"A Monthly Emagazine, Bridging Baptists Yesterday and Today"

July 2004                 Vol. 3  No. 7

Produced by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University

Walter B. Shurden, Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Bruce T. Gourley, Associate Director, The Center for Baptist Studies

Wil Platt, Associate Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:


I Believe . . . : Walter B. Shurden

         "Tadpole Theological Education"

The Baptist Soapbox: Robert B. Setzer, Jr.

         "Why BWA Matters So Much to Cooperative Baptists"

Emails from Baptists around the World: Etienne Lhermenault

         "The Baptists in France Today"

Baptists, the Bible, and the Poor: Charles E. Poole

         "Wasting Our Gifts"

The Baptist Spirit: Strengths and Challenges: Charles W. Deweese

         "Baptist Individualism"

What I've Learned in My First Year as a Baptist Female Pastor: Sarah Jackson Shelton
"The Lessons of Being a Female Pastor"

BSB Book Review Special: Pamela R. Durso's The Power of Woman: The Life and
         Writings of Sarah Moore Grimke

         Reviews by Mary Alice Morgan and Deborah Van Broekhoven

The Story of Primitive Baptists: John G. Crowley
"The Sacred Harp Controversy in the Original Alabaha Primitive Baptist Association"

Baptist Cheers: Walter Shurden

Dates to Note: Upcoming Events


To change/add/delete your email for the Baptist Studies Bulletin

click here.

Netscape users: If you need to increase the font size on your screen, click "view" then "increase font."

I Believe

"Tadpole Theological Education"

By Walter B. Shurden


I believe . . .


            that an old dictum in some educational circles, including theological education, is wrong. It goes like this: “Know your stuff; know whom you are stuffing; then stuff them!” Two problems surface with that authoritarian faculty lounge philosophy. One, “stuffing” people theologically is neither a creative nor a long-lasting education; it is static indoctrination.

            Second, and more to my point regarding educational stuffing, students are not tadpoles, all head and nothing else. Theological education is too often perceived in exclusively rationalistic categories. Some people claim to know the “truth,” and they would have it “stuffed” down students’ minds and throats. This approach views the professors as the “stuffers” and students are the “stuffees.”

            But good theological education is more than stuffing students with the “right” stuff. Theological education must provide an opportunity to trust moments of mystery and seasons of silence as well as hours of logical and rational thinking. We are taught the things of Christ by the inexplicable mysteries of doxology as well as the neat formulations of theology.

            And here is an enormous Baptist irony. No person among Baptists in the South has been a more zealous advocate of the education of the heart for the last four decades than Professor E. Glenn Hinson. And yet no person has been more buffeted and harassed over the last twenty-five years by advocates of “tadpole theological education” than Hinson. Glenn Hinson has put several generations of seminary students in touch with the classic spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, contemplation, and silence. These are disciplines that nurture the heart for ministry in the name of Christ.

            When I was on the faculty at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, with Professor Hinson, he once told me that if the campus of Southern Seminary could be rebuilt, the chapel, not the library, should be placed at the center of the campus. How’s that for heresy? What was this internationally known professor "with two Ph.Ds and numerous books to his credit" saying about theological education?

            He was saying that faculty and students would do well to experience together in worship what they with tongues tied try to explain in the classroom.

            He was saying that stuffing students with theological stuff is not enough.

            He was saying that developing a good case of religion - a “mature faith” he called it - is as much the task of theological education as is critical thinking and rational reflection. Whatever else theological students become at seminary, I hope they become persons that others call to their bedside to word their prayers for them in their desperate and dying hours.

            Some of Hinson’s students and friends at the Advent Spirituality Center in Mars Hill, NC have had the good sense to found The E. Glenn Hinson Spiritual Formation Institute. The Center has produced a CD of an interview of Glenn Hinson by Loyd Allen. The CD covers both Hinson’s life and his professional career. You can secure the CD by sending a check for $18 ($15 for CD, $3 postage) to Paula Dempsey at Advent Spirituality Center, PO Box 191, Mars Hill, NC 28754. Paula’s email address is and her phone is 828-206-0383.

