Home / General / “There is No Southern Baptist Position on Abortion”

“There is No Southern Baptist Position on Abortion”


So said a Southern Baptist Convention newspaper on January 31, 1973, soon after Roe v. Wade was decided.

Question: What is the Southern Baptist position on abortion?

Answer: There is no official Southern Baptist position on abortion, or any other such question. Among 12 million Southern Baptists, there are probably 12 million different opinions.

Question: Does the Supreme Court decision on abortion intrude on the religious life of the people?

Answer: No. Religious bodies and religious persons can continue to teach their own particular views to their constituents with all the vigor they desire. People whose conscience forbids abortion are not compelled by law to have abortions. They are free to practice their religion according to the tenets of their personal or corporate faith.

The reverse is also now true since the Supreme Court decision. Those whose conscience or religious convictions are not violated by abortion may not now be forbidden by a religious law to obtain an abortion it they so choose.

In short, if the state laws are now made to conform to the Supreme Court ruling, the decision to obtain an abortion or to bring pregnancy to full term can now be a matter of conscience and deliberate choice rather than one compelled by law.

Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision.

It would take time for the Southern Baptist Convention to become a tool of the conservative movement. As Seth Dowland detailed in a 2009 article in Church History, it was not until the late 70s that evangelicals spoke out strongly against women’s rights, abortion, or gay rights. Carter won with significant evangelical support and even fervor in 1976. In 1980, he lost those voters. What happened? A core of conservatives connected with evangelicals over the decline of the family and helped people make connections between these core values we see as inherently evangelical today and other problems they felt in the 70s. Jerry Falwell himself made no statement at all about abortion until 1975. In fact, the Catholic response against the Roe decision made many anti-Catholic evangelicals see Catholic anger as a reason to support the decision. The journal Christianity Today strongly supported feminism in a 1974 editorial and most evangelicals openly supported the Equal Rights Amendment in its early years. The success of people arguing that both of these things were attacks on women and the family turned people fairly rapidly, it is true. The anti-gay campaign led by Anita Bryant was far more about fear mongering about its effect on children than any biblical basis that was only stressed later. But this earlier history can’t be erased, no matter how much evangelicals would like to

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Dowland argues that was the threat of these three issues to the gendered order evangelicals held dear that turned them to political conservatism, but also suggests a top-down manipulation by Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly, Tim LaHaye, Anita Bryant, Francis Schaeffer, and a relatively few other major figures.

In other words, all of this is way more complicated than the pat media narratives suggest.

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  • I was almost 15 when the Roe decision came down, and I don’t remember any, and I mean ANY, people protesting or complaining about that decision – and I had a lot of people in my HS who were Catholics and Christian Evangelicals.

    I went to a Catholic college, from ’76 to 81, and don’t remember much talk against abortion at the school.
    And, contrary to what Billy Joel wrote, Catholic girls DON’T “start much too late!” ;-)

    But I did start to hear a lot and anti-choice rhetoric coming from the Dominionist Christian Evangelicals in 1980, leading up to the Presidential election, when Ronnie Raygun invited into the political process.

    Goldwater wanted nothing to do with them.
    Nixon didn’t have TOO much use for them.
    But “Dutch” didn’t care who helped get him elected.

    And, after over 30 years, these moronic Manichean maniacs, are running the Republican Party.

    Another rancid Reagan legacy!

    • Bob

      I was at SIU in 76 and there was an active anti-abortion student group that was affiliated with a local Catholic Church.

      • Larry

        In 1958, my wife’s father, a free-thinking Southern Baptist minister and Church History professor – along with a group of his fellow-traveling free-thinking colleagues – were all simultaneously purged from the flagship Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. 1958. So much for 12 million opinions in 1973. Dr. Wamble was firmly and vocally in favor of separation of church and state. Later, he was offered the presidency of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. He choose to continue teaching instead, at a seminary in Missouri which at the time anyway was less doctrinaire. His papers were later donated to the Church-Studies Department at Baylor (donated pre-Ken Starr’s presidency there.

        In the later 1990s, my wife’s brother-in-law, also a Southern Baptist minister and also a philosophy professor at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville – along with some of his like-minded liberal-thinking compadres – was also banished from the Louisville seminary for ideologic reasons. By then of course the surprise was that he was ever hired to teach there in the first place and allowed to stay as long as he did. It was probably because he’s such a smart and likable fellow, who really has no enemy in the world despite his treatment, and a brilliant scholar and author. He continues his work at a different seminary.

