Southern Baptists: Diversifying to Survive


The title of an interesting article in yesterday's Washington Post. A brief excerpt:

Faced with a crisis of aging and departing members, the nation's largest non-Catholic Christian bodies -- Southern Baptists, United Methodists, Lutherans and Presbyterians -- are reaching out to minorities in ways they never have before. . . . "You can almost calculate the time when we close the door and turn off the lights if we don't become a more diverse church," said Sherman Hicks, executive director of multicultural ministries for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a 4.9 million-member denomination that is 97 percent white.

But of all the denominations seeking to diversify, many agree that the Southern Baptist Convention -- an association of about 40,000 congregations that make up the nation's largest Protestant denomination -- has the farthest to travel.

From its 1845 birth in
Georgia as a haven for white Baptists who supported slavery, the SBC has had troubled relations with African Americans. For 150 years, by its own admission, it was hostile to black progress, often speaking in favor of Jim Crow laws. But in 1995, the Southern Baptists did an about-face, issuing a public apology for their history of bigotry and vowing to "eradicate racism in all its forms" from its ranks.

These days, the faith that was once proudly white now touts the fact that almost 20 percent of its congregations are predominantly black, Latino or Asian. Hundreds of minorities serve in leadership posts in its state conventions, seminaries and other organizations. The SBC Mission Board estimates that the number of black members has doubled to about 1 million since the 1995 apology.


Anonymous said…
There is research work to be done on the relationships, financial and otherwise, between the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Baptist Conventions. I was surprised at the suggestion, by those who know more than I do about it, that for many decades the NBC hedged its positions because it relied on the SBC for financial support.
Tim Lacy said…
Is it not the case that Baptist churches have had the greatest success in converting Mexican Catholics? Is that just an urban myth? I ask because it surprised me to learn that they in particular were facing a demographic crisis. - TL
Paul Harvey said…
Tim: No, I don't think that's very largely true (maybe some in Texas, perhaps) -- it's the various Pentecostal churches that have had the most success there, as far as I know.

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