Table Of Contents

Baptist Soapbox

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). Climbing upon the Soapbox this month is Dr. Robert B. Setzer, Jr. Setzer, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, GA, was elected national moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on June 25.


"Why BWA Matters So Much to Cooperative Baptists"

By Robert B. Setzer, Jr.

           "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven" (Matthew 5:11-12).
            From its beginning, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) has experienced the stinging truth and spiritual promise of these words. CBF has been attacked and vilified by some members of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Frankly, I never understood why some within the SBC hated us so, but then we’re in good company. Jesus was despised by the religious establishment of his day. His enemies were outraged that he dispensed with their puritanical obsessions to make the love of God and neighbor the heart of the spiritual life (Matthew 22:36-40; 23:23-24).
           In recent months, the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) has joined the ranks of those reviled and defamed for following Jesus. The BWA’s willingness to admit the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into the BWA incensed those within the SBC who thought their money and power could thwart this decision. Thankfully, false accusations and threats of financial blackmail proved powerless to intimidate this world-wide fellowship of Christ-centered, Bible believing, freedom-loving Baptists.
           For at least three reasons, CBF’s admission into the BWA is a watershed event for our movement:

1.  CBF’s admission into BWA demonstrates that CBF is an autonomous Baptist body.

           For years, some have argued CBF ought to declare itself a "denomination." Many Cooperative Baptists resist that label, believing the word "denomination" suggests a hierarchical, bureaucratic organization imposing its will on local churches. We prefer to describe CBF as a "movement" or "fellowship," more like the church in the book of Acts than a Fortune 500 company.
          On the other hand, admittance into the Baptist World Alliance requires member bodies to demonstrate they are not an "integral part" of any other BWA member. CBF submitted a 20 point document to the BWA Membership Committee, demonstrating CBF was in no way, integrally related to the SBC. For those wanting CBF to declare itself a denomination, the BWA action effectively communicates as much. World Baptists now recognize the CBF as an autonomous Baptist body.

2.  CBF’s admission into the BWA demonstrates the baselessness of SBC charges against the CBF.

          For years, SBC spokesmen have caricatured CBF as being theologically liberal and morally reckless. Now similar allegations have been leveled at the BWA. The fact that Baptists of the caliber of Billy Graham, Rick Warren, and Billy Kim - not to mention the Woman’s Missionary Union - have publicly identified with the BWA in this time of crisis, reveals the falsehood of the SBC smear campaign against the BWA and by implication, the CBF.

3.  CBF’s admission into the BWA helps Cooperative Baptists become "World Baptists".

         Cooperation in mission and unity in Christ are core values of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. With CBF’s membership in the BWA, we are joining hands and hearts with Baptists from around the world. Our fellowship will be deepened and our effectiveness strengthened by this partnership. We have much to learn from Baptists on mission in contexts very different from our own. They help us remember the kingdom of God is an international movement, and not the possession of any one culture, clan, or nation (Acts 10:34-35; Philippians 2:9-11).
         Now thirteen, CBF is ready to take its place at the table of world Baptist fellowship and mission. We are grateful to our Baptist brothers and sisters for extending us such hospitality. Further, knowing this act of faith and courage has proven costly, Cooperative Baptists will do their best to be good stewards of this historic opportunity.

Table Of Contents

Baptist Emails

Emails From Baptists Around the World: An Email on Baptists in France Today.  Etienne Lhermenault is Secretary-General of the Federation of French Evangelical Baptist Churches.