        Same as it ever was. Slavery was good too, according to the Southern Baptists, and then segregation was good, and now?

        • rea

          The Baptists kind of invented the separation of church and state. Roger Williams was a Baptist minister. What a shame they abandoned their heritage.

          • ThrottleJockey


          • DrS

            I was reading somewhere that I can’t recall right now, but possibly from something someone said here, about how Baptists preachers started tailoring their messages to their southern customer base. Ring a bell for anyone?

            Not that religion and secular culture don’t mix all the time, creating changes to both things. There are things in Mexican Catholicism that, to Mexicans seem part of their identity as Catholics that are completely foreign to their co-religionists in Ireland.

            Southern Baptists are the religion of the Southern elite…no surprise that they serve each others interests, is there?

            • Lee Rudolph

              Southern Baptists are the religion of the Southern elite

              Are you sure about that?

              • JoyfulA

                My Southern relatives are Methodists who look down on the Southern Baptists and all the other Baptist varieties.

                • Lee Rudolph

                  Yes, I thought I’d heard of some such thing. But my sources are long ago and far away.

                  Then there are the Southern Presbyterians!

              • Hogan

                “Episcopalians are Presbyterians with investments; Presbyterians are Methodists who’ve been to college; Methodists are Baptists with shoes.”

            • ThrottleJockey

              Yeah until relatively recently (’80s/’90s) the Southern Elite was Episcopalian. As Southern Elites came to view Episcopalians as ‘co-opted’ by ‘Northern Liberals’, and as the SBC became much more energetic, the Southern Elites switched their allegiances.

              To your broader point about culture and religion, its quite fascinating how they intertwine, such that one one adherent thinks is an inherent part of religious practice is completely indecipherable on the other side of the globe. The Filipino practice of crucifying themselves–complete with real nails and crosses–as part of extensive and elaborate Passion Plays during Holy Week boggles my mind.

              Tourists and worshippers looked on as 18 men had nails driven through their palms, and were then hoisted up onto crosses in a re-enactment of the crucifixion of Christ.

              “I am USED to it already,” AFP quoted as saying Alex Laranang, WHO WAS Nailed up for His 14th time.

              Two of the men who were mock-crucified had to be removed from the celebration to receive medical attention. The religious devotees who participate in the practice believe that the act is a way of atoning for their sins, or of healing a loved one.

          • William

            The separation of Church and state was clearly enunciated by Dante Alighieri in early 1300s, later by Spinoza, and of course Milton, long before Roger Williams; Nonetheless most religious colonies supported it w.r.t England itself, if not for themselves, like Penn and like Lord Baltimore.

        • mch

          Larry, your comment fills me with memories. My husband’s father, born dirt-poor in hard-scrabble west Texas in 1918, a WWII veteran of battles like the Bulge, was a Southern Baptist minister, mostly in Texas and Oklahoma, in the late 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Yep, separation of church and state still a tenant of that branch of Baptism in those days and beyond — in fact, Southern Baptists were avid about that (for the sake of their religion as much as anything else). What got my father-in-law into trouble was his support of civil rights as early as the late 50’s. By trouble I mean he didn’t “rise” in the churches he was called to in the trajectory his talents (mostly as a choral musician) would have led one to expect. The politics of all churches are probably pretty fierce, but the Southern Baptists are something else. He took it all in stride, in the long run (I am sure he suffered, too). Retired early, worked to help find employment for native Americans, later became involved in environmental causes, became a skilled glass-worker (for the income, but he also loved it), always participated wholeheartedly in his local church (he moved several times), rose early every morning to read the bible and pray with his wife. He believed in a heaven, and if there is one, my guess he’s there now, but for me what counts, he made this earth a better place.

    • Manny Kant

      Where were you from that your high school had a lot of Catholics and Evangelicals? It seems like that would be fairly rare; Evangelicals are concentrated in the South and in rural areas and Catholics are concentrated in the North and in urban areas.

      • Lots of Evangelicals here in Central Cali, the remote town I live in in southeastern Tulare County, CA, has a population of 55K and 187 churches. Along with the Mexican-Americans who usually skew Catholic here, I find the account very plausible.

      • jane stutsman

        I grew up in Mobile Alabama in the 70’s – we were Episcopal but almost everyone I knew was either Catholic or Southern Baptist. It used to be a big deal during Mardi Gras – the Baptist preachers thought that it was sinful. I went back for the first time a couple of years ago and was surprised at the number of evangelical churches.

