and Rahab, the prostitute.

       It also includes David, the adulterer, who had his mistress' husband murdered. The same David became angry but did nothing when his son, Amnon, raped his sister and David's daughter, Tamar. These and others hardly provide the kind of storyline to describe the perfect traditional family.

       Just as we hope our own faith will not be disfigured by flawed biblical characters, we should avoid besmirching flawed characters in other religious. It is simply a matter of practicing the golden rule: "Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them."

       Yet in Vines' effort to play to his audience, he forgot about his own pastoral leadership. According to the Times-Union, one of his deacons was arrested and charged in April with molesting teenage boys.

       Vines and the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville likely do not want to be discredited by the alleged criminal behavior of one of its leaders.

       Finally, Vines showed a lack of understanding about the reality of global communications. His statements appeared today in newspapers across the country. His comments will certainly spread around the world with no constructive results in a global society set on edge.

       Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, warned that Vines' remarks could hurt Americans abroad and harm missionaries.

       If Vines is really "a prince of preachers," as Merritt said, maybe we need less royalty in the pulpit and more thoughtful servants of God.

*Parham’s statement was first published in


Dr. Daniel Vestal

       Dr. Daniel Vestal is the national coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Atlanta, Georgia. He distributed the following open statement to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Circle of North America, the Islamic Society of North America, The Muslim American Society and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

       As a Baptist Christian who formerly was affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, I wish to convey my deepest sorrow and regret over recent statements made by Southern Baptist leaders. This rhetoric is not in the spirit of Christ, and it negatively affects the mission of the Church to the world.

       To malign or denigrate the historic or current leaders of Islam contradicts our Christian commitment of love for all people. We desire the highest good for all Muslims and grieve with you over the pain such remarks have caused. Please be assured of our respect and our desire for true friendship as well as open, courteous, sincere dialogue.


Dr. Frank Wells

Dr. Frank Wells of Alabama, a retired pastor and former missionary to Indonesia, sent the following email to Jerry Vines at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida, on June 12, 2002.


       Your vitriolic remarks about Muhammed represent the Ku Klux Klan mentality of Christianity, certainly not the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ who taught us to love our enemies. Your intemperate, inflammatory expression of hatred and contempt for the founder of another religion may say much more about you than about Muslims. In fact, in the volatile atmosphere that prevails in the world today, you may have cost some missionaries their lives, not to mention the additional justification you have given to radical Muslims for their hatred, violence and terror. I hope that weighs heavily on you in the days ahead.

      For your information, I spent ten years under appointment as a missionary to Indonesia, seeking to win Muslims to Jesus Christ. Many of them were good, kind, caring neighbors. I have no question about their need for salvation in Jesus Christ, but if you and your ilk who lead the SBC represent the true product of conservative Christianity I have some serious questions about how much better off they are in a hate-filled perversion of Christianity than they are in a hate-filled perversion of Islam.

       Your comments demonstrate our failure in the war of ideas. Jesus never implied that we would outargue our enemies but showed us by his example how to love and serve. The word "Allah" is a perfectly good Arabic word for God who is not captive to the language of men, but was perfectly revealed in the Word that became flesh and dwelled among us.

         May God bless you with an awareness of the love of Jesus Christ, and the capacity to manifest that even to Muslims.


Baptist History 101: This column will feature the history of a different Baptist denomination in America each month. William H. Brackney, professor of religion at Baylor University and a leading Baptist historian, writes this month’s article on The American Baptist Churches, USA.

Baptist History 101: The American Baptist Churches, USA

By William H. Brackney


       The American Baptist tradition traces its heritage back to the establishment by Roger Williams and Ezekiel Holliman of the first Baptist congregation in the United States at Providence, Rhode Island in 1638/39. From that root, with English, Welsh, and indigenous congregational ancestors, associational life emerged in New England and the Delaware Valley by the early 1700s, and by the 1820s state convention organizations of churches were formed, beginning in New York State. American Baptists followed the lead of British Baptists and Congregationalists in creating voluntary societies for mission and benevolent work. Mary Webb, a wheelchair-bound woman in Boston, started the first of these in 1800 and by the 1840s there were national societies for foreign missions, home missions, publication and education, and Sunday Schools. From 1814 to 1844 the churches that were part of the missionary tradition, cooperated with the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States for Foreign Missions, otherwise known as the "Triennial Convention," because it met every three years.