"The Baptists in France Today"
By Etienne Lhermenault


            Baptist churches in France today represent 40,000 believers, of whom 12,000 to 13,000 are members who have been baptized by immersion. While this number may seem insignificant compared with the country's total population of 61.7 million (Protestants as a whole represent no more than 1.5%), it is nevertheless reasonably encouraging in the light of the advance of Baptist churches over the last thirty years or so.
            Baptist churches are not the only ones to have doubled their numbers since 1970. Indeed, Evangelical denominations as a whole (that is, all Protestant denominations, including Pentecostals, but not the Lutheran or Reformed churches) have more than doubled their numbers over the same period. More than 1,800 places of worship belonging to this branch of Protestantism are registered today (against only 620 for the Lutheran and Reformed branch) compared with somewhat less than 800 in 1970. Several factors account for this advance :

-          the influence of the charismatic renewal which emerged in the late sixties and gave rise in the following twenty years to the creation of many independent churches;

-          the renewal of the musical repertoire of a majority of Evangelical churches thanks to the French charismatic renewal movement, various youth movements such as Youth With A Mission, and the translation of many songs from English by authors such as Graham Kendrick, R. Kenoly, M. W. Smith and others. This contributed to endowing churches with fresh dynamism and a style more in keeping with the younger generation;

-          people became generally more open to spiritual realities. After the triumph of materialism and rampant atheism, France has seen a renewal of interest in spiritual matters, accompanied by a considerable increase in new religious movements, some, though not all of which, are sectarian. Evangelical churches have therefore benefited from this opening up.

          To focus again on the Baptist churches, there are approximately 180 of these and they fall into three distinct groups :

-          the Fellowship of Independent Baptist Churches brings together approximately 40 churches which, as their title indicates, are reluctant to establish a formal relationship with others for fear of compromising their convictions. They are mainly the result of the work of American missionaries after the Second World War. Their relations with other Evangelical or Baptist churches in France are fairly limited;

-          The Evangelical Association of French-speaking Baptist Churches originally belonged to the same movement as the Baptist Federation; they separated in 1921 for personal and doctrinal reasons. The Association has succeeded quite well in becoming the champion defender of Evangelical orthodoxy and has established solid ties within the Evangelical world, but remains extremely reserved towards other Protestants. It is composed of 44 churches (of which 6 are in Switzerland and one in Belgium), after having incorporated fifteen churches recently implanted in the Paris region;

-          finally, the Federation of French Evangelical Baptist Churches represents 114 churches and comprises the greatest internal diversity. Half of its assemblies are of charismatic type and it is involved in dialogue with the Lutheran, Reformed and also the Catholic church. Finally, it belongs to the Baptist World Alliance.

          Relations between these last two movements are less strained today. After 80 years of tricky and informal relations, the need to retrace the memory of our largely common history led us to found an institution called the Society of French Baptist History and Documentation (SHDBF) on January 20, 2000. What is more, we are all convinced that, in face of the ignorance of the population of our country concerning the love of God manifested in Jesus Christ, it is time to join together as partners in witness.


Table Of Contents


Bible and Poor

Baptists, The Bible, and the Poor: Charles E. Poole is a Baptist minister with Lifeshare Community Ministries in Jackson, Mississippi where he delights in ministering alongside the poor. "Chuck" Poole, a provocative preacher and servant pastor, served Baptist churches for twenty-five years. Among the churches he has served are First Baptist Church, Macon, GA, First Baptist Church, Washington, DC, and Northminster Baptist Church, Jackson, MS.


"Wasting Our Gifts"
By Charles E. Poole

Here lately Ive been thinking a lot about Mark 14:4-5, those verses in which we overhear some of Jesus disciples question the lavish anointing of Jesus by the woman with the pricey perfume:  Some were there who said to one another, Why was the perfume wasted in this way?  This perfume could have been sold, and the money given to the poor.

The word from that passage that has been haunting me is the word waste. Why did she waste the perfume? It could have helped the poor, had she sold it instead of pouring it out.  I suppose that word waste has been so large in my mind because a couple of times in the last year, very fine, well-intentioned, sincere folk have suggested to me that I might be wasting my gifts.” After all those years of preaching to substantial crowds of substantial people, I now teach Bible classes to small groups of teenagers and kids in inner-city housing projects.  After all those years of pastoring significant churches, I now deliver groceries to homes and find beds for families.  So, really good people who really care have raised the question, Arent you wasting your gifts?