  • Tristan

    I guess people were more laid back because of all the drugs

  • Bob

    Baptist history is very complicated.

  • Gwen

    Interesting sociology here.

    At the same time the conservative Christians took over the GOP, the conservatives took over Christianity.

    I think a lot of it probably goes down to organizational zeal.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks


      Too frequently, people’s deeply held beliefs are assumed to be stable facts, exogenous to politics.

      In fact, successful organizing can change deeply held beliefs.

      • Pat

        My evangelical siblings receive emails that push them towards specific beliefs at any given time. It’s hard for me to accept that it’s random. For example, one of them started receiving emails documenting “stupid research projects” about 4 weeks before the Republicans announced they were going to cut NIH funding.

        It’d be interesting to get a hold of that mailing list, and do a little social engineering too.

        • DrS

          It’s all entertwined with the circles of grift.

          • Keaaukane

            The phrase “Circle of grift” cries out for a massive Disney style song.

            • DrS

              Sung “we are the world” style, with all right wingers. From the poorest white supremacist from northern Idaho, to the richest media gasbag.

        • Aimai

          Absolutely–its not random. And why should it be? Modern popular culture itself is not random since its highly commoditized and lots of people make a living trying to monetize it. You have to figure that religious believers are just another target market to be isolated, studied, and bombarded with images and “information” designed to push the largest percentage of them into purchasing shit–sometimes that shit is just another politician or policy position and sometimes its black velvet Jesus pictures.

          • DrS

            Yep. If you have a tranche of people who are gullible enough to believe a certain type of pitch just happen to be looking for a certain item that shows up in their inbox, then that gives you a dataset of people who might be open to related pitches more items that they just happen to be looking for showing up in their inbox.

      • ThrottleJockey

        Too frequently, people’s deeply held beliefs are assumed to be stable facts, exogenous to politics.

        I think people tend to choose their religion after they choose their politics. And if they change their politics, their religion usually changes too. Loomis documents this with respect to the SBC and abortion. Before our very eyes we’re seeing this on the issues of gay marriage with the Mainline Protestant churches.

        • Aimai

          Since most people don’t even “choose” their religion I don’t see how that can be.

          • ThrottleJockey

            By “religion” I meant “religious beliefs”. So my neighbor may not ‘choose’ to be Christian–having been raised in a Christian home–but their specific religious beliefs tend to be informed by their politics more than their religion in my observation. The Mormons reversal on blacks and the ‘mark of Cain’ in the ’70s is perhaps the most famous example of this. We’ll see almost all Mainline Protestants similarly shift on gay marriage over the next 20 yrs.

            • JoyfulA

              All the Mainline Protestant churches have already shifted, my UCC more than a decade ago at the national level. The Methodists are the only exception I know of; they’re international, and the U.S. pro-gay contingent can’t get over 50%.

          • Pat

            People do choose. Not walking away from your parents religion is a choice in itself. The religious dictum that you can only believe in the ideas that surround you requires that you be unable to think for yourself.

    • DrDick

      I think this was a direct outgrowth of efforts by the Republicans to divide social conservatives (racists, evangelicals, and the like) from the Democratic party. Starting with Reagan, the GOP really expanded on Nixon’s Southern Strategy with active outreach on “social issues”.

      • Pat

        They might also have been inspired by the story of the Mormons, in that their leader was said to have auctioned off his church’s votes to the highest bidder back in the 1800’s.

        • Bill Murray

          IIRC, when Utah was trying to get statehood, the Mormons divided the church members evenly between the parties to show how something they could be. Of course when I lived there in 1992, Clinton came close to finishing 4th behind, Bush, Perot and Bo Gritz. Well Gritz wasn’t that close to Clinton, but Clinton was under 25% of the vote and Gritz may have beaten him if you don’t include Salt lake County

      • ThrottleJockey


  • Dirty Davey

    The leaders of the mobilization of evangelicals for the Republican party were driven primarily by the loss of tax-exempt status for segregated schools, in the most prominent case Bob Jones University.

    Losing the ability to keep segregated schools was what got the ball rolling. Abortion was a convenient issue to disguise the white-supremacy roots of the movement.

    • sharculese

      We’re not racist, we also think (poor) white women don’t count as people.

  • Matt T. in New Orleans

    It all went to shit once Grady Nutt died.

  • dp

    My family lived through the change in the Southern Baptist Convention. In the seventies, we were all members of a Baptist church; today, we are a combination of Methodists, Disciples of Christ and Episcopalians.