       In the 1830s and 1840s division occurred in the national Baptist family over matters of polity, finance, language, and social concerns with the holding of slaves among some of the southern churches. The Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845, with the remaining northern churches relating to each other in four national societies, the American Baptist Missionary Union, the American Baptist Home Mission Society, and the American Baptist Publication and Sunday School Society. During the 1850s separate conferences were formed for German, Swedish, and Danish-Norwegian congregations. In 1905 the national societies that came to include the American Baptist Education Society and the American Baptist Historical Society, joined to create the Northern Baptist Convention to which the state conventions and city mission organizations also related. The Northern Baptist Convention merged with the Free Baptist General Conference (formerly the Freewill Baptists) in 1911, and the denomination joined the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in 1913. Major schisms occurred over theological issues in the 1920s (fundamentalism) and 1940s (theologically inclusivist policy in foreign missions), resulting in further denominational reorganizations. The General Association of Regular Baptists and the Conservative Baptist Association, respectively, were the results of these divisions. In 1950 the national body of Northern Baptists was renamed the American Baptist Convention to hold that title in trust for all Baptists in the United States. Again in 1973 the name was changed to the American Baptist Churches in the USA, reflecting a decentralization of denominational decision-making and support. A General Board of representatives across the constituency supervises the ministries of the denomination and the chief executive officer is the general secretary.

       The American Baptist tradition is known for its emphasis upon missions, its concern for social justice, Christian higher education and religious freedom. The first overseas missionaries were Adoniram and Ann Judson and the fields have included Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, and the Far East. The Home Mission Society, founded by pioneer missionaries John Mason Peck and Isaac McCoy, planted churches across the United States, fostered work among a dozen ethnic groups, and supported evangelism among African Americans after the Civil War. The publication ministries of the denomination, the genius of Luther Rice and J. Newton Brown, founded Judson Press, the oldest Baptist producer of religious education materials in the U.S., and the railroad chapel car evangelism program. Related to the Board of Educational Ministries have been ten theological schools (the first, Newton Theological Institution, is the oldest Baptist seminary in the U.S.), and thirty colleges and universities (Brown University was the oldest Baptist college in the U.S.). The American Baptist Assembly at Green Lake, Wisconsin is administratively related to the Board of Educational Ministries. Social concern among American Baptists has been expressed in the advocacy of human rights, separation of church and state, religious liberty, women in ministry, and racial justice. There are also national, regional, and local organizations of American Baptist Women and American Baptist Men.

       At present, the American Baptist Churches in the USA include approximately 5,000 congregations in all fifty states, many of which are dually-aligned with other Baptist bodies. The racial/ethnic makeup of the denomination is no longer a majority for any one group, providing great diversity among the constituency. Headquarters of the denomination is at the "Mission Center" in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where all of the national agencies are housed, except the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board, which is located at the Interchurch Center in New York City. The denomination currently publishes American Baptists in Mission and several other newsletters. Historically ecumenical, ABC-USA is a member of the National Council of Churches, USA and the World Council of Churches, as well as a charter member of the Baptist World Alliance and the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs.



Baptists and Books, Notes of books on American religion, what they say, don’t say, almost say, and mis-say about Baptists, by Dr. Bill Leonard, Dean of The Divinity School, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC.

Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience discussed in a conference between Truth and Peace, edited by Richard Groves. Macon: Mercer University Press, 2001. Originally published in 1644.

" . . . . it is the will and command of God that, since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-Christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries, and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in soul matters, able to conquer, to wit, the sword of God’s Spirit, the word of God." Those words, written by Roger Williams and published in 1644, are strangely and wonderfully relevant four centuries later. Perhaps we need them as desperately as did Williams’ compatriots in Puritan-dominated New England. This new edition of Williams’ classic work, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, edited by Baptist historian Richard Groves, is a valuable resource often ignored by students of American religion and Baptist identity. In his introduction to the book, Edwin Scott Gaustad reminds us that the book was overlooked because of its call for radical religious liberty and because "the book, hastily written and hastily printed, did not prove particularly inviting to the potential reader." In this excellent edition, Graves has retained seventeenth century word usage, but "modernized" spelling, verbs and pronouns. Footnotes provide important editorial explanations.

       Williams himself is at best a proto-Baptist who founded Providence and the First Baptist Church in America and then left the Baptist fold awaiting new revelations from God. Baptists and others have viewed him variously. For example, J. M. Dawson, late director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, saw him as the quintessential Baptist where freedom of conscience and religious liberty were concerned. Robert Bellah, in Habits of the Heart, frets that Williams introduced a radical individualism into the American psyche that has undermined community and led to narcissistic religion rampant in contemporary America. The Bloudy Tenent extended to the new world the insights articulated by early British Baptists that God alone is judge of conscience and that the state has no right to punish the heretic, the infidel or the atheist. Its ideals set the stage for religious freedom, pluralism and voluntary religion in the American republic. Groves and Mercer University Press are to be commended for issuing this new edition at this particular time when questions of pluralism, the presence of non-Christian religions, school vouchers, and "faith-based" funding again haunt the American religious and political landscapes. Would that every member of the U.S. Supreme Court would receive AND READ this volume. (So should Muslims in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.) Contemporary Baptists might rediscover Roger Williams and claim this work as one of the great "Baptist" contributions to America and the world.