I, of course, dont think such work is a waste of whatever gifts I have. But even if, by some measure, it were a waste for folk like me to follow this kind of calling, dont you think it's about time? The Baptist churches of North America have wasted plenty on making sure that already comfortable people are as comfortable as possible every time they go to church. We have catered to a long list of longings and desires for pleasant facilities and fascinating programs.  All of which is fine, Im sure. And some of which is important, but some of which is wasteful in the sense that it has comforted the comfortable instead of lifting the poor, which is simply not the way of Jesus.

It may look like a waste for some to make care for the poor their daily service, but it isnt.  However, even if it were a waste, it is about time the church wasted some of herself on those to whom Jesus gave so much of himself. As surely as it was holy and right for Mary to waste her gifts on Jesus, so it is holy and right for us to waste our gifts with Gods children in need.

Table Of Contents

The Baptist Spirit

The Baptist Spirit: Strengths and Challenges Charles W. Deweese, Executive Director-Treasurer of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, writes this section of BSB. An articulate and passionate Baptist, he identifies the historic Baptist Spirit in America.

"Baptist Individualism"

By Charles W. Deweese


             God creates every person in his image; that injects eternal significance into the meaning and value of human individualism. Baptists affirm individualism in soul competency, liberty of conscience, voluntarism, regeneration, believer's baptism, priesthood of all believers, equality, prayer, and other views and practices. Christ set the model: he talked and prayed with individuals, he called individual disciples, and he liberated individuals from sin, disease, and prejudicial treatment. He lived, died, and was resurrected on behalf of individuals. He was an individual

            Of course, Baptists have a collective side: church, worship, congregational government, cooperative stewardship, missions, social action, among others. However, not one of these corporate ventures will work well unless individuals choose to participate.   

            Emphasis on the importance of every individual stands front and center in the overall scope of historic Baptist thought and action. In fact, "When we turn to the New Testament . . . we find that supreme emphasis is everywhere put upon the principle of individualism," claimed Baptist World Alliance President George W. Truett in 1939.

            Individualism takes on one of its premier shapes when applied to Christian service. Perhaps the following example can illustrate this point.

            John Gurnsey served as a Baptist farmer deacon for most of his adult life in the early 1800s in a Baptist church in Amenia, Dutchess County, New York. Highly motivated as a Baptist Christian, he functioned as a deacon in ministry a century before formal, denominationally-sponsored deacon family ministry plans kicked in. One event in his life offers evidence:

            "Though a man that never neglected his business, he always would find time to visit the sick, the poor, and the afflicted, and among those who were needy he never went empty handed. . . . Once, when the winter was very severe, and the snow deep, blocking up all the roads, he thought of a poor sister in the church, who lived about a mile from his residence, and could not rest without going to see her; he was afraid she was in want. Though then an old man, he went with his staff in one hand, and a basket of provision in the other, and with much difficulty reached the house. The poor woman saw him coming, and her heart was deeply affected in witnessing his exertions to wade through the snow. He was a welcome visitor: she and her children were really in want; their fuel and provisions were all gone, or nearly so. He returned home wearied and exhausted, and immediately dispatched his team to take her some wood."

            For thirty years, Gurnsey maintained a weekly prayer meeting in a school building in his neighborhood. He owned "a large covered wagon, made for the express purpose of taking his family and neighbors to the house of God." The last time he helped distribute the elements of the Lord's Supper, "he had to use crutches." At his death, he left $1,000 to his church and more than $700 each to home and foreign missions.

                Gurnsey's life, committed to others, represents God's highest intention for Baptist individualism - Christian service, not untamed license. Little wonder that Gurnsey's obituary concluded: "It was not because he had better gifts than others, that he was so much more useful, but because he was willing to use what he had."