    • Aimai

      What a lovely melting pot.

  • Crunchy Frog

    It all traces back to the Lewis Powell memo in 1971 (Google it). The GOP then had about half the membership of the Democratic party nationally. They could win Presidential elections which were about personalities, not party identity, but they were small minorities in both houses.

    Nixon had already pushed the “southern strategy” to invite all the racist reactionaries into the party, but that still wasn’t enough votes for the rich to regain full control of government. As right wing think tanks began to sprout in the wake of the Lewis Powell memo, the notion of recruiting popular right wing preachers to become GOP vote-generating machines took hold, so heavy investment was made by the wealthy in right wing religion. Previously evangelicals avoided politics as being a mundane part of the current world, and nothing to do with the next world. In the 1970s the wealthy conservative movement changed all that.

    There is this widely-held perception that the right wing preachers are all rich based on contributions from their “flock”. Well, they do get a lot of money from their sheep, yes, but they also get a lot of money from the same folks who fund all the right wing think tanks. This is especially true during the years when those big box churches are getting started. Ask anyone involved with setting up a new church in an growing town – even if you manage to get 10% tithing from everyone (the average contribution is more like 1-2%) in your flock of say, 500, it’s still going to take a very long process to pay for the building of a moderate-sized church.

    Now, by contrast, consider the story of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, infamously founded by Ted Haggard – the anti-gay melodramatist who was outed for doing meth and sex with his gay prostitute in 2006. The official story is that he started building his congregation with the poor and downtrodden in the worst parts of the city (in retrospect we now understand why he started out hanging around the gay bars) and within 10 years had a huge church of 14,000 members in a purpose-built church complex that took $15-20 million to build plus land cost of well over $1 million. Simply put, this could not have happened based solely on member contributions. For GOP funders, this kind of investment is far preferred to campaign contributions. Campaign contributions are one-time things, with uncertain results. A church of 14k members, on the other hand, is a GOP voting and vote-recruiting machine that keeps on giving election after election – a much better return on the investment.

    Ironically, a lot of the money going into the far right evangelical churches came from far right Israelis. Which is why the evangelicals shifted their tone on Judaism. First, the term “Judeo-Christian” values was widely adopted and second, the theory of the rapture (in 1970 an obscure viewpoint) was heavily promoted with the idea that in order for it to be achieved there must first be a reunion of “Greater Israel”.

    Today the investment has shifted dramatically away from building more churches and right wing “ministries” and towards various astroturf organizations and general efforts to rewrite all laws so that, eventually, it will be impossible for a non-conservative-approved candidate to win an election. But this has happened in large part because of diminishing returns – the network of GOP-vote-generating churches is fully established and self-perpetuating.

    Back to the original topic, in order to get the right wing evangelicals to shift from a position of non-interest in politics to intense interest some of the evangelical positions had to change, and abortion, gays, the sex revolution, and separation of church and state were the first topics. Yes, many evangelical positions changed 180 degrees over a very short period – one cannot help but recall the “we’ve always been at war with East Asia” scene and how stupid the crowds were in both cases. But soon these issues became intertwined with issues around guns and racism (it’s not a coincidence that during the same period the NRA went from being relatively sane and even advocating limited forms of gun control to the extreme insanity they exhibit today).

    Upon reflection, given all the effort that went into creating the modern conservative movement it is no wonder that a few facts or well crafted arguments are completely insufficient countermeasures.

    • Rob in CT

      It’s almost like there was a vast right wing conspiracy…

      • Aimai

        I am interested in your viewpoint, do you have a magazine I could subscribe to?

      • Stag Party Palin

        You know, we might get more traction if we called it the right wing “bidness plan.” There’s nothing secret about it any more.

    • DrDick

      Yep. Growing up in Oklahoma in the 50s and 60s, the fundamentalists and evangelicals were never very political (many did not even vote). It was not until the 1980s that they really started to become a political force.

    • Actually, “The Late Great Planet Earth” was published in 1970 and was the beginning of “Teh Rapture” concept coming into mainstream culture.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Ironically, a lot of the money going into the far right evangelical churches came from far right Israelis. Which is why the evangelicals shifted their tone on Judaism.