James A. Rogers, Richard Furman: Life and Legacy. Macon: Mercer University Press, 2001.

       This important biography surveys the life and work of Richard Furman, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church, Charleston, South Carolina, first president of the Triennial Convention, and patriarch of the prominent Furman family. Richard Furman personified what Brooks Holifield has called the "Gentlemen Theologians" of the antebellum South, an erudite preacher and leader among the burgeoning Baptist community in the region and the nation. Furman represented the Regular Baptist tradition as it made its way South. Furman’s story needed to be told, given his significant role in multiple facets of nineteenth century Baptist life. This study is well documented and offers insight into Furman’s fascinating life. It is sensitive but generally uncritical in evaluation of the Furman legacy. This is particularly evident in the author’s response to the slavery issue. The book shows that Furman, like other southerners, evolved from an early view that slavery should "someday" be abolished to a full blown "biblical" support of the practice. While the author rightly acknowledges that Furman was a man of his times, the effort to show that Furman treated his slaves in a "Christian" manner extends historical context much too far. Furman’s famous "biblical defense" of the practice encouraged slaveholders throughout the South in their perpetuation of the South’s "Peculiar Institution." Furman’s efforts to treat slaves in a "Christian" manner while still keeping them as slaves was in many ways the worst aspect of his particular context. Some effort to sort out that problem would have enhanced the work and given it a much needed critical perspective. Without it, a helpful biography is weakened considerably.




The Baptist Library: Notes of books, past and present, by and about Baptists, by Dr. Rosalie Beck, Professor of Religion, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Brackney, William H. Historical Dictionary of the Baptists. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1999. 395 pp. ISBN 0-8108-3652-1.

Leonard, Bill J., editor. Dictionary of Baptists in America. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994. 298 pp. ISBN0-8308-1447-7.

       Bill Brackney, Professor of Religion at Baylor University, wrote a usable, one-volume historical dictionary of Baptists. Brackney drew on his decades of work in Baptist history to develop the articles that span our almost 400 year old history and that reach around the world with glimpses of indigenous and missionary work in other countries. A particularly good part of this work is the extensive bibliography at the end of the text. Brackney lists all the major works any student of Baptist history could possibly think of in order to do research in this discipline. Broken down by categories, the bibliography is incredibly useful.

       When InterVarsity Press produced the Dictionary of Christianity in America in the early 1990s, Bill Leonard, Dean of the Wake Forest Divinity School, concluded that American Baptists needed a one-volume dictionary that presented their work on the religious landscape of America. He assembled articles written by Baptist historians from across the country and produced a book that opens American Baptist life to view. Although predominately focused on institutions and persons associated with Baptists in the South, the book contains entries about smaller Baptist groups in America as well as the American Baptist Convention. The work also reaches into Baptist history for the denomination’s roots in England with entries on the early leaders, eighteenth century missions movement, and other important individuals who made a worldwide difference in Baptist life.

       These two dictionaries present different but complementary perspectives on some of the same topics. Brackney’s work flows well because of his singular authorship, while Leonard’s volume is more uneven in the quality of the articles because the scholars who contributed the articles have very different styles of writing. For information on Baptists in the U. S., Leonard’s book is excellent, and Brackney provides more information on Canadian and other national Baptist groups.

       Both volumes highlight the diversity at the heart of Baptist life, whether in this country or abroad. As D. S. Russell wrote in the preface to Brackney’s work, though Baptists differ "greatly from one another in many respects, they have learned the need to associate together in the cause of the gospel and to express their churchmanship in terms of interdependency rather than dependency. [xi]" Each dictionary underscores the richness of our tradition—theologically, economically, in social ministry, in missions—and our diversity. Both are easy to read and filled with superb illustrative material for sermons, lectures or presentations on Baptist life.


The Baptist Stacks: Perusing Periodicals for Baptistiana: Notes of journal articles: what they say, don’t say, almost say, and mis-say about Baptists by Pam Durso who is Assistant Professor of Church History and Baptist Heritage at Campbell University Divinity School at Buies Creek, North Carolina.