Sources: Quote from Truett: Official Report, Sixth Baptist World Congress, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A., July 22-28, 1939 (Atlanta: BWA, 1939), 26. Material on Gurnsey: The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Chronicle, Vol. 1 (October 1842, New York, New York), 299-303.

Table Of Contents


What I've Learned in My First Year as a Baptist Female Pastor: The Reverend Sarah Jackson Shelton is pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  She describes what she has learned in her first year as a senior pastor in a Baptist church.

"The Lessons of Being a Female Pastor"

By Sarah Jackson Shelton

What does a female pastor learn within her first year as senior pastor? I suspect the lessons are the same for my male counterparts: the juggling of time (just when were we supposed to write that sermon?); the flexibility required to leave the funeral home, stop by the hospital, throw dinner on the table, start a load of laundry and conduct a wedding (just when were we supposed to have quiet meditation and prayer?); the ability to put your own emotions on hold until the congregation’s needs have been addressed. 

There may be a few things we encounter more so than a male pastor: the surprise that the pastor is a woman, the threat of associational disfellowship, an occasional rock through a window in protest, the refusal of the International Mission Board to appoint your members as Foreign Mission Volunteers, and the interest of the press that picks up on a unique situation.   

The main lesson of being a female pastor, however, occurs for me within the context of my congregation. They are teaching me about thinking outside of the box, of just how limitless the possibilities for ministry are, of finding creative ways to preach the “same ol’ stuff,” and of loving one another with gentleness and kindness. Because of their spirit, I decided to ask them, “What is it like for you to have a female as your pastor?” Their answers are below and complete the statement, “A female pastor...”

…hugs a lot.

…sees the laity as partners in ministry.

…expresses maternal instincts of caring and protection for individual members, as well as the congregation.

…helps me celebrate my own femininity and connect to God as a mothering shepherd.

…is more thoughtful of little things that make people feel important.

…is more nurturing and sensitive to the needs of individuals in particular and the congregation as a whole.

…does not seem to have the ego needs and is, therefore, more authentic.

…can let the voice of God speak just as powerfully through her as God would through a male.

…helps me to realize that God might be calling me to pastor as well.

…is less judgmental and helps me feel safe.

…brings a fresh side of God that is more deep and wide through the sharing of her personal life.

…helps me embrace a nurturing God that has loving arms and is accepting.

…is so good that I do not think about her gender.  I would give up being a Baptist before I’d give her up as my pastor!

The lessons of being a pastor are rich whether we are male or female.  Perhaps the greatest lesson of all is living the reality that God’s grace is greater, wider, deeper and more abundant than any of us could ever hope for, much less deserve. Thanks be to God for the wonder of shepherding a congregation.  Thanks be to God for Divine Grace that sustains us for the tasks of being a pastor.

Table Of Contents




Are you a Baptist Minister interested in a week-long sabbatical of supervised

reading in Baptist Studies? Click here for more detail.


Table Of Contents


BSB Book Review Special: Pamela R. Durso, Associate Director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society in Nashville, TN, is one of the rising scholarly stars in the area of Baptist Studies.  Her scholarship reaches beyond Baptist life, however.  This month the BSB highlights her important new Mercer University Press book, The Power of Woman: The Life and Writings of Sarah Moore Grimke.  The reviewers are Dr. Mary Alice Morgan, Professor of English and Director of the Women's and Gender Studies Program at Mercer University in Macon, GA, and Dr. Deborah Van Broekhoven, Executive Director, The American Baptist Historical Society, Valley Forge, PA.