      The actual history is vastly more complicated here than the pat ‘grifter’ narrative delivered here. 1st, the evangelical interest in Israel pre-dates Israel–its a reflection of the rise of literalism which started around the turn of the century. 2nd, the terrorism of the ’70/’80s and anti-Arab xenophobia has a lot to do with it. 3rd, there was a reduction in anti-semitism among evangelicals beginning in that time frame. The money you refer to all followed these developments.

      You see an early preview of this when the Harry Truman, a Baptist, over ruled his State Department to support Zionism.

      n November 1953, after he had left the presidency, Harry Truman traveled to New York to be feted at the Jewish Theological Seminary. When his old friend Eddie Jacobson introduced him as “the man who helped create the state of Israel,” Truman responded, “What do you mean ‘helped to create’? I am Cyrus.” Truman was referring to the Persian King who overthrew the Babylonians in 593 B.C.E. and helped the Jews, who had been held captive in Babylon, return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple.

      Truman biography Michael T. Benson says that Truman’s support for Israel was an “outgrowth of the president’s religious upbringing and his familiarity with the Bible.”

      So, yeah, no.

  • Joe

    Baptists, as some here probably know, have a complex history regarding church and state generally. Southern Baptists were a big supporter of Madison and the separation of church and state movement. Fundamentalists had a long period of staying away from politics, which to my understanding was still pretty strong in the early ’70s. There are probably a sizable number today among that community that are not big politic fans. Render to Caesar …

    The history here also underlines that even if a person isn’t really a big fan of “religion,” they should be concerned when being “religious” or “Christian” is stereotyped. Al Franken (now up for re-election) talked about this on his radio show back in the day. In 2004, there was this big “value” voters deal. He said, hey, we are the left have lots of “values.”

    When people say they don’t like “religion,” this sort of b.s. helps. “Religion” should not code for “wingnut.”

    • Joe

      Anyway, like the now deceased Prof. Dworkin, I think abortion rights are in a strong sense a religious liberty issue. Obviously, other stuff is involved, but it does boil down to a matter that divides largely on moral grounds that we should leave to personal choice. This attempt to “establish” one view shows that. And, it shows that history should not just be left to right wing originalists either.

      • Pat

        One’s relationship with god ought to be a rather personal matter, no?

        • MAJeff

          And the fundiegelicals take it to be that your religious belief is a their personal matter.

        • Joe

          Yah but when it involves actions, it can be regulated.

          So, it is a matter of what sort of actions should be regulated or even banned. Things like who you have sex with, let’s say. It being “immoral” to have sex with someone? Not doing it. Underage etc., more like it.

        • Pat

          I like to explain to the LDS missionaries that come to my door that my faith is more personal and private to me than my sex life, and that they are perverts for wanting to know about either one.

          It leaves them very confused.

    • Hogan

      Fundamentalists had a long period of staying away from politics, which to my understanding was still pretty strong in the early ’70s.

      They came out for a while after WWI, long enough to give us Prohibition and the Scopes trial.

      • N__B

        Gifts that keep on giving!

      • Joe

        Like a groundhog, my reading is many didn’t like what happened, and went back into the hole.

    • DrDick

      That was certainly the case in Oklahoma (which liked to call itself the buckle of the Bible Belt) in the 1970s. It was only in the 80s that the religious conservatives got politicized.

  • Fred Clark (aka Slacktivist) talks a lot about this issue, and the way that evangelical culture has adopted a “we have always been at war with Eurasia” approach towards its anti-abortion stance. As he points out, the whole thing is happening all over again with contraception – five years ago it was completely uncontroversial, now it’s suddenly an issue that speaks to the core of evangelical beliefs.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Yeah, its become all the rage in recent years. Ten years ago I had never heard of it. I first started hearing about it 5 years ago. I think many long years of partnership with Catholic on anti-abortion initiatives have helped turn around key evangelicals like Al Mohler.

      • ThrottleJockey

        Oh, and of course Santorum’s presidential run really helped popularize it among evangelicals.

    • Pat

      I do like to think that evangelical women will remember that it wasn’t always thus. The pill has been around for fifty years, FFS.

  • MAJeff

    So, they got their asses kicked on slavery, a century later got their asses kicked on segregation, so they pulled back from politics for a while…just in time to get involved in abortion and hating on gay folks.

    Has the SBC, aside from their brief retreat from politics, ever not been evil?

    • Steve LaBonne

      Given all the truly atrocious stuff that’s in the Bible- and not just in the Old Testament, though that’s the larger part of the problem- all conservative forms of Christianity that fetishize the Bible are inherently evil.