The Catholic Church in Crisis

The current crisis in the Catholic church has received much attention from the media in the past few months, and as American Catholic bishops prepared to meet in Dallas on June 13-15 to discuss the church’s response to the scandals, an abundance of editorials and articles appeared in May and June issues of Christian and secular journals and magazines.


Mary Eberstadt, "The Elephant in the Sacristy," The Weekly Standard 7:39 (June 17, 2002): 22-33.

In this disturbing article, Mary Eberstadt deals with the recent sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. She explores the media treatment of the crisis, and she details the problems within the Church that have contributed to the sexual abuse problem. Several interesting points that she makes are that the vow of celibacy cannot be blamed for causing the problem, that many of the priests who have abused young boys were themselves sexually abused as boys, that many of the "problem" priests were trained at the same Catholic seminaries, and that the homosexual subculture within the Catholic priesthood needs to be addressed. She concludes, "If humility is now required of Catholics, so too is backbone."


Thomas Keneally, "Cold Sanctuary," The New Yorker (June 17 & 24, 2002), 58-66.

Thomas Keneally, author of Schlinder’s List, describes himself as a "failed priest and questionable Catholic." In this intriguing article in The New Yorker, Keneally tells of his own journey as a Catholic priest, reviews the current crisis in Catholic Church, and puts this crisis into historical context with regard to the Catholic view of sexuality and priestly celibacy. Keneally criticizes the secrecy of the Catholic Church, and he blasts the Church as having become so institutionalized that it often neglects the needs of the people.


John Dart, "Risk Management: Protestants Confront Sexual Abuse," Christian Century 119:12, (June 5-12, 2002), 8-9.

So what do the current problems of the Catholic Church have to do with Baptists? Baptists must realize that no denomination is immune to the possibility of sexual abuse occurring in its churches. John Dart cites several cases of sexual abuse within Protestant churches, yet he notes that because many mainline churches in the 1990s established policies and practices that protect minors, fewer cases of abuse have been reported in Protestant circles. What Baptists can learn from Dart’s article is that they must take the problem of sexual abuse seriously, and Baptists must take measures to see that it never happens in their churches.


Terrorism and Religious Freedom

Derek H. Davis, "The Dark Side to a Just War: The USA PATRIOT Act and Counterterrorism's Potential Threat to Religious Freedom," Journal of Church and State 44: 1 (Winter 2002), 5-17.

Derek Davis, director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University, recently reviewed the legislation which President George Bush signed into law on October 26, 2001 and considered the effect that this legislation would have on religious freedom in the United States. The USA PATRIOT Act was passed following the terrorist attacks of September 11, and the Act bolsters the efforts of state and federal agencies engaged in the war against terrorism by limiting some of the restrictions on law enforcement agencies. While Davis does not minimize the threat of terrorists or justify their horrendous acts, he does conclude that "it is possible that we will go so far in ‘defending’ our liberties that we ultimately deny ourselves the very freedoms we seek to defend." As a people who have historically fought for religious liberty, Baptists need to take a look at this Act and other legislation that Congress is considering.


The William H. Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society

Wm. Loyd Allen, "Memories and Reflections on the Beginning of the Whitsitt Society," The Whitsitt Journal 9:1 (Spring 2002), 6-7.

The William H. Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and in the recent edition of The Whitsitt Journal, Loyd Allen, the Executive-Director/Treasurer of the Whitsitt Society, recounts his own memories of the beginning of that Society. Also included in the journal are articles on the ten past recipients of the Courage Award: William Whitsitt, Ralph Elliot, Will Campbell, Cecil Sherman, Henlee Barnette, Kenneth Chafin, John Porter, James Dunn, Jimmy Carter, and Glenn Hinson. The lead article recounts the life of this year’s Courage Award Recipient, Walker Knight. Congratulations to the Whitsitt Society on ten years of good work! The Whitsitt Journal is available on-line at <> (then click 'Resources')


Baptist Bits: Anecdotes from the Baptist archives with relevance for preaching and teaching today, by Dr. Loyd Allen, Professor of Church History, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, GA.

Gifts and Goodness in Ministers

The linkage between a Baptist minister’s character and ministerial gifts is a complex question, but not a new one. In 1746, the original Baptist church in Maryland found strength to survive under the soul-winning powers of minister Henry Loveall from New Jersey. Trouble was, this graceful preacher turned out to be a runaway indentured servant whose real name was Desolate Baker, and he was running in the company of another man’s wife. Historian Morgan Edwards called this successful but disgraced pastor "an unhappy proof that ministerial gifts and a good life . . . do not always go together."