Mary Alice Morgan's review:

Those of us who teach Women’s Studies know that students in our introductory courses typically preface their statements about contemporary culture with “Well, I’m not a feminist but . . .” As in: “I’m not a feminist but I believe that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work” or “I’m not a feminist but I believe women are as capable as men in being leaders in ___” (fill in the blank: politics, religion, business). These students disclaim the label “feminist” despite their obvious convictions about women’s equal rights because they have a negative perception of the word “feminist.” They believe that feminists were those man-hating, later bra-burning, complainers who - even though they may be credited with advancing women’s legal rights or fighting against domestic violence - were too intense and anti-mainstream to be likable or to be role models for today. How to combat these distorted notions of feminism? Hand students a book like Pamela R. Durso’s The Power of Woman: The Life and Writings of Sarah Moore Grimke.
Do not misunderstand me. Durso’s book is not a piece of feminist hagiography. In fact, if anything, Durso understates the radicalism of Grimke’s abolitionism and, later, feminism. But Durso’s understated historiography is precisely the book’s strength. Instead of championing Grimke in a triumphalist, teleological way, Durso chronicles the uncertainties and questionings of a woman who followed her conscience - out of the slave-owning South of the 1830’s and out of patriarchal institutional Christianity. Grimke’s uncertainties were real; the costs of her faithful activism were high. Contemporary readers facing similar crises of conscience - about women’s ministry, about the status of homosexuals in the church - can learn from Durso’s portrait of this passionate anti-slavery, women’s rights advocate.
            Durso explains, for example, that, ironically, it was less difficult for Sarah to reject the clear-cut abuses and injustices of slavery early in her life in Charleston, South Carolina than it was for her to heed the evangelical Christianity of her era that called for her to forsake society, fashion, and worldly vanities. Sarah’s gravitation from evangelism to Quakerism was similarly complicated.  Sarah was attracted by the Quaker concept of the “Inner Light” that deemed all individuals capable of divine revelation, regardless of gender or race.  But when she ventured to speak at meetings, as she was entitled to do, she nevertheless ran afoul of patriarchal church politics and eventually, painfully, left the Quaker church. Again ironically, when Sarah’s younger sister, Angelina, began to speak publicly for the abolitionist cause, Sarah was initially horrified.  Angelina’s behavior contradicted their Quaker congregation’s prohibition against public involvement in abolitionism, contravened gender norms for women of the period, and, most important, represented in Sarah’s mind, disobedience to God.  It took time and soul-searching for Sarah to reconcile these contradictions between her culture and her independent reading of scripture, and Durso attempts to put these moments of crisis into full biographical and historical context.
            The Power of Woman is well researched and corrects the disproportionate attention usually given by historians to Angelina Grimke.  As a church historian, Durso explores in more detail than other Grimke biographers, the biblical hermeneutics forming the foundations of Sarah’s rejection of the racist and sexist norms of her society. Students of feminist history may be surprised to learn that feminist scriptural interpretations they may have first encountered in the Woman’s Bible by Elizabeth Cady Stanton were anticipated by Sarah Moore Grimke in Letters on the Equality of the Sexes
            Sarah Grimke’s story carries less drama than that of the younger leaders of the women’s suffrage movement such as Stanton or Susan B. Anthony.  Perhaps for this reason, it is a story much in need of telling for readers who, like Sarah, discover their convictions gradually, live them fitfully, but seek steadfastly to “become a useful member of society” in simple and determined ways.

Deborah Van Broekhoven's review:

            Sarah Grimke's role in “the abolition crusade,” Durso argues, was important because for women this was “the most controversial, most political, and most effective of all reform movements of the time (3).” Since other scholars have argued similarly, Durso's appeal to general readers is her emphasis on Sarah's years of struggle to work out her beliefs and calling. The story, then, provides a model for women encountering “familial, religious, and societal restrictions” as they follow a call into ministry (7).

            Drawing from Grimke's published and manuscript writings, as well from the general scholarship on abolitionists, Durso critiques Gerda Lerner's classic biography of the Grimke sisters for overlooking Sarah's theology. The assertion that this problem was a result of Lerner's status as a “non-believer,” however, seems spurious, given the careful attention to religion and theology in the writings of “non-believers” like Perry Miller, Eugene Genovese, and Mechal Sobel. 