      • ThrottleJockey

        Actually if they really, truly “fetishized” the Bible they wouldn’t subscribe to some of their hateful political views. The problem, in contrast, is that they’ve let their political views warp their reading of the Bible.

        • Steve LaBonne

          Sorry, never been able to buy that. Even in the Gospels there is some truly hateful stuff, Paul’s letters are worse, and let’s not even talk about Revelation. And notice I didn’t even have to refer to the long list of mind-boggling crimes, that make Hitler and Stalin look saintly by comparison, committed by the Old Testament God. Putting any stock at all in the Bible is a moral disaster.

          • MAJeff

            I’m anti-Easter, too. I’ve never done anything so horrible another human being needs to be tortured and murdered in my place.

            • ThrottleJockey

              Really? There’s nothing I like more than a chocolate and almond Easter Bunny :-)

            • Steve LaBonne

              Just call it Eostre and enjoy your chocolate bunnies.;) But yeah, murdered-god myths (a dime a dozen in the Roman world) are pretty barbarous.

              • UPMC

                I prefer a nice ham. But since it’s just me and the BF, and his kitchen is, shall we say, not so great for baking a big meal, we’ll probably go out for pizza.

                • MAJeff


                  UPMC will still be exploiting the employees it doesn’t have.

              • Baldur

                Osiris and I would like to have a word with you.

          • ThrottleJockey

            Since you bring up Paul, no, what the SBC does is take some of Paul’s comments on women and read only the parts they like, while ignoring his statements in the very next verse that disagrees with their world view.

            So, they think women should submit to men; but there’s no way in hell that any of the men who think this are going to abstain from sex like Paul did! So, yeah, they pick and choose.

            • Steve LaBonne

              I’m talking about a lot more than that. For example Puul, or whoever actually wrote Romans and Ephesians, taught the viciously immoral doctrine of predestination. Not that just wishing away the misogyny isn’t intellectually dishonest.

              • Joe

                Paul wrote Romans. Ephesians, likely not.

                • Steve LaBonne

                  He probably wrote Romans, but I don’t think that’s completely settled among scholars.

              • Joe

                When it comes to debates among “true” Pauline writings, Romans is taken as one of the few “slam dunks” to the extent any can be.

                Some verse might have been changed in copying etc., but Romans is a pretty sure bet.

    • DrS

      The kinds of authoritarian culture as has been dominant in the South for years requires Others to maintain the hierarchy. If they can no longer castigate the current set, they will try to find another one.

      These points where they do not get too involved in politics seem less like their natural inclinations and more like lulls between Others. The SBC is all too happy to help find Others for the authoritarian elites, and of course some of the clergy are elites themselves.

      So, no. They’ve never been anything other than evil.

      • ThrottleJockey

        Actually, the SBC’s involvement in politics was quite limited up until the advent of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Its an entirely modern phenomenon.

        • Steve LaBonne

          I’d say splitting the Baptist church over slavery was pretty damn political.

          • ThrottleJockey

            The SBC did not fire on Fort Sumter. The birth of the SBC was a result of the abolition movement and Civil War, not the cause of it. In the modern era the SBC actually tries to initiate political action, as opposed to responding to events.

            • Aimai

              Firing on Fort Sumter is not the only way the Southern Churchs supported racism and slavery. Ideology is as important as direct violence.

              • Origami Isopod


            • JoyfulA

              The Southern and Northern divisions of Presbyterians and Methodists that broke apart around the Civil War formally reunited in the 1970s or so. Yet the Baptists never have. (Northern Baptists are titled American Baptists.)

        • DrDick

          In large part, you are correct here, though there have been episodic outbursts. They are a primary reason why Oklahoma did not abolish prohibition until 1959 and did not legalize liquor by the drink or parimutuel betting until 1987.

          • DrS

            did not legalize liquor by the drink or parimutuel betting until 1987.

            Does ‘liquor by the drink’ mean that you couldn’t get a cocktail in OK until 1987?

            • rea

              Does ‘liquor by the drink’ mean that you couldn’t get a cocktail in OK until 1987?

              What you did, was you bought a bottle at the liquor store, took it to the bar, and turned it over to the bartender (you didn’t get it back).

              He could then use your bottle to make you drinks, which he sold to you for about the price you’d pay for drinks in another state, or maybe a little more.

              • DrS


              • herr doktor bimler

                Vodka or gin?