Baptists and Fasting

Some may suppose introducing fasting into the Baptist tradition is a novel idea. Not so. Over two hundred years ago the Tuscarora church asked the Baltimore Association if it didn’t think that believers should fast the day before taking communion. The 1795 associational gathering recommended that Tuscarora’s members not "order a fast," but nonetheless "fast often" while leaving fasting "to the discretion of each individual member."


Jefferson and the Baptists

President Thomas Jefferson remained popular with Maryland Baptists for his stance on separation of church and state even though his embargo of 1804 cost Maryland dearly. Responding to a letter from the Baltimore Association commending him for "numerous and important services in the cause of civil and religious liberty," Jefferson replied:

But be what it may, a recollection of our former vassalage in religion and civil government will unite the zeal of every heart and the energy of every hand to preserve that independence in both which under the vapor of heaven a disinterested devotion to the public cause first achieved, and a disinterested sacrifice of private interest will now maintain.

Baptist Mission Theology

One of the briefest and best summaries of Baptist mission theology is found in the following two points from Hugh Wamble, long-time professor of church history at Midwestern Baptist Seminary: first, the obligation of each Christian to bear witness of the gospel to others; and second, when a person hears the gospel, he or she has all they need to respond positively to it.


Saluting the Laity

Layman William Crane (1790-1866) took his calling to Christ seriously. In Virginia he was responsible for the education and commissioning of African-American missionary Lott Carey; he also helped begin and/or finance Richmond’s Second Baptist Church, the General Association, the Educational Society, and the Religious Herald. He then moved to Baltimore where he spent ten years and one third of his resources planting a "respectable, efficient church" in his part of town. Asked if he might have been mistaken in becoming a businessman rather than a minister, Crane replied:

While we have so many inefficient educated ministers, and so few self-denying and self-sustained, devoted laymen in our churches, it has always seemed to me a matter of serious inquiry whether many of these ministers have not mistaken their proper calling.



Q and A: We Ask, You Tell

We ask in one sentence, you tell in four sentences.

Question for August 2002:  "How do you respond to the remarks of former SBC President, Jerry Vines?"

 Reply to <> by 8 August 2002.

Here is what a few of you wrote concerning the July question: "What have you done in your church to communicate the Baptist heritage to your young people, ages 17 and younger? Give concrete examples, if possible."

Stuart Lamkin wrote:

I developed a comparison between Baptists (specifically the Southern Baptist Convention) and Star Wars. I was trying to explain the situation to a younger friend, so I made up an analogy that I knew he would understand. Granted, it was probably a little biased (since the Fundamentalists were represented by the Empire and the dark side of the Force), but it got the point across. Later, I incorporated it into a Sunday School lesson about Baptist history and principles, and taught it to a group of 7th grade boys who loved it. Afterwards, they all rushed down to the church library and asked for copies of the Baptist Faith and Message. They requested "the older one that wasn't messed up" (i.e., the 1963 edition), which meant they had actually paid attention in Sunday School (something 7th grade boys don't do very often).


A youth minister (Brett) responds from the CBF office of Florida:

Although I don't have any written curriculum about the lessons I've taught, I have taught extensively about some of the basic Baptist doctrines. These doctrines are local church autonomy, priesthood of the believers, and the concept of grace vs. law.



Baptistville: Goings-On Among Baptists

Conferences and Lectures:

A Preaching Workshop for Baptist Women and (Men) in Ministry, October 18, 2002, 9:00am - 4:30pm.

Sponsored by the Center for Baptist Studies.

Leaders: Dr. Fred Craddock, Bandy Distinguished Professor of Preaching and New Testament, Emeritus, Candler School of Theology, Emory University and Mary Wrye, Minister to single adults, First Baptist Church, Greenville, SC.

Location: Religious Life Building, Mercer University , Macon, GA.

Registration fee is $50 and is due by October 4.

Make checks to "Mercer University" and mail to:

The Center for Baptist Studies

Mercer University

1400 Coleman Ave.

Macon GA, 31207

Contact Greg Thompson (478) 301-5467 , email or see for more details.


Special Note:

The Whitsitt Journal is available on-line at <> (then click 'Resources')


New Book:

 Baptists in Colonial New Zealand: Documents Illustrating Baptist Life and Development (N.Z. Baptist Research & Historical Society, 2002) is a collection of source materials relating to the establishment of the Baptist witness in New Zealand, 1840-1914. It consists of rare documents revealing the challenges facing Baptists in a young colony. Included is a biographical appendix and key statistics. This new volume is available from NZBRHS, PO Box 12149, Auckland, New Zealand. International price: US$30 which includes p & p.