            Durso notes religious influences on Sarah Grimke and her evolving theology, including her pious Episcopalian mother. But clearly Sarah (and Durso) emphasized as more important her conversion at a Presbyterian revival meeting, during which she recalled her “whole being was taken captive. I made a full and free surrender and vowed eternal fealty to Jesus,” (25) and her later contact with Philadelphia Quakers. Sarah encountered Quakers when she accompanied her father from their South Carolina home to New Jersey. There Sarah buried both her father and some evangelical beliefs, eventually joining one of the Philadelphia meetings of Friends. 

            Sarah's younger sister, Angelina, followed her into the Quaker meeting, but took the lead in issuing a popular and controversial tract, Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836). This led the two into a wildly successful lecture tour, which, when men began attending the women's meetings, drew sharp criticism from clergy and a ban on antislavery meetings in most churches, including Quaker meetinghouses. While this opposition was daunting, Durso argues that Sarah left the Society of Friends largely because her meeting did not support her call to ministry or her work toward equal rights for slaves and women. Durso writes for those unfamiliar with Quakerism, abolitionism, or feminism, including brief explanations of the antislavery actions of earlier Quakers and of the earliest feminist writings of Charles Brockden Brown, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Hannah Crocker. Oddly, Durso fails to mention the Baptists who worked alongside Quaker abolitionists. According to William Estep, for example, Baptists participated in the Germantown Meeting in 1688, when that group issued the first antislavery statement in the colonies. 

For those already familiar with the story of abolitionists, Durso's most valuable contribution is an explanation of how Sarah read biblical texts on women. Overcoming her lack of linguistic training by using Matthew Henry's commentaries, Sarah undercut Pauline passages restrictive of women and emphasized the role of New Testament women leaders (like Priscilla and Phoebe) as a model of female equality in the church. Grimke's invocation of women leaders and of Galatians 3:28 as definitive are eerily contemporary. A day after I had finished Durso, I heard a preacher invoke these same scriptures and arguments.

Those who want to know more about antislavery and feminist theology will find much in Durso's fine bibliography. Overlooked, however, is the analysis in Anna M. Speicher's The Religious World of Antislavery Women: Spirituality in the Lives of Five Abolitionist Lecturers (University of Syracuse Press, 2000). For more on grassroots Baptists, see Van Broekhoven, The Devotion of These Women: Rhode Island in the Antislavery Network (2002). Two biographies of Baptist abolitionists are also worth reading, since they also include analysis of “the woman question.” These are Ira V. Brown's Mary Grew, Abolitionist and Feminist, 1813-1896 (1991) and Henry Mayer's All On Fire:  William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (1998). Also helpful in understanding Baptists in these controversies are Religion and the American Civil War, edited by Randall M. Miller, Harry S. Stout, and Charles Reagan Wilson (1998) and Religion and the Antebellum Debate Over Slavery (1998), edited by Mitchell Snay and John McKivigan.

Table Of Contents


The Story of Primitive Baptists: John G. Crowley, a life-long Primitive Baptist with a Ph.D. in history from Florida State, is professor of history at Valdosta State University and author of Primitive Baptists of the Wiregrass South, 1815 to Present.

"The Sacred Harp Controversy in the Original Alabaha PrimitiveBaptist Association"

By John G. Crowley

             Of the making of different stripes of Baptists there is no end. The "Crawfordites," followers of Elder Reuben Crawford, emerged as a subset of the Primitive Baptists in the 1860s and 1870s. During the Twentieth Century the "Crawfordites" became the most austere and conservative Primitive Baptists in Georgia, eschewing radio, television, neckties, painted and heated meetinghouses, and refusing to tolerate divorce and remarriage under any circumstances.

             Crawfordites long met in Hoboken, Georgia to sing from the James Revision of The Sacred Harp, a version of one of the most popular shape note hymnals in the South. Due to a strong self imposed isolation, they knew nothing of other Sacred Harp singers until well into the 1990s.

 Finally, in the 1990s, the larger shape note singing community, which was undergoing a considerable revival, initiated contact with the Hoboken group. These “outsiders” were fascinated by the slow, ornamented style of their singing, especially their unique practice of "walking time," where the song leaders led by pacing in a slow, stately manner.  