        • DrS

          That’s true about national politics for sure, I agree. Even when they weren’t explicitly involved in southern politics, I’d argue that they had a significant impact in shaping and maintaining the power structure in the South. When they’ve become more involved in politics tracks right along with when that structure has been under threat. Which brings us to now when reactionary politics is as much a part of their identity as their religion.

          (I must confess to the sin of ‘sloth’ as I got ‘too much’ sleep last night and I am groggy as all hell, so hopefully I’m making some sense. :) )

          Essentially, I think that the SBC is a reactionary institution and has been since their founding. They were perfect happy to influence the culture by non-political means as long as the culture matched their ideas. When it has become more politicized, they’ve moved along with it.

  • Charlieford

    It is a complex story, and there are many ways to construct pat narratives that miss that complexity.

    The politicization of the issue, and the use of it as a wedge, actually began under Nixon, prior to Roe v Wade. Nixon was not particularly interested in abortion, but he was interested in peeling conservative Catholic voters away from the Democrats, and that’s what he did.

    As for evangelicals, they started the 1970s still generally apolitical (when they did vote, most voted Democrat, because most were in the South; in the Midwest, they were largely Republican; in neither region were they particularly energized).

    They were also, early in the decade, largely immune to issues that might be classified as “social ethics” There were exceptions, of course, but by and large evangelicals were only just beginning to have discussions on issues of social policy and ethics in the 1970s. Instead, they were talking–as they always had–about evangelism.

    Insofar as they did discuss social issues, they believed the way to fix society was by fixing individuals. Laws–because they did not change hearts–were generally perceived as ineffective.

    This individualism cut in various directions. It meant evangelicals saw abortion as an individual decision that their churches should take no stand on. It also meant (back in the 1960s) that they saw race relations and the civil rights struggle as something individuals should examine their hearts on, but not as issues the churches should be taking a stand on.

    Younger evangelicals often thought differently, in part because they had been deeply affected by the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s. (See, eg, Richard Mouw’s argument with Carl Henry on this topic, recounted by Mouw in Christianity Today in 2010).

    That broadening of concerns led to theological discussions about the responsibilities of the church for the social order, for culture, and simultaneously about the utility of political activism for affecting those realms.

    As these discussions got under way, there was a whole menu of specific topics around which these broader questions circled: the environment, workers rights, technology, the aged, capitalism, the poor, the third world, women, war, art, and abortion, of course.

    It took several years for positions on these topics to coalesce into something like a consensus. Political activists on the right had some role in influencing those decisions, but mainly they were worked out in small discussions in interaction with the information that was circulating at the time.

    • ThrottleJockey


      • mch

        This, 2.

    • Pat

      I don’t doubt what you say, but your description is limited in time. Once the decision was made to enter politics, the nature of which topics were most pertinent begins to evolve. How and by whom those decisions are made is a crucial issue right now.

      • Charlieford

        Pat, you’re correct. I was talking about how evangelicals (in general, not just the SBC) made the transition from apathy to concern on the abortion issue. My take is that that transition was primarily philosophical/ethical, and at the grassroots level, as younger evangelicals whose consciousness had been raised in the 60s and early 70s became interested in things such as “social concerns,” “the cultural mandate,” “social justice,” and so forth.

        Your point on politicization is complicated by the fact that a renewed interest in politics was occurring essentially simultaneously. This was sparked largely by all the hullabaloo around the bicentennial in 1976. It was around then that discussions of America being a “Christian nation” really took off and have, obviously, continued to this day.

        At the time, much of the thinking went like this: Christians, in the 20th c., have abdicated their responsibilities for the public sphere. In doing so, they have ceded the field to forces of greed, materialism, injustice, prejudice, war-mongering, and on and on.

        The thinking went on to propose that while it is good and right to convert people, and to care for their bodily needs too–housing, addiction, child-care, food-kitchens, and so forth–law-making too is a field that can be “redeemed,” and perhaps in that many of the problems we are plagued with can be addressed at their roots, and not just when they’ve blossomed on our streets.

        Not everyone agreed, but, a lot of people did, and generally, I’m afraid, were (and still are) extremely naive about how politics works, and who gets used by whom.

        All of that also overlapped with the two major parties lining up on opposite sides on the abortion issue (at least publicly) whereas before there had been much diversity within each party on the topic.

        A lot of this story is told very well, btw, in an older PBS series and book, “With God On Our Side.” The videos are worth seeking out:


  • Sly

    What initially got the Southern Baptists involved in conservative politics was the anti-integration backlash. It wasn’t Roe v Wade, it was Bob Jones v United States.