All was well until some of the Lee family, members of Crawfordite Churches and leaders of the Hoboken singing, began visiting Sacred Harp sings in other communities. Sings at Hoboken were not opened or closed by prayer, and they were rigorously distinguished from anything like a worship service, despite the religious nature of the songs. At other Sacred Harp sings, however, meetings were closed by prayer, creating the atmosphere of a religious service. Another disturbing element to the Crawfordite conservatives lay in the numbers of new Sacred Harp singers from an urban background, who participated in sings simply as an art form.

            Since no Crawfordite church has carpet, the Lees were soon called on the planks about their participation in semi-religious sings, patronized by agnostics on the one hand and heretics on the other. Despite the Lees’ humble submission to the demands of the churches, agitation over the singing issue continued. In 1996 the inevitable rupture occurred, and the small Original Alabaha Primitive Baptist Association split over the issue. The conservative party retrenched itself and formally condemned singings with outside groups. On the other hand, they declared their intention to continue singings on their old separatist basis.

            The Lee party, on the other, hand became some of the best known leaders and teachers in the shape note tradition, traveling throughout the United States and even to England, teaching their style of singing. The Hoboken sing attracted participants from throughout the nation and the world, and it is now one of the most thriving shape note singing communities in the world.

            Contact with other singers and other Primitive Baptists and members of other religious traditions led to a tremendous broadening of theological horizons among those who had been read out of the Original Alabaha Association.

            One Lee clearly expressed the effect of these events. When expelled from the church where his family had worshipped since the 1820s, he arose from his seat and left the meetinghouse singing Liberty from the Sacred Harp: “No more beneath th' oppressive hand/ Of tyranny we groan/ Behold the smiling, happy land/ That freedom calls her own.”

Table Of Contents


Baptist Cheers


            . . . to a coalition of Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives  for blocking a proposed amendment that would have allowed clergy, through their houses of worship, officially to endorse political candidates without losing their tax-exempt status.

            . . .to the National Cooperative Baptist Fellowship for Partners in Hope, a twenty year commitment to offer hope to people in this nation’s poorest, rural counties. Tom Prevost is the national coordinator for Partners in Hope, and you can reach him at Look at the Partners in Hope ministry at

Table Of Contents

Dates to


Dates to Note


July 21-24, 2004, "Creating Space: An Experiential Prayer Retreat" at Sterchi Lodge, Hot Springs, NC. For details contact Paula Dempsey (email: or call 828.206.0383.


August 10-13, 2004, "Woman's Work for Women: Perspectives in Mission History" at Green Lake Wisconsin Conference Center of the American Baptist Assembly. For details contact the American Baptist Historical Society at 610.768.2269, or go to


August 31, 2004, Convocation at McAfee School of Theology, Atlanta, GA.


September 9, 2004, "Church State Issues in the 2004 Election: A Morning Dialogue with Brent Walker," Religious Life Building, Mercer University, Macon, GA. Contact


September 26-28, 2004, The Mercer Preaching Consultation, The King and Prince Hotel, St. Simons Island, GA. For details go to and click "conferences."


July 27-31, 2005, Centennial Congress of the Baptist World Alliance, Birmingham, England. To register email , phone 703.790.8980, or fax 703.893.5160.

Table Of Contents


Baptist Myths: A New Pamphlet Series

A series of eleven pamphlets that address negative perceptions held towards Baptists in popular American culture. These pamphlets are suitable for individual study, church classes, and academic courses. They are jointly published by the Baptist History and Heritage Society, The Center for Baptist Studies of Mercer University, and the Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society. Editor: Doug Weaver; Associate Editors: Charles W. Deweese & Walter B. Shurden.

Order Form

Table Of Contents




If you do not wish to receive BSB any longer, please Click Here to unsubscribe.

 Visit The Center For Baptist Studies Home Page.