    After Brown, the only real option left for segregationists was to place their children into private, parochial schools as they were not subject to forced integration. When the IRS made a rule change in the early seventies concerning the tax exempt status of non-profit educational institutions that maintained segregation (i.e. they wouldn’t be tax exempt anymore), and began implementing that change, first with Bob Jones University, various sectarian institutions like the SBC became much more politically active.

    This is, in a bloodless analysis, understandable. Religious organizations can make a lot of money through schools and have to put up with comparatively little oversight in the process, and public-only integration gave them an expanded base of customers. The number of private parochial schools increased dramatically for the purpose of meeting this demand, and they had a clear financial stake in fighting the IRS on this.

    So if, for example, you were a white child growing up in the South during the mid-to-late seventies, and went to a parochial school, its very likely that you were told to write a letter to your Congressman or Senator urging them to help “stop Jimmy Carter’s attack on Bob Jones University.” Evangelicals, who were Carter’s primary base of support in the South, began deserting him in droves.

    The association of this rule change with Carter was intentional, and made by conservative activists (most notably Richard Vigurie, who’s still at it 25 years later) seeking to make alliances with Southern Protestants. The irony being that the IRS’s decision came under the Nixon Administration, was enforced under the Ford Administration, and was given the imprimatur of constitutional finality under the Reagan Administration.

    The anti-abortion backlash came later, starting in the early 80s, and was consciously cultivated as a something of a “replacement issue” for integration.

  • Anonymous

    Its fake, if you nail yourself to a cross by the hands the nail holes will tear out of your hands unless you have something else holding the bulk of your body weight. Romans crucified by nailing through the wrist. K.

    • MAJeff

      If only Jesus had had K’s penis extender, er, gun.

  • Anonymous

    If you actually bother to understand the Christian religion, as few ever do, especially them that thump the bible but rarely read it, you would know that god sent his only son to die for all our sins. The whole point was for him to die and descend to hell, then return, and go back to heaven, despite living a sin free life. His sacrifice was so great that it paid the balance owed to god on all our sins. If you choose as I have to believe such things. K.

    • DrS

      Ah, so that’s why you feel free to apologize for rapists. Jesus already died for their sin, so no biggie.

      • TribalistMeathead


    • DrDick

      I am sorry, K, but God has not and never will forgive your sins.

    • Tristan

      cool story bro

      • MAJeff

        I don’t know if I’d go with “cool.” “Fucked up” works pretty well.

    • NonyNony

      Can God create an obligation so weighty that even he can’t just, you know, forgive it?

      That strikes me as an awful strange limitation to put on an all-powerful deity, don’t you think? Christians are supposed to be able to forgive ANYTHING. Why can’t God just forgive it?

      • wengler

        God has a lot of plates in the air. If some of them fall and crash on the ground, you think He’s gonna take the blame?

      • Pat

        Didn’t he kill off everybody with the flood because he was mad about all the sinning? Why wasn’t that enough?

        Why did Jesus have to be sacrificed? Couldn’t god just kill him?

    • wengler

      Balance and Judgment. Too ancient Egyptian for my tastes.

    • Joe

      The “Christian religion” as compared to what he or some of his followers believed, you mean? Another take is that he came to inform us of the true “gnosis” (knowledge) to be able for our soul to espace this corrupt world. One account had his true essence laughing as people mourned at the cross, since he knew his true essence (perhaps the “Christ”) did not die on the cross.

  • wengler

    I think there’s another story to the politicization of these churches and that’s the fact that people were leaving them by the droves. They needed a new message and a new system of organization. The plain boring community church became the ultra-politicized mega church. Where you are on a team and being on that team means something.

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  • mch

    As for the comments here about the history of religion in the US: what a rich history it is, and one very neglected by most of us. I loved seeing Roger Williams mentioned, but that’s just the tip of an iceberg. Here’s my plug for restoring to our college curricula (high schools will follow suit) more positions in early modern European history (which includes the Reformation and those Dutch and English India Companies and the like: hello, invention of capitalism!) and American colonial history. Having spent many months of the last year with things like the minutes of the Dorchester selectmen’s meetings in the 17th century, available free and online, I can tell you — and no, I am not a professional historian at all, much less an American colonial historian — our history is ours whether we like it or not, and we have a lot to learn from it. (Though I gotta say, I came to admire those Bay Colony Puritans in many ways, even though I like to think I would have joined Roger Williams and moved to Rhode Island.)

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